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How to Take Care of a Guinea Pig (Care Sheet & Guide 2022)

A guinea pig running around in the garden_theianov_Shutterstock

Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to own a guinea pig? They are fascinating little creatures that will scurry their way right into your heart. We’re here to tell you all about what it’s like to own and how to take care of a guinea pig. All the information you need is right here, so let’s get going and find out all about guinea pigs!

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Guinea Pig Facts

Guinea pigs are believed to have originated from the Andes in South America, not as wild animals, but as domesticated from the start. The initial purpose of their domestication was for meat, but as they were brought into North America and Europe in the 16th century, they became popular as household pets.

These little critters can weigh between 1.5 – 2.5 pounds and be anywhere from 8 to 16 inches long. They usually live at least 4 years, but with excellent care they could live up to 8 years. Guinea pig coat colors come in a vast variety, all within black, brown, and white categories. Other unique coat colors and lengths include tortoiseshell, white tortoiseshell, long hair, brindle, dalmatian, Dutch, and completely hairless!

Guinea pigs differ from other rodents in that they are much more mature at birth than rats or mice. Guinea pigs are bigger than rats but smaller than rabbits and also have no tail.

Do Guinea Pigs Make Good Pets?

If you choose to own a guinea pig, you will find that they are quite social creatures. Not only do they tend to thrive better with a roommate guinea pig, they also enjoy routine interaction with their human and will happily approach a hand that’s placed in their cage. When they are socialized at a young age, they welcome handling and play easily.

Guinea pigs have odd sleeping patterns that are hard to predict. As prey animals, their instinct is to sleep in very short intervals, at times not even closing their eyes to sleep. The times they tend to be most active are at dawn and dusk, but you will probably see your guinea pig active most of the time, day or night.

It may surprise you that these creatures need daily interaction and feeding, unlike smaller rodents (like hamsters) that can be left alone for a few days at a time. In order for a guinea pig to be the healthiest, it needs at least some time outside of it’s cage every day. This allows him time to grow a bond with you and stretch out his legs a little.

Guinea pigs also need fresh food, hay, and fruits and veggies provided to them daily, as well as water. They will show their appreciation for your feeding them with plenty of adorable squeaks!

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Where Can I Get a Guinea Pig?

Guinea pigs can likely be found at any big box pet store near you. You could also check your local humane society or pet adoption agency. The internet could also help you find your next pet piggy, through Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or something like it.

One helpful website for guinea pig adopters is totally devoted to guinea pig adoption, and it’s called https://guineapigfinder.com/. Here, you can filter out guinea pig characteristics like gender, number of guinea pigs grouped together, breeds, ages, and how quickly the piggies need to be adopted (from “waiting for the right home” to “desperate”).

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Image Credit: Piqsels

How Much Does It Cost to Own a Guinea Pig?

The initial cost of having a guinea pig will be more expensive than the monthly cost to care for it. You will spend around $200 on your guinea pig cage, toys, bedding and the animal itself when you first get your guinea pig. After that, you can expect to spend around $40 dollars per month on food and bedding.  Of course, this per-month cost will go up the more guinea pigs you decide to own. When you need to take your guinea pig to the vet (at least once a year or for an illness), each visit will cost about $50.

What Kind of Home Does My Guinea Pig Need?

As larger rodents, guinea pigs require a much larger living area compared to a mouse or gerbil. According to Vet Care Pet Hospital, each guinea pig you have should have at least 100 square inches of floor. That means if you have two guinea pigs, your cage should be at least 200 square inches.

The cage itself can be wire, glass, or sturdy plastic. However, the floor of the cage should be solid, not wire. This is because guinea pigs can develop foot problems with wire-bottom cages, as well as end up with broken legs if their legs get caught between the wires and they try to make a hasty escape.

Make sure to put the cage where there are normal patterns of night and day, and keep it out of bedrooms to keep your sleep undisturbed.

As far as the contents of the cage go, you will need these things:

  • Paper (preferred) or wood bedding (not cedar wood, though)
  • Food bowl
  • Water bottle or heavy water dish
  • Hiding place (like a small box or plastic house)
  • Toys
  • Wood and mineral chews
guinea pigs inside their cage
Image Credit: StineMah, Shutterstock

What Should I Feed My Guinea Pig?

Your guinea pig’s diet will consist mostly of Timothy (or grass) hay, which is also what rabbits eat. Grasses are perfect for guinea pigs, as they provide lots of soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as many other nutrients that they need. The abrasive nature of the grass also aids in filing down guinea pigs’ teeth, which never stop growing.

Guinea pigs are unique rodents that, like humans, do not produce vitamin C on their own. Because of this, you will need to supplement their diet with fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C. In a ¼ to ½ c. measuring cup, you can pack any of these fruits and vegetables: kale, mustard, dandelion, or collard greens, sweet peppers, apples, pears, broccoli, cucumber, basil or parsley and feed it to your guinea pig daily.

Additionally, you may want to give your guinea pig high-quality pellets. Make sure the pellets are specific for guinea pigs, and have added vitamin C.

Your guinea pig will also need a clean supply of water, provided in either a heavy-bottomed dish (to prevent knocking over) or a bottle fastened to the cage.

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How Do I Take Care of My Guinea Pig?

Many elements go into the care of your guinea pig that you have to keep in mind. While you read over the care guidelines, know that guinea pigs thrive on routine. When you are feeding, for example, feed her at the same time every day. Take her out of her cage about the same time every day for play. A disruption in routine might stress your guinea pig out.

Feeding

Provide your guinea pig grass hay (Timothy or orchard brome is best) all the time in unlimited amounts. Give them ¼ cup to ½ cup packed fruits and vegetables every day, and remove any uneaten portions no more than 24 hours after serving. ¼ of a cup of guinea pig pellets can also be provided daily if you feel your piggy needs more sustenance.

Do not feed your guinea pig any grains or anything made from grains (like bread, cereals, etc.), legumes, sugary, fatty, or salty foods, as these foods could disrupt the GI bacteria of your guinea pig, potentially leading to death.

Also always provide clean water in a bowl or water bottle.

Handling

It’s recommended that you always handle your guinea pig with two hands, one scooping it up under its bottom and the other around its midsection. That way, it’s much less likely that you will drop them. You may find your guinea pig loves to snuggle in your lap or prefers to roam around independently. Either way it’s okay, just make sure the environment is stable and safe.

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Image Credit: The Escape of Malee, Shutterstock

Grooming

Guinea pigs do not need baths but can be spot-cleaned with a damp cloth or an unscented baby wipe when needed. Piggies with hair can be brushed with a soft-backed brush about once a week. Hairless guinea pigs can be rubbed with an aloe-based, non-toxic lotion occasionally.

The teeth of a guinea pig are naturally yellow, but they do not need to be cleaned. Their nails need to be trimmed at least once a month.

Cage Environment

The guinea pig’s cage should be kept in a cool area with at least one window, so the guinea pigs get exposed to normal patterns of day and night. However, the cage should not be placed in direct sunlight, as guinea pigs overheat easily. In order to keep your normal sleep schedule, the guinea pigs should not be kept in the same area that you sleep in, as their nighttime activity might keep you awake.

Exercise

Exercise for your guinea pig is important for many reasons. For one, it keeps them occupied. A bored guinea pig could get himself into trouble (biting things they shouldn’t, escaping, etc.). Another reason they need exercise is to get them properly socialized with people and other piggies. A guinea pig left isolated too often might grow timid and hostile. It’s ideal to give them about 3 or 4 hours of free-range time each day, especially if their cage is relatively small.

Many guinea pig owners will put their piggy in a large area on their tiled or hardwood floor, bordered with some sort of fence to keep them from escaping. Inside the play area, put objects like boxes, paper bags, or pipes they can fit through. This will keep them entertained for a long time, and they will benefit greatly from the fun!

Socialization

Guinea pigs are social creatures who need to be with other people and/or guinea pigs. You will find that a guinea pig with a partner in the same cage will be much happier than one that’s all alone. Do make sure that there is only one male per cage, though, as they tend to fight. A neutered male and spayed female can make great cage mates.

As we have mentioned earlier, when your guinea pig is young, establish a play routine. This will ensure your piggy will remain playful and fun his whole life, rather than being timid and scared.

Cage Cleaning

The guinea pig’s bedding needs to be changed out twice a week, at minimum. Also, remove wet spots in the bedding as soon as you notice them. This will keep the cage smell-free for yours and your guinea pig’s sake.

It’s also recommended that you clean the whole cage with a 3% bleach solution at least once a week. It would be best to do this during your piggy’s play time so the cage gets clean and has time to dry before you put her back inside.

How Do I Know If My Guinea Pig Is Sick?

In normal health, your guinea pig will be alert, active, eat and drink every day, walk around, and squeak frequently! These are all signs of a happy and healthy piggy. However, your piggy might develop an illness and you will have to take him to the vet.

Here are some general symptoms to watch out for and could indicate sickness:

  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Abnormal lumps
  • Skin lesions
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea or dirty bottom
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Overgrown teeth

If you notice any of these symptoms in your guinea pig, take them to the vet to get them checked out. Your vet will be able to instruct you on the next steps to take and possibly prescribe medication.

Here’s a little more information about a few of the most common sicknesses guinea pig experience.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections in guinea pigs look a lot like allergies: runny nose and eyes, sneezing, trouble breathing, and coughing, to name a few. They are fairly common in piggies because of the environment they live in. Make sure their bedding is cleaned regularly and is not worsening their condition.

Scurvy

Guinea pigs do not produce their own vitamin C, which a deficiency in causes the disease scurvy. Scurvy can cause dental issues, growth problems, and a weakened immune system. At a worse state, it can cause serious joint issues and reproductive problems. This is why your guinea pig needs at least 10mg of vitamin C a day.

Tumors

Tumors can happen anywhere on a guinea pig, just like humans. It’s a good idea to check your guinea pig regularly for lumps. Feel his belly gently to do this. Take your piggy to the vet if you notice any sudden lumps. It could be a tumor, a harmless fatty lump, or guinea pig babies.

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Conclusion

Owning a guinea pig can enrich your life. They are small and portable enough to be easy to travel with and handle. Guinea pigs are playful and curious, when given the right environment to be in. They are not as low maintenance as hamsters or mice, but they are more interactive.

Now you know how to take care of a guinea pig and you’ve decided they are for you, we wish you luck on your search for your next pet pal and many years of joy with him or her!

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Featured Image Credit: theianov, Shutterstock

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