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How to care for a guinea pig

19 Sep, 2022
Small Animals

Guinea pigs are beautiful, intelligent, and curious pets. These small little creatures can make the perfect addition to any family. And just like every other pet, they have their own care needs and special considerations.

If you’re thinking about adding a guinea pig to your family or already have, here’s everything you need to know about guinea pig care.

Checklist: Guinea Pig Care Essentials

Guinea pig care covers a variety of topics, each equally important to your guinea pig’s health and wellbeing, including:

  • Guinea pig food and water needs for a balanced diet
  • Choosing the right cage and home for your guinea pig
  • Exercise and enrichment for your guinea pig
  • Guinea pig grooming requirements
  • Guinea pig healthcare and illness
Caring for Guinea Pigs

Life expectancy: Up to ten years

Diet: Herbivore

Personality: Sociable, inquisitive, and friendly

Your guinea pig’s core traits are central to living a happy and healthy life. With the right diet, enrichment, and shelter, your guinea pig will have everything they need.

Guinea pig food and water needs

Every animal has a unique diet and water requirements; let’s cover the basics of hydration and food for your guinea pig. How is their diet broken down? How much water do they drink? What can’t a guinea pig eat? Find out below.

Guinea pig food and diet requirements:

Guinea pigs are herbivores. Provide your guinea pig with regular fresh grass or hay, leafy greens, and vegetables daily to meet their nutritional requirements. Also, offer a small number of pellets (1/4 cup) and some form of vitamin C daily. Fibre is another key dietary inclusion to assist with gastrointestinal health.

Your guinea pig's diet:

  • Fresh hay and grass: Hay should make up 70% of your guinea pig’s diet. *Do not feed your guinea pig Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover Hay, as these are too rich in calcium and protein.
  • Pellets: Fibre rich pellets can be included as a small portion of your guinea pig’s diet.
  • Daily fresh vegetables: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, carrots, cucumber, capsicum, dandelion, greens, and parsley.
  • Snacks: Bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries, and raspberries, plus more!
  • Vitamin C: Guinea pigs require 10-50 mg of vitamin C per day, depending on their condition. Some leafy green vegetables and fruits contain vitamin C, but you can also purchase tablets to help with vitamin C requirements.

*Without vitamin C in their daily diet, guinea pigs are susceptible to Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), leading to multiple illnesses – one of which is heart failure, a common cause of death in guinea pigs.

What your guinea pig shouldn't eat:

To give the best care to your guinea pig, you should also know what your guinea pig shouldn’t eat.

  • Seeds with kernels
  • Nuts
  • Peas
  • Dried beans
  • Corn
  • Onion grass
  • Sugar
  • Human food
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Animal by-product
  • Mineral blocks
  • Human food
  • Lawn clippings

How much does a guinea pig need to eat every day?

Provide your guinea pig with a variety of food types every day and leave them to forage and graze at their discretion. It’s more important you provide your guinea pig the correct range of food to ensure all the proper nutrients for optimum health. It’s also important to note, introducing a variety of foods at an early age is better for your guinea pig longer-term, as they can be less willing to try foods later in life.

Guinea pig hydration:

Guinea pigs need 90-100mls of pure water each day. Give your guinea pig the option of multiple water sources and replace the water every day to keep it fresh. Replacing the water will also help to prevent any algae growth. Hanging water bottles are the best and most common water container for a guinea pig.

Guinea pig housing: small animal cages, houses, and conditions

A key aspect of guinea pig care is choosing suitable housing. The right home will ensure your guinea pig is comfortable, safe, and enriched. Your options for housing include both indoor and outdoor hutches and cages.

Bigger is often better when it comes to choosing the right house. The guinea pig's hutch should be a minimum of 7000sq cm per guinea pig and include an activities area. You want to provide your guinea pig enough room to exercise, roam and interact with different elements within their environment. Size is even more important when you have more than one guinea pig – which is very common, as guinea pigs thrive when living with friends.

To ensure your guinea pig is living in the best conditions, make sure the cage or hutch has good ventilation and is away from direct sunlight or heat sources during warmer months; guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stress. For guinea pigs, the best living temperature is between 17 to 24 Celsius. We recommend bringing your guinea pig indoors during extreme weather conditions to ensure their safety.

If your hutch has a wire floor, ensure it is well covered with hay, to avoid your guinea pig catching and breaking a leg. Bedding material should be soft straw or hay, also provide material for your guinea pig to burrow under in the activities section.

Guinea pig exercise and activity needs

You should allow your guinea pig to explore, investigate and play within their environment. They are curious creatures that love interacting with other guinea pigs and the opportunity to roam free for a couple of hours a day. If you’re considering adding a second or third guinea pig to the family, do it! Guinea pigs thrive amongst friends.

Here are some tips to ensure your guinea pig receives the right level of exercise, activity, and stimulation:

  • Change up their enclosure by moving it to a new location or swapping out elements within their hutch or enclosure.
  • Get them a playmate! Guinea pigs are social creatures and do love to have a friend. Life is always better when you have someone to share in exploring the world.
  • Create games, and purchase toys! Give them something to do by buying guinea pig toys and hiding their food in new places for the perfect foraging experience.
Guinea pig grooming

Just like other pets, guinea pigs will need regular grooming. However, your guinea pig’s grooming routine will look different from your canine or feline family members.

Nail trimming

Guinea pigs require semi-regular nail trimming, with a frequency of about one to two months – depending on how quickly the nails grow and are worn down. Like dogs, if a guinea pig is active, their nails will be worn down faster than the nails of a more sedentary guinea pig.

If your guinea pig has black nails, be extra careful when clipping. You can use a light like a torch, which will help identify the quick. If you can't see clear enough, revert to just a minimal trim at the tip of the nail.

When in doubt, always speak to your vet or even allow your vet to take care of the trimming.

Brushing

Guinea pigs shed their coat, so regular brushing of your guinea pig is key in their grooming routine. Short-haired guinea pigs should be brushed at least once a week, while longer-haired breeds will need a comb through every couple of days.

Why is it important to brush your guinea pig? It manages the shedding of hair and removes loose or dead skin, allowing you to check for any lumps or parasites.

Bathing

Do you need to bathe a guinea pig? Not unless they are particularly dirty or smelly. Guinea pigs should only have a couple of baths a year, as they are very clean creatures and overdoing bath time can cause a dry coat or skin.

If your guinea pig is very smelly and has become a frequent issue, it’s best to speak to your local vet to ensure they are not ill. A pungent smell can often be a sign of illness.

Guinea Pig Healthcare Needs

A guinea pig’s health relies upon diet, enrichment, shelter, and grooming. However, even with all the care in the world, sometimes your guinea pig can fall ill or need extra help keeping their health in check.

  • Provide a daily balanced diet of fresh vegetables and fruit, including vitamin C
  • Allow your guinea pig to roam three to four hours a day
  • Daily cleaning of your guinea pig’s shelter
  • Brush fur every week or multiple times a week for long-haired breeds
  • Bathe only when needed
  • Trim your guinea pig’s nails every one to two months

Parasites and Worming

Guinea pigs can be susceptible to parasites and worms during their lifetime, including mites and lice. To keep the nasty creatures at bay, make sure you do the following.

  • Worm every three months with a small animal wormer
  • Regularly check your guinea pig’s body (including ears) for any signs of parasites

Signs your guinea pig might be sick

To help detect if your guinea pig’s health has deteriorated, here are some of the signs your guinea pig could be unwell.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Curled up posture
  • An unusually large belly
  • Change of coat
  • Lethargy or lack of interest in exercise or play

Some of the most common healthcare issues for guinea pigs include respiratory infections, diarrhea, scurvy, tumours, abscesses urinary problems and parasites.

Guinea pigs and heat stress

Guinea pigs don’t enjoy the heat. In fact, in the wild, guinea pigs will hide away in the coolest nooks possible, low in the ground. With no sweat glands, a guinea pig struggles to regulate their body temperature, so you must help keep your guinea pig keep cool during the summer months.

  • Make sure your guinea pig has access to shade (you may need to move their hutch to a new location or bring it inside as the safest option)
  • Provide them with lots of cool sources of water
  • Add frozen treats to the enclosure and even ice bricks or a cooling mat to chill their environment
  • Allow them to roam in a closed-off area on tiles

How do you know if your guinea pig has already become too hot and suffering heat stress? It can be fatal, so here are some of the signs of guinea pig heat stress or heat stroke:

  • Discoloured gums
  • Panting
  • Convulsions
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling

If you notice any of these signs, you should immediately attempt a few things to cool them down (see below) and then seek the assistance of your vet. You shouldn’t wait for it to worsen or further deterioration.

Cool your guinea pig down with the following methods:

  • Wet your guinea pig with damp towels (do not fully immerse your guinea pig in water as this can cause shock)
  • Bring them inside onto tiles or the coolest area of your home

Article Supplied By: PETstock

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