Caring For Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are sociable, talkative, inquisitive animals! Guinea pigs have a longer life span than other small pets, such as hamsters and mice, and may live up to 10 years of age.
Guinea pigs must have access to clean water and a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
Hay should make up 80-90% of your guinea pigs’ diet. Good quality hay should be available 24 hours a day, so your guinea pigs always have something to nibble on. Hay is also important for your guinea pigs’ teeth. Because a guinea pig’s teeth grow continuously throughout their life, they need to be worn down by eating hay, grass, and leafy green plants. Hay must not be damp, dusty or mouldy, as this could make your guinea pigs ill.
Small quantities of high quality commercial ‘Guinea Pig’ pellets can be provided but these should not form the main part of the diet. Only use pellet food made specifically for guinea pigs.
Vitamin C is essential for a guinea pigs’ diet. The best way of making sure they are getting enough is to feed a handful of leafy green vegetables per guinea pig every day. Do not feed lawn mower clippings and check the greens you provide have not been sprayed with chemicals as these may make your guinea pigs sick. You can read more about suitable fresh food here.
Enrichment ideas: You can provide your guinea pigs with apple branches to chew and opportunities to forage for their food. Check out our Kids’ Portal for some DIY guinea pig enrichment ideas.
Although they are small guinea pigs need lots of room to move around, exercise, and express their normal behaviour. The more space you can provide for your guinea pigs, the better!
You can house your guinea pigs indoors or outdoors. Whether you choose to house your guinea pigs indoor or outdoors, choose a quiet area that is quiet and peaceful and also free from drafts and sudden temperature changes.
Make sure the enclosure you choose is made from materials that are durable, non-toxic, and easily cleaned. Wire floors can cause discomfort and damage to guinea pigs’ feet, so opt for a solid floor lined with absorbent bedding. You will need to clean frequently to keep you guinea pigs healthy and happy.
Providing places to hide helps your guinea pigs to feel safe and secure. Providing lots of hiding options can make your guinea pigs more confident.
For outdoor housing
Outdoor enclosures come in many sizes and designs. Many hutches available from pet shops are too small to house a guinea pig so consider custom or DIY options.
An outside guinea pig home must be strong, draught-proof, damp-proof, escape-proof, and keep your guinea pigs safe from cats or dogs getting inside the cage. The roof should be sloping so rain will drain off.
For indoor housing
More and more guinea pigs are being kept indoors. Having your guinea pigs in the house makes it easier to interact with them and can encourage them to more sociable. This also makes it easier for you to keep an eye on them for any changes in their health or behaviour. It also gives you peace of mind that your guinea pigs are safe from predators at night or when you are out.
For more information about indoor housing for your guinea pigs, see our article here.
Signs of a healthy guinea pig include: a healthy coat (e.g. no patches of missing fur), clear bright eyes, clean and even teeth, normal length nails (that are not too long) and healthy feet without sores. Guinea pigs should be desexed to prevent litters which can contribute to the population of unwanted guinea pigs in New Zealand.
Guinea pigs require regular veterinary care and check-ups. Annual veterinary checks are a great way to detect any small problems before they become more serious. In addition, you should monitor your guinea pigs daily to check for changes in health or behaviour. Guinea pigs are good at hiding illness and pain. Get to know your guinea pigs’ behaviour as changes in behaviour may be a sign that something is wrong.
Guinea pigs are vulnerable to external parasites like fleas and mites, which can cause intense itchiness, hair loss, and discomfort. Ask your veterinarian about prevention or treatment for these, if required.
Things to watch out for include:
- Not eating or drinking
- Lethargy (low energy)
- Diarrhoea or faeces around your guinea pig’s bottom
- Dull coat, or hair loss
- Scratching excessively
- Discharge from eyes/dull eye colour
- Discharge from nostrils
- Abnormal breathing
- Lameness or swelling of joints
- Weight loss
Please consult your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs of illness.
Guinea pigs are very social animals and need to live with at least one other guinea pig. Ensuring that your guinea pig has at least one bonded companion is one of the best things you can do to make your guinea pigs’ lives happy. Guinea pigs should not be housed with rabbits as they may catch some diseases from rabbits, need a different diet, and rabbits may bully guinea pigs.
If you do not already have a friend for your guinea pig, the SPCA or one of the many guinea pig rescues can help with bonding your guinea pig with a new friend. You can see our guinea pigs available for adoption from SPCA here.
Guinea pigs need an environment that provides space and opportunities to explore, forage, and hide. Add ramps, tunnels, cardboard boxes, and plenty of toys to your guinea pig’s home to keep them busy. They also love to climb and a couple of bricks would be much appreciated. Providing hidey-holes and toys means that your guinea pig will feel much safer and happier.
Guinea pigs can even be trained using reward-based training, such as clicker training. This can be a fun activity for you and your guinea pigs and help to develop their confidence and form a positive relationship with you.
Visit the SPCA Kids’ Education Portal (www.spca.nz/kids) for more information on caring for your guinea pigs, including enrichment tips and helpful videos!