SPCA New Zealand

Guinea Pigs - 5 myths busted

16 April 2019
Guinea Pigs - 5 myths busted

Busting Guinea Pigs Myths

These sensitive and unique little creatures, also known as ‘cavies’, originate from South America but have long been domesticated and kept as companions. Despite their popularity, the fundamentals on how to best care for a guinea pig can be misunderstood. Here we bust common myths about our ‘cavy’ friends to help you best understand whether the guinea pig is the right fit for you and your family.

Myth: Small creature, small space

Truth: The bigger, the better

Gone are the days it was considered acceptable to leave small animals outside in backyards in tiny hutches. Our small creatures are sentient beings and need just as much care as any other companion animal. Despite being small in stature, guineas pigs require plenty of space and the reality is that pet store bought hutches are simply not big enough.

Guinea pigs do not use separate areas for eating, sleeping and toileting. Therefore, a small and cramped hutch can get messy quickly and will restrict their ability to exhibit natural behaviours and live comfortably.

It is recommended to stick to the following measurements as minimum size for your guineas:

2 guinea pigs: Area – 0.7sq m / Size – 76×127cm

3 guinea pigs: Area – 1sq m / Size – 76×157cm

4 guinea pigs: Area – 1.2sq m / Size – 76×193cm

While these are the minimum space requirements, we strongly encourage all owners to select as large an enclosure as possible. Guinea pigs like to run around, climb up ramps and explore their surroundings. They like to hide in holes and tunnels often too, so supplying them with plenty of space to enable this is important.

Myth: Smaller animals like guinea pigs are low maintenance

Truth: Time and commitment is a must for any pet

They might be smaller than other companion animals, but guinea pigs require a lot of care to be happy and healthy. They make fantastic, friendly and entertaining companions for the whole family, however anyone looking to adopt a guinea pig needs to be aware of the level of care they require. Often small animals, like guinea pigs and rabbits, can be neglected due to lack of thorough knowledge on the care that they need.

Guinea pigs make a wonderful friend, just be prepared for some upkeep. Guinea tend to toilet in multiple places around their cage which requires regular sweeping up and daily changing of bedding. They also need lots of enrichment provided around their cage, such as hiding spots, apple branches to chew and opportunities to forage for their food. They like to run, explore, forage, hide and chew, so providing items to enable this is vital.

Guinea pigs have a longer life span than other small pets, such as hamsters and mice. Guinea pigs require a commitment of up to 10 years.

Myth: Shy and unsociable

Truth: They are social butterflies!

Guinea pigs are extremely sociable animals given the chance, with both their own kind and with humans. They are herd animals so for this reason should be kept with at least one other guinea pig. They get very lonely and depressed if on their own, so a constant friend is the best way to keep them happy (just be aware of creating the right balance of males and females).

Just like rabbits, guinea pigs are prey animals by nature, which means being handled isn’t always enjoyable for them. They are quite fragile animals because of their size, so just be careful with young children in the family – rough handling can result in spinal injuries or broken bones. Guinea pigs also have sensitive hearing so be sure to keep them away from loud noises and talk to them softly.

The best way for humans to bond with their guinea pig is simple: time and patience. The more you interact positively with them, the more sociable they will be. A great way to spend time with a guinea is to set up a pen area with lots of tunnels and hidey holes where both human and cavies can relax together on the floor. Put out some of their favourite veggies and watch as they squeal with glee and forage for the delicious delights – they will keep you entertained for hours. Guinea pigs can also be trained to do tricks. This provides great mental stimulation and quality bonding time. Keep training sessions short (no more than 5 minutes) and use their favourite veggies as rewards.

Myth: Rabbits and guineas mix well

Truth: They need their own space!

The truth is quite the opposite! They might both be classed as ‘small animals’ but for multiple reasons, they should not be housed together. Firstly, they have different diets. While both herbivores, the nutrients they require from their food is quite different and feeding the wrong diet can result in medical conditions, such as scurvy. For this reason, rabbit and guinea pig food pellets are formulated specially for their species only. Rabbits also eat much more than guinea pigs, so may hog all the food!

Secondly, the size difference. Rabbits are much bigger than guinea pigs, and while they might not do it intentionally, a rabbit’s hind leg kick can seriously injure a guinea. Rabbits love to hop and run and a guinea pig could quite easily get in the way!

Finally, housing rabbits and guinea pigs together puts your guinea pig at risk of disease. Rabbits may bully guinea pigs, which can make them stressed and vulnerable to disease. Additionally, rabbits can carry bacteria, Bordetellabronchiseptica, which is the most common cause of respiratory disease in guinea pigs.

If your dream is to be able to have both rabbits and guinea pigs in the family, that’s great, just be sure to give them their own accommodation so they can stay safe, happy and healthy!

Myth: Guinea pigs can’t be desexed

Truth: Desexing is important

Guinea pigs are no different to other companion animals and can be desexed safely by a veterinary professional. If you plan to keep guineas of different genders, getting them desexed is very important as to avoid unwanted babies being born. A female guinea pig can give birth to up to five litters per year, with an average of two to four pups (babies) per litter – that’s a lot of animals that need caring for.

Speak to a vet who specialised in small and exotic animals, and they can carry out this desexing procedure safely and advise you about the recovery period.

For more information on creating your own indoor guinea pig house, check out our previous article here: www.spca.nz/guineapig

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