Guinea Pig Guide For Beginner
If you are thinking of owning a guinea pig then you are in for a treat. It is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have. Guinea pigs make wonderful pets but before you rush out and get one we recommend that you read this beginners guide in full so that you know what to expect.
Owning any pet is a big commitment and a guinea pig is certainly no exception. A guinea pig will live for around five to seven years (or longer) so you need to be prepared to make a long term commitment here. They will require a lot of care and attention but the joy that they will bring you will be worth it.
If you are thinking of becoming a guinea pig owner then think about getting more than one. They are very social pets and will be a lot happier if they live with at least one other guinea pig. Obviously if you want to avoid lots of guinea pig babies it is best to go for a pair that is the same sex.
There is no problem with keeping male guinea pigs together or female guinea pigs. However you need to know that guinea pigs all have unique personalities and that occasionally they might not get on too well together. The best way to avoid this is to get them as babies although adult guinea pigs can get along well too.
When you first get your guinea pigs they will probably be skittish and nervous because they will be a bit afraid of you. But after a short time of regular gentle handling they will get used to you and become pretty tame. You must handle your guinea pigs gently so that they don’t stress. Always supervise children handling guinea pigs.
How to Choose a Healthy Guinea Pig
There are a number of things that you need to look out for to ensure that you buy a healthy guinea pig. You need to know how to tell if a guinea pig is in good health or not so be careful to follow the advice below.
A healthy guinea pig will like running around on all fours. If the guinea pig appears sluggish this can be a sign that they have some health issues. Take a good look at any guinea pig you are considering and check their skin for any signs of bald patches or flaking.
Take a look at the eyes and ears of a guinea pig. Their eyes should be bright and both their eyes and ears should be free from any discharge. A healthy guinea pig will have a steady and smooth breathing pattern so check for any problems here as well.
Finally check the all over the body of the guinea pig to see if there is any abnormal swelling or lumps. A healthy guinea pig has a plump body and a good coat so give the animal a good “once over” before you make a decision.
Where to Buy Your Guinea Pig
You have a few options with where you should buy your guinea pig. A lot of people are going to think about pet stores first which is natural but they are not the only game in town. You may want to own a rescue guinea pig and you can ask guinea pig owners how they purchased their guinea pigs. Let’s take a look at each of these options.
Buying a Guinea Pig from a Pet Store
It is very likely that you will have a pet store nearby that can sell you a guinea pig or two. This is a very convenient way to purchase guinea pigs as you can take them home immediately after buying them. There is no waiting around involved.
Buying your guinea pig from a pet store is not all roses in the garden though. There are certainly some drawbacks and a lot of guinea pig owners will advise you to get your guinea pigs from somewhere else. The main reason for this is that a number of people have ended up with a guinea pig from a store that is badly behaved or even unhealthy.
Finding a guinea pig expert in a large pet store often proves to be quite a challenge. The workers in these stores sell a wide range of pets and they are certainly not going to be experts on all of them if any at all. It is important that you get any questions you have about guinea pigs answered correctly and this can be difficult in a pet store.
Another problem with pet stores is that they tend to keep their guinea pigs in pretty poor conditions. There have been many instances where guinea pigs end up with incorrect gender or breed labeling in a store (or sometimes both), so you run the risk of not getting the type of guinea pig you were expecting.
If you really like the idea of buying your guinea pig from a store then we recommend that you look for a small pet store that has a good reputation for their knowledge and caring for the animals that they sell. These pet stores certainly exist and it will be well worth the trouble of finding them and doing a little travelling if you have to.
A good pet store will know a lot of the history of a guinea pig and will take care of them properly until selling them. They will ensure that they are healthy and have good socialization skills with other guinea pigs.
The workers in these smaller pet stores are far more likely to know a lot about guinea pigs and will be delighted to answer any questions you may have. They will be able to advise you on all aspects of caring for your guinea pig.
We recommend that you do not choose buying a guinea pig from a pet store as your first choice. In the larger stores there have been many incidents of pregnant guinea pigs being sold to unknowing buyers (imagine the nice surprise you will get here) and incorrect labeling so that you do not get the guinea pig you wanted.
These large pet stores also have a bad rap for guinea pig care and most of the time the workers will be unable to answer all but the most basic of questions.
Think about a Rescue Guinea Pig
Unfortunately some guinea pig owners abandon their pets for a variety of reasons so rescue centers often have a number of guinea pigs that need a new home. Getting your guinea pig from a rescue center is a really good thing to do and the staff at the center will provide you with the right advice and guidance to take good care of your new pet.
There are some good websites to help you find a rescue center near to you that has guinea pigs. One of the best websites is Pet Finder and you can use this to search for rescue centers that have guinea pigs for adoption. Another way to find a local center is to just to call them to see if they have any guinea pigs. They do not all use websites to announce this.
You will need to go through a process to adopt a guinea pig from a rescue center and this will vary from one center to another. The center wants to be sure that you are totally committed to taking care of a guinea pig for life and they will usually ask for references. Give the names of people that you know will verify you as a caring and responsible pet owner.
The workers at rescue centers are usually volunteers who love taking care of animals. This means that you should be able to trust a rescue center to provide you with a healthy guinea pig that received a lot of care while it was at the center. You will not end up with a guinea pig of the wrong sex either.
Talk with other Guinea Pig Owners
Another great way to buy a guinea pig is to talk to other guinea pig owners to see how they obtained their pets. If you already know a guinea pig owner, just ask them outright where they got their guinea pig from. They will certainly want to tell you about their experience with a rescue shelter or a store.
Some guinea pig owners purchase their pets from reputable breeders and if this appeals to you then get the necessary contact details and pay them a visit. If you want to buy from a good breeder but don’t know anyone that has done this then ask your vet if they can recommend anyone.
Sometimes guinea pig owners have females that give birth to litters and you may be able to adopt the guinea pigs that you want this way. If you do adopt baby guinea pigs then you will need to take them to the vet for a vaccination and you may want to have them spayed or neutered.
Guinea Pig Prices
The price that you pay for your guinea pig depends on where you buy them from. If you go to a pet store then you can expect to pay between $30 and $60 for each guinea pig. If you go to a breeder then you will probably pay more.
There may be a small charge to adopt a rescue guinea pig. You will need to check with the center on this. If you can adopt baby guinea pigs from a friend who has a recent litter then you may be able to get them for free.
Guinea Pig Behavior, Sounds and Personality
It is important that you know how a guinea pig is going to behave before you buy one. They are usually active pets that are very inquisitive and they like quite a lot of attention. As we mentioned earlier, guinea pigs are social animals so if you can get two instead of one then we recommend that you do that.’
In general guinea pigs are pretty quiet pets but they do make some different noises when they want to express themselves. You need to know what these noises are and what they mean so that you can fully understand your new pet.
A guinea pig will often whistle when they are feeling excited. This is a high pitch sound which can sometimes sound like they are squealing. You can often here this whistling close to feeding time or when they want to play.
Did you know that guinea pigs purr? They will purr sometimes like a cat even though they are no relation. Different purrs have different meanings. If the purr is deep and seems relaxed then this tells you that your guinea pig is happy. A high pitched purr signifies that they are upset or angry about something.
Another sign of anger is a hissing noise and they may bare their teeth as well. Sometimes guinea pigs will purr in an apprehensive way which means that they are fearful of something. If your guinea pig is afraid then they may emit a high pitched shriek or squeal as an alternative to the apprehensive purr.
In some cases a guinea pig may start to make a chirping sound. Nobody fully understands why guinea pigs chirp and some experts believe this means that the guinea pig is in some kind of trance. You shouldn’t hear your guinea pig chirping very often if at all.
There are a number of non verbal signs that you can look out for with your guinea pig as well. When your guinea pig is happy they will often want to show you this and sometimes they will hop up and down. Licking and the rubbing of noses are other happiness signs.
On the other side of the coin if your guinea pig is unhappy or even scared then they can show you this by fidgeting a lot, freezing completely or throwing their heads up in the air. If your guinea pig is in an aggressive state then you can expect hissing and teeth baring as well as strutting and the fluffing of their hair.
If you only have one guinea pig then spend as much time with them as possible. Guinea pigs really like to be sociable and if there are not other pigs around for them to interact with it is all down to you. Take your guinea pig out of the cage and play with them often. If your guinea pig feels neglected they can get very depressed.
Depression is not good for your guinea pig so watch out for signs of listlessness and a lack of energy. If your guinea pig shows these signs then the best course of action is to take them to see a vet.
A Guinea Pig is a Great Family Pet?
Yes it is. A guinea pig is adorable and all of your family will love how cute it is. They do some very entertaining things as well which will keep everyone amused. Teach all of your family members how to hold and gently stroke your guinea pig. They love attention and your family will love to give it to them.
Common Problems for a Guinea Pig
It is easy to care for guinea pigs and usually they are pretty hardy and will be healthy most of the time. But unfortunately they can experience a number of different health problems and we will discuss the more common ones here.
Pet guinea pigs spend a lot of time in homes where they breathe air that contains a lot of small particles. They are susceptible to respiratory infections from some of these particles which can take place in their lungs, noses and throat.
The symptoms of a respiratory infection often resemble that of an allergy. If you notice any of these signs then you need to take your guinea pig to see a vet as soon as possible. Respiratory infections can cause your guinea pig to experience severe breathing problems and they can die from this.
Look to see if your guinea pig is showing signs of sneezing, wheezing or coughing. A guinea pig with a respiratory infection will often lose their appetite and become very listless and not move around very much. You may detect a discharge in their eyes or nose and their coat may be puffed up.
Guinea pigs can get viral infections from humans such as colds and influenza. If these conditions are not treated then they can turn to pneumonia and this can kill your guinea pig. When you or other family members have a cold or the flu then stay away from your pet.
Stress can bring on respiratory infections too. If your guinea pig cage is too small or overcrowded then this will stress out your pets. When you handle your guinea pig make sure that your hands are scrupulously clean. Get your guinea pig to the vet immediately at the first sign of a respiratory infection for diagnosis and the correct course of treatment.
A guinea pig has a very sensitive gastrointestinal system and a number of things can cause diarrhea problems. The most common cause of diarrhea in a guinea pig is what they eat. Never give your guinea pig human food as they will not be able to handle it. If they eat anything with mold or other bacteria on it then diarrhea will often be the result.
While we tend to brush diarrhea off as something that happens occasionally it can be a serious problem for a guinea pig. Sometimes they will suffer from a mild case of diarrhea but in many cases it is severe. Severe diarrhea is very painful for your pet and it is also very dangerous for them.
If you have adopted a guinea pig from a rescue center then they might experience diarrhea due to the change in diet. Find out what the center was feeding them and if you want to change this then get some of this food and gently wean them off of it. Be careful how much lettuce, and other foods that act as a laxative, you give to your guinea pig.
Sometimes if your guinea pig has diarrhea it may be a sign that something serious is wrong with them such as Enteritis. If your guinea pig has mild diarrhea then restrict them to a water and hay only diet for a few days until it clears up. Talk to your vet if your guinea pig is constantly suffering from diarrhea.
Guinea pigs need vitamin C for their health and like us they cannot produce it themselves. So their diet needs to include foods rich in vitamin C so that they can avoid issues with their immune system, growth issues and dental problems to name but a few.
It is not enough to give a guinea pig vitamin C on one day and then nothing for the next few days. They cannot store vitamin C so they will require it in their diet every day. An adult guinea pig needs around 10mg of vitamin C each day and if they are pregnant or sick they will need around 30mg a day.
If your guinea pig doesn’t get the vitamin C that they need then they can develop scurvy. You really don’t want your beloved guinea pig to get scurvy because it causes joint stiffness and swelling and can even cause paralysis. It is essential that you provide the right levels of vitamin C to your guinea pig to avoid scurvy.
Scurvy is not the only problem that can result from vitamin C deficiency. It can make your guinea pig more vulnerable to infection and can stunt their growth. They can also die early if they are vitamin C deficient.
Give your guinea pig foods rich in vitamin C such as cabbage, broccoli and kale. Give them oranges to eat as well. You can get vitamin C tablets that are soluble in water which you can add to their water bottle or pot.
I wrote more on Best Vitamin C For Guinea Pig here.
You should give your guinea pig a regular health check by feeling their coats. If you notice any abnormal lumps then this can be a tumour. A guinea pig can get a tumour almost anywhere on their body so if you do feel any lumps then get them to the vet straight away.
Your guinea pig can get cancer but a lump doesn’t always mean this. In some cases the lump could be just a treatable cyst. A guinea pig can have a fatty cyst which is harmless and these tend to be hard. If you discover any lumps then we strongly recommend that you visit the vet even as a cautionary measure.
If your guinea pig has an infection then they can get an abscess. Substances in the body of your guinea pig which are trying to fight the infection cause these abscesses. Your guinea pig can get an abscess anywhere on their body and usually there will be a hard capsule around it. An abscess can develop under the skin and on it.
Check your guinea pig thoroughly for abscesses especially if they have, or have recently had, an infection. Get your pet to the vet and they will drain the abscess and dress it correctly. If you notice that an abscess has recently burst, cover the wound with micropore tape and gauze and get a mild disinfectant from your vet to clean the affected area.
UTI (Urinary Tract Infections)
Guinea pigs are prone to UTI’s and there are certain symptoms that will indicate the presence of one. The first of these is blood in the urine. Inspect the bedding of your guinea pig cage for dried blood. Also hold your guinea pig in the air to see if there is any dried blood around their bottom.
If your guinea pig has a UTI then urination is often painful for them. Wait until they need to urinate again and while they are doing it listen out for any squeaking sounds that indicate pain.
Another symptom of a YTI is a sore abdomen caused by a tender bladder. The best way to check for this is to pick up your guinea pig and then put your hand on their abdomen and see what they do. If they get angry and want to bite or scratch you then they could have a UTI.
When a guinea pig has a UTI they will tend to urinate less often than usual. Unless you know the urination patterns of your guinea pig this one can be tough to spot but you can check the cage bedding and see if there is the same amount of urine as usual.
A guinea pig is prone to UTI’s because it spends a lot of time in the cage where it will be running around in its own urine and feces. Bacteria from this can cause a UTI so make sure that you clean the cage regularly. If you suspect a UTI then take your guinea pig to the vet. They will examine your pet and then prescribe a course of anti biotics.
I wrote more on Guinea Pig Die From UTI here.
Parasites and Skin Problems
Your guinea pig can suffer from parasites and skin problems. Young guinea pigs are susceptible to ringworm which is a fungal infection of the skin. A guinea pig can get ringworm from a human and from other guinea pigs if you have more than one.
When a guinea pig has ringworm their skin will normally be itchy and they can develop scabs and suffer from hair loss. It is common to see ringworm lesions around the head, face and ears and these tend to spread to the legs and the back. If you find ringworm lesions then take your guinea pig to the vet immediately. They can treat with anti fungal medication.
Your guinea pig can also suffer from lice and fleas. A vet will diagnose fleas if they find adults or their feces on your guinea pigs fur or skin. To detect lice a vet will need to use a microscope to examine a skin or hair sample. You will commonly find lice eggs on hair around the ears, the face or the shoulder area.
A guinea pig that is suffering from mite infestation can experience really intense itching and this can make their skin raw and crusty from continuous scratching. Hair loss can also occur and they can get other bacterial infections from this. With intense scratching your guinea pig can even have a seizure.
Take your guinea pig to the vet if you suspect a mite infestation. They can diagnose the problem correctly and prescribe anti parasitic medication for effective treatment. Don’t let your guinea pig suffer too long from intense itching and scratching.
How to choose the Right Guinea Pig Cage
The most important thing about a guinea pig cage is the size. You must ensure that your guinea pig has enough room to move around comfortably. If you are going to get more then one guinea pig then you will need an even larger cage. The Humane Society recommends that a guinea pig cage should have a minimum of 7.5 square feet of floor space.
The guinea pig cages that you see in some pet stores are a lot smaller than this. It doesn’t matter if they have shelves or even another level because guinea pigs prefer a large single level anyway. If the cage is too small for your guinea pig they can get stressed by this and will be very unhappy.
Always go for a guinea pig cage that has good air flow and never choose one that has solid sides like an aquarium. Make sure that the materials used to construct the cage have no toxic elements and no sharp edges that can harm your pet.
Guinea pig cages constructed from storage cube grids and coroplast are great. You will see these called C & C cages. There are other cages available made from wood, plastic and metal which are good as well. If you have some DIY skills then you can even make your own guinea pig cage.
Read more on How to choose a guinea pig cage here.
Guinea Pig Cage Price
You will see guinea pig cages starting from around $30 and going up to hundreds of dollars. Don’t go for the cheap ones as they will be too small. Invest as much as you can in your guinea pig cage and make sure that it is big enough.
Guinea Pig Cage Accessories
There are many accessories available for guinea pig cages. One of the most important things is the bedding that you use. We recommend that you use fleece material and a towel layer underneath because the urine will pass through the fleece and it will remain dry. It is also very easy to clean a fleece on a regular basis.
Other accessories include food bowls and water bowls or a water feeder bottle, hideaway houses, a potty for your guinea pig if you want to potty train them (recommended) and various toys and treats.
I wrote more on What you need in a guinea pig cage here.
How to Care for a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs do not require as much care as some pets but you will need to do some things on a regular basis. So below are the essentials of guinea pig care, including what you will need to do and when.
How to Bathe a Guinea Pig and how often
Guinea pigs do a good job of keeping themselves clean and they are always washing themselves. You will need to bathe your guinea pig sometimes and we recommend once a month or longer. Bathing your guinea pig too often can actually cause them to get infections.
To bathe a guinea pig the first step is to make them calm. They are not going to like a bath much so make them calm before putting them into the water. When they are calm run a damp cloth across their fur to get rid of surface dirt.
Prepare a suitable container and add around 2 inches of warm water to it. You don’t want your guinea pig to slip in the bath so add a cloth to the bottom of the container. Your guinea pig must be able to stand up easily in the water so don’t put in too much.
Gently lower your guinea pig into the water and give them a little time to adjust. Scoop some warm water using your hands and then gently rinse their coat. Add a few drops of guinea pig safe shampoo to your hands and then massage your pet gently with this.
After you have massaged in the shampoo you will need to rinse it all of with more warm water. Be careful not to get any water or shampoo near your guinea pigs face and eyes. Use a clean dry towel to thoroughly dry your guinea pig.
I wrote more on How often are you supposed to bathe a guinea pig here.
How to cut Guinea Pig Nails
You can use nail clippers for humans or those designed for cats and other small animals to clip your guinea pigs nails. Try to clip their nails about once a month because you don’t want their nails to curl from being too long.
To clip the nails you will need to hold your guinea pig still which will be a challenge. You may need someone else to help you for the first few nail clipping sessions. There are several ways to hold your guinea pig and wrapping them in a towel can be a good one.
Use the clippers to remove the sharp tip of the nail and be careful not to cut the quick. Don’t cut any more than ¼ inch off the nail as you may get too close to the quick. If you are worried about cutting their nails then a professional pet groomer or a vet can help.
It is important that your guinea pig gets the right amount of exercise which is another reason why a large cage is so important. You can add toys to their cage to encourage them to exercise. Place the suitable toys in different locations so they have to go and look for them.
Allow your guinea pig to roam around in a room of your home that you have made guinea pig proof. If you have other pets, especially cats, then keep them away. Close off any places where your guinea pig can squeeze into where you will have difficulty getting them out.
Add some towels or other absorbent material to the floor to take care of any bathroom activities. You can add some of their toys as well for even more fun. Place some veggie treats in different places so that your guinea pig has to go and find them.
Feeding Guinea Pig
Your guinea pig is unlikely to overeat so it is important that they have a balanced diet. We recommend a mixture of hay, fresh vegetables and pellets. Give them about an 1/8th of a cup of pellets every day with as much fresh hay as you want.
Give them around a cup of fresh vegetables and fruit every day too. Oranges are a good source of vitamin C and you can give them kale, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and romaine. Once or twice a week you can add sweet potato, zucchini and carrots.
I wrote more on What can I feed my guinea pig here.
Vitamins for a Guinea Pig
If you follow the recommendations for feeding above your guinea pig will get the vitamins that it needs. Pay close attention to vitamin C as a guinea pig needs this but cannot self produce it. Little orange pieces every day and enriched vitamin C foods such as kale and broccoli are enough. You can add a vitamin C tablet to the water as well.
See the Best Vitamin C For Guinea Pig here.
How to Clean a Guinea Pig Cage
It is essential that you clean your guinea pig cage often to ensure that your pet remains healthy. Guinea pigs have to live with their own waste in a cage and the bacteria from this can make them sick.
Every day spot clean your cage. This means getting rid of surface droppings and replacing soiled disposable bedding. You can use a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush for this. About once a week you will need to give your guinea pig cage a thorough clean.
Have another place where your guinea pig can go while you are cleaning the cage. A good size box should be ok. Remove all of the items from the cage and clean these individually with hot soapy water.
If you are using fleece bedding then you will need to put this in the washing machine as well as the towel layer. Use hot soapy water to thoroughly clean the inside of the cage. Rinse this off. Apply a mixture of white vinegar and water to get rid of stubborn stains and odors. Rinse well after this ensuring that the vinegar smell has gone.
When the cage is completely dry you can add new clean bedding and the clean food and water bowls, hideaway house and toys. Finally add your guinea pig back into the cage. You must stick to a cage cleaning schedule. A dirty cage can cause severe health problems for your guinea pig.
I wrote more on How To Clean Guinea Pig Cage With Vinegar here.