Caring For Guinea Pigs: A Beginner’s Guide

Having a pet is good for your health. Pets are known to help reduce your stress, encourage you to get in shape, manage loneliness, and even train kids to be responsible. While the most common pets to own are dogs and cats, many people are looking to own guinea pigs today. Also referred to as cavies, guinea pigs are family-friendly pets since kids can easily care for them.

With a lifespan of up to eight years, these furry companions are smart, sociable, and adorable. They require appropriate care and attention like any other type of pet. Contrary to what some people think, caring for a guinea pig doesn’t require much effort or money. With this guide, you’ll learn how they’re actually low-maintenance. As long as you prepare what they need, they’re easy to look after and will live a happy and healthy life with you.

1. Know What To Feed Them 

An important reminder when it comes to taking care of guinea pigs is the kind of diet they must follow. Guinea pigs are herbivorous animals. As with rabbits, grass hay is a significant part of their diet. Grass is ideal for them since their teeth grow continually throughout their lifetime, and hay is abrasive for their teeth. Grass hay also sustains them with nutrients and minerals that they need for their bodies. For instance, grass provides them with vitamin C. Guinea pigs rely on vitamin C because their bodies can’t naturally manufacture them. Moreover, grass is a source of fiber, which aids in their digestion. 

You can ask your vet about the specific kinds of grass hay to feed your guinea pigs. But take note not to feed them legume hay since it contains high calories and protein. If guinea pigs eat legume hay, they will get urinary stones and gain weight, so it’s best to avoid this food source.   

Another essential part of their diet is vegetables and fresh fruits. You might be wondering, Can guinea pigs eat spinach? The simple answer is yes since spinach is a leafy green. Go for leafy vegetables, and if you have a garden, ensure the vegetables are freshly picked. Some vegetables they can eat are artichokes, romaine lettuce, green and red bell peppers, carrots, and carrot tops. Cucumber and broccoli are safe for cavies too.

Aside from leafy vegetables, guinea pigs can eat some fruits, like berries, pears, and apples.  However, try to be careful with their portions, as they shouldn’t consume too much vegetables and fruits.  

Pellets are okay, but that will depend on the ingredients they contain and components that were used. Read the label and nutritional values before feeding pellets to your pet and seek your vet’s advice. 

You don’t have to feed your furry member pellets, but if you do, you should serve them in a limited amount. One tablespoon of pellets a day is good enough. Go for a timothy-based pellet that has no nuts or fruits that are formulated with a stabilized vitamin C. 

Be aware of foods that aren’t safe for guinea pigs. For instance, foods that contain starch, like potatoes and bread, should be avoided at all costs. They can lead to an imbalance in the bacterial properties of cavies’ bodies. Bread, in particular, is sugary and filled with no nutritional value for guinea pigs. Potatoes consist of toxins that will result in digestive issues.

Seeds and kernels are just as unsafe for them. They not only harm their digestive system but can be a choking hazard as well. Cavies’ teeth aren’t built to munch on slippery seeds, after all. 

2. Set Up Their Habitat 

The size of your pig’s habitat will depend on how many there are. A larger hutch will be necessary if you have multiple guinea pigs. Before purchasing their house or cage, consider whether you’re planning to add more in the future or if you want to breed them. The female guinea pig will need more space to accommodate the birth to her babies. Typically, 3,000 to 5,000 square centimeters is ideal if you’re thinking of breeding more guinea pigs. You can ask your vet and verify habitat requirements. 

Since guinea pigs love grass hay, it’s best to cover their bedding with them. Have a drink bottle with its spout pointing inside the enclosure for their water needs. Your pigs need to be hydrated at all times. 

Enclose their cage in an area that’s not accessible to other animals. If you plan to get other types of pets, be sure to train them well, so they won’t harm your guinea pigs.

Ensure that your guinea pigs’ cages are cleaned daily and schedule a clean-up for at least twice a week. Before cleaning, transfer the cavies to a temporary travel cage, so they will remain safe. During clean-ups, replace the grass hay and wash their water bottles, toys, and other essentials. Be careful when using any cleaning solution, though, as it may cause your fur babies to experience an allergic reaction. 

Caring For Guinea Pigs: A Beginner's Guide

3. Provide Them With Toys To Play 

Keep your pet engaged. Foraging is a favorite pastime of guinea pigs. Invest in some toys for them to stay busy. While running wheels are standard for hamsters and other pet rodents, it’s best to seek your vet’s advice on whether they’re suitable for guinea pigs. 

Choose safer toy options like a playpen. A playpen allows your pigs to play in your house while keeping them protected. You can take them out from their cages once in a while, but make sure to give them your full attention while they’re out.  

4. Get A Companion For Your Furry Member 

Guinea pigs are known to be sociable. Hence, they would love to have companions. A guinea pig that stays with another is the happiest. However, their companion should preferably be the same gender to avoid conflicts. This is especially ideal if you don’t intend to breed them. 

When you’ve got guinea pigs and other kinds of pets, keep their cages separate from each other. For example, guinea pigs, hamsters, or rabbits should have their own cages.

5. Keep Them Away From Heat 

Long periods of exposure to temperatures above 25°C are not recommended for guinea pigs. The ideal temperature range for them is 17 to 24°C. Heat stress can easily affect guinea pigs because these animals have no sweat glands, which means they won’t be able to sweat. So, if they’re exposed to heat, they will eventually die. 

Thus, the temperature must be regularly monitored. During summer, keep your furry members’ cage in an air-conditioned or cool room. You should also keep them away from direct sunlight and ensure the cage is shaded if brought outdoors. Use ice cubes or chilled containers to lower the temperature in their environment. 

6. Groom Them 

Just like dogs and cats, guinea pigs need to be groomed. While it’s fine to bathe them with warm water, forgo shampoos or soaps, as they will eliminate natural oils in their hair. Aside from their hair, see to it that their teeth and nails are in healthy condition. You can visit the vet to have their toenails trimmed. Their nails can grow fast, so it’s crucial to trim them every now and then. 

Their hair gets tangled when left unbrushed. You’ll find some grooming brushes ideal for cavies at pet stores. A metal comb and a stiff brush—both in small sizes—are great options for them. Brush in the direction their hair goes, and if you see any excess hair, tangles, twigs, or leaves, remove them. Check too if they have sores on their skin or lice in their hair. 

If your guinea pig has long hair, comb their hair daily. To make this task easier, you can trim their hair with hair scissors or bring them to a groomer. On the other hand, you can brush short-haired guinea pigs only once a week. However, if they lose hair or shed more than usual, brush them every other day. 

Grooming them is a lovely way to bond with them. The best way to pick them up during a grooming session is to crouch down. When you place your hand over their shoulders, they will naturally adjust. When they do, scoop them up from underneath with the other hand. 

If you hold them, make sure to use both hands so that they don’t get startled and try to run off. They will appreciate consistent daily interactions with you and will trust you when you speak with them gently and move steadily. 

7. Learn About Pet Safety 

Allow your furry baby to get out of their cage every day by having them enjoy a walk in the playpen every once in a while. Besides walking, they will have a wonderful time jumping, running, and rolling around. 

But before you let them out, guarantee their safety and search for any signs of danger, such as small openings that could trap them and other pets that may harm them. In addition, ensure that the area is clear of toxic chemicals, plants, and electrical wirings that they might munch on accidentally. 

8. Schedule Regular Checkups 

Guinea pigs can suffer from serious health problems, such as diarrhea, tumors, and respiratory infections. Known as vitamin C deficiency, scurvy is a common problem too. It occurs when they don’t get enough vitamin C from their diet. Guinea pigs need vitamin C to have strong joints and maintain healthy skin. Vitamin C also helps them heal wounds. Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include difficulty walking or refusal to walk, ulcers on gums or skin, and swollen joints or feet. 

To protect your fur baby from these health issues, have them regularly checked by your vet. A regular checkup once a year is enough. Clinics usually offer various healthcare services for guinea pigs, including dental care and parasite control, grooming, and nutritional advice. 

If you notice that your furry friend doesn’t have much appetite, feels lethargic, undergoes changes in bowel movements, or even has overgrown teeth, bring them to the vet as soon as you can. Guinea pigs may develop overgrown teeth when they fail to chew enough. Overgrown teeth are just as serious as other health problems, as they might lead to other issues, such as dental abscesses, mouth sensitivity, red gums, and loss of appetite. 

Conclusion 

Guinea pigs are gentle creatures that can be tamed easily, making them easy to look after. However, they must receive proper care to stay healthy and happy. You can always refer to this guide to take care of them well. 

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