So what’s it like to own and care for these rodents with the funky hair, seemingly overgrown teeth, and charming squeaks?
In this article we will look at why people keep guinea pigs, how to buy them, and discuss how to give great guinea pig care.
Table Of Contents
- Are guinea pigs right for you?
- Rescue vs Buying
- Tips for choosing a guinea pig
- How much does a guinea pig cost?
- Guinea Pig Care: Housing
- Where should you keep your guinea pigs?
- Guinea Pig Care: Bedding
- Guinea Pig Care: Water Bottle or water bowl?
- Guinea Pig Care: Toys
- Guinea Pig Care: Health
- Guinea Pig Care: Exercise
- Guinea Pig Diet
Are guinea pigs right for you?
Let’s have a look and you can see if you feel a guinea pig is the right animal for you or not.
Benefits of owning guinea pigs
- Guinea pigs can live quite long for rodents – 6,7,8 years – so you have a nice amount of time to get to know them and enjoy their company.
- Guinea pigs cuddle, play and made adorable sounds like their soft purring and hilarious squeaking.
- For the most part, guinea pigs are sociable and affectionate.
- Guinea pigs are great pets for children of school age that have had pets before as they are sturdy animals that are quite calm when being handled.
- Guinea pigs are relatively easy to care for if you have the time and energy.
- Guinea pigs have a lot of personality and no two are the same.
- Guinea pigs like cool weather so it is fine to take them outside, so long as conditions are too severely cold.
- Guinea pigs are inexpensive to keep after the initial costs of buying the enclosure.
- Guinea pigs are generally very healthy animals and shouldn’t require too many visits to the veterinarian if cared for properly.
Negatives of owning guinea pigs
- Guinea pigs should be kept in pairs or small groups, so are you prepared to have more than one pet?
- Guinea pigs are not really starter pets because some can take time to get used to their owners and being handled. This is not ideal for young children who can be impatient. Also, some guinea pigs may nip and bite and their teeth can be sharp.
- Guinea pigs need a lot of regular cleaning. Being larger than a lot of pet rodents (e.g. hamsters, mice, gerbils, etc) they create more mess and their enclosure needs to be checked and spot-cleaned (i.e. urine and feces soaked areas removed as well as excess food) every day.
- Guinea pigs require time and energy to keep them entertained and healthy.
- Guinea pigs need larger cages and more space than a smaller pet animal would.
- Guinea pigs don’t like hot weather so if you live in a hot place you will need to keep them inside.
Rescue vs Buying
We love our guinea pigs and believe that the positives massively outweigh the negatives. If you feel the same then I guess you are ready to find your pigs.
First of all, you need to work out which breed of domesticated guinea pig you would like to have as a pet.
Ask yourself some questions, such as?
- What kind of personality do you want your guinea pig to have? (e.g. lively and entertaining; calm and gentle; sociable and affectionate)
- Does the breed make good pets for children?
- What look most appeals to you? (e.g. long hair or short hair; color)
- How much care does it need? (e.g. grooming an exercise)
To help you answer these questions and more, please take a look at our Introduction To Guinea Pigs article
Time to find your pets
Ok, so you’ve decided on which breed of guinea pig you want to make your new pet. Now all you have to do is decide how you are going to get it.
You pretty much have 3 options:
- Find a rescue group that has homeless guinea pigs
- Go to a local breeder
- Pop down to your local pet store and select a guinea pig that you like
We’ve put pet store last because we believe you should only go for this option if the first two are absolutely unavailable to you and you know a small, local pet store that treats its guinea pigs well.
Getting your guinea pig from a rescue center
This would be our number one option, so lets have a look at the pros and cons…
- You are saving more guinea pigs than just the one you adopt as the money you spend on your guinea pig will be used to buy food and medicine for the other guinea pigs that are still waiting to be rescued.
- Furthermore, adoption by you means that there are extra spaces for the centers to use for new animals that need rescuing.
- The guinea pigs will have been checked for medical conditions and treated if necessary. If there are any untreatable health conditions the rescue center will make you aware and give advice.
- Rescue centers save animals from dismal and often horrific situations.
- You can give an older guinea pig a second chance at having a happy life.
- Potential owners are vetted and considered before a guinea pig is given over to their care.
- Rescue centers will likely have bonded pairs available for adoption.
- Guinea pigs will be used to both human contact and being with other guinea pigs and animals so it should be easier to introduce them to your family and other pets.
- Most rescue centers will provide guidance on how to care for your new pets.
- Knowing the sex of the guinea pig is also a benefit of adoption
- It’s possible your guinea pig may be psychologically scarred and in poor mental health.
- It’s possible your guinea pig will need a lot of care and patience from you.
- May not be suitable for families with young children or other pets, depending on background.
- Reputable breeders are the best place to buy from as they focus on producing healthy animals with agreeable natures.
- Reputable breeders will be knowledgeable about the lines they breed – e.g. health background, lifespan, character.
- It’s likely you will be able to observe the parents to get a good idea of what your guinea pig’s personality will be like.
- Reputable breeders will know their animals well and can help to recommend ways to keep them happy and well looked after – e.g. what the guinea pigs like – food, toys, living conditions etc
- They can provide accurate sexing.
- Your guinea pig will be used to being handled from a young age.
Buying guinea pigs from a breeder
If you would prefer to get your pet from a breeder then that is a good option too with many pros and few cons, as you can see…
- Not all breeders are reputable. Some may not follow standards and are only into breeding for the money rather than the love of the animals. Be sure to do your research.
- You might need to travel some distance to find a reputable breeder.
- Guinea pigs are available in most pet stores so finding one should not be a problem.
- A good pet store will ensure their guinea pigs are treated well with regular feedings, bedding changes, access to a water bottle, toys and plenty of space.
- It’s the simplest way of selecting a new guinea pig.
- Big shops will likely have a large selection of guinea pigs to choose from.
Choosing guinea pigs from a pet store
As we said earlier, this should be an absolute last resort option and only if you are confident the pet shop is reputable.
We feel the cons outweigh the pros…
- Your local pet stores might not have the breed you are looking for.
- They might not be able to tell you about the guinea pig’s background.
- The sexing of the animals might be incorrect and you end up with a male and female that then mate.
- If you buy a guinea big from a pet shop that treats them poorly you are making space for the shop to add another guinea pig and treat it poorly too.
- Most pet stores get their guinea pigs from ‘producers’ or ‘mills’ who may not take as much care over their animals as they should due to the large numbers they produce.
Tips for choosing a guinea pig
If you choose to rescue a guinea pig because you just want to give a homeless animal a good home then that’s great – no need to consider anything further than that.
But, if you decide to buy a guinea pig from a pet store or breeder then there are a few things for you to consider…
- be patient and check out a number of stores or breeders
- try to find a store or breeder that has a good selection of guinea pigs to choose from
- think about what characteristics most appeal to you
- E.g. lively and entertaining; calm and gentle; sociable and affectionate
- Examine the guinea pig’s surroundings. If the guinea pigs’s living conditions are good then there is less likelihood that the guinea pig will suffer from health conditions (e.g. stress and diseases). Look for:
- a clean habitat
- easy access to food and water
- plenty of space – i.e. not overcrowded with other guinea pigs
- not caged with another obviously sick guinea pig
- Look a the guinea pig’s body. A guinea pig’s coat should well groomed, they should not be too fat or too thin, their eyes, nose and ears should not show any discharge or crust.
- See how they move and react to being handled. Check for signs of lameness when walking, distress when handled and labored breathing.
- Find out the age and try to select one that is around 6 weeks old.
- Make sure you know the guinea pig’s sex and choose a pair that are the same sex or a single one that is the same sex as the guinea pig you already have.
- Finally, ask yourself again…
- does it look healthy?
- is it happy to be handled and is the breeder or store worker happy to handle it?
- has it been kept in good conditions?
How much does a guinea pig cost?
As we mentioned earlier, it is recommended not to keep guinea pigs alone so you will need to buy at least a pair.
In the wild, guinea pigs live in groups and they can become stressed and depressed if they are on their own.
The cost of the guinea pigs themselves will depend on where you get them.
If you happen to have a friend or know someone that recently had a litter of guinea pigs then you may be able to get a pair from there for free.
If you are not sure then make an appointment with a veterinarian to get them checked and spayed or neutered if necessary.
If you choose the route of adoption from a rescue center then you can expect to pay around $25 or $30.
To get a guinea pig from a breeder might be a little bit more expensive but shouldn’t be more than $50 for each animal.
Pet stores might charge between $10 and $40.
So, as you can see, buying a guinea pig is not that expensive. The real costs come from guinea pig care!
Please see our article How Much Does A Guinea Pig Cost for an in depth breakdown of how much it costs to keep a guinea pig.
Guinea Pig Care: Housing
Before you buy your guinea pig you will need to have sourced a cage, bedding, water bottle/bowl, food and toys.
In order to keep them save and stop them from escaping you will need to purchases materials to make a fence and ‘roof’ – such as wire mesh and wooden stakes.
Lets have a look at what guinea pig’s need to feel comfortable and happy.
Of course you want your guinea pigs to be as comfortable as possible with lots of room to run around in, so the bigger the cage the better.
Please make sure that you have enough space to be able to house guinea pigs properly before you decide to keep guinea pigs as pets.
There are a number of reasons why roomy, spacious cages are beneficial.
- Even though guinea pigs are social animals and like being with other guinea pigs, they will fight if their living quarters are too small.
- Any animal needs space to move around and explore so it doesn’t become bored and depressed.
- A small enclosure means more chance of health issues from lack of activity, potentially causing them pain and discomfort and higher veterinarian bills for you.
- A larger cage means your pets can exercise themselves a fair bit and do it when they like, not just when you are around to supervise.
Types of cage
Before we reveal what kind of cages are best for guinea pigs, let’s quickly have a look at what you don’t want a cage to be.
So here’s what to avoid during your search for the perfect cage.
- A cage with a wire bottom. They are dangerous for guinea pigs because their feet can get stuck, and they create more mess for you as the bedding and waste (urine, feces, food, water) can leak out.
- Open top cages if you have other pets that may prey on your hamsters – e.g. cats.
- Aquariums. They may be cheap and easy to clean but they are terrible for air circulation and the average one is way too small for even one guinea pig, let alone two.
- Cages that are less than 10.5 square feet. This is the minimum requirement for housing a pair of guinea pigs. We think even this figure is too low.
- Cages with a lot of ledges but small living space. Ledges are great as they allow for a separate area to keep food and water, but they should add to the living space, not use it up.
- Pet store bought cages – usually too small and expensive.
Ok, so what kind of cages should you be looking for?
Well, we are big fans of building your own cage using wood or cubes and chloroplast.
Making your own cage is great because you can…
- build it to fit perfectly into the space you have.
- make it unique to your guinea pig’s personality (obviously if you haven’t met your guinea pigs yet you can’t do this).
- design the living space in any way you like – e.g. multi-leveled, open or closed top, multiple doors, tunnels, ledges, hideouts etc.
Have a look at this cool video showing someone building their own guinea pig cage out of IKEA tables – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOYdMRKh_jo
One issue to consider with a cage made from wood is that your guinea pigs might chew away at it to wear down their overgrown teeth, thus causing the cage to become damaged.
Cubes and chloroplast cages don’t have this problem.
They can also be customized to your needs by simply adding more bits and are quite easy to assemble.
What if I don’t feel comfortable in creating my own enclosure?
Not to worry, there are some fantastic ready-made cages out there.
We like MidWest Homes cages. You can connect multiple cages together and the bottoms are made from canvas, which allows for easy clean up and makes the cage nice and sturdy.
Cleaning the cage
A guinea pig’s cage should be completely cleaned out at least once a week.
You should also make daily checks to see if any particular areas of bedding need to be replaced due to saturation from urine, feces, water or food waste.
You will probably need to change the bedding at least 2-3 times a week.
Which cleaning products are safest to use?
If you do not want to risk chemicals around your guinea pig then you can try cleaning the cage with white vinegar and hot water.
Due to vinegar’s strong smell it is best to wait a while before putting your guinea pig back in.
If you want to get a deeper, more effective clean then you will likely need to use some kind of disinfectant (like bleach) or anti-bacterial dish soap are fine in small amounts and will give an effective clean.
Where should you keep your guinea pigs?
The place that you choose to house your pet will have a big impact on the kind of life it is able to lead. Here are three things to consider…
Your pet should not be exposed to a wide range of temperatures.
Guinea pigs cannot sweat and are vulnerable to heat stroke if temperatures exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep them in a bright room, but not in direct sunlight.
Conversely, if they are kept in a cold room (lower than 65 degrees Fahrenheit) that has a nasty draft, your guinea pig is likely to contract an upper respiratory infection.
Humidity is also another issue to be aware of.
Don’t house your guinea pigs in a space with high humidity because dampness in the air can lead to mold growing in the cage, which may lead to your pet getting sick.
Like humans, guinea pigs are social animals and enjoy being part of family life.
By keeping them in locations central to family activity, you will help to promote your pets’ happiness and well-being.
By keeping them close to you it will be easier to:
- monitor them
- feed them
- remember to clean them out
Do not keep your guinea pigs anywhere that the could leave them exposed to predators.
Do not keep them on the floor because they may be intimidated by your size and scared of loud noises from the vacuum cleaner, footsteps, running etc.
Don’t keep your guinea pigs in the kitchen. It’s not very sanitary.
Indoors or outdoors?
Most guinea pigs love being outdoors, but keeping them there lessens social interaction with humans and exposure to the elements.
Perhaps a compromise could be to make sure you take them outside for regular (preferably daily) plays that you can supervise.
Guinea Pig Care: Bedding
There are numerous options available for you when it comes to choosing bedding. So how do you know which type to pick?
To give you a hand, here is what we think bedding needs to provide in order to ensure the best quality of life for your pet.
- comfort – soft on feet and able to cushion a slip or fall
- absorbent – able to take wetness away from the surface so your pet doesn’t get wet
- dust free – dust can cause respiratory problems
- counteract odor – stop the strong smells of urine and feces
- non-toxic – some products like ceder and pine can give off oils toxic to guinea pigs
- digestible – will it cause health problems if your pet ingests it?
- climate control – it should keep your pet cool in the summer and warm in the winter
- cost – it should not mean a problematic expense to you or the environment
With these things in mind, here are what we believe are good, ok, and bad bedding choices.
Good – Paper, fleece
OK – Aspen shavings
Bad – ceder and pine shavings; newspaper; straw and hay
Ultimately, the bedding you choose is up to you, but we hope you make a decision based on the needs of your pet rather than what is most cost effective.
You can find more detailed information on the advantages and disadvantages of different bedding types in our article entitled How Much Does A Guinea Pig Cost?
Guinea Pig Care: Water Bottle or water bowl?
Guinea pigs need to consume quite a lot of water to remain healthy, so how they get that water is important.
You need to think about how you can ensure the water is kept clean and what your pet’s preferred water receptacle is.
On a slightly selfish level, you may also want to consider how easy the thing is to clean, fill and position in the cage. Plus, is it cost effective for you.
Some good advice might be to provide both a bottle and bowl at first and see which one best fits all of these criteria.
Let’s have a quick look at the pros and cons for each…
Guinea Pig Care: Toys
Guinea pigs are relatively intelligent creatures and most are lively, outgoing and curious. Some can even be a little mischievous.
Therefore, they really enjoy having the opportunity to play with toys.
Filling your pet’s enclosure with a lot of toys may cause it to become a bit overcrowded. A better idea would be to create a separate area where your pet guinea pigs can run around safely and play with some toys.
Some toys that guinea pigs love include:
- tunnels and tubes
- wooden blocks and climbing frames
- chew sticks and balls
- cardboard boxes
- socks and toilet rolls stuffed with grass hay
- an obstacle course
As you can see, some of these things you will need to buy but others you can make at home DIY style.
You can find more information about how to make and buy toys in this article – How Much Does A Guinea Pig Cost?
Guinea Pig Care: Health
If you want your guinea pig to live a long and comfortable life then it will need some help from you. Here’s what you can do…
Guinea pig pet owners should focus on five main grooming areas:
- Coat brushing
- Ear cleaning
- Dental care
- Nail trimming
Brushing helps to minimise shedding and enables owners to check for skin problems such as lumps or sores, and see if there are any parasites like mites and lice.
Short-haired guinea pigs only need to be brushed once or twice a week, but long-haired ones will need more attention – maybe a few times a week or even daily, depending on the breed.
What type of brush should be used?
It is best to use a narrow-toothed comb and brush in the direction that the guinea pig’s hair is going.
Check your guinea pig’s ears once a week and look for signs of mites, crustiness or bad odour. If you see any of these things then take your pet to the veterinarian.
Guinea pigs do not enjoy baths and may put up an almighty fuss, so it is best if you don’t have to bathe them too often.
Fortunately, if you look after your pet properly by cleaning its cage and maintaining a good brushing regimen, bathing does not need to be a regular thing.
Really, it is only necessary if…
- the skin or hair is soiled with urine or feces
- you find parasites like mites or lice
- you plan to show your guinea pig at a competition
If you do give your guinea pig a bath, don’t add more than an inch or two of water and use a shampoo specifically designed for guinea pigs.
To wash your pet – gently pour some water over its body, lather the body with shampoo, rinse off well and towel dry.
Make sure not to keep water and shampoo away from the face, eyes and ears!!
You don’t need to brush your pet’s teeth at home and they don’t even need to be cleaned particularly regularly by a veterinarian.
But, you do need to make sure your pet is provided with these things to help keep it’s teeth and gums healthy…
- high fiber grass hay, chew sticks and balls to help grind down continuously growing teeth.
- daily sources of vitamin c to for gum health
Guinea pig nails grow quite quickly and if they are not trimmed could curl round and dig into your pet’s footpad, causing pain and possible create an infection.
Neither you nor your furry friend wants this.
So, try to cut your guinea pig’s toenails every 4 to 8 weeks.
What’s the best way to go about it?
Here is a great video to guide you through things.
It can be quite a nerve-racking experience the first time you do it because you obviously don’t want to hurt or stress out your pet.
One of the trickiest aspects of the task, but an incredibly important one, is trying to hold your guinea pig still. You may want to get someone to help you for the first couple of times.
You can try distracting your guinea pig with it’s favourite foods.
But, after a few goes, you will get used to it. Just remember to not rush, take care, and enjoy being able to help your pet.
If you do have anything go wrong and accidentally injure your pet, don’t panic! There are things that can be done to stop any bleeding…
- try applying styptic powder to the bleeding area
- apply pressure to the wounded area using tissue paper
Guinea Pig Care: Exercise
Guinea pigs need exercise and mental stimulation, so it is vitally important that you give your guinea pigs enough space to run around in and play every day.
Here are some things you can do:
- provide as big an enclosure as possible – it should be big enough for your pet/pets to comfortably run around.
- make the habitat varied by creating levels and having a mix of environments.
- add toys into the habitat – e.g. chewing toys, exercise wheels, climbing apparatus, safe household items (see previous section entitled ‘toys’).create a safe outside playpen – guinea pigs love roaming around in the grass.
- make sure it is escape proof and your pets are protected from potential predators (i.e. do you need a roof?); no chemicals present and the temperature is ok; nothing poisonous around that a guinea pig might eat.
- provide foraging opportunities with food hidden around the enclosure – e.g. grass and hay stuffed into cardboard tubes or pellets under obstacles.
- change the setup of the enclosure from time to time to keep your guinea pigs interested.
- get your pet a friend if it is alone – introducing a second guinea pig will likely lead to increased exercise and mental wellbeing.
Guinea Pig Diet
Ok, finally let’s have look at feeding your guinea pig. What kind of diet is ideal?
Being herbivores, guinea pigs want to eat plant-based foods. In the wild they would forage and graze on fresh grass and plants.
Domesticated guinea pigs need a balanced diet of hay, guinea pig pellets and fresh vegetables.
Hay and fresh grass should make up 80-90 percent of a guinea pig’s diet.
We recommend Timothy hay over alfalfa hay because Timothy hay comes from grass and his higher in fiber with less calories.
A constant supply of hay can be given for your pets to work their way through at their leisure.
When outside, your guinea pigs can enjoy a healthy consumption of fresh grass.
High-quality commercial guinea pig pellets should be given daily, but in moderation. One to two tablespoons per day will be sufficient.
Fresh vegetables and herbs
One teacup can be given daily and aim to include 6 or 7 different vegetables in each serving.
There is a wide variety of vegetables and herbs (e.g. coriander, dill, basil, rosemary) that are safe for guinea pigs to eat, so try to mix it up day to day, but ones high in vitamin-c and fiber are especially important.
Something guinea pigs have in common with us is that they too cannot produce their own vitamin-c, so their daily diet must include a good quantity of vitamin-c rich foods.
Good sources of vitamin-c include:
- bell peppers
- green beans
- carrot tops
- cauliflower leaves and stalks
- beetroot greens
- artichoke leaves
- collard greens
- swiss chard
Unlike us, their teeth are constantly growing so lots of roughage (fiber) should be provided to help your pets grind down their teeth naturally. Fiber will also be good for gut health.
Suitable forms of fiber for your guinea pig include:
Fruits can make nice treats for your pets, but make sure to only give small amounts as fruits have a high sugar content.
Some appropriate fruits include:
- Tomato(not leaves or vine – poisonous)
- apple(not pips – poisonous)
DO NOT FEED
To ensure the safe welfare of your pet, you will also want to know which foods not to give them.
Avoid foods high in fat – e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado.
Avoid foods that can cause gas – e.g. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, Brussel sprouts
Also avoid: Iceberg lettuce – can induce diarrhea; rhubarb leaves – can cause kidney stones; onion varieties – can lead to blood disorders; and garlic is poisonous.
Finally, as we said earlier, guinea pigs are herbivores so they won’t eat meat and NEVER give them human treats such as chocolate, biscuits, other sweets and dairy products!