Guinea pigs make excellent pets for individuals and families. They do not take up much space and are relatively easy to care for. If you decide to bring a guinea pig home, be prepared before the big arrival. Essentials to have on hand include a cage, hut (hiding place), bedding, feed, feed crock, water bottle, and toys.
Your new guinea pig will need a place to play, eat, sleep and feel secure. When selecting a cage, make sure it’s big enough for your guinea pig to run around, as they like to play. The cage also needs to be large enough for a hut as a hiding place, and a feed crock. Cages will usually have a plastic bottom and a pet-safe wire detachable top. The detachable top will make cleaning the bottom unit each week easier. When selecting the perfect cage for your new companion, make sure the door opening is big enough for you to retrieve your guinea pig easily. Pet supply stores carry several types and sizes of cages to house guinea pigs. If you bring home a bonded pair of guinea pigs (males bonded with other males or females bonded with other females) be sure the cage you purchase is large enough to give two guinea pigs plenty of room. You can design your own guinea pig cage using cubes and Coroplast. These cages are easy to make and clean, and expand or reduce in size. Guinea pigs housed in smaller cages require more exercise out of their cages. Do not use an aquarium or plastic storage tub for a cage, as neither is well ventilated. Do not use cages made of wood, as they may chew through the wood, plus their urine will soak into the wood making it very hard to clean and sanitize. Do not put guinea pigs on wire floors as they can get toenails or limbs caught in the wire and become injured.
Once you have chosen the perfect cage for your guinea pig, make sure to choose a hut or hiding place. There is a huge selection of huts ranging from plastic to hay huts. The purpose of a hut is to give your guinea pig a place to hide when it is not feeling safe, or as a secluded place to rest. Make sure the hut is large enough for your pet to lie down. Plastic huts are inexpensive, durable and washable, but are likely to get chewed. A better hiding place for your guinea pig is an untreated 3-sided wooden house with a top. Your pet will be able to chew on the house to keep its teeth trimmed, and you can easily lift the house up to handle your guinea pig. Hay huts and huts made of edible material have to be replaced, but they also help your guinea pig keep its teeth trimmed.
Proper bedding is important as it cushions where your guinea pig walks, plays, and sleeps. It also absorbs urine. Select bedding that is safe for guinea pigs to eat, as they occasionally chew on or ingest bedding materials. Bedding needs to be as dust-free as possible to reduce respiratory problems. Bedding comes in different materials, forms and colors. Some bedding is made fromrecycled paper and is in loose or pelleted forms. Recycled paper or aspen shavings are the two most often recommended types of bedding. Do not use cedar shavings or other scented bedding since guinea pigs’ respiratory systems are very sensitive, and irritation and respiratory conditions may occur. Also the deadly phenols contained in aspen shavings have been linked to liver and kidney damage in rodents, in addition to respiratory conditions. Cover the solid cage floor with about 2 inches of dry bedding. Remove wet spots daily, and replace all of the bedding every week with fresh bedding.
Food and Water:
Guinea pigs are monogastric herbivores, with non-compartmentalized stomachs similar to humans. Proper nutrition is essential to their good health. High-quality plain guinea pig pellets and hay are a necessary part of their daily diet. Feed only plain pellets, and avoid a commercial feed that contains fillers such as seeds, nuts, dried fruits, artificial sweeteners, sugars, etc. Your guinea pig may sort out the fillers and leave the essential pellets behind. Feed only commercial pellets made for guinea pigs, as they contain Vitamin C.
Guinea pigs less than one year old, or those pregnant or lactating, should be fed pellets made from alfalfa hay, which are higher in crude protein and calcium than pellets made primarily from timothy hay. Feed timothy hay-based pellets to guinea pigs over one year of age.
Another essential part of your guinea pig’s diet is hay. Guinea pigs have an enlarged cecum and colon, like that of the rabbit and horse. Hay provides the necessary fiber in your pet’s diet. Pellets alone are not enough. As discussed with feeding pellets, feed young guinea pigs, and pregnant or lactating sows alfalfa hay, and grass hay (timothy, orchard grass, etc.) to guinea pigs over one year old.
Guinea pigs also require vitamin C. Like humans and other primates, guinea pigs cannot make their own Vitamin C. If deficient in Vitamin C, they can develop scurvy, bone deformities, reproduction and immune system problems, and skin problems. Pellets alone do not provide enough Vitamin C to keep your pet healthy. You must supplement your guinea pig’s diet with Vitamin C. This can be done by giving your pet a daily supply of fresh vegetables or adding a Vitamin C supplement to the water or food. Make sure Vitamin C supplements are in a stabilized form, or the Vitamin C will break down quickly. When adding Vitamin C to food or water, change every day and add fresh supplement.
Feed your guinea pig in a crock that it can’t chew or tip over. Plastic bowls tend to get knocked over and cause wastage of pellets.
Provide fresh water daily to your guinea pig. Most cages will already have a water bottle included, but if not, don’t forget to purchase one. Keep fresh water available at all times, changing the water daily. You can also purchase a water bowl if you prefer, just make sure that it is a heavy crock that won’t be tipped over easily. Guinea pigs tend to knock bedding and hay into a water bowl, which then needs to be changed more often than once a day.
Purchase pet-safe wooden chew toys to help them file their teeth. Safe toys will also entertain your guinea pig and help prevent boredom.
Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, Ph.D., and Belle Flores – University of Nebraska-Lincoln