CARING FOR YOUR PET GUINEA PIG
Cavies or guinea pigs, as they are most commonly called, are unique and very interesting animals. The guinea pig originated in South America, principally Peru. Males are called boars and females, sows. They have an extremely long gestation period of 68 days, which is longer than dogs or cats! The piglets, when born, are duplicates of their parents. While most rodent babies are born pink, naked and blind, guinea pigs are fully furred, wide-eyed and ready to run! Guinea pigs weigh on average 0.9 kg (2 lbs) full grown. Their endearing habit of whistling is very appealing and they rarely bite, making them an ideal pet for children.
Our pet counsellors are small animal lovers and because they are, they hold and play with all the small animals in our store. Our guests also play a big part in our small animal’s social skills.* This is why Petland small animals are quick to bond with their new owner.
There are many different breeds of guinea pigs. The most common is the Smooth Hair, which has short, smooth and evenly flat fur. The English and American Crested, have a hair whorl, or rosette on the forehead. The Abyssinian has a long fancy coat made up of swirling rosettes and cowlicks, (looks like a bad hair day!) The Peruvian has long, dense, shiny hair that grows in whorls all over his body. The Peruvian Silky has an elegant coat that grows all the way to the floor giving them the look of a miniature Shih Tzu puppy and making it difficult to tell one end from the other. The Teddy Bear’s coat is the texture of a short bristle brush, while the Rex has short, fine hair that is wavy or curly. The Texel guinea pig (a cross between the Rex and Peruvian), has short, fizzy hair around the head, and long hair all over the body, which curls in corkscrews.
One Piggy or Two?
Guinea pigs are social animals that live in family groups in their natural setting. This should be sufficient reason to keep more than one guinea pig. We recommend neutering before sexual maturity; this will help with keeping males together. You can house two immature males or two males that have had no contact with females, together in one cage. Two females usually get along with each other.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your guinea pigs, Petland recommends the following necessary and fun accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Nutritional, Environmental, Maintenance and Behavioural. When these needs are met, along with a loving environment provided by you, your guinea pigs can live a long and happy life. Typically a healthy guinea pig may live eight to 10 years.
Your Guinea Pig’s New Home – Your guinea pig will need a place of their own where it can find security and quiet time. No matter how large the living quarters, they should still have running time outside the cage. Your guinea pig will need physical and social stimulation, which no cage can provide. Your pet counsellor can show you a selection of homes with high bottoms for less litter spills and large doors for easy access.
Hiding Place – A guinea pig’s natural response to danger or an unusual situation is to flee. If there is no where to flee to, they will become very anxious and in turn will become stressed, which may lead to health problems. Petland has many hiding places to choose from.
Hay – Your guinea pig is a herbivore, which means he eats only plant food. Grass hay is absolutely vital to the digestive health of your guinea pig, and will make up the majority of your pet’s daily diet. It helps prevent obesity, dental disease, diarrhea and boredom. The bonus is that they also love it. Guinea pigs should have unlimited access to grass hay, and eat a pile of hay twice the size of his body everyday. In additional, guinea pigs less than six months old must also receive alfalfa hay, as it has additional calcium and protein. After six months, alfalfa hay should be used only as a treat. All grass hays, timothy, orchard grass, oat and botanical (timothy blended with herbs) are exactly the same nutritionally; they are just different in taste and texture. Resist offering the same type of hay, thus ensuring that your pet won’t refuse hay if the colour or texture changes, which does happen naturally.
Guinea Pig Pellets – Vitamin C supplementation is vital to the health of your guinea pig. Just like you, they cannot produce their own vitamin C, so it must be supplemented in their diet. Select a guinea pig pellet that is made from hay and fortified with vitamin C. Alfalfa hay pellets (legume hay), are used for young guinea pigs because of their specific growing needs and must be offered free choice until your guinea pig is approximately six month of age. Mature guinea pigs, over six months, require 1/8 cup daily of timothy hay pellets (grass hay), which are high in fibre and lower in protein and calcium in addition to unlimited grass hay. Provide mixes with nuts, corn, seeds and fruits as a treat only. Guinea pigs have a habit of selecting these tempting morsels and leaving the healthy pellets.
Fresh Foods – Guinea pigs are herbivores, and as such need fresh greens and foods rich in cellulose. The total amount of fresh foods daily is about 1 cup. Carrot and beet tops, dandelion greens and flowers (that have not been subjected to spraying), kale, collard greens, romaine and leaf lettuce (not iceberg lettuce), parsley, carrots and pea pods are some good choices. As with any new food, be sure to introduce new vegetables slowly to avoid upsetting your pet’s stomach and causing diarrhea.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement – Your guinea pigs may not accept the extra foods you offer, nor eat enough of them. To make sure your guinea pigs are getting the vitamins their body requires, we recommend adding a vitamin supplement made for guinea pigs. Provide daily according to bottle directions.
Mineral and Salt Stone – Your guinea pigs need a salt and mineral stone available at all times. Salt will encourage them to drink enough water and the water aids in digestion.
Treat Foods – Treat foods are relished, but offer only small amounts, about 1 Tbsp daily. Offer treats to encourage interaction between you and your pet, and only after your pet eats his basic diet. Boxed crunchies, mixed sees, treat sticks and fresh fruits, such as strawberries, pineapple and apples are all treats, and should be offered as such. Oats/oatmeal should be avoided, as they are high in carbohydrates.
Water Bottle – Use a large water bottle, not a dish, to keep their water clean and to conserve the liquid vitamins. Fresh de-chlorinated water must be available at all times. Wash the bottle and replace water daily.
Crock Dishes and Hoppers/Mangers – Crock dishes are easy to clean, cannot be chewed and are difficult to tip over. Food hoppers allow your guinea pigs easy access to their food and prevent them from dumping dishes and soiling their food. Either way, you will need three feeding stations, one for food, one for hay and one for fruits and vegetables.
Pine, aspen or corn cob litter is recommended for your guinea pigs. Cedar or other aromatic litters may cause respiratory problems or skin irritation. Use a litter scoop to spot clean corners. Once a week you should wash their cage with hot water and mild soap, rinse well and dry completely. Do not use bleach or other household cleaners, which will irritate your guinea pig’s respiratory system.
Brush and Comb – Guinea pigs spend time everyday grooming, but they still need help from you. Depending on the breed that you have, a soft slicker brush and a stainless steel comb will aid in the removal of excess fur. For breeds with longer hair, a coat conditioner found in our cat department may be used to reduce the painful tug from tangles.
Nail Clippers and Coagulant – Your guinea pig’s nails should be trimmed with a small animal nail clipper. Take care not to over trim or cut into the blood vessels running through each nail. Should this happen, have a blood coagulant waiting and ready for use.
Chew Blocks – Your guinea pigs’ teeth will grow throughout their life. It is important that you give them a variety of safe chewing aids to help keep their teeth trimmed. Ask your pet counsellor for recommended products for guinea pigs to chew. Check their teeth regularly to be certain they are not suffering from a condition called malocclusion (improper bite), which prevents them from eating normally. In this condition the lower teeth slide over the top teeth creating an under bite. If you suspect your guinea pig to have this problem, please see your small animal veterinarian.
Ladders and Platforms – Guinea pigs love to climb! Placing a piece of fruit or vegetable on top of a stable platform (not too high), will encourage your guinea pigs to climb up the ladder to get their reward.
Harness and Leash – Your guinea pigs are fast runners! Remember, that this is how they got away from predators in the wild. Keep them safe, while taking a stroll outside, by using a harness and leash made for guinea pigs. Never leave your guinea pigs unattended outdoors.
A Book About Guinea Pigs – Petland has many excellent books on small animals available. Your pet counsellor can help you select a book that will best suit your needs.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your particular pet’s needs.
*Ask about the volunteer programs at your nearest Petland location.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets must be kept in a clean environment to avoid the spread of dirt and contaminants to yourself and others. Always keep your pet’s home clean, and wash your hands before and after handling your pet or cleaning his home.
Please remember that all pets may bite or scratch, and may transmit diseases to humans. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their homes.