Keeping Guinea Pigs

Keeping Guinea pigs is a great alternative to cats and dogs, which have become the traditional favourite pet to own. Keeping Guinea pigs as a domesticated species begun more than 3000 years ago in Peru. The South American rodent belongs to the cavy family. There are no natural populations of guinea pigs in the wild but they are bred in many South American countries as a sustainable food source. They were introduced to Europe and by the 1800’s they became popular household pets.

Keeping Guinea Pigs Pet Care, Facts

Unique Features

Weight: Adult boar (male) 1200 – 1700g,

Adult sow (female) 1200 – 1400g

Length: 20-40cm long

Lifespan: can live up to eight years, although three to five is typical

Guinea pigs have a robust body with short limbs and a large head. Their eyes are large and they have short, rounded ears. While there is no visible tail, they actually have seven tail bones that are closely fused to the pelvis. The underside of a guinea pigs foot consists of hair free pads. The front feet each have 4 toes while the back feet each have 3.

There are now literally hundreds of different breeds of guinea pigs available. They are broadly divided into two groups based on the texture of their hair; the smooth coats and the rough coats.

Smooth coat guinea pigs can also come in a satin variety, which gives the coat a shiny appearance. Rough coat guinea pigs definitely require more attention and are for people who are prepared to do a lot of grooming!! They can have long flowing coats, crests, rosettes or hair that sticks out in all directions. With both coat textures there is a vast array of colour combinations available.

Keeping Guinea Pigs Pet Care, Facts

Housing your guinea pig

Guinea pigs are prey animals, so when it comes setting up a home for them, it is important to provide them with adequate protection. They need places where they can hide when they feel unsafe, stressed or unwell.

An ideal hutch has a sheltered area and an open space where guinea pigs can run and stretch their little legs. An outdoor enclosure should be fully enclosed, with a solid roof or strong wire mesh to protect them from predators. The enclosure should be durable and made of non-toxic material and allow for easy cleaning. The hutch should be placed in a quite area that is free from drafts and protected from sudden temperature changes.

For comfort, the solid sections of the cage floor should be covered in soft, absorbent material. This will also help to prevent serious foot problems from occurring. Suitable options include newspaper covered with soft grass hay, fleece fabric or shredded newspaper.

Cage buddies

Guinea pigs are very social creatures and are best kept in pairs, either two sows or two boars.  Two boars will be fine together as long as there are no sows around! You should avoid keeping a bore and sow together unless you are planning on many more guinea pigs!

If you unfortunately suffer a loss of one of your guinea pigs, the remaining guinea pig may grieve for their cage mate. This can cause their small bodies much distress. You should look at keeping guinea pigs emotions at bay by introducing a small toy about the same size as them, or by giving them a mirror so that they can see another guinea pig. Introducing a new, guinea pig is also an option and usually goes smoothly if introduced slowly.

Keeping Guinea Pigs – From baby to adult

Guinea pigs come to sexual maturity at a very young age, with males being mature at 3 months and females at just two months of age. Females are deemed to be of breeding age at 5 – 8 months and in captivity they will breed all year round. The female has a 68 day gestation and can bare up to 13 young, but the average is 4 pups. These amazing little pups are able to eat solid food the day they are born but they also drink milk from their mothers and are weaned by 3 weeks of age. The pups are born with fur and have their eyes open soon after birth.

Using their senses to their advantage

Guinea pigs have large eyes that are placed on either side of the head. This placement gives them a wide field of vision so that they can detect predators coming from above or from any angle on the ground. Whilst this eye placement is good for detecting predators, they are unable to see right in front of their noses! Their vision is not particularly good, although they are believed to see different colours and are able to see moving objects.

Since guinea pigs can’t see right in front of them, they can’t see what they are eating. Given that eating is their favourite thing to do, they rely on their sense of smell and touch when it comes to choosing what to eat. They have a very well developed sense of smell and use this in conjunction with their sensitive whiskers that are placed around their nose, eyes and mouth.

The guinea pigs sense of hearing is also highly tuned and they can hear sound frequencies that are inaudible to the human ear.

Pearly whites

This first stage of digestion is of course chewing.  Guinea pigs have 4 incisors that are visible at the front of their mouth, 2 at the top and 2 on the bottom which are used for gnawing and biting their food. The incisors are about 1 – 1.5cm in length. Further back in the mouth, there are an additional 18 teeth, all of which are molars and are responsible for chewing. The guinea pigs jaw moves in a side to side motion and this motion may be made up to 200 times per minute. Guinea pigs have teeth that are known as open-rooted teeth, meaning that they are constantly growing, but with all of the eating that piggy’s do, the teeth are kept worn down to a fairly even level.

What’s on the menu?

Eating is a guinea pigs favourite past time. They eat vegetation and will drink very little water if they are supplied with moist food, but water is a must if they are fed on dry commercial food. Most good quality dry foods, that have been formulated especially for guinea pigs are fortified with vitamin C. Carrots and broccoli are also great sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C is very important in a guinea pigs diet as they cannot synthesis their own and without it they are, at risk of becoming very ill with scurvy.

Introducing a wide range of fruits, vegetables and herbs, when they are young, will help your guinea pig to enjoy a wide and varied diet. Grass and garden weeds, such as dandelions and milk thistles are a favourite option and best of all they are free. Guinea pigs make great little lawn mowers when their cage is placed out on the grass!

According to Guinea Pigs Australia, Guinea pigs practice copography (eating of ones faeces) to obtain B Vitamins which are not digested during the first intake of food. Guinea pigs produce two different types of droppings; the hard type that you find all over the cage and soft ones known as caecotrophs. The caecotrophs are full of protein and vitamins and an important part of the guinea pig diet, to maintain optimum health. Yes, they eat their own droppings, don’t be disgusted, they are only doing it to stay healthy!

Keeping Guinea Pigs Pet Care, Facts

Hay is another important dietary staple. Feed a good quality hay, not straw, as straw has no nutritional value. Guinea pigs will not only eat the hay but will also snuggle into it for warmth. When choosing a hay, make sure that it is not dusty or mouldy. Mites can often be found in hay and cause your guinea pig some grief, so it is advisable to freeze the hay in small batches for 24 hours to kill the mites.

Why not consider welcoming one of these furry little fellows into your family? They make great first pets for children and we promise, will bring you a new found fascination for this fur friend alternative.

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