Guinea Pig Facts

The scientific name for guinea pig is Cavia Porcellus meaning pig like cavy. They belong to the rodent family. The original colour is golden agouti. They do not originate from Guinea as we would suppose but came from South America. Their native home is the mountains and grasslands of Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The Inca's bred them for consumption and for offering as sacrifices to their gods. There is some dispute as to when they first arrived in Europe, some reports tell of the Spaniards bringing them home with them at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Others believe that English seamen brought them to Europe later on that century. By the beginning of the eighteenth century they were being kept widely as exotic pets of the wealthy. The name guinea is thought to have derived from the monitory unit the guinea as it is believed that was the price of the first guinea pigs to reach the pet market. This was a lot of money in those days. Pig, is thought to have been used because the animals were seen to be rooting through the undergrowth for food just like the farmyard pig.

Today there are many guinea pigs kept as pet's world-wide. They are said to be the most popular pet of all the rodents.

When you have chosen your guinea pigs you will need to consider their housing. They will need a clean, dry, secure hutch. The very minimum requirement for two guinea pigs is 48"x18"x18", but the bigger the better. Two storey hutches with a ramp provide added interest, exercise and extra space. The positioning should be carefully considered too, it should be placed out of bright sunlight and away from draughts. If the hutch is placed in draughts your guinea pigs can easily get colds or eye infections. If the hutch is in direct sunlight your guinea pigs will be exposed to heat stroke. The golden rule to remember is that guinea pigs do not like the extreme weather conditions. Most people prefer to bring the hutch into a utility room or shed for the winter away from the cold, it is also important not to forget that extreme heat can be just as harmful. DO NOT put the hutch in a garage that you are currently using for your vehicle, exhaust fumes are lethal.

(Please see above for minimum requirement.)
Many people prefer to keep their guinea pigs as indoor pets. This is fine. An indoor plastic cage is available for this purpose. It has a solid plastic base and a plastic coated wire top with a lift of lid. If you are planning to keep your guinea pigs in this way please do remember to give them a box or igloo that they can hide in. Unlike an outdoor hutch that has a separate bedroom an indoor hutch is open on all four sides and can be very frightening for a guinea pig if it has no place to hide.

Whether your guinea pigs are indoor or outdoor guinea pigs they will need an outdoor run so that they can be placed outside on good days to graze on the grass. This is a guinea pigs favorite past time. There are many types of runs for sale you must decide which is most convenient for your needs. Always use a covered run so as to keep your guinea pigs safe from predators such as cats, dogs, foxes and large wild birds. Unlike rabbits guinea pigs do not dig holes in the lawn and tunnel out. DO NOT put the run on a lawn that has recently been treated with weed killer or fertilizer or has been urinated on by the family dog.

There are several different materials that can be used. Bedding serves two purposes, to soak up the urine and to provide warmth. The most commonly used bedding being a layer of newspaper on the floor of the hutch with a deep (1"- 2") covering of woodshaving and a layer of hay on top. The idea behind the newspaper is that you lift the soiled bedding out in one to discard it. Straw can be used but take care that is not too hard as this can damage to a guinea pigs eyes. If you get woodshavings from a timber merchant take care to ensure that it has not been treated with any chemicals. The hutch should be cleaned out at least every three days and thoroughly scrubbed with disinfectant every month.

Unlike rabbits guinea pigs do not usually play with toys. What they do like are places to hide and tunnels to play in. Cardboard boxes are ideal as they can be discarded when soiled. Cut holes on all four sides of a box and watch your guinea pigs play. Plastic pipes that are used for drainage are excellent toys. Rody Igloos are available from pet shops and from us, we find that the guinea pigs love these. One way to interest your guinea pigs is to thread a carrot, apple or baked bread on a string and hang it on the cage. Remember guinea pigs do not climb so do not hang it too high, just enough to make them work at it.

It is a good idea to provide a branch from an apple tree or willow tree. This will give your guinea pigs something to play with and also a way of keeping their teeth healthy and strong. A mineral block can be suspended from the hutch not only will this provide essential minerals it will help occupy the guinea pigs.

When you first get your guinea pigs home put them into their hutch and leave them alone to get used to their new home, Do not handle them in the first few days as they will be very frightened. After the first few days begin to offer them tasty tit-bits from your hand to help build up their confidence. When you feel that they are beginning to trust you then you can lift them out of the hutch. Put one hand under the abdomen and scoop the rear up with the other hand. Place them onto your chest with their feet flat against you. Hold them firmly but not too tight as guinea pigs are very fragile. It is advisable for children to be sitting on the ground when handling a guinea pig for the first time, if the animal is dropped it will not have so far to fall and should not get hurt. Always be quiet and calm when holding your guinea pigs, talk gently to them to reassure them, they will soon learn to trust you and start to chatter back to you.

When returning them to their cage hold them firmly as they will usually try to leap out of your arms back into the hutch.

Your guinea pigs diet should be made up of dried food, fresh greens and fresh hay. They should receive daily amounts of all three. Fresh water should be freely available at all times. Water bottles that are suspended from the cage is the best way of ensuring that your guinea pig has constant fresh water. Water bottles, including the spouts, should be cleaned with a bottlebrush regularly to prevent the build up of algae, which is harmful to your guinea pigs digestive system. Bottles and tops can be sterilised in baby bottle sterilising solution once in a while for extra cleanliness. Bowls are easily tipped over or soiled.

To maintain a healthy guinea pig it will need a diet high in vitamin C. If you choose a good quality dried GUINEA PIG food it will contain vitamin C. If you choose the RABBIT AND GUINEA PIG mix it will say in minute writing somewhere on the packet out of view that if this mix is fed to guinea pigs vitamin C must be added to the drinking water. This is so easily overlooked resulting in a poorly guinea pig. So do take the time to choose carefully. We use GERTY GUINEA PIG and can highly recommend it, it is readily available from nearly all pet shops. Do not buy dried food in large quantities unless you are sure it will be used up within three months, vitamin C deteriorates the longer it is kept. Always check the sell by date on the packet.

Hay is the most beneficial of all the dried foods. It is important that your guinea pigs have access at all times to clean, fresh hay. The best way of ensuring that it is kept clean is to provide a hayrack. Hay that is put on to the floor of the hutch quickly becomes trampled and soiled.

Other dried foods that can be given m moderation as treats are broken dog biscuits, peanuts, sunflower seeds, breakfast cereals, crackers and bread that has been baked hard in the oven. All foods should be fed in a heavy-based bowl that will not tip over. Feeding bowls will need to be washed regularly as guinea pigs often foul their bowls.

There are many fresh foods that can be fed safely. Always make sure the greens are fresh and clean, not withered, mouldy or that have been sprayed with a chemical. I suggest that you invest in or borrow from the library a good wild plant book. It is very rewarding to feed wild plants as the guinea pigs love them. There are lots of fresh foods that can be fed from the kitchen too, again make sure they are fresh and clean. Do not feed fruit and vegetables that you would not consider fit for human consumption. I have listed a few common 'safe' and 'unsafe' plants, but IF IN DOUBT LEAVE IT OUT.

Broccoli, Beetroot (Not the leaves), carrots, carrot tops, parsnips, Swedes, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, cauliflower leaves, banana, banana skins, celery, celery tops, Chinese leaves, cucumber, parsley, peas, spinach, watercress, apples and pears (without the pips), melons, agrimony, avens, chickweed, clover, coltsfoot, comfrey, cow parsley, dandelion (in small quantities as it is a natural laxative), goatsbeard, groundsel, goosegrass, hawkweed, mallow, meadowsweet, nipplewort, plantains, shepherds purse, sow thistles, trefoils, vetches, yarrow and lettuce (only in small amounts as it is a natural diuretic).

Any plants that are grown from a bulb, all evergreen trees and shrubs, anenome, bracken, bryony, buttercup, celandine, charlock, convulvus, deadly nightshade, dogs/herb mercury, foxglove, hellebore, hemlock, henbane, horsetails, ivy, laburnum, lily of the valley, mayweed, milkweed, monkshood, meadow saffron, wild and beaked parsley, poppy, privet, ragwort, rhodedendron, rhubarb, scarlet pimpernel, snowberry, spurges, toadflax, travellors joy, yew and most docks. Certain docks can be fed but it is so difficult to tell them apart it is best to omit them altogether.


There are some foods that are arguable as to whether they are safe, or even healthy for our little friends. A couple of these are Tomatoes and Potatoes. We would suggest if you do feed these, that it is in small quantities and not to often.

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