GUINEA PIGS AS PETS
Guinea pigs (or Cavies as they are also known) make wonderful
pets. They are best kept in pairs as one guinea pig gets
very lonely. They are very vocal animals and need a companion
to talk to. It is best to have two sisters or two brothers
if they are unneutered, however we neuter all our animals
therefore we can pair male and female together and we
believe that is the perfect pairing. If you are going
to buy your animal from a pet shop, (which we do not recommend
as often the sales assistants know very little if anything
at all about the animals) do make sure that you take your
animals along to the Vets to have a health check and to
have the gender of the animals confirmed. DO NOT
under any circumstances house a guinea pig with a
rabbit. The two will almost certainly get along for the
first few months but when the rabbit reaches sexual maturity
it will molest the guinea pig, resulting in injury and
even death. Another factor to consider is that rabbits
and guinea pigs require different diets.
An adult guinea pig can grow to a maximum of twelve inches
and can weigh from twenty eight to thirty five ounces.
Guinea pigs have a higher temperature than humans therefore
can feel quite warm to touch, temperatures of 103 F are
not uncommon. They have four claws on the front feet and
three on the back feet, but four on the back feet is often
seen. Guinea pigs have teeth that grow constantly giving
them a healthy diet will help keep these teeth in shape.
If the right diet is not provided the teeth can become
overgrown and will eventually stop your guinea pigs from
eating. This is called Malocclusion. Your Vet will be
able to trim the teeth or better still remove them altogether.
Guinea pigs like rabbits survive very well without their
incisors. They are able to pick food up with their tongue
and transfer it to the back teeth for chewing. However
they cannot form a bite so you will have to chop fresh
foods into small pieces for them.
There are many different breeds of guinea pig but the
majority that come into rescue centres are mixed-breed.
If you choose a longhaired variety you must be aware that
it will need grooming every day throughout its life or
it will become very badly matted.
When making your purchase here are a few things to look
animal is alert, energetic and moves freely. Avoid
animals that sit huddled in the Corner.
eyes are dry and bright.
ears are clean and dry without discharge or dirt.
rear is clean and dry, not soiled or wet.
top teeth fit snugly over the bottom teeth when
the mouth is closed.
hair is clean and shiny, the skin underneath the
coat is not scurfy or scabby.
possible ask to see the parents so that you have
an idea what the animal will grow into.
Only purchase an animal that you are perfectly happy with.
If in doubt look elsewhere.
Set aside time each week to spend extra time with your
guinea pigs to give them a healthcheck. Check all the
points mentioned on this Website, if you are unhappy or
worried about anything that you find take your animals
along to the Vets for a check up. Remember the earlier
the diagnosis the better the chances of a full recovery.
We do hope we have given you the basic information that
you will need to care for your guinea pigs. A happy, healthy
guinea pig is a joy to have. You will soon learn what
all the different chatters and whistles mean and be able
to communicate with them.
The gestation period for a guinea pig is approximately
67 - 72 days. The piglets are born fully furred and fully
functional, within a couple of hours they are nibbling
veggies and eating solids. Guinea pigs are sexually mature
at the age of just six weeks so should be separated accordingly.
The life span of a guinea pig is approximately seven years
you should bear this in mind when making your purchase.
A female guinea pig could well produce five litters a
year. Finding good homes for so many offspring can be
a major problem, so the golden rule about breeding from
pet guinea pigs is: DON'T.
As a general rule it is inadvisable to breed from young
females of any species who may have reached puberty but
who are too immature in behaviour to deal with their own
young patiently and competently. The same applies if they
are too physically immature for the pelvis to have reached
an adequate size to prevent pain and difficulty dystocia
during the birth process.
The case of the guinea pig is rather different. There
may be a greater risk of dystocia if the guinea pig does
not have her first litter while she is still young. Once
fully grown, the pelvic bones fuse, leaving her with a
rigid, perhaps under-sized pelvis, and this may cause
difficult births and a shorter breeding span than normal,
so for this reason don't try and breed from sow's over
6 months old.
If it is found that your sow is with young she will need
these extra requirements
Pregnant females drink thirstily and will take milk as
well as water. Their diet must be increased to support
the unborn or suckling young and if there are more than
three in the litter they will need extra milk since she
has only two mammary glands.
It has already been said that guinea pigs are intolerant
of low temperatures, and are liable to suffer heat exhaustion.
A heavily pregnant sow is particularly vulnerable in this
respect. If she is kept in a hutch it must be moved to
a shady position and hosed with cold water.
Many owners find it advisable to house a pregnant sow
alone for a week or two before her litter is due, because
she needs very careful handling and quiet conditions then,
and leave her alone to bring up her family until weaning
age. If the boar were left with the sow she would be likely
to become pregnant again immediately after giving birth.
In an emergency expert veterinary advice should be sought
urgently, but it is important meanwhile to handle the
guinea pig correctly and do the right thing to speed its
treatment. Generally, the animal should be kept warm and
prevented from dehydrating. When the guinea pig is very
cold, a small drop of whisky is an invaluable reviver.
Accidents Probably for a suspected fracture the
vet will want the guinea pig brought to the surgery rather
than make a house call, so ask how to move the guinea
pig safely, without aggravating its problem.
When a fracture is not suspected, the guinea pig should
be picked up in the usual way, wrapped in an old towel
for extra warmth, and taken immediately to the vet. A
cardboard pet carrier, or a strong grocery box pierced
with air holes and secured with a lid and string, makes
a good conveyance. Some hay on top of a lining of absorbent
newspaper will make it comfortable - and leak proof
Heat stroke Confined to small, badly ventilated
hutches or left in direct sunlight from which they cannot
escape, guinea pigs are very prone to heat stroke. If
an animal is found in obvious and acute distress, possibly
in a state of collapse its back must be wetted immediately
with a damp cloth and the animal removed at once to a
cool place with good ventilation. It should be fanned
if severely affected.
Wounds Torn ears, sore hocks, and skin abrasion
may be the result of keeping incompatible guinea pigs
together. Consult Veterinary surgeon if the wound
is serious, or becomes infected. But otherwise bath in
a saline solution. Keep males apart. And separate females
if they constantly fight and kick normally compatible
guinea pigs may fight when overcrowded. Abscesses occur
quite frequently as a result of a wound and must be lanced
by the vet when they are ripe and 'cheesy'. The vet may
also administer antibiotics.
An ear bitten in a fight, and bathing gently with a cotton
bud dipped in saline solution.
Ailments and parasites
Bald patches. If starting on the face and looking
pale and scaly, these may be caused by ringworm. Itchy
patches may be a sign of mange. A bald patch in the middle
of the back that neither spreads nor itches may be the
result of an over-rich diet. Reduce pelleted food and
offer more green-stuff and hay. If patches persist, seek
Constipation This may be due to disease, lack of
roughage, or too dry a diet (perhaps with too much
cereal and pellet food), fed without sufficient water.
Diarrhoea Diarrhoea may be due to an intestinal
infection, introduced by way of contaminated or frosted
vegetable matter, or due to a sudden change in diet.
If it persists or occurs with other symptoms, advice should
Flystrike (see rabbit section for more details)
Long-haired guinea pigs can suffer from the 'strike
fly' which lays its eggs in faeces-soiled fur. Within
12 to 24 hours, maggots hatch out and eat their way into
the animal's flesh, with fatal results. All guinea pigs
should be checked daily to ensure their coats are faeces-free.
Hutches should be cleaned and bedding changed daily.
Hair stripping. This abnormal behaviour, when guinea
pigs strip their own hair as far as they can reach or
strip each other, tends to occur in the long-haired breeds.
Some young are made quite hairless in this way by their
own parents. The cause may be boredom and, in particular,
the lack of something to chew. This is one reason why
it is essential to give guinea pigs as much hay as they
will eat, and to keep them in pairs or small groups in
as interesting an environment as possible.
Loss of balance A guinea pig which holds
its head to one side and which may veer round in circles,
quite unable to walk in a straight line, is showing symptoms
of middle ear disease and professional advice should be
Frequent observation of your guinea pig's condition and
behaviour is the best way to spot any health problem before
it progresses too far.
Parasites. Guinea pigs are usually free of parasites
unless there are infected cats and dogs, for instance,
in the house. They may, however, become infested with
lice, perhaps from infected hay or straw. Either bath
the guinea pig with a medicated shampoo or treat with
a mild insecticide powder. Repeat the treatment once a
week, and if in any doubt or difficulty, seek veterinary
Pseudotuberculosis. Enlarged glands in the neck
and growths in the abdomen may be caused by a serious
condition known as pseudotuberculosis. Sometimes death
is rapid, but variations of the condition may cause a
slow deterioration in the guinea pig over several weeks.
This is a highly infectious disease and veterinary advice
must be sought.
Respiratory infections. Symptoms similar to those
associated with the common cold in man are made worse
by poor living conditions, and can develop into pneumonia.
Rehousing the guinea pigs in isolation in a dry, warm
and roomy cage will often bring about an improvement and
stop the spread of these respiratory infections. If in
doubt or if the symptoms persist, do not hesitate to seek
Salmonellosis. An organism of the salmonella group
causes rapid loss of condition followed by collapse. This
very serious disease has a high mortality rate and spreads
quickly through large colonies. Veterinary attention is
vital because the most rigorous cleaning and disinfecting
is necessary before it is safe to introduce new stock
into the accommodation after an outbreak. Animals that
do survive an attack may act as carriers and cause subsequent
outbreaks. There is also a hazard to human health, and
there fore particular care over personal hygiene must
Vitamin C deficiency. Guinea pigs, and especially
pregnant sows, have a particular need for a high
daily vitamin C intake. A deficiency may lead to scurvy,
and a loss of resistance to other diseases. Pellets fed
without a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, or those
prepared for other animals, may not contain enough vitamin
C to meet this need. Guinea pigs not feeding adequately
because of overgrown teeth may not take in enough
of the vitamin, even though the right foods are available
Guinea pig facts
1O weeks : females 5 weeks
lOOOg/35oz : females 850g/3Ooz
age to breed