Caring for your guinea pig

Guinea pigs originally come from the Andes in South America where they were domesticated at around 5000BC. They were originally kept for food and later as pets, living in houses usually feeding off the family’s vegetable scraps. They were bought over to Europe in the 1500s and quickly became popular pets. Discover tips on caring for your guinea pig.

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We’re celebrating the first-ever Guinea Pig Awareness Week. Taking place between 22 – 28 March, it’s an opportunity to celebrate these wonderful animals and raise their profile. Throughout the week, we’ll be sharing top tips, adorable pet photos and running a colouring competition for all to take part in. Discover more and read tips on caring for your guinea pig.

Grooming

Guinea pigs like to take part in social grooming so brushing your pet can be a good way to interact. Often, when they are excited, guinea pigs will jump straight up in the air – this is known as ‘popping’. Regular handling is important to create a positive bond with your pet.

Environment

Incredibly sociable animals, guinea pigs are best kept in pairs or small groups. Living an average of 6-8 years, they enjoy the company of humans.

In their hutch, it is important to have several safe areas where guinea pigs can hide in and keep warm. Large floor space is important rather than the height of the hutch as guinea pigs do not climb, burrow or build nests but they do seek shelter.

Guinea pigs love being outside. However, they have very little tolerance for high heat or high humidity, particularly when they are overweight or heavily furred. They can be outside most of the year if you can set the cage in an area where the temperature does not exceed 26.7-29°C. Do make sure your pig has adequate exposure to shade and proper airflow.

Diet

Your guinea pig’s diet should consist of grass hay (80-90% of their diet, equivalent of 1-2 body volumes of hay a day), available at all times, as well as small amounts of grass-hay based pellets (2-4 tbsp per adult pig) and fresh vegetables. Avoid alfalfa hay in adult pigs due to its higher protein and calcium content. High dietary calcium can predispose your guinea pig to the formation of urinary stones. Offer only “plain” pellets. Avoid pellets that contain nuts, seeds, or dried fruit as these are too high in fat for your guinea pig.

Like human beings, guinea pigs are unable to produce vitamin C, so they need to be given vitamin C in the diet to avoid serious health problems. Pellets made for guinea pigs include vitamin C, but the vitamin quickly breaks down and becomes ineffective on the shelf so also give your pig vitamin C-rich vegetables (turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, collard greens, parsley, spinach, etc.).

Dental Health

A guinea pig’s teeth constantly grow – providing adequate hay and grass will allow enough for their teeth to grind together and to wear naturally. When they don’t have enough fibrous material to chew on, their teeth can become overgrown which can present problems.

Breeding

Guinea pigs will breed all year round and their gestation period lasts an average of 65 days. In guinea pigs who have not been bred from before, the pelvis can fuse at 6-10 months old; if they get pregnant for the first time after this age they will often need a caesarean as the majority of them will not be able to pass the piglets naturally. Female guinea pigs tend to develop a lot of ovarian cysts, and for that reason elective spay is recommended before 1 year of age.

Common Health Issues

Common health problems effecting guinea pigs include respiratory infections, ovarian cysts, gastrointestinal problems, dental problems and abscesses.

For further information on caring for your guinea pig book an appointment at your local vet’s practice.

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