Guinea Pigs make delightful and interactive pets and their little squeaks are adorable. They will never let you forget it's dinner time and will always squeak the loudest when they hear a bag of veg being opened.
Here's our top 10 tips to keep your guinea pigs happy and healthy
1) Inside or Outside?
Guinea pigs don't cope well with cold weather. These little guys are very low to the ground and don't grow an insulating fluffy coat, like rabbits, to help keep them warm during winter. For this reason, guinea pigs can't be kept outside once the temperature drops below 12°C.
Some owners keep their guinea pigs inside all year, others have separate summer and winter accommodation. Here at Nibbles, our guinea pigs live in a heated cabin.
Like all pets guinea pigs need plenty of space to dash around and enjoy themselves. There's nothing cuter than popcorning guinea pigs!
A pair of guinea pigs require at least 150cm x 60cm in floor space, the best way to achieve this is a 4x2 grid C&C cage.
We love C&C cages here at Nibbles. They are super easy to put together and really easy to expand, if your herd grows from a bad case of GMGP (get more guinea pigs). You can buy ready-made kits, but you can also buy the square grids and cortex yourself.
Guinea pigs are highly social animals and do need to be kept in pairs or small groups. Female guinea pigs, known as sows, tend to cohabit very peacefully and are far more likely to accept new members to their group. Males, known as boars, can be more problematic and even litter brothers can fall out once they reach sexual maturity. Here at Nibbles, we now neuter all boars before making them available for adoption. This does help in keeping a life long harmonious relationship between a bonded pair, and it also enables them to be bonded with sows at that enviable moment one boar is widowed. Although it isn't impossible to bond adult boars with other boars, I have successfully done so myself on many occasions, it is more challenging to find the right mix of personalities.
Guinea pigs should not be housed with rabbits, this is really important. There are a number of reasons why they don't make suitable companions for each other. Rabbits need another rabbit and guinea pigs need another guinea pig.
Just like us, guinea pigs need things to do. Imagine having spent lock down in an empty house with only a bed, toilet and kitchen. Guinea pigs enjoy plenty of areas where they can take shelter, large bendy logs offer a great opportunity to dash through or hide under if spooked by something. Creating lots of little bolt holes will help your guinea pigs feel more secure. Guinea pigs will also enjoy small willow balls and other safe chewable items.
Like us, guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C from their diet. A lack of vitamin C can lead to a number of health problems including scurvy. While an extruded pellet, designed specifically for guinea pigs does contain vitamin C, they still require a daily helping of fresh vegetables to boost their intake. Veg like kale, bell peppers (seeds removed), romaine lettuce, parsley, and baby spinach are great sources of vitamin C. Each guinea pig should be given approximately 1 cup full of veg each day.
It's important to choose a suitable pellet feed and provide an unlimited amount of good quality long stranded hay.
There are lots of ways to get your guinea pigs out and about and enjoy time outside of their cage.
Many guinea pig owners enjoy having lap time with their little friends. You can even buy custom made lap mats for any accidents. Spending time with your guinea while on the sofa is a great way to create a bond.
To give your guinea pigs the opportunity to run around, creating a safe play area is a great idea. Block off any hidey holes, such as under the sofa, or behind the TV unit, and add a number of tunnels, boxes and hides to the space to allow your guinea pigs to feel safe and have a place to retreat to. Be prepared for accidents, if you have carpet, and if you have hard floors, adding a fleece blanket will help guineas feel safe walking on slippery surfaces.
Summer time grass runs as a great way to give your guinea pigs some exercise and allow them to graze naturally. However, it is very important to introduce free grazing slowly and carefully. The sudden introduction to an all you can eat grass buffet will lead to serious digestive problems and even potentially death. Spring grass is very rich and time in runs needs to be limited. Rather than popping them outside at the first opportunity, hand pick grass to give to them inside. Slowly build up the amount of fresh grass until their tummies become used to this before putting them in grass runs. Limit time in the runs starting with 5-10 minutes and slowly build this up over a number of weeks. Remember to add tunnels, huts and other items into runs and make sure fresh water is always available.
We all love to treat our pets, but it is important that we make healthy choices. So here's some healthy treats, your guinea pigs will love.
Freeze dried grass, like Readigrass, makes a lovely treat at any time of the year, but especially in the winter months when foraging opportunities are low.
Dried flowers and forage can be fed as a stand alone treat or mixed with hay to encourage natural foraging behaviours. There are loads of companies now offering a wide range of dried forage, have a look at Healthy Herby.
Science Selective also produce a great range of healthy treats for guinea pigs.
8) Hay Feeders
Access to fresh hay is very important and to help keep hay fresh and unspoiled, a hay feeder is essential. There are a few great hay rack hacks available for guinea pigs, but you do need to be a little bit cautious about hole sizes to prevent heads getting trapped. The plastic bag holder makes a great hay feeder, or a bent square grid.
There are a number of options to create a cosy home for your guinea pigs. Many owners choose to use custom made cage liners, or puppy training pads underneath a fleece blanket. If you are looking for cage liners why not check out Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue who often have sets available to help raise funds for the rescue!
Here at Nibbles we use Greenmile shredded cardboard, which is really absorbent and soft. For West Wales our most local supplier is Wynnstay.
We don't recommend using woodshavings, and sawdust especially. These can be very dusty and can have a strong smell. With guinea pigs being so low to the ground they can't escape the smell or dust.
10) Vet Care
Did you know that guinea pigs are classed as exotics in the veterinary industry? Yep, it’s true! For your guinea pigs to receive the best care possible it is important to register with a practice who has an experienced exotics vet. For those in Wales we recommend Origin Vets (for West Wales) and Origin Vet Clinic (for South Wales). If you have any concerns about your guinea pigs health, it is vital that they see a vet. Please don’t rely on Google searches or facebook groups to give you advice or over the counter remedies.
If you have found this article helpful, please consider making a donation towards our work at Nibbles. We are West Wales' only specialist rabbit and rodent rescue and totally reliant on donations and fundraising to keep the centre open and running. We can't do what we do, without the support from wonderful people just like you!