All About Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs or cavies make fantastic pets, and to keep them happy and healthy they require good nutrition and health care, along with the appropriate housing.

Whether you’re thinking about getting a guinea pig as a pet, or you’ve recently got one, we’ve summarised the main points of keeping guinea pigs as pets.

 

 

Handling and housing

Generally, guinea pigs are gentle and inquisitive creatures, and it is important to hold and handle them carefully – supporting their body, and holding them close to your own body so that they feel safe and secure.

Guinea pigs are social animals and prefer to live in groups, so consider keeping at least two guinea pigs as pets. It can be beneficial to separate male and female guinea pigs to avoid unwanted breeding, and male guinea pigs will be less likely to fight each other if they’ve been introduced to each other at a young age.

 

It can be difficult to tell male and female guinea pigs when they are young, however the best way to determine their gender is to examine their genitalia, males have testes and a penis can be extruded by applying gentle pressure above the genital area. Female guinea pigs’ genitalia often resemble a y-shaped depression. If you’re unsure, our veterinary team can help with determining the guinea pig’s gender.

To prevent unwanted breeding, guinea pigs can be sterilised from about 3-4months of age as they can potentially start reproducing when quite young. Frequently a sterilised male guinea pig can be kept with several females. It is also not recommended to keep guinea pigs and rabbits together.

 

A hutch is needed to house guinea pigs, this keeps them safe from other animals, and also provides shelter and warmth from the weather. The hutch should be large enough to allow space for exercise and toileting, and then also have a separate sleeping area that is darker.

It is important that the hutch is well ventilated and located in an area out of the extremes of weather – as guinea pigs can be prone to heat stress if they get too hot, and they also need a snug place to stay warm and dry during wet weather. If you know that the weather is going to be particularly hot, then consider moving the hutch to a cool area, and you can also provide frozen drink bottles or ice bricks to help reduce the temperature of the hutch.

Providing the appropriate bedding or substrate will help keep your guinea pig healthy. Dust-free substrate options include wood shavings, cellulose fibre or shredded paper, and you can also provide a snug sleeping area with polar fleece fabric scraps.

Regularly clean the hutch and change the bedding to remove soiled substrate and ensure that the guinea pigs have a clean and dry area to sleep in. There are various guinea pig health problems which can occur if their housing is not kept clean, including respiratory infections, skin conditions and skin parasites.

 

 

Feeding

Guinea pigs are herbivorous, meaning they eat only plant material, requiring the fibrous material to maintain their teeth and body health. They require a regular supply of grass hay and fresh grass each day for foraging, and you can also supplement their diet with fresh green vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, carrots, broccoli and celery.

Guinea pigs also require supplementation with vitamin C rich foods such as citrus or kiwi fruit. Avoid foods like potatoes, onions and rhubarb which can be toxic to guinea pigs.

Good quality grains and pellets should only be fed in small amounts to avoid the guinea pigs becoming overweight or sick. Remember to provide clean fresh water at all times. Chat with one of our veterinary team for further advice on feeding guinea pigs.

 

 

Health care

In addition to providing guinea pigs with the right housing and diet, some of the common health problems experienced by the species involve their teeth, coat and feet.

Guinea pig teeth are constantly growing, so the animals need to be chewing on fibrous plant material such as grass and hay to help wear their teeth down. Overgrown teeth can be very painful and lead to gut problems, weight loss and discomfort.

If you notice that your guinea pig’s teeth are overgrown, or that their level of activity or weight changes, then seek veterinary attention for them as soon as possible.

 

The haircoat of guinea pigs can vary from short and smooth to long, rough and wavy. Guinea pigs with longer hair coats require regular grooming to keep the coat in good condition and to prevent matting or knots – especially around their rear end.

Guinea pigs can be susceptible to skin parasite problems, such as skin mites – you may notice them scratching, or areas of hair-loss could develop. It is vital to seek veterinary care to manage any skin parasites which may be present.

 

Another common health condition affecting guinea pigs, is when their footpads become swollen and ulcerative associated with them being kept on hard or wire mesh surfaces. This condition is known as ulcerative pododermatitis, or bumblefoot, and is avoided by ensuring that the guinea pigs housing consists of a soft substrate such as hay or grass for them to walk on.

There are other health problems which can affect guinea pigs, including associated with breeding. There are no regular vaccinations required for guinea pigs. However regular guinea pig health checks with our veterinary team are recommended to ensure that your pet stays in the best of health. 

 

 

If you have any further questions about guinea pigs, please speak with one of our friendly veterinary team at your local Sydney Animal Hospitals on;

Newtown (02)9519 4111
Inner West (02)9516 1466
Norwest (02)8883 0411
Kellyville (02)8883 0533
Newport (02)9997 4609
Avalon (02)9918 0833

 

 

 

 

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