guinea pig 2
How to Care For a Pet Guinea Pig
By Rob Terrell

Guinea pigs are charismatic, endearing, and rewarding animals to keep as a pet! However, guinea pigs are classed as an exotic pet and it is often not realised the commitment that is necessary to keep these animals. They have specialised diets, social needs, and are prone to some health problems – which they hide well. Therefore, if you intend to keep them as pets, we recommend that you thoroughly and keenly learn and familiarise yourself on how to care for them before bringing them to your home. We provide some top husbandry tips and care guidelines below, but be sure to also look elsewhere for a more in depth and varied range of knowledge!

Diet

Good Quality Hay and Grass
(85%)

Hay should make up the majority of a guinea pig’s diet and offered adlib.
Guinea pigs need to continuously digest food, otherwise their gut can develop into a state of stasis or ileus. Hay is a good source of fibre and is something guinea pigs can eat without putting on too many calories!
As rodents, guinea pigs have continuously growing incisor teeth. However, they are unique in that their molar teeth also continue to grow. Firm hay helps to maintain these back teeth and keep them trimmed down!
We suggest Timothy hay, as the best quality for guinea pig digestion and teeth!

Vegetables
(10%)

Guinea pigs are unable to synthesise Vitamin C – important for a healthy immune system!

Vegetables are therefore necessary to provide VC as well as other important nutrients.

Peppers, kale, asparagus, and spring greens are particularly good, however everything should be in moderation! See below for a list of good vegetables for guinea pigs!

Dry Feed
(5%)

Dry pellets should be a complementary and supplementary ‘top-up’ food, with only up to 50g offered a day.

Ensure feeds are pellets, rather than muesli, otherwise the cheeky piggies will only take out the food they like!

The dry feed aids with digestive health, immune support, and with skin and fur quality!

Water

Fresh water should always be available to guinea pigs. This should be offered in both a bottle and a bowl, and changed daily.

Weaning Food

As mentioned above, pellets should be offered to guinea pigs, rather than muesli. However, guinea pigs’ stomachs can be sensitive to a change to new foods.

It is therefore important that if you are transitioning your guinea pigs’ diet to a new pellet, whether this is changing from muesli or a different pellet, then this should be introduced and changed gradually over about a month.

Pictured on the left is an example of this, as suggested by Burgess.

Health

A healthy guinea pig is active, vocal, and alert with bright eyes and a good appetite! Guinea pigs are prey animals, and therefore attempt to hide all illnesses to not be seen as weak to threats. If you detect a subtle change in your guinea, it may be that they are actually quite sick and should be taken to a vet. Below is a basic outline of some of the common health conditions guinea pigs can develop:

Illeus

Guinea pigs need to continually digest food, otherwise they develop ileus or gut stasis where there is a decrease in gastrointestinal motility or contractions.

Always provide hay and watch out for infrequent or loose faeces, hunched posture, and inappetence.

Dental Disease

Guinea pig teeth continuously grow and need a high fibre diet (hay) and hard objects to keep them trimmed.

Watch out for a loss of appetite, struggling to eat, excessive salivation, infrequent faeces, and chattering teeth as well as overgrown teeth.

Urinary Tract Problems

Guineas are prone to developing kidney and bladder stones, and infections – usually stress or diet related.

Watch out for blood in urine, apparent strain or pain when urinating, and inappetence.

Pododermatitis

Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection and inflammation of the sole of feet – usually occurring when living on hard or mesh surfaces.

Watch out for lameness, reluctance to move, and always provide soft surfaces!

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a potentially fatal respiratory infection, leading to inflammation of the lungs.

Watch out for dull eyes, nasal and eye discharge, laboured breathing, inappetence, puffed fur, and depression.

Vitamin C Deficiency

A lack of vegetables, and so Vitamin C, can lead to scurvy and a weak immune system.

Provide Vitamin C rich veg as part of their daily diet and watch out for lethargy, chattering teeth, swollen joints, and weight loss.

Fly Strike

Flystrike is a potentially fatal condition where fly’s lay eggs which turn to maggots and eat away at flesh.

Watch out for strong smells, lethargy, and check for fly eggs around a guinea pig’s bottom regularly – especially in summer

Ring Worm

This highly contagious fungal infection can cause irritation to a guinea pig’s skin.

Watch out for bald patches on their face and back, irritated skin, and frequent itching.

Parasites

Unsanitary conditions can attract fleas, lice, and mite infestations.

Watch out for increased itching, hair loss, open abrasions, and thick dandruff.

To avoid the development of such illnesses, health checks on guinea pigs should be completed frequently, at least monthly. The following things should be looked out for: 

During such checks, grooming should also occur! Long haired guineas, such as Peruvian, should have their hair brushed and trimmed to prevent matts. Nails should also be clipped to prevent them overgrowing!

Although neuturing will not change the behaviour or aggression of a male guinea pig, unneutered males will need their anal sacs and genitalia cleaned for ‘boar glue’ and other related substances!

Guinea pigs can be prone to obesity if fed too much pellet or vegetables – especially those high in sugar! It is important weigh guinea pigs during health checks, as this can indicate whether you need to alter the diet. But weight only tells you half the story, you should also take a condition score alongside their weight. This is because, a guinea pig may have put on weight however their condition may not have changed, or it may have even lowered, for example. This may suggest that there is something else causing the increase in weight, such as some sort of growth or tumour. Use the condition scoring chart below to help condition score your guineas:

1

Emaciated/Very Thin

Can feel each individual rib easily, the hips and spine are prominent and visible. Spine also appears hunched. An abdominal curve can be seen, on the underside of the guinea.

2

Thin

Each rib and the spine and hips can be felt but are not as visible. The abdominal curve is seen but not as obvious.

3

Ideal

Cannot feel each individual rib but can feel them collectively as well as the hip and spine with slight pressure. No abdominal cure.

4

Fat

Ribs are difficult to distinguish and more difficult to feel hips and spine. Feet not always seen,

5

Obese

Ribs, hips, and spine cannot be felt or can with mild pressure. No distinguishable body shape and feet cannot be seen when standing as underbelly touches the floor.

Welfare

Guinea pigs are social animals and so it is important that guinea pigs are housed in groups, or at least have a companion to be friends with!

Guinea pigs will also let you know there feelings with their vocalisations and behaviour:

Guinea pigs ‘coo’ to show affection to one another or to their owner. The mothers will often do this to reassure their pups.

A low pitched purring guinea pig is a happy and very content guinea pig! They often do this when being stroked or groomed. If, however, the purr is high pitched, then it is likely that they are annoyed.

A wheeking guinea pig is a very happy and excited piggie! They will often emit this sound whilst lifting their head backwards (much like a siren) when they hear you coming with food!

If a guinea pig is chattering their teeth then this usually indicates that they are angry, annoyed, or in pain. They may often also do this when meeting another guinea pig, or before fighting.

A male will often rumble whilst strutting and smearing his bottom around to signal to all of his territory. They will also do it to attract females, and females will do it to let other guineas know that she is in season.

Without companionship or any stimulation, guinea pigs can become bored. To prevent this, enrichment should be offered! This can be as simple as scatter feeding and hiding food, puzzle feeders, or novel objects such as a ping pong ball. We also suggest providing new furniture, making obstacle courses and providing safe browse and twigs, such as:

Safe browse:

Applewood
Bamboo
Birch
Chickweed
Cleavers
Cow Parsley
Dandelion
Golden rod
Grass
Hazel
Hazel
Lavender
Mallow
Maple
Nasturtium
Nettle (Dried)
Pear twigs
Plantain
Red Clover
Rose leaves and Petals
Shepherd’s Purse
Spruce
White Clover
Wild Geranium
Willow leaves
Yarrow

Unsafe/toxic browse:

 Iris
Acacia
Bluebell
Buttercups
Daisies
Elder
Figwort
Foxglove
Giant Hogweed
Hemlock
Holly
Honeysuckle
Horse chestnut
Hyacinth
Ivy
Lily of the Valley
Lords and ladies
Most house plants
Nightshade
Oak
Poppies
Privet
Ragwort
Snowdrop
Sorrel
Wild garlic
Yew

By providing routine (such as veg at certain times) and being patient with guinea pigs, they will also develop a trusting relationship with you and will likely even want to cuddle and sleep on you. However, you must hold guinea pigs in comfortable positions, such as the following guidelines:

Housing

Guinea pigs need as much space as possible so they can roam and exercise like they do in the wild which helps to also prevent obesity.

If indoors, then guinea pig-proof the area (wires, house plants) and provide good ventilation – they should also be given the option to go outside to graze on warmer, drier days!

If outdoors, then ensure they have a sheltered and insulated indoor area, and be prepared to bring them indoors in extreme weather!

Soft, safe, and dust-free bedding should be provided for guinea pigs, such as straw, shredded paper, wood chippings, or fleece lining.
A separate toilet area should be provided too!

Hiding spots should also be provided for guinea pigs. Cardboard boxes are great and can be safely chewed, tunnels, and other smaller houses are good also!

A guinea pig’s house needs to be maintained each day. On the daily, all hay, leftover pellets, water, and dirty bedding should be replaced. A spot clean should also occur daily, with the removal of all vegetables and other food, and poo!

Water should be offered both in a bowl and from a bottle!

On a weekly basis, a full clean should be conducted where all bedding and substrate is replaced and all areas are disinfected!