RAISING A HEALTHY GUINEA PIG
GUINEA LYNX Guinea Pig Care Guide
- One Pig or Two?
- Taming Your Pet
- Sexing Guinea Pigs
- Veterinary Care
- CARE PAMPHLET - Caring for your Guinea Pig
- CAVY HEALTH RECORD BOOK
A guinea pig can be one of the most endearing and wonderful pets. They may live as long as 10 years (the average is 5 to 7), so the decision to bring one into your home must be made carefully. Your pet will depend on you for food, water, medical care and companionship. This brief outline of how to care for your new guinea pig (guinea pigs are also known as "cavies") will help give your pet a healthy start so you can enjoy each other's company for many years.
One Pig or Two?
Guinea pigs are extremely social, herd animals that thrive in the company of another pig. If you are going to be away for a large part of the day, consider getting a pair of guinea pigs of the same sex. You will end up with a brighter and happier animal. In some countries (like Sweden), if a buyer does not already have guinea pigs, it is illegal to sell just one guinea pig.
Compatibility: It is a common myth that two male guinea pigs will fight. Compatibility between two guinea pigs is determined by the personalities of the individuals rather than their gender. Some guinea pigs will fight with any pig you try to pair them with but the vast majority flourish when housed with others of their own kind and delight in having a cage companion.
The easiest match is usually between two babies or a baby and an adult guinea pig, but adults can be paired up successfully as well. Introductions should be made in an open area, watching closely for an hour or so. If they seem to be getting along well they can be moved to a freshly cleaned cage (the larger, the better, as it will improve the odds of making a successful pairing). Watch them closely for another hour or so to make sure they continue to get along. Immediately separate fighting guinea pigs with a towel to avoid being bitten.
Be sure to read over Teresa Murphy's page on Social Life for her advice on how to improve the odds of a successful match, introductions, and much more. It is a must for anyone planning to add a new pig to the mix. And for proof that boars really can get along with each other, check out all the success stories and tips that Charybdis has collected.Quarantine: Quarantine any new pig you bring into your home for 2 to 3 weeks behind closed doors. Wash hands and arms well in between handling the new and the resident pig and consider changing your shirt or wearing a removable cover-up when handling the newcomer (or in case of illness, the sick pig). This will help insure the new pig does not introduce any illness or parasites to the one you already have. Consider a visit to the vet for your new guinea pig (read over the advice on Veterinary Care below).
Select a smooth bottomed cage (no wire bottom, ramps or shelves on which they can catch their feet). A small covered house or box inside the cage will provide a sense of protection and a place to sleep. If separation from other household pets is not an issue, an open-topped enclosure may allow you to interact with and pet your guinea pig more easily.
Not Recommended: Aquariums and plastic tubs are much too small and have poor ventilation. This type of housing isolates the guinea pig from it's surroundings by limiting sight, sound and smell.
SIZE: Consider providing as large a cage as possible. Guineapigcages.com makes a compelling case for providing 7 square feet for one guinea pig, adding 2 to 4 square feet per additional guinea pig and offers creative, attractive, and affordable ways to do so. Visit Guineapigcages.com for plans and designs. A larger cage will require less frequent cleaning and provide space for play, toys and exercise. Many pet owners report happily popcorning pigs when introduced to their new, spacious living quarters. And more space makes "getting along" easier for multiple pig households. In the U.S. you can now purchase a Cubes & Corroplast Cage Kit online, if you'd like the planning done for you. Part of the cost helps to support the Guineapigcages website.
The author has given her three pigs free run of a whole room and includes photos and a description of their living arrangements (see: My Guinea Pigs And Their Home). View the 2.5MB educational video (a .mov file) describing why guinea pigs need a large space.
LOCATION: Choose a bright draft-free room with a stable temperature range between 65 and 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C), out of direct sunlight, situated close to household activities.
WARNING: Never leave a guinea pig unattended in the presence of a dog, cat, ferret or any other predatory animal.
BEDDING: Cover the cage floor with 1 to 2 inches of Care FRESH or Yesterday's News (paper products) , aspen shavings, or kiln-dried pine. Frequent changing (every 3 or 4 days or less) will prevent odors and promote good health.
Some pet owners purchase high quality soft grass hay by the bale and cover the absorbent shavings with an inch or two of it. Any hay that is wet should be removed daily. Readily available hay will give them something to chew on. And a pig who is eating is a happy pig.
Not Recommended : Cedar and raw pine (not kiln-dried) shavings contain aromatic oils (phenols) which can contribute to respiratory problems. Sawdust (small particles may be inhaled) and cat litter (which a guinea pig may eat) are also poor choices for bedding.
- See BEDDING for the pros and cons of many beddings.
ACCESSORIES: Provide a water bottle, a small, heavy untippable dish for pellets, and a hay rack . Optional accessories: hammock, cat toys with bells, Pigloo, or a non toxic hanging bird toy.
Every guinea pig needs daily:
Vitamin C: Guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own vitamin C and require 10 to 30 mg/kg daily to prevent scurvy. To ensure your guinea pig gets adequate vitamin C, you can give a quarter of a 100 mg chewable or plain vitamin C tablet, or provide a small amount of liquid vitamin C drops to each guinea pig. Young, ill, nursing and pregnant animals require extra vitamin C.
Do not add vitamin C to the water.
Water is vital to good health but because vitamin C changes the flavor, they may drink less.
- Ascorbic acid degrades rapidly once added to water.
- Some guinea pigs drink a lot and some very little, so it is impossible to know how much vitamin C your pet is getting.
Water: Fresh, cold water, changed daily, (usually provided in a drip bottle to prevent contamination) should always be available. Avoid distilled water. Avoid water high in minerals, especially if high in calcium.
Pellets: Plain dye free high quality guinea pig pellets (mixes with nuts are considered too rich), formulated with Vitamin C can be provided in a small heavy ceramic bowl to prevent tipping and cleaned daily. Each guinea pig will eat approximately 1/8 cup of pellets a day when also fed adequate hay and fresh vegetables. Purchase pellets in small quantities and store in a dry cool dark place to preserve the potency of the C (look for a pellet with an expiration date to check for freshness). Avoid pellets that use animal byproducts and those whose primary ingredient is corn.
Most guinea pig pellets are alfalfa based. Alfalfa pellets are suitable for young, growing and pregnant guinea pigs. After your guinea pig is about a year old and fully developed (see notes), a timothy based pellet, which provides less calcium, may be a good choice . Two quality timothy based pellets are Timothy Choice pellets by KMS Hayloft and Cavy Cuisine by the Oxbow Hay Company.
- See also: How to Recognize Quality Pellets
Grass Hay: Unlimited high quality, grass hay (timothy and orchard grass are popular) should always be available to each and every guinea pig, no matter what age. Grass hay keeps their digestive system moving and helps prevent their teeth from over growing. It is usually placed in a wire rack off the floor for cleanliness.
Alfalfa hay can be given to young guinea pigs, pregnant, nursing or malnourished adults. But because of its high calcium content, alfalfa should be reserved as a treat for the average adult guinea pig. Excess calcium could contribute to the formation of bladder stones in older guinea pigs. Remember that alfalfa is NOT a replacement for grass hay, but can be used to supplement the diet of some pigs. Grass hay should always be available to all guinea pigs.
- See also: Grass Hay -- Selecting Hay
Vegetables: Small amounts of fresh vegetables (about a cup a day) are an important additional source of vitamin C and other nutrients. Parsley, romaine lettuce (rather than iceberg, which has less nutritional value and may result in loose stools if given in excess), a small piece of carrot, tomato, green or red pepper, spinach, and cantaloupe are popular choices. And clean, pesticide-free grass, clover, dandelion greens, corn husks and silk, will be appreciated by your pet. Rinse vegetables thoroughly. Do not feed wilted or spoiled food. Vegetables must be introduced slowly, to avoid digestive upsets. Once introduced, you can supply a variety of them to your pet. Variety is the key to maintaining your pigs' health. Be creative.
- See also: "My Favorite Vegetables and Fruits"
- See also: Vegetable/Fruit Chart for vitamin C, calcium and oxalic acid content of many foods.
Optional: Unsweetened, pure cranberry juice, changed daily, is an excellent source of C and helps prevent some urinary tract infections.
Make sure that grass hay, water, and pellets (see note below) are always available (most guinea pigs will not over eat). Vegetables can be provided two or more times a day, removing uneaten vegetables to prevent spoiling.
Note: Guinea pigs prone to forming stones are sometimes fed limited or no pellets. Since pellets are a concentrated food source, be sure to review guidelines for determining if your guinea pig is a good weight. Some pet owners restrict pellet intake to 1/8 cup a day for adult guinea pigs.
- See: Determining The Correct Weight For Your Guinea Pig
contributed by Sandra Mitchell, DVM, DABVP (Exotic Companion Mammal and Feline Specialties)
NOT RECOMMENDED IN DIET: Mixes or treats with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dyed pieces. Do not give dairy and meat products (guinea pigs are herbivores) or rabbit pellets (they do not contain Vitamin C and some may even include antibiotics toxic to guinea pigs). Seeds in husks can be a choking hazard. Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, collards, bok choy, broccoli) may cause gas in your pet and are best offered sparingly and infrequently. Do not use mineral wheels. Never use Tang (which contains dyes, refined sugars, and very little vitamin C) in drinking water. And don't fall for commercial treats marketed for guinea pigs (like yoghurt drops) which can even be detrimental to their health. Consuming these empty calories (many contain fat, sugars and even excess calcium) can result in decreased consumption of the basic foods they really need.
Do not give multivitamins! Plain vitamin C is fine, but multivitamins are not. Excesses of fat soluble vitamins like A and D can cause serious problems for your pet.
Just as exercise is essential for us, so is it important for our pets.
Daily exercise will help your guinea pig maintain good health. Find an enclosed space with an easily cleaned floor such as a bathroom or kitchen and they will slowly begin to look forward to the freedom a larger space will give them. They will especially enjoy this time if you hide favorite foods in the area.
A few hiding places provide a place to feel protected while they are getting used to the new space. Brown paper bags with the lip folded over for stability, soda can and tissue boxes with holes cut in the sides work well. You can also include a few pieces of PVC pipe fittings for him/her to race through, as well as a brick or rock as obstacles to run over (useful for wearing down their nails). Some guinea pigs enjoy chewing on cardboard tubes (slit lengthwise for safety) from toilet paper or paper towel rolls. Toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay make especially fun toys for cage or floor time.
A large cage which is laid out to encourage movement from one area to another through placement of food, water, and shelter can also help keep your guinea pig healthy. Introducing a second level or moderate barrier that must be climbed over will help develop and maintain agility.
Not Recommended: Exercise wheels or balls are not good for guinea pigs and may injure their spines, legs or feet.
Brushing: Daily brushing with a soft baby brush or a metal greyhound comb will help remove some of the loose hair and lessen shedding. Daily brushing is especially important for long haired guinea pigs, less necessary for the short haired varieties.
Bathing: Guinea pigs seldom "need" baths and some are never bathed. But if they do require one, a shampoo formulated especially for small animals will help avoid drying their skin. Use a shallow bowl of warm water, rinse, and dry thoroughly to avoid chills before returning them to their home. Avoid getting water in their ears.
Shampoos: Bunny Bath by Four Paws is a pleasant smelling all purpose shampoo which can be used on guinea pigs. Hylyt Hypoallergenic Shampoo is a soap free product excellent for use on sensitive skin. EPI-SOOTHE® SHAMPOO is a gentle shampoo formulated to relieve mild itchiness and dry skin in dogs and cats also used by some people on their guinea pigs.
Note: if your pet is extremely itchy, is shedding more than normal, or has a lot of dandruff, a parasite or fungal infection are the most likely causes. None of the shampoos mentioned here are designed to treat these problems though Hylyt and Epi-Soothe may temporarily relieve some of the pain. Read mange mites and fungus to find out how important it is to promptly treat these conditions.
Clipping Toenails: Monthly clippings, begun early, will help accustom the animal to this necessary activity. A scissors style small animal clipper provides good control. Paying close attention to the location of the "quick" will help avoid cutting into the living part of the nail. A light shown from beneath dark colored nails may be helpful locating the quick if it is hard to see. If the nail is accidentally cut too short, a styptic pencil will help stop bleeding. For more tips on clipping nails check out Clipping Toenails.
Taming Your Pet
Guinea pigs make good pets for children over the age of six. Most become tame and loving pets who enjoy being cuddled. On first arriving home, your pet will appreciate being left alone for a day to adjust to the new environment. Although new guinea pigs may not like to be picked up at first and will race around the cage to avoid it, a little bribery with some enticing veggies and some patience will help get them used to your company. They are easily startled so use a quiet voice and slow movements to help keep them calm and a towel while holding them to avoid accidents. When lifting and carrying your guinea pig, be sure to support the entire body with two hands. Guinea pigs are easily injured if dropped, and may nip or bite if not properly handled.
Small children should be supervised when holding a guinea pig and should NOT be allowed to pick one up from out of the cage or carry it around.
Female guinea pigs can be sexually mature as early as 4 weeks old. Gestation is from 59 to 73 days and average litter size is 1-4. Breeding guinea pigs is not recommended. Not only is it risky, it is difficult to find homes for the young with responsible and caring people -- your candidates may "disappear" when the time comes to adopt out the babies. Guinea pig sows are at risk of pregnancy complications because the babies are born large and ready to run. Breeding after 8 months of age can be fatal for a guinea pig who has not had a previous litter due to dystocia. The symphysis (a joint of tough fibrous cartilage which firmly joins the 2 pubic bones) can stiffen upon reaching adulthood and she may not be able to deliver her pups unaided. Sows with dystocia usually need a caesarian section. The survival rate is very poor.
Spaying or neutering guinea pigs also carries risks even when performed by an experienced guinea pig veterinarian. The safest choice is to keep the sexes separate or have only sows or boars. Should you find yourself with a pregnant guinea pig, read over the advice and links on the breeding page. Since most sows will have an estrus (a time when they can become pregnant) from 2 to 15 hours immediately after giving birth, remove any boar from the cage as the delivery date approaches to prevent back-to-back pregnancies.
Sexing Guinea Pigs
Make absolultely sure your pet has been correctly sexed. If you have more than one and plan on housing them together, ensuring that both pigs are the same sex will avoid the many pitfalls and risks associated with pregnancy. Petstores are notorious for sending home two "same sex" guinea pigs that are anything but, so check yourself or have a vet check your pigs for you. Should you determine you have a male and female, separate them immediately whether you suspect the female is pregnant or not.
Boars (male guinea pigs) are generally larger than females, have smaller nipples, and when sexually mature, clearly visible scrotal pouches. Gently pressing on the belly near the genitals will allow the penis to emerge. A sow (female guinea pig) has a Y shaped opening which is usually sealed with a vaginal closure membrane, according to Harkness and Wagner.
In younger pigs, determining sex may be difficult. Waiting until two or three weeks of age may allow the pig to mature enough to make a determination easier. Small young male pigs have a donut shape to their rectum, totally round or slightly oval, and at the top of this donut, a little dot (sometimes described as an "i"). Place your index finger and thumb on either side of the genitals and gently spreading the area -- not much happens with a boy, but with a sow a definite Y appears and the base of the Y (under the "V") will spread quite a bit. Some females will have what has been described as a "pimple" (which might be confused with the dot described above).
According to ThePetLady, "...if you put your finger directly above the pouch and push inward and slightly downward, gently but firmly, and absolutely nothing pops out (not even a little bit) then it has to be a girl," but warns this is very difficult to do with very young guinea pigs as their genitals are small. ThePetLady also suggests going to a pet store to examine a few pigs, since it is much easier to see the differences when you have both sexes to compare.
One of Pinta's hints is that sows pee outward and boars pee inward.
LINKS! Still confused? Be sure to check the Cavy Spirit sexing page, which should answer any questions you have. Teresa Murphy provides numerous pictures of young, mature, and neutered guinea pigs.
While guinea pigs can live a long healthy life, it is always wise to provide regular veterinary care. Vets qualified to care for your guinea pig are called "exotics veterinarians".
Experienced guinea pig owners can't stress enough how important it is to find a good vet who knows your animal before you are in the middle of an emergency.
Check advice on How to Find a Veterinarian if you are unsure how to choose a competent vet. A wellness check will familiarize the vet with your guinea pig and give you a chance to ask questions. The vet can check for parasites, show you how to trim the nails, make sure the teeth are in good shape, and the guinea pig is in good health.
- Weigh Your Guinea Pig Weekly!
The easiest way to monitor your pig's health is to weigh it once a week. A kitchen scale works great. Keep a chart! Often the first sign of illness is weight loss. A chart will enable you to spot gradual weight loss and get medical help early, when many illnesses are most effectively treated. You can download a record page from this site if you'd like to keep all the weigh information in one place. And consider ordering a Cavy Health Record Book with health and care advice; weight and treatment sheets; and more.
Signs Which Warrant A Trip To The Vet ASAP: If your guinea pig shows any of these symptoms, it should see a vet immediately: Refusal to eat or drink, labored breathing, wheezing, crusty eyes, sneezing , rough or puffed up coat, dull and/or receding eyes, lethargy, hunched posture, diarrhea, blood in urine, limping, excessive scratching, hair loss, or loss of balance. Be an observant owner. Unusual behavior (like sitting with it's face in a corner, and being slow to respond to you) could also be reason for alarm. When a guinea pig is ill, it can go downhill very quickly. Prompt, competent veterinary care is crucial to saving the life of a sick guinea pig. The Emergency Medical Guide will provide you with more detailed information.
WARNING: Any penicillin-based drugs (like amoxicillin) are toxic to pigs. Make sure your pig is not prescribed these drugs. If you are not sure - ask. Check the DANGEROUS MEDICATIONS list for other drugs to avoid. Baytril (an excellent broad spectrum antibiotic) should not be given to baby pigs since it can interfere with growth.
Don't be afraid to call your vet if you have any questions. Most illnesses, when caught early, can be cured fairly easily with a course of antibiotics safe for guinea pigs. Guinea pigs can hide symptoms in the early stages of an illness, so once the symptoms become apparent, they may have been ill for one or two weeks.
Please enjoy your new guinea pig. (S)he will prove to be a fascinating and wonderful pet. We are happy to share our lives with ours and wouldn't have it any other way!
More information on medical issues and links to other useful sites can be found right here at Guinea Lynx. And fellow guinea pig owners can also offer you advice on these forums: