Is a Guinea Pig Right for You?
Before retiring from her rescue, veteran rescuer Vicki Palmer Nielsen of Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue spent a great deal of time educating prospective adopters, especially people new to guinea pigs. Some people complained to her that they didn't know guinea pigs would be so much work and that they didn't have enough time to care for them. Vicki found that even carefully screened adopters do not always truly understand what it's like to live with guinea pigs. She stressed that guinea pigs are not low-maintenance pets. Here are some points to consider:
Level of care
Daily care and feeding are time consuming, and bedding and hay are messy. Guinea pigs also require routine nail clipping, regular grooming and occasional ear cleaning.
Low initial cost is deceptive. The expenses of food and bedding, not to mention health care, mean guinea pigs can be surprisingly costly pets. A guinea pig may live as long as 10 years, though the average is five to seven, so one must consider adopting a guinea pig to be a moderately long-term commitment.
Guinea pigs and children
Guinea pigs can be good pets for children over the age of six when parents supervise their handling and care. A small child cannot be allowed to carry a guinea pig (guinea pigs have small bones and falls can be deadly). Because noticing changes in a guinea pig is so important, an adult must be involved in day-to-day care and have a strong commitment to the animal as well. Thinking they are adopting a guinea pig for their child, adults often become the primary caretaker and may grow to love and appreciate guinea pigs themselves. Guinea pigs should be considered "family pets" rather than a child's pet for all these reasons.
It's not unusual to discover a variety of pets share a guinea pig household. Most pets can coexist if care is taken to ensure the guinea pigs' safety. Never leave a guinea pig unattended in the presence of a dog, cat, ferret or any other predatory animal. Some dogs will kill guinea pigs if given an opportunity so to prevent heartbreak, consider a resident dog's basic temperament.
Guinea pigs in the classroom
Many people believe guinea pigs and classrooms don't mix. The best arrangement is a pair of same sex guinea pigs that are the teacher's personal pets, returning home with her at the end of the day. Intermittent visits to the classroom are preferable to daily trips.
Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig
People are often unaware that a local shelter has guinea pigs or that a guinea pig rescue is located nearby. In many parts of the country, hundreds of rescued guinea pigs need homes.
A prospective guinea pig owner typically visits a pet store first. But many pet stores house both males and females together and occasionally sell incorrectly sexed guinea pigs. This increases the odds that a young undeveloped sow is already pregnant when purchased or that a breeding pair has been inadvertently sold. Some children lose interest in their pets after a short time, and their parents are unwilling to keep them. Combined with intentional breeding "to see what it's like," and with culls from breeders, the number of guinea pigs needing homes continues to grow.
Guinea pigs are not for everyone. But an informed, committed guardian who is willing to care for them day after day and seek health care if needed will find them charming companions.
Be a Responsible Guardian
Do your research (and listen to your inner soul!) before bringing guinea pigs into your home. The decision to adopt one or more guinea pigs is an important one and should not be made lightly. Your pets will be completely dependent on you for food, water, medical care, and companionship throughout their lives. As your pet ages, it needs the security and love you can provide. Have an experienced guinea pig-knowledgeable exotics veterinarian lined up before you adopt.
Adapted from a longer article written by the site owner and published in the ASPCA's magazine, Animal Watch, spring 2004.