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    Small Pets Resource Center

    Guinea Pigs


    Cavia porcellus


    up to 8 years


    8-11 inches long


    Guinea pigs have adapted well to our average domestic room temperatures. However, they do not handle higher temperatures and humidity well. Be sure to keep the cage out of direct sunlight and away from vents. Do not house your guinea pig in a glass tank. If you take your pig outside, remember that they are more sensitive to heat & humidity than you are; they can easily suffer from heat stroke very quickly, which may result in death. Alternatively, they should also not be kept in drafty and chilly areas. Avoid damp areas as well.


    Guinea pigs are rodents, whose ancestors are originally from South America. The guinea pigs found today in the wilds of Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay are very similar to our domesticated guinea pigs, but not exactly the same. Guinea pigs have been and still are used for food in South America. In the wild, they live in colonies that travel through tunnels trampled in tall grasses.


    Guinea pigs have full, rounded bodies; short, floppy ears, stubby legs and no tail. There are MANY colors and breeds, but most types fall into three main breeds: English/Common (smooth coat, straight hair), Peruvian (long, silky hair) and Abyssinian (rough, wiry hair in whirls and twists). Guinea pigs have hair like a human, not fur like a rabbit. Guinea pigs have several methods of verbal communication. Purrs, whistles, squeals and chatters are amongst their extensive “vocabulary”. Adults will coo at each other and many will squeal when the refrigerator door opens - in hopes of a treat. The chatter (with teeth grinding) is a warning signal; this means piggy is angry.


    Guinea pigs are social creatures that prefer to live in pairs or groups. It is always easiest to buy siblings together at the same time (never mix males and females - females can mature enough to breed earlier than 6 weeks), but it is possible to slowly introduce guinea pigs from separate sources to each other. Each guinea pig has his/her own personality, so there is no guarantee any pair will get along together. Guinea pigs make an excellent pet for a responsible child. They sit well on a lap and will not dart or bolt while being held. However, children must always be taught how to hold a guinea pig correctly and should never be left unsupervised with a pet.


    Vegetarians / Grain eaters (Herbivores) Commercially prepared timothy hay based guinea pig diets are available at all pet stores. A good quality plain pellet diet is best, as they offer a complete balanced diet. Diets that include seeds and treats seem to be nicer for your pet, but many guinea pigs will only pick out the treats and not eat the pellets. This may result in obesity and malnutrition. Also, seeds can upset the delicate balance of the guinea’s gastro-intestinal tract, causing gas and discomfort. Corn can cause blockages. Feed ¼ cup to ½ cup pellets that are 18-20% protein and 10-16% fiber. Do not feed alfalfa hay based pellets. These contain too much protein.

    Just like humans, guinea pigs are incapable of manufacturing vitamin C in their own bodies. Therefore, it is imperative that they receive supplemental vitamin C in their daily diet. Most guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C, however, be careful to use the pellet food within 90 days of the manufactured date. Vitamin C is water soluble and very unstable, so after 90 days, it is generally useless. It is also a good idea to refrigerate your bag of guinea pig diet. Guinea pigs should also receive a guinea pig vitamin C supplement daily. Do not use vitamin supplements that are added to the water bottle. Due to the instability of the vitamin, it will not be effective. Also, guinea pigs are very picky, and changes in food and water tastes are not often welcomed or well tolerated.

    FRESH FOODS: Healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables can also be fed to your guinea pig. Offer these treats in small amounts, as they may cause diarrhea if fed in too great amounts. Broccoli tops, carrots, green beans, sweet peppers, parsley, dandelion greens, apples and pears are good choices. Fresh foods that contain good amounts of vitamin C for your guinea pig are: orange slices, cabbage, kale, sweet peppers and spinach If you find that your guinea pig develops loose stools or diarrhea, you are probably feeding too much fresh food. If the diarrhea continues after reducing fresh food, see your exotic pet veterinarian. BE SURE TO WASH FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THOROUGHLY BEFORE FEEDING THEM TO YOUR PET!!!

    ** Please avoid feeding sugary treats such as yogurt drops or honey sticks to your guinea pig. These treats contain far too much sugar and can cause several health issues such as diabetes.


    A vitamin C supplement manufactured for guinea pigs is a must as a daily supplement. See your exotic pet veterinarian for a good supplement and the proper dosage for your pig.


    Clean, fresh chlorine-free water must always be available. Change it daily. All water given must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. De-chlorinator is available in the fish department. If you do not want to chemically de-chlorinate the water, you can leave an open container of tap water out for at least 24 hours. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions.


    Wire sided cage at least 40 x 20 x 20 in size. Do not choose a cage with a wire bottom; only solid floored cages are appropriate. Pelleted, timothy based commercial guinea pig food & timothy hay, orchard grass, botanical hay or any combination. No alfalfa hay.
    Several toys - chewable wood and cardboard. Shredded aspen bedding, “Carefresh”, or newspaper for the bottom of the tank.
    Hide houses - wooden or cardboard. Vitamin C supplements.
    Water bottle. Heavy ceramic crock food bowl.


    A wire-sided cage measuring at least 40L” x 20W” x 20H” is a good size cage for one or two guinea pigs. Be sure the cage has good ventilation. GLASS ENCLOSURES SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR GUINEA PIGS; they are highly susceptible to heat stroke and glass cages hold in too much heat and humidity for a guinea pig. Do not buy a cage with a wire floor; this will result in foot injuries and a condition known as “bumble-foot“. Cages should have a solid plastic bottom, for safety and for ease of cleaning.


    HIDE HOUSE: The hide house is extremely important to the guinea pig. Guinea pigs are very shy creatures with a strong flight instinct. It is very important to supply them with a protected place to hide.

    WATER BOTTLE: A full water bottle must be available at all times, refill it daily. Be sure to clean out the inside of the bottle thoroughly during the more intensive cage cleaning sessions every week. Water bottles will often become slimy inside, which will in turn harbor harmful bacteria. Clean the bottle thoroughly with a mild bleach solution. Be sure to rinse the bottle extremely well after the cleaning to ensure no bleach is left behind! Your pet will most likely chew a bottle inside the cage, so be sure to attach the bottle to the OUTSIDE of the cage. Check the straw daily for any blockages to make sure your pet always has access to the fresh water. If you cannot place the bottle on the outside of the cage, purchase a metal water bottle guard. This will keep him or her from getting to the bottle.

    BEDDING: We recommend an aspen bedding or soft recycled newspaper bedding such as “Carefresh”. Neither of these choices will cause allergic reactions or respiratory distress and it is easy to clean. DO NOT use cedar chips, as they contain dangerous phenols, which are toxic to your pet. Place enough bedding in the cage so your pet can happily tunnel underneath it. Spot clean your pet’s cage daily by simply removing the soiled portions of bedding.

    TOYS: Several types of toys should be available for your guinea pig. Chewing toys such as wooden small mammal toys (available at the pet store), hide houses, cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes and untreated fruit tree branches are all excellent toys for your pig. Guinea pigs MUST chew constantly in order to wear their teeth down, which grow on a continual basis. Therefore, toys that allow the pig to chew and wear those teeth down are invaluable. Stick to toys bought at the pet store, as these are generally made of pet-safe materials. Pesticide-free, dried fruit tree braches can be offered, such as apple and pear, but be absolutely sure they are pesticide free. Also, also wash them well with water and friction before offering them to your pet.


    Daily maintenance should consist of spot cleaning by removing soiled substrate, cleaning water bowl thoroughly and wiping glass clean.

    The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every week with:

    • A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution), THEN
    • Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32)
    • Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.


    It is not necessary to clean or bathe your guinea pig. They are extremely neat and will groom themselves! If it seems as if your pig has not been grooming him or herself, he may be ill. Contact your exotic pet veterinarian. Regular nail trims will be necessary.


    Healthy guinea pigs have a rounded, full body and smooth, even fur with no bald patches. The nostrils, rump area, under-chin area, ears and eyes should be clear and free of discharge - fur should not be damp or stained in any way. Your pet should have bright eyes; teeth should be even and well aligned with no staining around the chin; breathing should be even and not labored, with no wheezing or gurgling sounds. Healthy guinea pigs are energetic and alert.


    Vitamin C deficiency Bone and blood vessel abnormalities, enlarged adrenal glands, bleeding in the limb joints, rib muscles and intestines; bone deformities See your exotic veterinarian IMMEDIATELY
    Gastro-intestinal upset(GI Stasis) Lethargy, not eating, feces small in size or non-existent, gurgling belly sounds See your exotic veterinarian IMMEDIATELY, disease runs its course quickly. Vet will administer sub-q fluids, antibiotics +/- other drugs.
    Mites Loss of hair, bare spots on skin or small red sores; scratching See your exotic veterinarian immediately. Infecting mite must be identified and treated accordingly
    Traumatic injury Obvious open wounds or weeping spots on body, injured limbs See your exotic veterinarian for treatment. Cuts must be cleaned properly and antibiotics may be necessary
    Abscesses Abscesses can form when wounds become infected and close up, trapping the bacteria inside. See your exotic veterinarian immediately. The abscess must be drained and antibiotics administered
    Dental Problems Drooling, not eating, pawing at mouth; scant stools See your exotic pet veterinarian

    ©2012 Evan J. Reed DVM and Dawn M. Trainor-Scalise Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets In conjunction with Pet Supplies Plus 10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031 Ph (716) 759-0144

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