Guinea Pigs Basic Care

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are wonderful companions for many people.  They have a rich range of noises they make to communicate with each other and their human family.  Since they are so social, it is important to keep them in pairs or larger groups.  However, some guinea pigs do best by themselves if they spend a lot of time out with their owners.

DIET

An adult guinea pig needs to have timothy hay available at all times to keep its teeth worn properly and to keep its stomach and intestine healthy.  Additionally, a guinea pig needs a good Timothy-based pellet such as Oxbow.  Feed only the recommended amount of pellets listed on a bag.  If offered unlimited pellets, a guinea pig may munch on pellets and not the hay.  That can lead to problems with dental disease, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

Young, growing guinea pigs and sows that are pregnant or have babies need a different diet than healthy adult guinea pigs.  Timothy hay should be available at all times, but it is a good idea to offer small amounts of alfalhay hay every day to provide a little extra protein to support growth.  Offer pellets that are also a little richer in protein and other nutrients, such as Oxbow's Cavy Performance pellets.  The pellets should be available all the time.

It is important to use pellets that are fresh.  If the pellets are 6 months old or older, the vitamin C level is questionable. 

It is always a good idea to provide extra vitamin C in the form of fresh bell peppers, parsely, and even tiny pieces of citrus fruit.  A snack of a tablet containing vitamin C is another way to make sure your guinea pig is being adequately supplemented.  Oxbow Natural Science Vitamin C treats are a good way to provide the additional vitamins, although chewable vitamin C products for people may also be used.  If you use a human product, make sure you break it into smaller pieces so you are not giving more than 100 mg to your guinea pig per day. 

We do not recommend adding vitamin C to the water as it makes the water taste bad and many guinea pigs will go thirsty rather than drinking the vitamin-enriched water.  Additionally, the vitamin C deteriorates quickly in the water bottle.

WATER

Fresh water should always be available. Some guinea pigs like water bowls and some like water bottles.  Water should be changed daily.  Disinfect the bowl or bottle with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 cup of water at least once a week and rinse thoroughly with fresh water before refilling it for your guinea pig.  Some guinea pigs with special needs may be given water flavored with fruit juice so that they drink more, but this should only be done with a veterinarian’s approval.

CAGING

An adult pair of guinea pigs needs a cage at least 4 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2 feet tall.  A solid floor is recommended since wire floors can create Painful medical conditions with the feet.  Provide at least two plastic guinea pig hutches or cardboard boxes big enough to hide in (but not so cramped a guinea pig can't turn around).  It is a good idea to have at least two hide boxes per guinea pig. The cage should be well-ventilated.

Recycled paper products, such as Yesterday’s News™ or Carefresh™, work well as substrates, as do paper towels and blank newsprint (available from specialty paper shops or online paper supply companies). 

Many guinea pigs quickly learn to use litter boxes, but you may need to place a couple of old fecal pellets in with the litter to get them started.  Paper pulp products, such as Yesterday’s News™ or Carefresh™, or compressed straw pellets, such as Eco-Straw Litter, should be used in the litter box. Clean the litterbox daily, more often if needed, so that your guinea pig does not develop dirty fur on its hind feet and tail from going into a soiled litterbox.  If the litter box isn’t cleaned daily, a guinea pig may sit in the soiled litter and may not urinate as often which may lead to bladder infections and stones.

TEMPERATURE

Guinea pigs can become overheated or cold easily.  Do not expose to temperatures above 85°F or below 60°F for any length of time.  Guinea pigs may have supervised access to a yard even during our hottest months as long as there are plenty of cool shady retreats. 

HANDLING

Always scoop up a guinea pig to fully support all four feet and its belly.  Children under the age of ten should always have older experienced guinea pig handlers help them hold their pet. Guinea pigs learn routines very easily and look forward to their play time outside of their cages.  Be careful when they are on furniture as startled guinea pigs can leap off laps and injure themselves if they fall too far.