Owning and caring for a guinea pig is great fun, but they are also a big responsibility and a long-term commitment. The right care, including a well-balanced diet and a comfortable home, means your curious cavy can live as long as eight years!
If you own or are responsible for a guinea pig, even on a temporary basis, you are required under the Animal Welfare Act to care for him or her properly.
There isn’t a perfect way to care for all guinea pigs because each situation and cavy is different. Here, we provide you with a basic understanding of how to care for your beloved pet guinea pig.
How did guinea pigs evolve?
The guinea pig was first domesticated from as long as 2000BC in the Andes in South America, in the region now known as Peru and Bolivia. They were originally kept for food, but some may have become family pets for children at that time.
Curious and intelligent – these are two words used to describe the personality traits of a guinea pig. They like to see what’s going on, so they are ideal pets to keep either in your garden or inside your home and, although they are small creatures, they require a huge amount of space to be able to stretch their legs.
If you decide to keep your guinea pig in a hutch outside, we strongly recommend that you provide them with extra bedding and shelter throughout the winter months. Hay is the best type of bedding to use as this also makes up a large component of their diet. Never use fluffy bedding as it can become wrapped around their small body resulting in injury.
Guinea pigs are extremely active and inquisitive animals – they stay awake for almost 20 hours in the day and sleep for very short periods of time. If you have a spacious hutch for them to live in, they will of course have plenty of room to run around. However, if you cannot accommodate a large hutch or cage, please do make sure that you give them some of their own free space (around three or four hours) by allowing them to roam around in a safe room (free from wires, plants, etc.). This will help them to work their muscles and go on little adventures!
Typically, guinea pigs are grazing animals, so it is important that they have access to quality hay to keep their digestive systems working, along with a small amount of guinea pig mix.
Like people, guinea pigs lack the physical ability to manufacture their own vitamin C, so they rely on an outside source in the form of fruit and vegetables. Vitamin C deficiency is very common in guinea pigs, and if they do not get enough of this vitamin, they are at risk of developing a condition called scurvy – a condition that interferes with the body’s ability to manufacture collagen, which can lead to blood clotting and problems with their skin and joints.
Some guinea pigs suffer from vitamin C deficiency even when they are fed plenty of it in their diets. If your guinea pig is suffering from vitamin C deficiency, they may come across as weak or lacking in energy, or they may find it difficult to walk. Their fur coat may appear to be rough, they may lose weight, or they’ll have diarrhoea. If you suspect something is wrong, please contact your local veterinary surgeon immediately.
Therefore, we highly recommend you ensure your precious guinea pig is fed grass/leafy greens, such as broccoli or kale as these are great outside sources of vitamin C (steer clear of lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea).
Remember to also change your guinea pig’s water on a daily basis to ensure that their supply remains fresh – this will also allow you to see that your guinea pig is drinking an ample amount of water each day.
Neutering is a term used to describe the surgical removal of parts of the reproductive system, rendering an animal sterile and unable to reproduce.
We recommend you neuter your male guinea pig if you have a female that you want him to room with. However, unlike with other animals, neutering does little to curb mounting or sexual behaviour, or change the behaviour of aggressive guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs in the veterinary industry are referred to as an “exotic” animal, and we would advise you not to assume that any vet can do a guinea pig neuter. For more information and advice about neutering your guinea pig, please speak to your local veterinary surgeon by using our online practice finder tool.
Remember, caring for any type of animal requires time, patience and commitment but most importantly, love!
If you require further information and advice for how to provide the best possible care for your beloved pet guinea pig, please contact your local Medivet practice – a member of our team will be more than happy to assist you!
Posted February 16, 2016 in Pet Care Advice