Guinea Pig Q&A
In honor of Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month, Ryan Hospital’s Exotic and Companion Animal Medicine Service’s Dr. Colin McDermott has provided basic tips and must-know information for guinea pig parents and would-be parents.
1. What makes a guinea pig a good pet?
Guinea pigs are great, gentle pets. They are very social and inquisitive, which makes for a great pet for children to watch and interact with. Guinea pigs will rarely bite.
2. What is the average lifespan of a guinea pig?
The average life span of a guinea pig is about 5-7 years.
3. What kinds/breeds of guinea pigs are there?
There are several breeds of guinea pigs. The more common breeds are the shorter haired Abyssinians and Teddys. There are also several long-haired breeds like the Peruvians, Coronets and Silkies.
4. What kind of housing should you provide for a guinea pig?
Guinea pigs should be kept in a large plastic bottomed enclosure. They should not be kept in wire bottom cages, as this can damage their feet. A 1.5-foot x 3-foot enclosure is big enough for a solitary guinea pig, but should be larger if housing multiple guinea pigs. They should be kept on a soft, absorbable bedding that should be changed frequently to keep them clean.
5. Are guinea pigs independent, or do they do better with one or more guinea pigs in a home?
Guinea pigs do well as solitary pets, although they can be quite social. If you are keeping more than one guinea pig in a single enclosure, they should be about the same age and kept together from a young age. It can be difficult to get older guinea pigs to get along if they have already been kept solitary for most of their life. They should be kept as all male or all female groups.
6. What does a guinea pig eat?
Guinea pigs primarily eat Timothy hay and fresh greens. Timothy hay and orchard grass should comprise about 70-80% of a guinea pig’s diet. They have a special GI tract that can get all the nutrients they need from hay. Guinea pigs should not be fed alfalfa hay, as it contains a high level of calcium that can cause health issues later in life. Since they are specialized to eat a high fiber diet, you should avoid feeding them a lot of sugars, carbohydrates, or fats. They are unable to produce their own vitamin C, and need a source of it in their diet. This should be done by offering vitamin C tablets, liquid supplements, or by offering vegetables high in vitamin C (like red peppers, parsley, kiwi or orange slices). Dandelion greens, collard greens, mustard greens, watercress, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, escarole, and endive are all healthy vegetable options.
7. What are some of the common health ailments of guinea pigs? Relatedly, when must you seek veterinary care for your guinea pig? How often should a guinea pig be examined? What kind of vet should be sought to care for your guinea pig?
Guinea pigs are prone to teeth issues that commonly present for not eating or not defecating normally. If your guinea pig does not eat or produces no feces for over 12 hours, it is a medical emergency and they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Since guinea pig teeth grow constantly, they can become overgrown if they are not chewing appropriately, which will cause tongue entrapment. This is a medical emergency where a veterinarian must trim the overgrown teeth. Another major sign of dental disease is excessive salivation. Pododermatitis, or bumblefoot, is another common health problem of guinea pigs. Clinical signs are redness, sores, or ulceration of the feet, which is painful for the guinea pig. Guinea pigs should be seen by a veterinarian every six months to a year for health checks. Guinea pigs should be seen by a veterinarian that sees exotic pets.
8. Do you have any husbandry tips for owners of guinea pigs?
Guinea pigs need to be kept as clean as possible to prevent health issues. The bedding should at least be spot cleaned and the soiled bedding removed daily, and completely changed weekly to every other week. This will help prevent issues with pododermatitis. Try to offer different foods and vegetables to your guinea pig while they are young, since they become less willing to try new foods when they are older. Make sure to monitor the appetite and fecal production daily, and note any changes. If there is a significant change in the amount or the size of the feces, consult your veterinarian immediately. Catching these issues early will make it much easier for your veterinarian to treat your guinea pig.
9. Do guinea pigs need to be vaccinated against rabies, distemper, other?
Guinea pigs do not require any vaccinations.