It’s important for anyone who is thinking about getting a live pet to know what they are getting into before bringing the animal home. Let’s do a quick overview of what to expect with a guinea pig as a pet.
Guinea pigs are social creatures by nature. They need someone to talk to in their own language. A guinea pig living alone is like an extroverted human being locked into a room for their entire life. Being lonely causes guinea pigs to be more prone to illness (*cough* expensive vet bills). Guinea pigs, herd animals, will also “be a better pet” when they have a buddy to talk to because they are more likely to come out of their hidey and interact with their human. It makes them feel safer with a friend. Learn more about the consequences of a single guinea pig
Do not put unneutered male and female guinea pigs together. You WILL have babies and unless you plan to take care of all of them, please do not contribute to the homeless guinea pig epidemic. Males do well in pairs while females thrive in groups of 2 or more. Learn more about bonding guinea pigs
Guinea pigs are prey animals so it’s in their nature to be scared, especially at first. With a guinea pig, you’ll need to build trust in order for them to be comfortable with you. The fastest way to their heart is with their stomach. Hand Feeding fresh veggies is a great start to building trust. Some guinea pigs are more skittish than others, and for those special cases, there are tons of taming tutorials and videos online that you can follow. See taming exercises
80% of their diet is hay. For guinea pigs over 6 months, timothy hay is a great choice. Baby and pregnant pigs can eat alfalfa hay (high in calcium). If you are allergic to the hay, there are other types of hay to try. Because they eat so much, you’ll want to buy the biggest bag available. You can also save some money by bulking in bulk at your local livestock feed store.
Additionally, guinea pigs need approximately ⅛ cup of a hay-based pellet. Stay clear of any pellets that contain dried fruits, seeds, grain, or added sugar. Ideally, no soy either.
Finally, guinea pigs love their fresh veggies! They do not make their own vitamin C, so to prevent a deficiency, fresh veggies are the easiest and best way to get them their vitamin C! ¼ of a bell pepper contains all of their vitamin C for the day! Daily staples include lettuce (romaine, green leaf, red leaf), parsley, bell peppers. Complete guinea pig food list (link to food list)
Like all animals, they need access to fresh water to drink. It does not matter whether you use a bowl or bottle. Should I use a water bowl or bottle?
Guinea pigs would rather run and dart than climb. You can add a loft into their cage, but it’s just a bonus and does not count towards the minimum size requirement. 1*-2 guinea pigs need 7.5 square feet minimum / 10.5 square feet preferred. Pet store “starter cages” are not suitable. Having a playpen or floor time does not count for having a smaller cage. Learn the detrimental consequences of too small a cage.
Cages should have solid bottoms (wire bottoms cause injuries) and bedding can be either disposable or fleece. Kiln-dried pine, aspen, or carefresh are popular, safe disposable bedding options. Fleece bedding is more than a fleece blanket. There is an absorbent layer in the middle. It can be DIY’d or bought online. What bedding works best for me ?
Like any animal that you bring into your home as part of your family, guinea pigs deserve medical care when they get sick. It’s a good practice to set aside money to prepare for vet visits before bringing home your pet. Most vets do not treat guinea pigs, you will need to find your nearest exotic vet. It may be hours away from you in rural areas. Call your exotic vet to ask how much a wellness check and other services would cost.
Common issues: Ringworm, scurvy, upper respiratory infection, bumblefoot, overgrown teeth, bladder stones, mites, mange
Most health issues can be avoided by a good diet and clean cage, but it would be a good practice to bring each guinea pig in for a wellness check at least once a year.
Note: Guinea pigs are great at hiding their health issues. Keep a close eye on them and take them to the vet when you suspect an illness.
Guinea pig nails do keep growing and need to be trimmed. Some owners find nail clipping scary, but with practice it gets easier and faster. How to trim guinea pig nails.
Depending on how fast your guinea pig’s nails grow and how close to the quick you are able to cut, guinea pig nails should be trimmed every month or up to 6-8 weeks.
There are some breeds of guinea pigs that have very long hair, but the most common, short-haired guinea does not need any brushing. They do naturally shed when you pet them, but wire or firm brushes are not needed. If anything, you can use a soft baby brush.
There are a lot of MYTHS about bathing guinea pigs. However, the opposite of them is true. Guinea pigs who have never had a bath are prone to more dry skin and infections. Yes, they do not like baths, but most pets don’t either.
Guinea pigs can be bathed up to 4 times a year. You can use gentle shampoo like baby shampoo, or anti-fungal/anti-dandruff shampoo like Head and Shoulders. I use the anti-fungal shampoo recommended by the LA Guinea Pig Rescue.
Guinea pig bottoms are more likely to get dirty faster. You can give a “bottom bath” more often than a full bath with a damp washcloth and a drop of soap.
Hay is what actually grinds guinea pigs’ teeth to keep them at a proper length, so you shouldn’t need to buy any toys with the intention of grinding their teeth. Guinea pigs will like edible balls made of hay, or even something as simple DIY toys made out of cardboard. Toys are there to stimulate their little minds. Check out this foraging mat that my guinea pigs love.
Do not buy: exercise balls, harnesses, salt licks, anything with seeds, honey, artificial coloring, loofa, or something that paws or heads can get stuck in.
Guinea pigs are forever
Guinea pigs are such amazing little creatures and no wonder you’ve fallen in love with them! Before you run out to your nearest pet store, take a moment to think about the future. Guinea pigs live 5-7 years, some live up to 10 years with good genetics and great care. What will you be doing in 5 years? If you go back to school or get a new job, will you still be able to take care of them?
Common rehome reasons
Allergies (to the guinea pig or their hay)
Not interested anymore (commonly found in “learn to be responsible” situations)
Not enough time (school, sports, work)
Misgendered at pet store (unexpected babies)
Sudden illness or purchased sick
Financial hardships, job loss, or move
Where to buy guinea pigs
If you feel confident that you are able to give guinea pigs a loving home, congrats!
There are tons of guinea pigs that need new homes. Please look elsewhere for a guinea pig before purchasing from a pet store. Big pet stores sell guinea pigs that come from breeding mills and many are sick and misgendered when purchased.
Search for “[your area] guinea pig” on Facebook
Craigslist or similar
These are the basics of guinea pig care. There are lots more information out there to continue learning. Remember to do your own research and critical thinking to make the best decisions for you and your guinea pigs.
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