Why keep guinea pigs
Keeping Guinea Pigs, or ‘Cavies’ as they are also called, can be as simple as having two in a garden hutch or an indoor pen, but can also expand into keeping several, breeding them and even showing. Many people start with pet guinea pigs, and may decide to go on to keep one of the many ‘purebred’ breeds which are available.
Guinea pigs won’t
- Take over your favourite armchair – unless they are on your lap!
- Bring home unwanted litters.
- Need late-night exercising.
- Make excessive noise.
Guinea pigs will
- Adapt to your feeding routine.
- Eat up most of the vegetable trimmings from your kitchen.
- Mow the lawn for you.
- Greet you with enthusiasm when you approach.
- Enjoy a cuddle on your lap.
Guinea pigs are
- Easy to look after.
- Generally robust in health
- An excellent way of learning about the responsibility that comes with pet-care.
- Great examples to help answer those ‘facts of life’ questions that every parent has to face at one time or another!
- Easy for a friend or neighbour to care for during holiday times.
Outdoor hutches should be strongly made so they will last, with a solid floor, not wire, big enough for the number of guinea pigs you intend to keep, and sited out of the direct sun in the summer and draughts in the winter. The wire for the front should be weldmesh, as foxes can break chicken wire. If you have a garden shed with good lighting and ventilation, you can always put the hutch inside it for the winter. It will make looking after the guinea pigs more pleasant for the keeper as well!
You will also need a run for outside exercise. This needs to be of solid construction, covered with weldmesh on the top and sides. The wire covered top is to protect against predators. Don’t put wire under the bottom, as guinea pigs’ feet will be injured by walking on wire mesh. A solid covered area over part of the run is essential to allow the guinea pigs to get out of the sun or showers. Some guinea pigs like to sunbathe, and if they have any pink areas of skin on their ears, you must put sunblock on it, as they can get sunburnt as easily as humans can.
If you want to keep your guinea pigs indoors, there are a number of excellent cages on the market. Guinea pigs can be allowed to run on the floor indoors but must be supervised. Remember to cover or move electric cables, as they may be chewed. Indoor guinea pigs also benefit from access to an outside run in good weather.
What guinea pigs to keep?
Guinea pigs come in a number of colours and coat types. Short haired guinea pigs, either smooth coated or rough (tufted or with rosettes) are best for the beginner. Long coated guinea pigs look very attractive but require a great deal of looking after, as their coats quickly become knotted and matted without daily combing through, and regular trimming. Contrary to what you might have heard, guinea pigs with pink eyes are no less hardy than the dark eyed ones, and have normal eyesight.
Should you have boys or girls?
Unless you intend to breed, single sex pairs or groups are best. Both girls and boys (known as sows and boars) will get on well together, provided their personalities are compatible. It helps if the ones you choose are either litter mates or have been weaned together, so they are familiar companions when you get them. You can also put a youngster with an adult guinea pig – of the same sex of course!
How many should you have?
Guinea pigs are very social animals and it is much kinder not to keep one on its own. Keeping two together is fine, or if you have large enough accommodation, a group of four or six will provide lots of interest as they interact with each other.
Can they live with other animals?
Guinea pigs are best kept with other guinea pigs. It is a common mistake to think that a rabbit is a suitable companion, and there are still some pet shops which will advise you that it is OK. There are three good reasons why you shouldn’t keep rabbit and guinea pigs together.
Rabbits and guinea pigs have different dietary requirements. Guinea pigs need lots of greens to stay healthy, as they can’t make Vitamin C and will get scurvy if they don’t get enough. (In this respect they are the same as humans). Rabbits on the other hand will often get diarrhoea if they have access to the same amount of green food.
Rabbits have very powerful back feet, and will kick out, often just for the joy of living. If a guinea pig is in the way it can be seriously injured or even killed.
There is a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which rabbits can carry. It often does not cause any illness in the rabbit, so you don’t know it has the bacterium, but causes pneumonia in guinea pigs, which may die from it.
So do your guinea pig a favour – don’t keep it with a rabbit.
Guinea pigs need a diet high in fibre, and must have as much good quality, sweet smelling hay as they can eat. They also need a varied selection of fresh vegetables daily. This can be any of the cabbage family, though cauliflower leaves are probably the favourite. They also enjoy carrots, raw beetroot, swede, celery, melon rind, pea pods, apple, cucumber, fennel, parsley – the list is endless!
A good quality dry Guinea Pig mix should be offered in a heavy bowl that is difficult to tip over, and the guinea pigs must always have access to clean water in a pet water bottle.
Cleaning out is best done weekly, perhaps more often if bad weather prevents them using the run outside. Feeding and changing the water takes a few minutes every day.
Cuddling and having fun with your guinea pigs can take as long as you like!
There are many books on guinea pigs, but not all the information is accurate. The same applies to information from the internet. Local Cavy Clubs are a good place to go for advice on all aspects of guinea pig keeping and welfare.
The Southern Cavy Club and the National Cavy Club can provide you with details of your nearest cavy club. Look on www.southerncavyclub.co.uk and www.nationalcavyclub.co.uk