Guinea Pig - Cavia porcellus
Please note: These are general recommendations; they are not meant to be construed as veterinary advice, and may not be appropriate for your pet. Be sure to schedule a visit with your local veterinarian to discuss the best care for your animal!
Guinea pigs are wonderful companions and make great pets. Guinea pigs are a type of rodent native to the Andean region of South America. While basic guinea pig care (or ‘husbandry’) is fairly simple, they are quite different from dogs and cats, and as a result require very different care. Below are some basic guidelines and tips for guinea pig care.
Guinea pigs (like rabbits and chinchillas) have unique digestive tracks similar to horses. Their cecum (an off-shoot of the small intestine) acts as a large fermentation vat, which requires a constant stream of food input to stay healthy. This means that guinea pigs need to graze on food throughout the day, and that they should be pooping all day as well! All guinea pigs should have 24/7 access to Timothy hay to help their GI tracts stay healthy. Any reduction in eating (or pooping!) is of concern in guinea pigs; be sure to call your veterinarian ASAP if you notice your guinea pig is not eating well, or if they are producing less poop. A guinea pig who is not eating at all is an emergency!
Along with hay, guinea pigs should be given fresh veggies and a small amount of guinea pig pellets. Dark leafy greens such as Romaine or Red Leaf lettuce can be given daily. High calcium vegetables, such as Spinach, Kale, or Parsley, can cause urinary issues if given too often, and should not be offered more than weekly.
Guinea pigs are not able to make their own Vitamin C which means that, like humans, they can get scurvy! Because of this, guinea pigs require daily vitamin C supplementation. Most guinea pig pellets contain some level of vitamin C, but this can break down over time while the bag sits on the shelf. Certain vegetables, such as bell peppers, can be a good source of vitamin C, and there are also vitamin C supplements (often in liquid form) which can be purchased.
Along with their unique digestive track, guinea pigs also have special teeth, which continue to grow throughout their lives. If a guinea pig is not eating a balanced diet, their teeth can overgrow, which then causes oral pain and discomfort, and then prevents them from eating! Any guinea pig with a reduced appetite should be examined for possible dental disease.
All guinea pigs should be given access to fresh water daily. Guinea pigs generally prefer to drink from a water bottle.
Guinea pigs should not be kept on wire-bottom cages, as this can hurt their feet and lead to pododermatitis (‘bumblefoot’). Solid plastic bottom cages should have a softer substrate (bedding) on top, such as hay or straw. Be sure to regularly replace the bedding and clean out the whole cage.
Female guinea pigs who go through a first heat cycle without breeding have changes to their pelvis which can prevent future natural birth, and are at risk if they become pregnant in the future. Because of this, your veterinarian may recommend spaying your guinea pig to prevent possible pregnancy complications.
Because guinea pigs are prey animals, they are very good at hiding signs of illness and disease. Often the only ‘signal’ an animal gives us is a reduced appetite or reduced fecal production. If you have any concerns about your guinea pig, be sure to call your vet right away!
Be sure you wash your hands well after playing with your guinea pig to make sure you don’t get germs!
Dr. Chuck recommends guinea pigs go to the veterinarian at least once per year to make sure they are healthy and happy!