Thinking of getting a Guinea Pig?
Want to know how to look after Guinea Pigs at Home? We’re here to help!
Regular visitors will know that we have quite a few Guinea Pigs on the farm and – throughout the day – there are opportunities to meet and stroke them.
They are adorable little creatures and make great family pets. Lots of you obviously agree because our team regularly get asked questions about how best to care for them.
Although there are some subtle differences between caring for Guinea Pigs on a farm compared to a family home, we thought we would pool the collective knowledge of the team, giving you the definitive Farmer Palmer’s guide to caring for your Guinea Pigs at home.
Understanding your Guinea Pig
Guinea Pigs – despite what most people think – are very social creatures.
Yes they are skittish and will run at the first whiff of trouble, but think about how big the world seems to them. You would probably run away too if a giant hand tried to pick you up. It would feel like a bird of prey swooping down!
Guinea Pigs who are raised with lots of human contact grow up trusting humans and can become wonderful pets. The baby Guinea Pigs we sell at Farmer Palmer’s are handled everyday to get them used to human contact. If you’re interested in buying one of our Guinea Pigs please ask in the Animal Barn for availability.
Most vets will recommend against keeping a single Guinea Pig as they can get very lonely. They would much rather cohabit with another Guinea Pig. If it’s not possible to keep more than one animal, lots of human contact is really important to maintain their happiness and well being.
For the happiest results; it’s best to keep two females, a female and a neutered male or two neutered males providing they were litter-mates (i.e. brothers raised together). Male Guinea Pigs who are unfamiliar with one another will fight and can inflict quite a lot of damage.
Guinea Pigs are very cautious animals and it’s important to make sure they have plenty of space and plenty of hiding places. Guinea Pigs need to be able to feel they can retreat to a safe space whenever they want. If not they can become very distressed and in some cases aggressive.
Top Tips for Choosing your Guinea Pig(s)
- Research the different breeds, long haired Guinea Pigs will need extra grooming
- Check for physical health signs when selecting your piggies, including;
- Healthy Teeth
- Bright Eyes
- Eating and Drinking
- Ask the age; Guinea Pigs should be at least 7-8 weeks old before they go to a new home
- When you get your Guinea Pig home, place them gently in their new environment with food (start them on the food they are used to and then steadily introduce any new foods in a progressing ratio – a sudden change in diet may make them unwell). Give them plenty of hay, water and leave them to settle for 24 hours before handling them. This can be a challenge if you have young children as they will probably want to cuddle them as soon as you get home! But, it’s really important for the Guinea Pig to feel safe in it’s new environment.
Diet and Environment
So let’s talk about Environment. A Guinea Pig is at it’s happiest when it can eat and drink whenever it wants. They’re not like dogs or cats who can gorge themselves so it’s perfectly fine to leave food and water for them. Withholding food and water for a Guinea Pig may make them anxious, withdrawn or aggressive.
A lot of visitors mention how surprised they are by how active their Guinea Pigs are. Despite their outwardly cuddly exterior, Guinea Pigs are very active creatures and as such need plenty of space and plenty to do.
A bored Guinea Pig is often a destructive Guinea Pig.
They need spacious, well ventilated (but draft free) enclosures where they have space enough to stand on their hind legs without hitting their head.
They like lots of space to run around as well as tubes/tunnels and other things to explore and hide in. You don’t want your Guinea Pig to get stuck! So make sure tunnels are wide enough for them to comfortably fit through.
Their bedding needs to be soft, so hay is ideal! Straw is very sharp and coarse which may cause your Guinea Pig eye problems. Hay also makes up the majority of a Guinea Pig’s diet, they will munch on it all day. Dust free hay is your best option!
The environment needs to have plenty of shade as these lovable little critters are highly vulnerable to heat stroke. 17-20 degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature window. To find out how to keep your Guinea Pigs comfortable in the warmer Summer months, check out our other blog: How to Keep Animals Cool in the Heat
Because Guinea Pigs are part of the rodent family they gnaw anything and everything so avoid plastic toys and treated wood. These chemicals, if ingested, can make Guinea Pigs very unwell, or even kill them.
If possible you need to house them in a peaceful environment, away from dogs, cats and other animals they may perceive as threats. If they don’t feel safe it could impact on feeding and result in malnutrition and dehydration.
In addition to lots of lovely fresh grass, Guinea Pigs need fresh vegetables – ideally daily – as their teeth grow continuously. Keeping them the correct length and shape is pretty important to a Guinea Pig’s well being.
Did you know Guinea Pigs cannot produce their own vitamin ‘C’?
You can also feed your Guinea Pigs grass-based pellets as they are a good source of vitamin ‘C’. However, they don’t last long so it’s important to replace any uneaten pellets with fresh ones on a daily basis.
Water needs to be fresh each day – sometimes more in the Summer months – and kept somewhere cool, easily accessible and where it wont get knocked over. At Farmer Palmer’s we add a vitamin ‘C’ effervescent tablet to the Guinea Pig’s water bowls every day. If you do this, make sure it’s pure vitamin ‘C’ with no Zinc!
What do I need to Buy for my Guinea Pigs?
Here’s a recommended shopping list from our Animal Barn Team:
- Fox-proof hutch or indoor cage with run area
- Water bowl/bottle feeder (remember only one Guinea Pig can drink at a time from these, therefore if you have more than one Guinea Pig a water bowl is better)
- Hay and wood shavings
- Guinea Pig food
- Vitamin ‘C’ tablets for their water (remember NO ZINC)
- Fresh vegetables
- Bed/somewhere they can hide under if they want some privacy and to feel safe
You have probably realised by now that there is a bit more involved with keeping Guinea Pigs than it first appears.
A bit of grass, a bowl of water, a hutch and a run is the most common mindset we come across from new owners who didn’t do their research.
Although this is the absolute bare minimum, for a Guinea Pig to have a happy life – and for it to be an affectionate pet – there’s a lot more to consider than just the right feed and the right bedding.
Once you’ve got your Guinea Pig you need to consider neutering it if it’s a male. Un-neutered males can be aggressive, especially towards other males.
The correct diet helps to prevent all sorts of health problems that wrack up big vets bills and shorten the lives of your Guinea Pigs quite unnecessarily.
You also need to check their teeth, nails and general health regularly. They like gnawing on things and getting into small spaces. Injuries are surprisingly common. Also, Guinea Pig teeth are sharp and their jaws are very powerful. If one bites another it can do a lot of damage, plus there’s a risk of infection.
In the Summer it’s very important to be wary of Fly Strike. This is caused by flies laying eggs within a host (your Guinea Pig!) and is often fatal! Checking your Guinea Pig twice daily around the rear for urine staining and droppings stuck to the fur – and cleaning accordingly will help to prevent this. It’s important to know that Fly Strike can affect even healthy animals but Guinea Pigs are especially at risk. Because they are unable to clean themselves properly.
Owning Guinea Pigs is a lot of work but very rewarding as – with enough contact – they can be extremely sociable and loving pets. These aren’t pets for busy households without enough time to give the proper level of love and care. A number of the checks required to maintain the animal’s well-being are daily or twice daily.
If you’re unsure or would just like to learn more about Guinea Pigs as pets, why not come down to the farm, speak to our team and join in with one of the handling sessions. You can book your tickets here.