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Caring for guinea pigs
by TeenHelp August 9th 2021, 11:06 PM

Caring for guinea pigs
By Dez (Wheek!)

Guinea pigs make great furry friends. However, many people believe that these animals are “starter pets” that do not need a lot of work. Guinea pigs actually do require daily care, and meeting their basic needs is sometimes costly. Here are some tips for caring for guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs need a comfortable place to call their home. Many of the enclosures found in a pet store are much too small to accommodate these animals and can actually lower their quality of life. A small space also can increase the risk of fighting due to the lack of space.

A lot of people use C&C cages, which are measured in grids. For easy building, C&C cage kits can be purchased online. Others use large enclosures made by Midwest, Kaytee, and other manufacturers. The size of the cage depends on how many guinea pigs that will use the space. For example, the minimum cage size for one guinea pig is 7.5 square feet (2x3 grids), but 10.5 square feet (2x4 grids) is preferred.

Avoid wire cages, which can hurt a guinea pig’s feet. Do not use aquariums, as this can make breathing clean air difficult. Also ensure they cannot escape through the bars. If there are other animals in the house, separate the guinea pigs from these animals. If they cannot be separated, make sure that the cage has a roof and that other animals do not have easy access. If there are no other pets who can access the guinea pigs, a topless cage can also be chosen.

The following chart gives further details about guinea pig cage sizes:

Guinea pigs also need spaces to sleep and hide. They are prey animals and hide to feel safe. There should be several hides in a guinea pig’s enclosure. There are many different types of hides that can be used, such as soft, fleece hides, hides made out of hay, boxes, or houses.

The bottom of the cage will also need to be lined with bedding for cleanliness. There are several types of bedding that can be used based on the preferences of the owner. Paper brands, such as CareFresh, are popular. Others use wood bedding such as aspen or pine. With these bedding options, soiled bedding is scooped up and thrown away.

Fleece bedding is also an option. Some owners prefer fleece because it is reusable. Before using fleece bedding for the first time, run it through the washing machine with a scentless detergent and vinegar to increase its moisture-wicking capabilities. Moisture-wicking is important because if fleece is not properly wicked, urine and water may pool and cause foot disease. When washing fleece, clean the hay and feces off of the bedding and put the bedding in the washing machine with a scentless detergent and vinegar. It may be helpful to put the bedding in a machine-safe bag to prevent excess hay from clogging machine. Then, it can be put back in the cage. Some people use towels on top of the fleece for added moisture absorption.

Cage cleaning should take place at least 1-2 times a week, or more depending on the habits of the guinea pigs. It can help to spot-clean between regular cleanings, such as by removing overly-soiled bedding and pieces of poop.

Avoid cedar, corn cob, straw, or newspaper beddings, which can all be problematic and negatively impact the health of the guinea pigs.

A guinea pig enclosure also needs various toys. These toys allow for enrichment and prevent boredom and depression. They also give guinea pigs something to chew on to wear down their teeth, which grow constantly. Avoid harnesses, exercise balls, and wheels. These can cause back injuries. Oxbow makes toys that many guinea pig owners trust. Rearranging the cage and hiding treats and toys for foraging also can provide enrichment.

Introducing new guinea pigs
Guinea pigs do the best in groups of two or more. While some guinea pigs do fight with others, most of the time guinea pigs are social animals who require companionship from their own species in order to prevent depression. When adding a new guinea pig to the herd, it is important that they are introduced properly.

Guinea pigs do well with pairs of the same sex, meaning a male guinea pig (boar) will do well with another boar and a female guinea pig (sow) will do well with another sow. A neutered boar can also do well with one or more sows. However, it is important to make sure the boar is truly neutered to prevent any accidental litters.

Before introducing a guinea pig to the herd, it is a good idea to quarantine the new guinea pig in a separate area for at least two weeks to ensure it is in good health and does not have any contagious medical conditions that can be introduced to your current guinea pigs.

It may help to first get the guinea pigs used to each other’s scents, such as by sharing toys between the two. Placing the cages where they can see each other can also be useful. After this step, the two cages can be moved next to each other so the guinea pigs can “talk” to each other and start to get used to being around each other.

If this goes well, introduce the guinea pigs in a neutral environment. Ideally, this would be out of their enclosures. Place treats, hay, and veggies in the neutral area to make the guinea pigs feel safe and the meeting more fun. However, if hides are put in the enclosure, make sure that there are two exits. If a guinea pig gets cornered, a fight may occur. Guinea pigs should have a way out for safety.

Guinea pigs have to get used to one another and form a natural pecking order where one guinea pig is dominant and the others fall in line behind it. During the process of getting used to one another, guinea pigs may sniff each other, lift their heads, or fluff up their fur to make them look bigger. They may also engage in rumble strutting, which looks like the guinea pigs are wiggling their butts, humping, or chatter their teeth. Guinea pigs should not be separated while engaging in this normal behavior.

Watch out for violent interactions such as biting, scratching, or fighting with the intent to injure. Separate guinea pigs when there is fighting by throwing a towel over them before picking them up to prevent injury. Guinea pigs who are fighting may go after the owner’s hands. If blood is drawn, the guinea pigs must remain separate.

The bonding process may take several days, but it is important to not get discouraged. Take things slow and with time, the guinea pigs will likely get along. When they are ready to be placed into the same enclosure, make sure the enclosure is big enough, there are plenty of hides for both of them, and that there are multiple sources of food and water.

Do not house a guinea pig with a rabbit, hamster, or other mammals. Rabbits can kick or be violent towards a guinea pig and cause injuries or death. Other species of rodents can also possibly cause disease.

Guinea pigs require pellets, vegetables, and hay to stay healthy. A combination of these foods must be given daily to ensure the health of the guinea pigs. This may get costly, so a guinea pig owner must ensure that they are financially able to meet the needs of their pet. They also require unlimited access to clean water.

It is important to note that like humans, guinea pigs do not make their own vitamin C and this should be supplemented, such as through a vitamin C tablet or liquid vitamin C given through a syringe. It is not recommended to put Vitamin C into their water because this dilutes the vitamin and also changes the taste of the water so they may not drink it.

Pellets should be given daily. Guinea pigs eat approximately 1/8 cups of pellets daily. These pellets should not be mixed with colorful items such as fruits, nuts, or seeds, as these do not have the appropriate nutritional value and may actually be unhealthy. Foods should contain vitamin C. Pellets with alfalfa should only be given to guinea pigs under six months of age or pregnant guinea pigs due to a high calcium content. Oxbow is one trusted food brand. Consult a veterinarian for more food suggestions.

Guinea pigs also need approximately one cup of vegetables a day to promote their nutrition, and add a source of vitamin C. Guinea pigs tend to eat bell peppers daily. Parsley and lettuces other than iceberg lettuce can also be given. Iceberg lettuce does not have adequate nutritional value. It is important to note that some foods, such as fruits, should only be given occasionally given as treats because they are high in sugar. There are many lists of safe vegetables to give guinea pigs online, but if there is ever uncertainty it is important to consult a veterinarian. Do not feed guinea pigs nuts or seeds, dried fruits and veggies, dairy, or mineral wheels.

It is crucial to provide a guinea pig with unlimited amounts of hay. Hay makes up approximately 80% of a guinea pig’s diet, so it must be readily accessible. Eating hay also helps guinea pigs to keep their teeth worn down and aids in digestion. Guinea pigs also burrow, sleep, and eliminate waste in hay. As mentioned previously, alfalfa should only be given to guinea pigs under six months of age or pregnant guinea pigs. Timothy hay is a common choice.

As with any animal, guinea pigs need routine veterinary care to make sure they stay healthy and happy. If possible, find a vet that has experience with exotic animals and “pocket pets” because they are more knowledgeable on the care of guinea pigs.

A guinea pig also must have their nails clipped regularly. When clipping a guinea pig’s nails, make sure to avoid cutting the quick, which can lead to bleeding. For guinea pigs with dark nails, it can be useful to shine a flashlight on their nails to locate the quick. Sometimes accidents happen and the quick may be cut. Apply styptic powder to the area and apply pressure until it stops bleeding. It can help to wrap the guinea pig in a towel and distract it with vegetables. Others opt to take their guinea pigs to the veterinarian to have nail clipping done for them. Nails should be clipped approximately monthly.

Guinea pigs can also be brushed to reduce shedding. This is especially important for guinea pigs with long hair. Guinea pigs also do not need to be bathed often but they should be bathed with shampoos that are safe for guinea pigs. Make sure to dry them fully to prevent them from getting cold.

Like other animals, guinea pigs can also become ill and require medical care. Here are some common illnesses that guinea pigs face
  • Upper respiratory infections – Upper respiratory infections require veterinary care to prevent them from getting worse. Signs include discharge from the eyes and nose, coughing and sneezing, and having a hard time breathing. The veterinarian may use antibiotics to clear this up.
  • Eye infections and hay pokes – Eye infections and hay pokes can occur in guinea pigs. A hay poke happens when a guinea pig gets poked in the eye with hay. Signs include crusty, runny, or swollen eyes. A veterinarian can prescribe eye drops to clear the infection.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) Issues – Diarrhea is not normal in guinea pigs. If a guinea pig has diarrhea, veterinary care should be sought. Blood in the stool is also not normal and veterinary care should be sought immediately. Sows also do not menstruate, so this is not a source of bleeding.
  • Overgrowth of teeth – Teeth overgrowth can prevent a guinea pig from eating properly. A veterinarian may be able to trim its teeth.
  • Tumors – Like other animals, guinea pigs can develop tumors. These may be cancerous or noncancerous, and treatment depends on the type of tumor and its location.
  • Abscesses – Abscesses are infections that require veterinary care to help clear. This normally requires draining the abscess and treating with antibiotics.
  • Bladder stones – Bladder stones normally happen when a guinea pig’s diet is too high in calcium. These stones can make urination painful, if not impossible, and requires the help of a veterinarian.
  • Ringworm – Ringworm is a condition caused by a fungus. It can be contagious to humans and other animals. The area is normally crusty and scabbed, and requires an antifungal ointment to treat.

While this may seem scary, proper care, regular checkups, and taking immediate action when signs of illness arise can improve the health of guinea pigs.

Be sure to do research before adding guinea pigs to the family. When they are properly cared for and shown love, they can be amazing pets who show a lot of affection. They are the perfect furry friends for someone who likes small animals.

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