Let’s see, you’ve just picked up your wonderful little piggies from the rescue or breeder.
Or maybe, you’re just doing some research before adding some little guinea mates to your family!
Either way – you’re a good person – and you want to know how to properly take care of a guinea pig.
Well, rest assured you’re in the right place. While being a guinea parent isn’t easy, it all boils down to what we call the “8 Core Pillars Of Guinea Pig Care”:
1. Make Sure Your Cage Is Big Enough
The sad fact of the matter is that most guinea pig cages are woefully too small.
Possibly the single most important thing you can do for your piggies is make sure that the cage, hutch or enclosure you house them in is big enough.
The Humane Society (the world’s most effective and influential animal protection organization) suggests following these guidelines on cage size.
But even these guidelines are on the small side:. 0.7 – 1.0 square meters for 2 guinea pigs isn’t much!
In fact the Australian Animal Ethics board recommend a bare minimum of 2.5m2 + an additional 0.7m2 for every additional piggie.
In any case, the bigger the cage, the happier your piggies will be. The more space they have, the more they will be able to exhibit their natural behaviors – such as popcorning, rumblestrutting and simply sprinting around. If you’ve never owned a guinea pig before, you may not realize just how quickly they can run if they put their mind to it. Milo can cover 0.7 meters in approx. 0.5 seconds!
If you don’t have the floor space to dedicate an entire room to your piggies, consider seeking out a multi-level cage… This will give the added benefit of incline ladders for them to move between levels – just like a guinea pig gym!
We’re currently housing our 2 boys in a triple layer cage with a total of 2.1 squares and we wouldn’t suggest going for anything smaller. In fact, we’ll probably move to a larger house still when they get older.
2. Make Sure They Have Little Hiding Places
Guinea pigs are naturally ‘prey animals’… what this means is that in the wild a typical day involves regularly sprinting into a bush to escape the impending claws of an Eagle.
In other words, our guinea mates are pre-programmed to fear things descending upon them from above.
You’ll notice this frequently and it explains why they can be so skittish when all you want to do is give them a cuddle.
Not only do they naturally use dense vegetation to hide in, they actually establish complex networks of runways!
Therefore, taking proper care of your guinea pig includes providing them with several ‘hidey holes’ and tunnels into which they can scurry to feel safe whenever they are in danger.
Good examples include cardboard tubes, little wooden houses, soft pouches or perhaps areas stuffed with hay. Or you could even go the whole hog and build a DIY wooden guinea pig hidey house.
3. Make Sure To Feed Them A Natural Diet
Your piggies health is directly tied to its diet. If you want to care for your guinea pig properly, then you’ll need to invest some time learning all about the right types of guinea pig food.
For the record, this does NOT mean simply grabbing the closest bag of pellets and assuming all will be well.
Guinea pigs have complex nutritional needs and the more energy you put into understanding the science behind this, the happier and healthier your mates will be. Not only that, but a dollar invested in better nutrition now, is two dollars saved in vet bills down the track!
The only other things we give them are occasional berries or flowers as a treat once or twice a week.
Nothing else needed.
4. Make Sure They Get Enough Exercise
Imagine being cooped up inside the house all day and not allowed to leave (well, with all the lockdowns recently many of us know exactly how this feels).
Your guinea pig feels exactly the same.
Just like you appreciate a quick trip to corner store to grab a bottle of milk (or a bag of frozen peas) and get some fresh air while you stretch your legs, so do your guinea mates.
Generally the recommendation is to let your piggies out of their cage to roam around and explore for at least 1 hour per day.
You can let them free roam (making sure to restrict access to electrical cables, etc) or, if you have a lawn or access to fresh grass, them allow them to graze.
We also suggest making sure that there is at least one incline ramp within their cage or enclosure.
Walking up an incline helps workout their cardiovascular system (just like walking up and down the stairs does for you), burns more calories and helps maintain their lean muscle mass – all indicators of peak guinea health.
What we suggest is putting their dining area (i.e., where the food and water is) on a different level to their sleeping (i.e., their little houses or covered parts) area, thereby making sure that they regularly traverse the incline.
This mimics (OK, maybe that’s dramatic, but come on the principal is the same) the mountainous regions where they naturally live and also helps protect against becoming overweight or obese.
4. Consider Their Social And Emotional Needs
Wild guinea pigs live in small family groups consisting of 1 male and 1-2 females.
In order to care for them properly, we have to bear all this in mind. As while piggies have been domesticated for a few thousand years now, these social systems, behaviors and needs are still buried innately within them.
The first and most important thing to know is this: never have a single guinea pig as a pet!
Always have at least two little guinea pigs in your family. In fact, in Sweden it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig.
This is because, sadly enough, if your piggie lacks social contact with other pigs it will become depressed – which will directly impact its health and wellbeing.
Aside from this, there are a few more rules to follow. Don’t mix more than one boar (male) with females (sows), as they will compete and quite probably fight. This can become very ugly and even fatal.
Your best bet to mimic their natural social dynamic and start off with is either two males, two females, or one neutered male with two females.
Make sure to pay careful attention to the dynamic within the cage – it’s quite possible for guinea pigs with different personalities to “not get along”, just like us! Watch out for signs of fighting, or bullying such as a pig stopping another from eating.
Also make sure to allow time to establish a human connection with your guineas!
It’s absolutely possible for you to teach your piggies tricks, have them learn their names and show you affection such as licking or climbing on you. What’s more, they are extremely inquisitive creatures and over time can become very tame, taking interest in what’s going on within the household! Caring for your guinea pig in this intimate way will both contribute to your pet’s quality of life and yours!
5. Clean Them Out Regularly
This is another – somewhat grimace-worthy – but essential component of guinea pig care. Unsurprisingly, guinea pigs don’t really appreciate living in an abundance of their own poos.
You’ll need to set aside some time (it currently takes us about an hour) to routinely clean out your cage at minimum once a week.
The exact process will differ depending on your setup, but basically includes changing (and/or washing) their bedding and cleaning the base area of their enclosure.
We also “spot clean” every day or two with a miniature vacuum cleaner to remove excess poops.
One thing we do suggest to make this process more enjoyable – for you and your guinea mates – is to “progressively elaborate” (sorry, can’t resist using this phrase – Sam loves it) your setup each week. That is, every week at cleaning time, try to improve or add one or two small things to your guinea’s cage. This could be anything and be as simple as swapping out or adding a different makeshift toy each week.
6. Trim Their Nails and De-Grease Their Bums!
These are two specific care routines you should take note of!
You need to know that guinea pigs have a grease gland on their bums and from time to time you may need to clean it (this isn’t as bad as it sounds, a cotton bud and some warm water and/or olive oil is all you need).
The other one is trimming their nails when they become long and unwieldy. Again, not as difficult as it may seem, but 100% essential to the care of your guinea pig.
7. Bath and Groom Them (As Required)
Just like us, our guinea mates also need to keep clean! But don’t worry, they are pretty good at self grooming and keeping themselves clean – at least if you have a short haired breed. So, if that’s the case, then bathing and grooming is on a strictly as needed basis.
However, if you have one of the long haired guinea pig breeds, you’ll need to take care to regularly bath and groom them – since the long hair is a magnet for dirt, bacteria and other debris.
8. Monitor For Health Issues
Lastly, the final Core Pillar of guinea pig care is making sure to continually monitor your pet’s health!
In essence, always keep an eye on your guinea pig’s weight – as this is a key indicator of their health (especially if you have concerns – if they’re loosing weight, a trip to the vet might be in order). But as well as this, don’t forget the other important health indictors such as eyes, ears, nose, coat and poos!
Lastly, please understand that getting the first 7 pillars right will dramatically decrease the chances of your piggie developing health issues in the first place. Most health issues (as in humans and all other animals) are ultimately related to diet.
Well, that’s the end of the Core Pillars… We hope they’re useful to you in your journey as a piggie parent! Let us know if you think we’ve missed anything!
- Guinea Pig Weight Guide: How To Weigh Your Little Mate - January 29, 2021
- How To Make A Wooden Guinea Pig Hidey House (DIY) - January 24, 2021
- Guinea Pig Pellets 101: Exposing The Truth Behind The Ingredients - January 20, 2021