Caring for Guinea Pigs

 
How big should a hutch for guinea pigs be?

Guinea pigs need a large weatherproof home that is raised off the ground. The more space they have the better, so buy or make the largest you can afford.

 
Do my guinea pigs need an exercise run as well as a hutch?

Guinea pigs should have a large exercise run on a grassy shaded area, safe from predators (such as cats or foxes) so that they can get enough exercise.

 
In cold weather they need an exercise area indoors (e.g. in a shed or car-free garage). Ideally, their run should be attached to the hutch so that the guinea pigs can exercise whenever they want to.The run should be big enough to allow your guinea pigs to have a good run around.

 
Where should I put my guinea pigs’ hutch and run?

The hutch should be positioned out of direct sunlight and strong winds. In the winter they should be housed indoors (e.g. in a shed or car-free garage – exhaust fumes can be fatal). They still need access to a large exercise area when housed indoors or they can develop problems such as obesity or osteoporosis (brittle bone disease).

 
Should I move the hutch if the weather gets very hot or very cold?

Guinea pigs are sensitive to extremes of temperature. Move the hutch to a shaded area if the weather gets very warm, and make sure they have shade in their exercise run. Heat stress can occur at temperatures over 27°C. They should be housed indoors (e.g. in a shed or car-free garage) during the winter months, with access to a large exercise area. If the weather gets very cold, give them extra bedding.

 
 
What type of bedding should I give my guinea pigs?

The hutch should be lined with a 2-5cm deep layer of clean woodshavings or shredded paper, with soft hay or straw on top.

 
The sleeping area should contain clean, dry hay, straw or shredded paper as bedding. Ideally, any material used should be dust-free.

 
 
How often do I need to clean my guinea pigs’ hutch?

The hutch should be cleaned at least once a day, by removing any shavings or bedding that are wet and dirty, removing any uneaten fresh food and cleaning the food and water containers before refilling them. You also need to clean the hutch more thoroughly to keep it clean and hygienic – once a week is usually adequate. From time-to-time the hutch should be completely stripped out and scrubbed, with your guinea pigs only being allowed back into the hutch when it is completely dry.

 
Hazards and poisons to watch out for

Ensure the hutch and run are escape-proof and safe from predators such as dogs, cats, foxes, rats, and birds of prey. Indoors, guinea pigs can chew through electric cables, so don’t let them have access to these. The following is a list of plants and flowers that are poisonous to guinea pigs. There are many others not on this list, so don’t let your guinea pigs go near plants or flowerbeds if you are not sure whether they might contain poisonous plants, or if they might have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.

 
Plants and flowers that are poisonous to guinea pigs:-

  • Bluebell
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Dock
  • Foxglove
  • Hyacinth
  • Laburnum
  • Poppy
  • Ragwort
  • Tulip
  • Yew

Day-old baby Guinea pigs eating grass
Do guinea pigs need company?

Guinea pigs are very social animals and need the company of other guinea pigs. Social animals that live on their own get stressed and lonely.

 
 
What’s the best combination of guinea pigs to keep?

Littermates of the same sex should live together, as this minimises the chance of their fighting. Males and females shouldn’t be kept together, as they will breed and it can be difficult to find homes for the young.

 
Is a person a suitable companion for a guinea pig?

Company from people whom a guinea pig trusts is better than the guinea pig living alone. But a person isn’t really a good substitute for living with another guinea pig, as people and guinea pigs have separate needs and different methods of communicating. A guinea pig living with just people is like a person living with just guinea pigs. Would you be happy living with just guinea pigs? If guinea pigs are kept alone they should have the opportunity to interact with trusted people for several hours each day.

 
What age will guinea pigs start breeding with each other?

Male guinea pigs are usually around nine weeks of age when they can father young, and females can have babies even sooner, at about four weeks. However, some males are able to father young much earlier than this (as young as three weeks of age), so it is safest to separate males from females by three weeks of age to avoid unwanted babies.The female has between one and six babies per litter.

 
Is a rabbit a suitable companion for a guinea pig?

rabbits-and-guineapigs-together

 
Rabbits and guinea pigs shouldn’t be kept together as rabbits can bully and injure guinea pigs and they both need company from their own kind.

 
Who should care for my guinea pigs if I go on holiday?

If you go away, you should leave your guinea pigs in the care of a trusted friend or neighbour or a reputable pet sitter company.

 
What should I feed my guinea pigs?

Constant access (all day and night) to good quality hay or grass – this is essential for maintaining healthy teeth and a healthy digestive system.

 
Commercial guinea pig nuggets – follow the packet guidelines on how much to feed. Fresh greens – around a teacup a day per guinea pig. Don’t feed muesli-type mixes like this. Guinea pigs leave the bits they don’t like, which are the bits containing fibre. This means they don’t get enough fibre. Lack of fibre is linked to painful dental disease.

 
Which greens can I feed my guinea pigs?

Aim to feed a few different greens each day. The list below shows some greens that are safe to feed, and some that aren’t. The list isn’t exhaustive. If you’re not sure whether you can safely feed a certain plant or vegetable to your guinea pigs, ask your vet for advice.

 
Safe:-

  • Asparagus
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots and carrot tops
  • Cauliflower leaves and stalks
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Coriander
  • Courgette
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion (in moderation)
  • Dill
  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Radish
  • Red cabbage
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Rocket
  • Salad peppers
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Tomato
  • Watercress

Unsafe:-

  • Potato and potato tops
  • Rhubarb (including leaves)
  • Tomato leaves

 
Can I give my guinea pigs fruit?

You should only give fruit occasionally and in small quantities because it is high in sugar. Apples, grapefruit, strawberries, gooseberries, kiwi fruit, mango, orange and tangerine are suitable in small amounts.

 
Is it alright to feed guinea pigs ‘muesli’-type guinea pig food?

Muesli-type mixes shouldn’t be fed. Guinea pigs leave the bits they don’t like, which are the bits containing fibre. This means they don’t get enough fibre. Lack of fibre is linked with painful dental disease.

 
How can I safely introduce new foods to my guinea pigs?

Suddenly changing the food you give your guinea pigs can upset their digestive system, so always introduce new foods gradually over at least a week, unless your vet tells you otherwise.

 
Is it true that guinea pigs need extra vitamin C?

Guinea-Pig-Food-Pyramid-01
Like humans, guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C so must get it from their food. Salad peppers, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, broccoli and leafy greens (e.g. parsley and kale) are all high in vitamin C. Good quality commercial guinea pig foods in the correct quantities will usually contain vitamin C. However, nutrients can disappear if the food is stored for too long, so you should follow the manufacturer’s storage instructions and shelf life suggestions. To be on the safe side it’s useful to add a vitamin C supplement (available from pet shops) to your guinea pigs’ drinking water. If they consume too much vitamin C it will be harmlessly passed out in the urine.

 
Can I feed my guinea pigs treats?

There are natural treats available from pet shops and pet supermarkets which your guinea pigs will enjoy and are good for their teeth and digestive health. Avoid sugary treats, such as ones made with honey, as these can cause teeth problems and diabetes.

 
My guinea pigs are eating their droppings, is this normal?

Guinea pigs produce two types of droppings – hard, dry ones which are true faeces, and dark, shiny, smelly ones. These second types are called ‘caecotrophs’ and guinea pigs eat them, usually straight from their bottom. This enables them to get the full goodness out of their high-fibre food, so don’t be concerned if you see this.

 
Should I give my guinea pigs their water in a bowl or bottle?

Fresh water must always be available. A suitable water bottle with a metal spout is a good way to provide water. Check your guinea pigs are using the bottle as some may be used to drinking from a bowl and may not change very easily. Whether using a bottle or a bowl, keep it clean at all times.

 
How much water should my guinea pigs drink each day?

The average amount of water a guinea pig drinks is 100 to 200ml per kg bodyweight per day.

 
I think one of my guinea pigs is drinking more than usual, is this important?

If any of your guinea pigs start to drink significantly more or less than usual, this can be a sign of a medical problem so you should make an appointment to see your vet.

 
Do my guinea pigs need toys?

Guinea pigs need lots of exercise and they can get this if they have a large hutch and run. As well as lots of space, guinea pigs also need things to do, so they don’t get bored.

 
They also need places to hide because they get scared easily. Toys and hiding places for guinea pigs are available from pet shops and pet supermarkets, and include things like large tubes and pots to hide in. Cardboard boxes and safe, untreated logs are also good for guinea pigs to explore.

 
Should I give my guinea pigs several different toys at the same time?

It’s better to rotate their toys, by offering different toys in different weeks. This way, you can make sure your guinea pigs stay stimulated. When a particular toy isn’t being used, this also gives you a good opportunity to clean it.

 
 


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