Care of Pet Guinea Pigs

So, you have decided that a guinea pig is the right pet for you? Congratulations!! We here at Four Seasons Animal Hospital want to help you every step of the way in the care of your guinea pig, starting with the basics.

History

The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) is a docile rodent native to South America. Guinea pigs are lively, lovable pets that require relatively easy care. The most common types of guinea pigs are the English or American Shorthair, the Peruvian (long-haired), and the Abyssinian (swirled hair). The average weight of a guinea pig ranges from 500 to 900 grams (1 to 2 pounds). The average lifespan of a guinea pig is 5 to 7 years.

Housing

The cage you choose should be large enough for your guinea pig to move around comfortably and still accommodate a hide box. The sides of the cage do not need to be especially tall since guinea pigs do not jump very high. Any cage should provide adequate ventilation, therefore aquarium tanks are not recommended for guinea pigs. Avoid wood flooring which allows urine to soak in and is difficult to clean. A commercially available cage with a plastic bottom and a removable wire top is a good choice. Avoid aspen or pine wood chips when choosing bedding, because they can contain harmful oils. Safer alternatives include recycled paper bedding or CareFRESH. Any bedding should be changed frequently. Your guinea pig should be exercised outside of its cage with supervision on a daily basis for exercise. If not, he may need to be housed in a substantially larger cage. Make sure any wires or other chewable items are out of your pig’s reach. Guinea pigs are very social animals and are usually content around other guinea pigs, although this may mean they will be less bonded to their human family. Pigs of the same sex usually get along best given appropriate cage space. Males and females may be housed together if at least one of them has been neutered to prevent pregnancy.

Diet

Your guinea pig’s diet should consist of grass hay available at all times, small amounts of pellets (i.e. 1/ 4 cup per adult pig), and fresh vegetables. Alfalfa hay should be avoided if possible due to its higher protein and calcium content. High dietary calcium may predispose your guinea pig to the formation of urinary stones. Offer only plain pellets—avoid the kind with nuts, seeds, or dried fruit, which are too high in fat for your guinea pig. Guinea pigs are unable to make vitamin C, so they need to be given vitamin C to avoid serious health problems. Pellets made for guinea pigs include vitamin C, but the vitamin breaks down quickly on the shelf and becomes ineffective. Your pig should be given vitamin C-rich vegetables (see attached table). A less ideal way to provide vitamin C is through supplementation: give your guinea pig 60 mg of vitamin C daily. Liquid vitamin C supplements are available at pharmacies and health food store. Be sure when choosing a vitamin that it contains only vitamin C. Over supplementation of other vitamins can cause serious health problems in your guinea pig. It is best to give the vitamin C supplement to your pig directly rather than putting it in the water source where it is rapidly degraded.

Vitamin C

The following list shows the vitamin C content in 1 cup portions of selected foods:

Turnip greens 260 mg

Mustard greens 252 mg

Dandelion greens 200 mg

Kale 192 mg

Brussel sprouts 173 mg

Collard greens 140 mg

Parsley 140 mg

Guavas 125 mg

Broccoli leaf* 120 mg *Broccoli stem has 0 mg of vitamin C

Beet greens 100 mg

Cauliflower 100 mg

Kohlrabi 100 mg

Strawberries 100 mg

Honeydew melon 90 mg

Broccoli florets* 87 mg * Broccoli stem has 0 mg of vitamin C

Spinach 60 mg

Raspberries 60 mg

Rutabaga 52 mg

Cabbage 50 mg

Orange 50 mg .

Introduce food items one at a time and initially offer only a small amount to ensure there are no ill effects on appetite or eliminations.

Handling

The guinea pig's natural curiosity and friendly disposition makes it fairly easy to handle. Most guinea pigs will approach a hand introduced into their cage and can be easily scooped into the palm of the hand. Cup one hand under the rump while cradling the midsection with the other hand. A two-handed hold is always recommended. Guinea pigs unaccustomed to being handled may jump and run, but rarely turn aggressive.

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