Pet Care Tips for Guinea Pigs
GUINEA PIG CARE
written by Dr M. Perissinotto Bvsc April 8, 2008
Small, gentle and lively, well handled guinea pigs
make endearing and personable pets. Being a social animal, they should be kept in groups of at least two, unless owners can spend a reasonable amount of time with them each day. Guinea pigs are most active at dawn and dust. Their average lifespan is between 5 and 7 years.
Being a ‘prey’ species it is important that guinea pigs be kept in an environment that is physically protected from predators. Additionally, guinea pigs need to feel secure in their enclosure, or they may not behave, eat or react normally. Soiled bedding should be removed daily, and the enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned once or twice a week. Hiding places in the form of boxes or PVC pipes should be provided. Wire flooring can predispose to foot problems, so should be avoided if possible. Appropriate substrates include newspaper, towels, grass and artificial turf. Some guinea pigs will chew on fibers, and cannot have fibrous material flooring.
The guinea pigs should be allowed access to sunlight regularly, but always with the provision of adequate shelter, so the guinea pig can retire if over-heated or stressed.
Guinea pigs handled frequently when young become well socialized adults. When picking up a guinea pig, it is important to support the entire body. This advice should be heeded particularly by children, as a guinea pig which does not feel securely held will struggle.
Like all animals, guinea pigs need access to fresh water. Depending upon the owner's (and the guinea pig's) preference, this can be provided as a water sipper, or in a bowl. Take care with new guinea pigs, as they may not recognize water placed in a different type of container, and they can dehydrate.
Guinea pigs are best fed similar foods to those that they would eat in the wild, namely hay, grass and small amounts of fruit and vegetables. Fresh hay should be available all year round and not just as bedding. Grass can be given as well during summer, although only if not treated with herbicides or insecticides. High fiber is the key to a healthy guinea pig gastrointestinal system. People often do not give vegetables to guinea pigs in the mistaken belief that vegetables cause diarrhea. Vegetables do not cause diarrhea as long as the diet is high in fiber and any changes to it are made very gradually. Apart from Iceberg and Cos lettuce, which are mainly water, virtually all common leafy vegetables, salad items and herbs can be fed to guinea pigs and also fruits such as apples and pears in small amounts. Raw carrot is also good. Wild foods such as dandelion, chickweed, nut grass and groundsel should be rinsed well before feeding. As long as the guinea pig is eating the other foods, fresh guinea pig "mix" should be restricted to 1 tablespoon full a day. Similarly to humans, guinea pigs do not produce Vitamin C, so need to have it supplied in the diet each day. The average, non-breeding, healthy guinea pig will need 10mg of Vitamin C per pound of body weight each day. Breeding or unwell animals should be given 25 mg per pound per day. Ideally, the Vitamin C is provided in the diet. Alternatively water soluble Vitamin C can be added to the water, if changed fresh each day.
Guinea pig ‘mix’ has good levels of vitamin C when very fresh but no Vitamin C four months after manufacture. It has little fiber.
Sources of Vitamin C
(with indicative content of Vitamin C in mg per cup of feed)
The duration of pregnancy in guinea pigs is 59 to 73 days. The average litter size is between 2 and 4 pups however there can be as many as 7!
The female guinea pig can be sexually mature from 4 weeks of age. Males and females in a litter should be separated by 3 weeks of age or unwanted pregnancy may occur. It is important that guinea pig females are breed young – preferably before 6 months of age. The pubic symphysis separates approximately two days before giving birth. If guinea pig sows have not bred before six months of age and then do so, the symphysis is likely to have fused. A natural birth will be very unlikely to happen with problems and a caesarian section will be required.
Baby guinea pigs are born fully furred, with open eyes. They are able to walk soon after birth. They normally wean at two to three weeks of age. But can survive if weaned as early as five days of age.
Mange Mites in Guinea Pigs
Mange mites (
are a common cause of skin problems in guinea pigs. They cause thinning of the hair, patchy hair loss, dry scurfy skin, irritation, itchiness and fur loss, and can be diagnosed from skin scrapings. In extreme cases mite infections may even lead to death.
These parasites can be found in the skin of most guinea pigs, all the time (they are infested from their mother soon after birth), and become a clinical problem when the guinea pig is stressed. Treatment aims to reduce the amount of mites present. The most common treatment is Ivermectin, which is dispensed by your veterinarian. Some guinea pig owners have used Revolution with very good results.
Some guinea pigs seem predisposed to repeated problems with mites. To help reduce the clinical signs, Vitamin C can be added to the diet during outbreaks, at a dose of up to 50mg/lbs for up to one week.
Guinea pigs may also be affected by other mites – ear mites
, Cheyletiella parasitivorax
Caring for your guinea pig is fairly easy however a bit of attention to grooming will help keep your pet healthy and happy.
Start by regularly clipping your guinea pigs nails from an early age – about 2 months of age. They will become comfortable with this activity. Clipping is usually carried out monthly. Clip the nails leaving an eighth of an inch before the quick so as to avoid cutting the ‘live’ part of the nail and causing bleeding and pain. A small scissor style or guillotine style clipper works best.
Daily brushing with a soft brush or a
metal short hair comb
will help remove the loose hair and lessen shedding, remove knots and keep your guinea pig looking nice. Daily brushing is especially important for long haired guinea pigs, less necessary for the short haired varieties.
Guinea pigs may be bathed when there coat has been soiled. A shampoo formulated especially for small animals will be safe to use and avoid drying their skin. Use a shallow bowl of warm water, shampoo, then rinse thoroughly and towel dry to avoid chills before returning them to their home. Avoid getting water in their ears.
Check ears each week and regularly give them a clean every second week with an ear cleaner such as the
Professional Groomer Ear Cleaner
. If the ears are crusty and appear full of dirty or reddish brown wax and if your guinea pig has been scratching and shaking its head Ear mites may be a problem.
The grease gland
Guinea pigs have a gland located on there lower back, just above where the tail would be if they had one. This gland is used to mark their territory. Some males can have a very active gland producing a sticky , greasy substance. Malaseb shampoo can be used to remove the secretion every few months or so as required.
Long haired guinea pigs should have the hair trimmed around their bottoms regulary so that the hair is not soiled by urine and feces. Soiled hair attracts flies and can lead to fly strike where the flies lay their eggs in the damp and soiled hair, maggots hatch and attack the skin and flesh.