Guinea Pig Basics
Guinea pigs are small, weighing only a couple of pounds, and have a lifespan of 5 to 7 years. They are excellent starter pets for children old enough to have learned to be gentle. Pleasant, docile, and responsive, they are cuddly and very rarely bite. There are three types of guinea pigs: smooth-coated, the most common type, Abyssinian, with tufts of fur going in different directions, and Peruvian, with long, flowing hair.
Although guinea pigs are sociable animals and enjoy living in pairs, it is wise when adopting two to get both of the same gender since guinea pigs multiply very rapidly. To house a guinea, or more than one, a cage or crate with a solid bottom is necessary because wire flooring can damage the pets' feet. A reasonable amount of space for the animal to move around in is considered to be about four square feet per guinea pig.
Guinea pigs should be kept in a temperate room (about 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit). Special attention should be paid to keeping the pets away from drafts and extremes of temperature because these animals are susceptible to heat stroke. By nature, guinea pigs enjoy sleeping in an enclosed cave-like space, so they should be provided with something to fit this need, like an appropriately sized box or tube.
The guinea pig crate should be line with hardwood shavings or grass hay. Cedar and pine chips should be avoided because their oils can be dangerous to these animals. Some guinea pigs have been trained to use litter boxes, but this training is tedious and requires a great deal of patience on the part of the owner.
Guinea pigs should be fed twice daily. Commercial guinea pig pellets are a good staple since they are well-balanced nutritionally, but guinea pigs should also be offered fresh fruits and vegetables daily. It is important that they get vitamin C as part of their diet since, like humans, guinea pigs do not naturally produce this necessary nutrient. Vitamin C is contained in citrus fruits, strawberries, kale and dandelion greens. Guinea pigs should always have grass hay available at all times because it aids their digestion.
Fresh water must be constantly available. An inverted water bottle with a drinking tube should be used for this purpose.
In order to keep the guinea pig healthy, it must be kept in clean surroundings. It is very important that its crate be cleaned out daily and that all dropping and stale food be removed. The crate should be completely scrubbed at least once a week and completely dried before the bedding chips are replaced.
Guinea pigs do a good job of self-grooming, but regular brushing is helpful in keeping their coats glossy and removing any debris or loose hair. In long-haired guinea pigs, brushing also prevents the development of knots and tangles.
Guinea pigs should be allowed to spend some time out of their crates so they can get sufficient exercise. The area in which they are set free, however, has to be made safe. It should be examined to make certain there are no small openings through which the pets can escape and no objects which might injure them. Since these creatures gnaw constantly, they should be kept away from electrical wires at all times.
Guinea pigs' teeth, like the teeth of all rodents, are perpetually growing. Because of this, they have a perpetual need to gnaw and should always be supplied with chewable objects, such as small pieces of clean, natural wood or cardboard or toys designed for their special needs. In addition to gnawing, guinea pigs love to hide and explore, so bricks, rocks, tubes, and boxes and containers of various sizes give them pleasure.
Like all pets, guinea pigs should be examined by a competent veterinarian when adopted and then have regular checkups. Many vets recommend that guinea pigs have checkups semi-annually because of their short lifespan. If any symptoms of ill health are observed, such as diarrhea, lethargy, sneezing, coughing, or scratching, the pet should be brought to the veterinarian promptly.