Here at Home and Roost HQ, we are often asked if a guinea pig is a good starter pet. Because they’re smaller than a dog or a cat, it’s easy to assume they don’t need the same level of care. But when it comes to pets, of any size or shape, it is essential to understand they all need to be looked after properly.
In this article, we’re discussing how to look after guinea pigs, including:
- The type of food they need
- Their perfect living space
- Ideal places to play
- Stimulating environments
- Daily interaction with you
- Grooming and cleanliness
- Managing their weight
- Checking for any health problems
- What to do if your guinea pig is hurt
- When you need to take a guinea pig to the vet
- Caring for senior guinea pigs
11 Tips For Looking After Guinea Pigs
1. Feeding guinea pigs the right food
For guinea pigs to live healthy, happy lives, they need a diet of fresh fruit, vegetables as well as hay and pellet food. You should also make sure they have access to fresh, clean water daily.
Certain foods can be given to a cavy as an occasional treat, but there are some that you should never feed them at all. Also, don’t be tempted to give guinea pigs food that is made for cats, dogs or other small pets.
2. Cleaning a guinea pig house
No one likes living in a messy house, so it is crucial that you clean their cage regularly. A daily spot clean is necessary to get rid of any piggy poop as well as wet or soiled hay. Every three to four days, you will need to do more of a deep clean.
- Removing all the bedding
- Cleaning the cage with a pet-friendly disinfectant
- Replacing the bedding
3. Making sure guinea pigs have plenty of space to play
Guinea pigs are rambunctious and need to keep busy to get rid of pent-up energy. Their indoor cage should be at least 120cm by 60cm, and approximately 45cm high. Ideally, you also want to have an outdoor hutch and run where they can enjoy the fresh air, the sights and sounds and some necessary grazing.
4. Creating a stimulating environment
Guinea pigs are intelligent little pets that need a lot of stimulation, both mentally and physically. Without this, your cavy will get bored and even become depressed. You can keep a cavy stimulated by changing their environment regularly. Home and Roost has a wide range of safe and exciting accessories that provide guinea pigs with all the excitement they need to stay healthy. Our favourite has to be these tunnels to hide in.
Don’t be tempted to get a hamster wheel or exercise ball. While this looks like a lot of fun, they are incredibly dangerous. This is because guinea pigs have fragile spines, and an exercise wheel forces them into an unnatural position. Your guinea pig can get seriously injured or even die as a result.
5. Spending time with guinea pigs
Guinea pigs are incredibly social animals and love time with their humans. Make sure you spend lots of time playing and interacting with your cavy as regularly as possible. This is an excellent way for the two of you to bond and get to know one another better.
Keep in mind that some breeds are shyer than others, and will need a little more time to feel comfortable. If you’ve adopted a guinea pig that is scared or doesn’t like being petted, take it slowly. Chances are they were badly treated or hurt previously, and need you to be patient with them. Hold them for five minutes at a time, and be gentle as you do this. It won’t take long before piggy is happy and confident with you.
6.Grooming guinea pigs
Not only is grooming an essential part of guinea pig care, but it’s also a great way for the two of you to bond. Holding them while gently brushing and de-shedding gets guinea pigs used to human contact, and in no time at all, they will be looking forward to their pamper sessions with you. Look out for grooming sets suitable for your cavy. These usually include a soft bristle brush, a de-shedding brush, nail clippers as well as a wooden chew toy.
Guinea pigs have natural oils that keep their coats shiny and clean. Unfortunately, bathing them too much will strip these oils and make their skin dry. So, as tempting as it is to give a guinea pig a daily or weekly bath, we suggest you only do this two or three times a year. And never use soap or shampoo for humans on your cavy.
7. Maintaining a healthy weight
An adult guinea pig should weigh between700 and 1,200g although it can differ slightly from one breed to the next. By weighing guinea pigs regularly, you can keep an eye on their weight and make the necessary adjustments to their diet. Another very handy resource is the size-O-meter. This guide helps assess a piggy’s weight by focusing on their body shape, rather than on what the scale says.
8. Checking a guinea pigs health
Playing with your cavy and grooming them is more than just bonding time, it’s a way for you to get to know your pet really well, and notice early on when something doesn’t look or feel right.
At least once a week during cuddle time, you should check your piggy’s overall health. When you first start, this might take a little bit of time, but as you do it more regularly, you and your piggy will get used to it.
For a full check, you will need to look at:
Your guinea pigs eyes should be bright, without any signs of a crusty build-up. You may see a white secretion around the eyes, but it’s nothing to panic about. This fluid helps keep their eyes and face clean. But if you notice a build-up of any kind, or a cloudy look to the eye, a vet visit might be necessary. Also, crusty eyes accompanied by a runny nose or sneezing could mean an allergy or an infection, which will need medical attention.
The good news is ear infections are very rare in guinea pigs, but you should still check inside their ears for any crusty build-ups, as well as behind for any kind of parasitic infections. To clean their ears, use a damp cotton ball and gently wipe inside and behind.
Always check your guinea pig’s nose for any kind of discharge. If they have a snotty nose, it could be as a result of a fungal or bacterial infection, which will need a visit to the vet. If their nose looks swollen, or you notice scabs, this could be cheilitis.
- Mouth and lips
The mouth and lips of a healthy guinea pig should be pink in colour, and there shouldn’t be any sores or ulcers. Often, food that has too much acidity can cause these lesions. If you suspect this is the case, it is best to book an appointment with your local vet.
Their teeth should be white or yellowish. If you notice brown teeth, this could mean they are missing an essential nutrient, or their teeth need some dental attention.
Make sure their teeth are straight and not too long. Because guinea pigs’ teeth continue to grow, you must provide them with pellets, grass and hay as this help’s wear the teeth down. Checking their back teeth is a little more tricky, but if you notice they have trouble eating, it is often a sign there is a problem back there.
Guinea pigs’ nails, like their teeth, grow all the time. To make sure they don’t get too long, you’ll need to trim them regularly. This video clip shows you how to cut a guinea pig’s nails.
We suggest doing this every few weeks to avoid them becoming overgrown. Remember, not to clip them too short. Once you’ve trimmed his nails, give his feet a gentle clean with a cotton pad.
There are different breeds of guinea pigs, and they all have different types of coats. Unless you’re the lucky owner of a skinny pig, their fur should be shiny to look at and silky to the touch. A small amount of shedding is also normal.
If you notice any changes to their coat, it could be a sign that there is a problem with their diet or some other health issue. When you’re grooming or cuddling your guinea pig, do a quick (but thorough) check for mites and dandruff. Also, check their coat at the back, near their bottom for any debris. Excess droppings or urine stains can attract rather a nasty thing called flystrike. If left untreated, this can be fatal.
9. Checking their cage
Guinea pigs’ cages should also be checked daily for any signs of illness or general poor health. During spot cleans you should take notice of:
Are they eating normally? You’ll know how much your cavy eats, so if you see it isn’t eating what you put out, it could be a sign that something’s not right.
Ideally, your guinea pigs droppings should be firm, dark in colour and an oval shape. If you notice your piggy eating its own poop, don’t be alarmed. These are known as cecotropes and are filled with essential nutrients a guinea pig needs to stay healthy. Unlike normal poop, cecal pellets are dark green and squishy.
10. Looking out for injuries
Always be on the lookout for any injuries your guinea pig might sustain. These can be from being dropped, or if they get into a scrap with a mate. If you are aware of an injury, it is a good idea to keep an eye on him for any changes in behaviour.
If you have two or more guinea pigs living together, you might notice a few ears being nibbled. On the whole, this isn’t causing for alarm, but if the nip doesn’t heal on its own, or it looks more severe than usual, you should get to the vet for professional help.
11. Visiting the vet
As a nervous first time owner, seeing a guinea pig popcorning, wheeking or shrieking could have you rushing off to the vet. But as you get to know them better, you’ll become more familiar with their little quirks and habits.
However, you need to contact your vet immediately if you notice your guinea pig:
- Is not eating or drinking
- Is finding it difficult to breathe
- Is lethargic
- Has a crusty build-up around his eyes
- Has diarrhoea
- Has blood in its poop or urine
- Has a limp
- Has a noticeable amount of hair loss
12. Looking after a senior guinea pig
A healthy guinea pig that is well looked after can live up to eight years. But, like with all of us, as guinea pigs get older, they start to show signs of ageing. The most notable changes will be with their diet, the overall condition of their coat and their mobility (or lack thereof).
There are a few ways you can make a guinea pig more comfortable in its senior years.
- Food and water
As a guinea pig gets older, it’s essential that they can reach their food and water easily. You wouldn’t expect an old-age pensioner to walk three flights of stairs to get to the dining room, and it’s the same for your pet. If their cage has two or more tiers, make sure their food and water are on the lowest level, and they have easy access to both.
Talking about a guinea pig’s cage, you might need to rethink the layout of an older cavy’s enclosure. Older piggies are less mobile, which means you will need to change their home to a single tier. Also, remove any ramps, as this can aggravate arthritis. You might want to add extra padding to their cage to help with sore joints and stop them from getting calluses on their feet.
- Keeping a senior guinea pig warm
Older guinea pigs eat less, which means they become thinner. It’s a good idea to move their cage into a sunnier spot in the house. Also, think about adding extra bedding for them to snuggle into.
Did you find this article helpful? Perhaps you have a little bit of advice we haven’t included. If so, feel free to share it in the comments below.