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Guinea Pigs (also known as cavies) are a species of rodent native to the South American Andes. They are social, inquisitive creatures and make lovely pets. Although they are commonly thought to be easy first pets for children, they require plenty of attention and time and a well-researched approach to care.
The following information is only a basic overview. It does not cover every aspect of guinea pig care and we strongly advise that you seek further information to ensure the health and welfare of the animals in your care.
Guinea pigs are a social species and are happiest when kept with other guinea pigs. Make sure that both animals are the same sex to avoid having any unintended litters of baby guinea pigs. Male guinea pigs are more likely to tolerate one another without fighting if they are introduced at a young age.
Although small, guinea pigs require plenty of space to exercise – the more the better. Provide an enclosure as large as possible (minimum dimensions for one guinea pig is about 1m x 0.5m x 0.25m high). Two guinea pigs will require double this space. Make sure that the design of your hutch allows for easy cleaning.
Enclosures should be lined with newspaper and then soft grass hay to provide cushioning and prevent foot injuries. Do not use sawdust or wood shavings as these are more likely to cause respiratory problems. Straw should also be avoided as it does not absorb urine well and the hard stalks can cause injuries.
The bedding should be changed as required (this is typically once a day). It is important to regularly change bedding and floor material and clean out the enclosures to avoid ammonia build-up from urine and also to help reduce attracting flies to the area. Guinea pigs can be susceptible to flystrike (which can be fatal). It is important to fly-proof the enclosure using fly-screen wire or mosquito netting.
Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stress (which can be fatal) - always ensure the area they are kept in is well-ventilated, provides adequate shade and does not become hot. Animals in hutches and cages can die from overheating easily.
Provide overturned boxes for ‘hiding’ places (at least one per guinea pig)
Guinea pigs are herbivores. They need to be fed the types of food they have adapted to eat.
Daily grooming is essential for long-haired guinea pigs to help keep their coat in good condition. Using a suitable brush, gently remove dead hairs, tangles and pieces of twigs, dry leaves or burrs. During grooming take the opportunity to check your guinea pig's health and to ensure that it is free from external parasites. Also check the length of your guinea pigs’ toenails and, if found to be overlong, have them clipped by a veterinarian or someone experienced in clipping. Daily handling and grooming is important in building your guinea pigs’ confidence and for developing friendly and social guinea pigs.
Most of the common health problems seen in pet guinea pigs are preventable by good husbandry and feeding practices. Guinea pigs may be susceptible to respiratory infections, usually due to poor housing conditions. Inadequate cleaning can also lead to skin ailments. Guinea pigs, like most pets, are also susceptible to fleas. Ask your vet about an appropriate flea treatment if required. Guinea pigs may also suffer from mite infestation - which cause intense itchiness, hair loss and discomfort but fortunately mites are easily treatable by your vet.