Guinea Pigs have rounded stout body, no visible tail. There are a wide variety of breeds with different coat types and color patterns. The most commonly found breeds are the American (short smooth hair coat), Abyssinian (short coat with “swirls” called rosettes) and the Peruvian (long haired). A wide variety of colours can be seen. Adults can be 20cm long and around 1kg in weight. Females are called sows, males are called boars, and babies called piglets. Hairless varieties also available.
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What must I consider prior to buying a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs are social animals, and you should consider keeping a same sex pair so they have company. A pair of females is a good choice, a pair of males may be fine but can fight. They are a long term commitment, with an expected life span of around 5 – 7 years, although up to 10 years is not unusual. They need a large cage (but fortunately it is easy to meet their needs with a home made cage). While usually quiet they can call out quite loudly and can be active both day and night.
- Try to avoid guinea pigs that are panicky when handled, especially if they do not relax quickly, and also those that are overly quiet and calm as they may be ill.
- The guinea pig should be alert and active.
- Avoid guinea pigs that are overly skinny or grossly overweight. The body should be firm and rounded.
- The nose, eyes, ears and rear end should be clean and free from discharge.
- The coat should be full and soft.
- Check the skin for flakes and redness, and be on the lookout for any signs of parasites such as lice.
What should I give my Guinea Pig to eat and drink?
All guinea pigs need water to survive. Though they can obtain a large portion of their water from fresh fruits, vegetables and greens, they will still require water from a water bottle to stay healthy. This water should be changed daily, and the water bottles themselves washed periodically to keep them clean. To prevent algae growth, make sure that the sun does not directly shine on the water bottle for long periods of time.
Be aware that some guinea pigs like to “play” with their water bottle, leaking out large amounts of water by holding the steel ball up in the tube. Others like to try and blow water back up into the bottle, which can contaminate the entire supply. There’s not a lot you can do about these games, except be aware that they can happen, and that you may need to change their water more than once a day.
Hay is the mainstay of every guinea pig’s diet. Though guinea pig pellets do contain hay, it is not in sufficient quantity to keep your guinea pig healthy. Your guinea pig must have a fresh supply of hay every day in order to keep its digestive system regular, and as a general rule, you should allow your guinea pig to have as much hay as it will eat.
Grass hays are the best for guinea pigs and it is better to purchase directly from a farmer. Buying hay by the bale is especially economical, as a bale of hay will literally last for months, and will stay fresh as long as it is stored properly.
Guinea Pig Pellets:
Guinea pig pellets will provide your guinea pig with the proper balance of vitamins (save for Vitamin C), minerals and other nutrients. Although it’s not necessary to feed pellets to your guinea pigs, it is certainly recommended that they be your primary feed, after hay. Guinea pig pellets are, in particular, a prime source of protein, obtaining the necessary amounts of this and other nutrients will require careful dietary planning if you choose not to use pellets.
More active animals will eat less, and animals without much stimulation will eat more out of boredom. Nursing and pregnant sows may demand a little more and animals that are given plenty of hay and some fresh vegetables each day might eat a little less. It will be easy to tell if you are feeding too much or too little, if there are leftover pellets, then you are giving them too much. Through trial and error, you will know exactly how much to give them at feeding time.
Try to feed at the same hour each day, as guinea pigs like a routine and predictable life. Remove any leftover pellets after an hour or so, if you let them stay in the cage all day, your guinea pig may nibble on them all day long. As was mentioned earlier, guinea pig pellets are a prime source of protein, so a diet that is heavy on pellets will lead to a fat guinea pig. Hay is the only food they should have access to 24 hours a day.
Vitamin C Requirements:
It is extremely important that your guinea pigs receive enough vitamin C each day to prevent scurvy. Guinea pigs cannot manufacture or store vitamin C, so they must obtain it from their diet on a daily basis. Adult guinea pigs will require 10mg of vitamin C each day, and nursing and pregnant sows will require twice that amount (20mg). Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, breaks down very quickly, so it must be supplied fresh. Although many pellet manufactures will claim that their feed contains the required amount of vitamin C, you should not trust this. Vitamin C in pellets breaks down during storage, and after about 90 days, there won’t be enough vitamin C in the feed to keep your guinea pig healthy.
Fresh fruit and vegetables:
Being vegetarians, guinea pigs will eat many kinds of fruits, vegetables and fresh greens. By supplementing their diet with them, you will keep your guinea pig happy, as they become bored with eating only pellets and hay. And, many fruits and vegetables are sources of vitamin C, providing a natural way to meet your guinea pig’s daily requirement. If you do choose to feed fresh greens or fruits, be aware that many fresh greens are laxative in action, which means that you run the risk of giving your guinea pigs loose bowels, or even diarrhoea, if you feed them too much at one time. If you notice runny droppings, immediately stop feeding fresh greens and but give dry foods until the faeces returns to normal. Vegetables that are not laxative (such as carrots) may still be fed.
Fresh Food Choices:
Guinea pigs will not eat what they don’t like; some have very discriminating tastes, while others will eat anything that you put in front of them. Each has their own preferences, and it may take some time to figure out what he or she likes best. Given below is a list of foods that guinea pigs can / will eat. This list is neither comprehensive nor complete: apples, bananas, bread (slightly stale & crunchy, but not moldy), broccoli, carrot greens, carrots and baby carrots, celery (cut into small pieces first), cucumber, dandelion greens, grass, green & red bell peppers, kale, kiwi, oats, oranges, parsley, raspberries, spinach, tomatoes.
When feeding “wild” greens, such as grass and dandelion greens, make sure they have not been sprayed with chemicals, or contaminated by droppings or urine from other animals, such as cats, dogs and birds. The dangers of pesticides are obvious, and faeces can carry any number of parasites which can be transmitted to cavies eating contaminated greens. Even if dogs and cats are de-wormed regularly, their faeces can contain protozoa/bacteria which can cause debilitating diarrhoea in a guinea pig.
Some foods to avoid are listed below:
- long celery stalks (the “strings” in celery are difficult to digest); cut them into small pieces
- iceberg lettuce (high in nitrates, no nutritional value)
- any shelled nuts or seeds (guinea pigs can choke on the shelled fragments)
- raw beans (poisonous)
- rhubarb (extremely poisonous).