Guinea Pigs - A Guide
The Truth The Pet Store Won't Tell You
About three weeks ago, my son asked if we could get another pet. Our life was already full with a dog, but I thought, why not? So I looked up low maintenance pets and good first pets to teach my kids responsibility.
Guinea pigs will be one of the number one searches you will find. Well, after convincing my kids to get one, I looked around. The very next day, low and behold, I found two girls (sisters) that were already bonded and came with everything we needed for free.
I did a quick message and after a quick two hour drive, we were proud guinea pig owners. Boy has this been an adventure. They are NOT low maintenance.
This lead to many hours of research to discover many things. First we learned our cage was much too small. Pet shop owners have one thing in mind, sales.
First we learned they NEED a friend of the same sex. yes, need. They are herd animals so it is very important to get at least two. I am so glad the first one I came across was a pair. They will get depressed and have a shorter lifespan as a result.
Second, the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM you cage should be is 8 square feet for two male or three female guinea pigs. This means that the pet store cages are NOT okay. They need room to run, places to hide, ect.
Three, Hamster balls, hamster wheels, and even hanging hay balls are NOT okay and will hurt your guinea pig. The hay balls will get them stuck and you need wire cutters to get them out. This is not always a happy ending. Guinea pigs don't like to play unless it is a hiding place or food. They just don't care. Balls and wheels are not made for guinea pigs regardless of the packaging. It can and will break their backs.
Four, make sure you do your research for their diet. They need constant timothy hay, water, pellets, and 10% of their body weight in fresh veggies. and only certain vegetables. We feed ours mostly romaine lettuce (staple in diet), cherry tomatoes (not often), baby carrots (every few days), celery leaves (twice a week at most), green and sweet peppers (every other day), fresh grass (staple in summer), and cucumber (every other day). we found these to be very nutritious and all faves of our little piggies. they can eat all of the peppers, but make sure not to feed them the stem or leaves of tomatoes as it is deadly. Celery can also cause bloating and they don't pass gas like we do, so only small amounts and not often, but it is very good for them. I give them the leaves as they seem to enjoy them more. Parsley, basil and mint are great ones to give them as well.
This is just the tip of the iceburg (never feed them this). Their teeth constantly grow like a rabbit's so you have to moniter them closely. You have to watch their poop to make sure that it is not too soft as it means you are feeding too many vegies. If it is runny, they are sick so run them to the vet. any subtle change in behavior could be an illness, as they are prey animals and learn to hide their illnesses.
Things to watch out for : Runny eyes, runny nose, heavy or labored breathing, sores on bottom of feet (can be prevented by cleaning cage regularly), ect. there is many things, laziness if your pig is more active is a huge one. a squeak like they are in pain should be obvious.
You must clip their nails once every other week or so. Human nail clippers are fine, but do NOT clip their quicks. Just like dogs, they have an actual toe in the nail, so if you are not comfortable, have a vet do it please.
Now, all this being said, they are super snuggly and sweet animals. I love having them, and so do my kids. Routine is a HUGE part of having piggies as well. Try to feed them at regular times and not deviate, same with cleaning the pen. They are very rewarding animals to have, but keep in mind the cost as well.
If you are looking for low cost, this is not the pet for you. yes they cost little to start. but think of this... a moths supply of hay for two is about 40$, add the pellets 10$ and the vegetables 80$ (20$ a week or so) and depending on the bedding you choose (I use fleece as you can just wash) you can spend around 20-30 a month. this totals about 170 a month to take care of your piggies not including any possible vet visits.
Guinea pigs live a lot longer than you think. most people think that they are a short commitment, but with proper care can live 8 years or more. I adopted my girls at 4 years old. they are still lively and active. I hope to get at least 4-5 years more out of them.
If cost is not an issue, and you have the time to spend for them, please consider adopting them. They are such a joy to have. I wouldn't give them up for the world and it has been such an adventure.