Guinea Pigs: A Simple Start-Up Guide

Guinea pigs, or cavies, are typically thought of as a low-maintenance pet perfect for young children who might not be ready for a dog or a cat. In my experience this is not the case, however they are very loving and worthwhile companion animals. First One or two guinea pigs require a minimum of 7.5 square feet with 10.5 square feet begin preferred for two. Most pet stores cages do not fit these requirements and thus, the best thing for your pet would be to build your own. The good news is building a cage is usually cheaper and far easier than one would imagine. Once you have the space set aside for your pet you’ll need to use proper bedding material. Remember, your pig will eat, sleep, and play in this material so you’ll want something soft, absorbent, and not too expensive as you will need to fill your (at least) 7.5 square foot cage. Cedar and pine chips, while inexpensive, contain harmful aromatic oils that can seriously affect a guinea pigs fragile respiratory system and cause irreparable damage. Therefore, your best option is either kiln-dried aspen (the kiln drying process removes the harmful oils) or a recycled paper type bedding such as Carefresh or Yesterdays News.

While recycled newspaper products are a bit more expensive they tend to produce far less dust and so might be a better option for households with allergies or sensitive sinuses. Your guinea pig(s) will also each need a place to hide (a cardboard box, wooden house, etc.), a heavy food bowl they can’t tip over (ceramic works well), a hay rack and a large water bottle. Guinea pigs each need about a cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily in order to get vitamin C. You’ll need to be careful that they don’t get too much calcium however, as this can cause kidney stones so a few good options are parsley, red bell pepper, leafy greens (not iceberg lettuce as it has little nutritional value), cilantro, apples, watermelon, and low quantities of carrots. They also require a good quality pellet specifically made for guinea pigs that does not contain seeds or nuts as these can cause obesity and are a choking hazard. Oxbow makes an excellent pellet and has varieties for both adult and young pigs/nursing mothers who require more calcium in their diets.

Fresh hay is also a must as it aids in the pigs digestion process by providing much needed roughage as well as aiding in the wearing down of teeth. Guinea pigs teeth are constantly growing and thus, they wear them down by chewing. Young pigs and nursing mothers will do well with alfalfa hay for the added calcium content while adult guinea pigs do better with timothy hay. Fresh, clean water is a must and should be changed daily. You won’t need vitamin C drops as these might inhibit a pig from drinking due to a change in taste and, as vitamin C breaks down quickly in sunlight, does not provide much nutritional value for their cost. As long as fresh fruits and vegetables are provided daily your pigs should be fine. Finally, please remember that guinea pigs are prey animals and thus, might be timid and have a tendency to hide (although this varies with each one due to differing personalities). You are a giant and possible predator to them and their natural instinct is to run and hide in a confined space. When you pick up your pig be sure to not make sudden movements if at all possible, speak in a soothing voice, and support both the front and back of the pig’s feet. This way they will feel much safer and won’t have the urge to take a flying leap out of your hands. Be sure to supervise young children to ensure they are handling the guinea pig properly. Some pigs like to be cuddled in a towel or old shirt, some like to lick your hands and fingers, and some are content to just be gently petted (always make sure to go in the direction the hair grows as guinea pigs have sensitive skin and brushing the hair in the opposite direction can be quite painful). Your pet may take some time to get used to you, but once it becomes comfortable you will have a loving, and possibly quite vocal, member of the family.

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