Guinea Pig Health and Wellness
Guinea Pigs are large rodents weighing about two pounds with a lifespan of five to seven years. The three breeds of guinea pig are the Smooth-Coated, with short, glossy fur; the Abyssinian, whose hair grows in fluffy tufts all over the body, and the Peruvian, with long, silky hair that flows to the ground. Guinea pigs are easy to handle, docile creatures sturdy enough for even small children to handle. They have a lively personality and exhibit a variety of vocalizations. They are easy to socialize to people and also enjoy the company of other guinea pigs.
It’s crucial that you accustom your pet to being handled. Start by feeding him small treats. When they’re comfortable with that, you can carefully pick up one pig at a time, one hand supporting the bottom, the other over the back. Once you have hand-tamed your guinea pig, you should let him run around in a small room or enclosed area to get some additional exercise every day. You will need to carefully check the room for any openings from which the guinea pig can escape, get lost or possibly end up hurt. These animals must be supervised when they are loose because they will chew on anything in their paths—including electrical wires. Guinea pigs are very conscientious about grooming themselves, but brushing them on a regular basis will help keep their coat clean and remove any loose hairs. Long-haired guinea pigs should be brushed daily in order to prevent tangles and knots from forming.
Guinea pigs are social animals preferring to live in small groups. It is best to keep two females or a female with a neutered male. Two male pigs can sometimes be successfully housed together if they originate from the same litter, but neutering is a better guarantee that they will not fight. Plan to provide at least four square feet of cage space per guinea pig. Purchase a solid-bottom cage—no wire floors, please, since they can irritate your pets’ feet. Plastic-bottom “tub cages” with wire tops also make great guinea pig homes. Never use a glass aquarium, due to the poor ventilation that it provides. Keep the cage indoors away from drafts at a temperature between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heatstroke and sudden changes in temperature or humidity. Line the bottom of the cage with aspen or hardwood shavings or some other form of safe bedding, such as grass hay, fleece or recycled paper bedding. Do not use cedar chips—the oils they contain can be dangerous to your pets. Guinea pigs love to hide when they play or rest, so be sure to supply your pet with cardboard tubes, PVC piping, clay flower pots, pet store igloos or other houses and/or empty coffee cans with smoothed edges in the enclosure for this purpose. Be sure to clean all the bedding frequently (at least twice weekly) to keep it from giving your pets sore feet from excessive soiling or moisture.
Commercial guinea pig pellets should make up the bulk of your pet’s diet. Nutritionally complete pellets are available at pet supply stores and are made from plants, seeds and veggies. Purchase a quantity of pellets that will last no longer than four to six weeks and feed the pellets twice daily. The ASPCA recommends offering small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables to your guinea pigs every day. Half a handful of veggies and a slice of fresh fruit per pig is plenty. Always make sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. Timothy or grass hay should be available to your pets at all times. It is necessary for the digestive system, and will also help keep your pet’s teeth from becoming overgrown. Pigs also like to chew on branches and twigs from untreated trees or small pieces of wood that have not been treated with chemicals. Unlike other animals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture Vitamin C, so you’ll need to ensure that your pets get enough of this essential nutrient every day. While guinea pig pellets and certain fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, the best way of ensuring your pet has enough vitamin C to keep him healthy is to give him 50 mg. of liquid vitamin C directly into his mouth by syringe every day. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. Use an inverted bottle with a drinking tube and change the water daily. Your veterinary team will help you formulate the best diet for your pig friend and teach you how to give vitamins by mouth.
Most guinea pig health disorders can be prevented with appropriate housing, nutrition and daily vitamin C administration. However, should your pig become sick despite your best care, seek medical attention immediately. Guinea pigs are much easier to treat in the early stages of a problem. One early sign that your pig may not be quite himself is to observe his fecal pellets become smaller, drier or less numerous. A healthy pig eats well and makes numerous almost identical slightly moist “guinea pig raisins”. Other signs that something isn’t right include sneezing, coughing, nasal or eye discharge, diarrhea and decreased vocalization or activity. Check your pig’s front teeth daily while giving his vitamin C to make sure they are not overgrown or broken. Your veterinarian will use a speculum with a light to check his molars any time he is examined. Guinea pigs are also susceptible to a variety of skin diseases such as mites, lice and ringworm. These skin conditions are frequently brought home from the rescue, breeder or pet store and are best diagnosed and treated by having your new pet examined in a timely fashion before exposing family members or other pets to these diseases. Good husbandry and veterinary care will help your pet live a long, healthy life.