Guinea pigs are cute, cuddly, clever, and make great pets, even for younger children. When handled correctly, they can be sociable and ‘chatty’. Although they make excellent pets for children, an adult should always take responsibility for making sure they are well cared for, adequately fed and housed and handled properly.
© Julia Mashkova / stock.adobe.com
Length: 20-25cm (adult)
Lifespan: 6-8 years
Indoor or Outdoor: Both. Guinea pigs are now at 17-20 ° C
Questions about handling, care and nutrition
Anja Reutter, a guinea pig rescuer, answers some of the most common questions asked about guinea pigs.
General questions about guinea pigs:
Where do guinea pigs come from?
Guinea pigs come from the Andes region in South America and are kept as pets. They are also a source of food there.
Which different breeds are there? What’s the difference? It there a difference only in looks or in behaviour too?
The short-haired guinea pig breeds are: American, Crested, Abyssinian, Rex and Teddy. The long-haired breeds are: Silkie, Coronet, Angora, Peruvian, Texel, Merino, Alpaca and Mohair. They can come in many different colours and all breeds come in satin varieties.
There are breeders who believe that there can be differences in a guinea pig’s character depending on the breed, but this has not been proven. It really depends on how you handle a guinea pig.
How long can a guinea pig live?
Guinea pigs can live up to 6-8 years old when cared for well. There have also been reports of guinea pigs living longer than this, but it is very rare.
Questions about buying a guinea pig:
Where is it best to get a guinea pig from? How can I tell if it is healthy?
It is best to get your guinea pig from a breeder. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask clear questions. Every serious breeder will be happy to answer. You should be allowed to look at the cages where the guinea pigs are kept. Are they clean and kept in a light area? Are there too many guinea pigs kept together in a small space? You can find breeders in your local newspaper or through guinea pig clubs.
A healthy guinea pig has shiny fur and eyes. It shouldn’t have any discharge around the eyes or rear end and it shouldn’t be too thin. It shouldn’t have any bald patches and the fur shouldn’t be matted.
How can I tell a male from a female?
It is quite tricky for an untrained eye to tell the sexes apart. It is easier when you have a male and a female to compare. In order to find out the sex of a guinea pig, take it carefully in your hand with its tummy facing upwards. With your other hand gently pull apart the skin around the genitals. If the sexual organs look like a “Y” then it is female, if they look like a “i” then you have a male.
Questions about caring for guinea pigs:
How big should a cage be for two guinea pigs?
I would suggest not smaller than 100cm x 60cm. Guinea pigs spend most of their time in the cage so they should be able to move around freely in there.
Which equipment is needed in a guinea pig cage?
There should also be two hay racks (or at least one) for hay and for foliage. Here you must be careful that the lattice bars of the rack are close enough together so that the guinea pigs can’t stick their heads through the bars. The racks should also be high enough up so that the guinea pigs can’t jump into them and use them as a bed. This could lead to bad injuries.
How can I create the perfect play corner for my guinea pigs?
Here you can let your imagination run wild. Dens, tunnels, ramps. Your guinea pigs will have lots of fun if you hide a small treat, such as a slice of cucumber, a parsley stem or a piece of pepper somewhere in the cage.
Can guinea pigs also live outside?
In theory guinea pigs can also live in a cage outside. Guinea pigs should be taken outside during summer so that they can build up enough winter fur. The cage also needs to be well insulated and need to be completely covered in very low temperatures, for example, with sheets of acrylic glass. In winter, you must provide lots of bedding and hay so that the guinea pigs can get right inside and cuddle up. You will also need to check on the drinking water regularly as it can freeze.
What do I need to be aware of in regard to an outside enclosure?
An outside enclosure should always provide enough shade. In addition to this, it must protect the guinea pigs from dogs and cats. You shouldn’t leave your guinea pigs in an outside enclosure if the ground is still too cold or the grass is still damp. At the beginning, you shouldn’t leave your guinea pigs outside for too long so that they can slowly get used to eating the rich grass. It is best to feed them some foliage in the cage beforehand.
What is the best way to handle guinea pigs?
The best way to pick up a guinea pig is by placing both hands under its tummy. You can then bring it towards your body or place it on your lap. You must be very careful that the guinea pig doesn’t fall. Guinea pigs might seem very plump and stable, but they have very brittle bones and legs. A fall off the sofa can cause serious injuries.
How can I help two guinea pigs to get used to each other?
This is easiest with young guinea pigs and can be quite difficult with older ones. You can rub the guinea pigs with fennel to give them all the same odour. If you have two cages, you can place them next to each other for a few days. You should place the new guinea pig in the cage first and then introduce the other guinea pig so that it doesn’t have an advantage over the territory.
Questions about nutrition:
What should guinea pigs eat every day? What is harmful?
Dried food, hay and water should be available to the guinea pigs every day. In addition to this, they should be given fruit and vegetables. You shouldn’t use food for dwarf rabbits as a substitute. Guinea pigs need vitamin C and, like humans, can’t synthesise it themselves and this is only true for guinea pigs.
What shouldn’t I feed my guinea pig?
Absolutely no beans (they are poisonous), cabbage (causes bloating), fruit and vegetables sprayed with pesticides or leftovers. After all, a guinea pig is not a dustbin.
Questions about grooming and health:
Their nails are always so long, what up keep is required?
You will need to cut their nails regularly as they don’t get worn down enough. This can be done by a vet or you can do it yourself. You will need a special nail clipper with which you need to clip the nail 3-5mm before the vein. With white nails it is quite easy to see the veins when held up to the light. With darker nails you should just clip off the very end so as to be sure not to hurt the vein.
Do I need to look after the fur of my guinea pigs like I do for my dog?
You should of course check your guinea pigs’ fur regularly for parasites. In particular, long-haired guinea pigs need regular up keep on their fur. You should use a soft brush to gently comb their fur. For guinea pigs with curls, you should untangle the hair carefully with your fingers so as not to cause any pain by pulling out the hair.
How can I prevent diarrhoea?
When your guinea pig has diarrhoea (especially when it has a strong smell), you should take it to see the vet because guinea pigs have a very sensitive digestive system and if this is disrupted, it can lead to the intestines not working at all.
My guinea pig has hurt its paw and has torn off the nails, what should I do?
It is best to use a spray dressing to keep the wound clean. The wound will generally heal by itself.
My guinea pig’s teeth seem to be too long, can that happen? What should I do about it?
For some guinea pigs their teeth don’t get worn down enough and they grow too long. Only a vet can rectify this. You should always check whether your guinea pig can eat properly or if the food falls out of its mouth. You should also weigh your guinea pig regularly, ideally once a week.
Questions about behaviour:
Can guinea pigs talk and what do those sounds mean?
Guinea pigs make different noises to get themselves noticed. The most important is the “whistle” which you will hear when a guinea pig wants its food. Guinea pigs also greet their owners with this whistle. Then there is a kind of “coo” which will be heard when a guinea pig is stroked or when a young male approaches a female. There is also the “chirp” which you will hear very rarely and only when a guinea pig believes it is alone. This chirp is a mystery to experts who don’t know why guinea pigs make this sound or how they do it. It sounds very strange when you hear this noise at night. There is also a teeth-gnashing noise which sounds like a rattle. You will hear this when two males are arguing with each other. Here they grate their teeth together heavily.
My guinea pig always throws its food around, what can I do?
The only option is to get a nice and heavy bowl that would be used for rabbits. That said, it shouldn’t be too big so that your guinea pig doesn’t use it as a toilet.
Can guinea pigs be house trained?
I have never tried with my guinea pigs but there are guinea pigs who have learned to use a cat litter tray around the house.
If you wish to house train your guinea pig, you will need to start when it is young. You will need to continuously place your guinea pig in the litter tray and talk gently to it and stroke it so that it recognises the tray as something positive.
How long can I leave my guinea pig alone for?
You can leave a guinea pig alone for 2 days if you leave enough food and water, but only when it is unavoidable. It isn’t ideal but sometimes you can’t avoid it.
My guinea pig isn’t tame, what can I do?
It takes lots of care and attention. You can try feeding your guinea pig treats like fruit and vegetables from your hand. You just need to have lots of patience.
Questions about breeding:
What do you need to consider when you want to breed guinea pigs?
Before breeding, you should think about what will happen to the babies. There are already lots of guinea pigs who don’t have a home and they end up in animal shelters or they are abandoned.
What’s more, you need to consider that you will need to separate the male and the female soon after because the male will go after the female again. The alternative would be to neuter the male.
Breeding isn’t just a case of putting the male and female together. You need to observe them, weigh them and be careful of their diet before you welcome the babies after 68 days of gestation. After 4 weeks at the latest, the female offspring should be separated form the father as he is already thinking about the next litter of babies.
A female guinea pig should weigh 700 grams and should be between 5-11 months old when she becomes a mother for the first time. Before this, her body isn’t mature enough and the pregnancy would have a negative impact on her weight and growth. From 1 year old the pelvis muscles are already set, and in some circumstances, the mother can’t give birth to the babies.