Owning and Caring for Pet Guinea Pigs



This article is posted as part of PGAA’s curation efforts.


Guinea Pig (A.K.A. Cavy)





OK, Let’s Get One (Choosing the right Guinea Pig)

Home at Home (Your Guinea Pig’s own home)

Now What? (Handling)

Beauty Secrets (Grooming)

The Dinner Bell (Feeding)

Health Issues

Gettin’ Old

The Rainbow Bridge

Web Site Links

Book Suggestions

The Guinea Pig, a South American native, is not a pig.  It may resemble one, and may squeal like one, but it isn’t one.  And Guinea, well.  That could have several origins; including, a corruption of Guiana, the region in South America from whence they came; the West African coast of Guinea, where uninformed Europeans “thought” they came from; or, my choice, it had cost one guinea to buy one.


Guinea Pigs are a perfect pet.  They are much larger than Hamsters, live longer (actually 3 times longer), are affectionate and attentive, and they will talk to you.


While the Guinea Pig is most active during the day, it will also play with you at night – just make sure it rests.


The male will weigh between 2 – 4 pounds and is called a boar.  The female weighs between 1 ½ – 2 ½ pounds and is called a sow.  Babies are called pups.


Guinea Pigs are social animals.  Unlike Hamsters they prefer not to be alone, and enjoy the company of other Guinea Pigs.  This, of course, could lead to more Guinea Pigs, so be sure of the sexes if you do not intend to breed.  The good side is that they are not as prolific as Hamsters.  Their litter can be as large as 6 pups (an average of 4), with an average gestation period of 65 to 72 days.


Their hearing is almost twice as good as ours (probably 4 times better than mine); they have terrific noses, and can see to the front and sides without turning their head.


They are the most vocal of all small pets.  Their favorite sound is an excited whistle coming from an open mouth and laid back ears.  This means, “FEED ME!!”  If you respond with the same sound it means that you plan to feed it, so plan accordingly before laying your ears back and opening your mouth.


Less excited whistles can mean your Guinea Pig is scared, and teeth clicking tell you it’s nervous.  You are being rewarded when it purrs but, watch out, deeper purrs accompanied by butt wiggling is a part of the mating game.  Your reward for making it feel secure and loved is the sound of a bird, sort of a warbling.  And, when your fur ball goes chut-chut-chut, it’s looking to get into some kind of mischief (exploring).




There are thirteen recognized breeds of Guinea Pigs (and probably many more not recognized).

The most popular is the American.  Weights 2-3 pounds with short, silky hair.  Has broad shoulders and a roman nose (sounds like it belongs in the daily “Soaps”).  Its eyes should match the color of its fur, and its ears will be slightly droopy.


The Abyssinian is also short haired arranged in ridges with rosettes.  It often has a longer nose.  The eyes will not be as round as the American, and its ears will stick out from its head.  They are very high-spirited, and as independent as a cat.

The long haired Peruvian demands a well-groomed coat that can reach up to 14 inches in length with a center part.  Be sure to use the bathroom first, because these guys take hours to get ready.  But, what a sight when they do!

Another longhair, similar to the Peruvian, is the Silkie.  Its hair grows straight back with no part.  When looking at it from above at sorta resembles a teardrop.

A newer breed is the Teddy.  You guessed it, short, kinky coat and looks like a teddy bear.  This little darling has a very sweet personality and requires very little care.

The American Crested is similar to the American, but it has a single white rosette on its head.  The English Crested has a single rosette in the body color.

The Coronet is like the Silkie, but it has a crest on its head.  The color can be the same as the body, but tends to have longer hairs than the normal cresteds.

The Texel is also like the Silkie, except its coat has a wave in it.  This is a very high maintenance pig!  It takes hand combing to keep the coat looking nice.

The Satin, which comes in several of the above breeds, has a coat with a (yes) satin-sheen.  This comes from light being able to pass through the hair shaft.

OK, Let’s Get One


Before we do that, lets consider a few things.

First, Guinea Pigs make great pets.  Properly trained they can be handled outside their cage, and they will provide hours of enjoyment as they perform their daily routines and follows their natural inquisitiveness.  A Guinea Pig is a good companion for the young, and can help teach the need to be responsible.  But, a Guinea Pig is a living creature.  And, as such, it deserves the respect and care to which all-living things are entitled.  Its entire welfare is totally in the hands of its owner.

If you are still positive you want a Guinea Pig, double-check the following items before buying:

    • Talk to a vet, preferably one you would use for your Guinea Pig.
    • Visit someone who owns a Guinea Pig
    • They need daily attention and handling (to tame and to have them remain tame)
    • They need to be fed – every day (including the days that you just don’t have the time).
    • Their cages need to be cleaned, partially on a 2 to 3 day basis, and always once a week.
    • Does anyone in the home have allergies?  Could they be allergic to Guinea Pigs?
    • Guinea Pigs are not good surprise gifts!
    • Can, and will, you take it to a vet when necessary?  Guinea Pigs are not throwaway toys.

Now, check out the following items when evaluating your place of purchase (the answers should be “Yes”):

      • Does the staff appear competent, friendly, and eager to answer all of your questions?
      • Is the store or breeder’s area clean and sanitary.
      • Are the animals separated by sex?
      • Are the Guinea Pigs clean and living in a clean environment?

They are sociable creatures, so getting more than one is recommended.  But, unless you want a lot, make sure of their sexes.  Female groups tend to be the most sociable while males in groups can get aggressive toward one another (isn’t that always the way?).

Choose a younger animal – easier to train.  But, older Guinea Pigs can still be trained, and you may be saving a life.

The Guinea Pig of your choice should be alert and active, its eyes clear and bright (no discharge), ears clean (no head shaking to clear the ears), its nose clear of any crusty deposits, and its coat full and shiny (expect some shedding, but no large instances of hair loss).  Check the tummy area, you want to ensure that it has a full coat underneath and no signs of diarrhea.

Do Not choose a Guinea Pig that has bare patches in its coat, evidence of lice, is very thin (or very overweight), or inflammations or abscesses on its feet.  Stools in the cage should be firm, long and bean-shaped.  No diarrhea should be present.  Check the teeth – the incisors in the upper jaw should overlap those in the lower jaw.

Home at Home


Before you bring your new friend home you will need to buy it a home.  Not just any home, but one in which it/they can live happily, healthy and comfortably.

Guinea Pigs usually end up being about a foot long, so keep that in mind when you visit Century21 (or your local pet store).  A one bedroom home should be no smaller that 1 feet by 2 feet and 1½ to 2 feet high.  A larger home will be required if your furry family grows.

Most homes have a plastic bottom with sides (kind of like a cat’s litter box), and then a wire cage for its sides and top.  Make sure that the plastic sides of the bottom piece are high enough to prevent the bedding from being kicked out, yet not so high that Mr. G. Pig can’t see over it.

The best bedding (floor covering) is kiln-dried pine shavings.  These types of shavings are the most dust-free and absorbent, and they should cover the floor to a depth of one inch.   It can be obtained it most pet stores.  Do not use cedar, as nice as it smells it represents a major health hazard to any small animal.

It is not recommended that you use straw or hay.  Your friend loves to eat hay, and could ingest some that had gotten wet and spoiled.  If you want to put in some hay, put it in a corner where you can remove it if it becomes soiled.

Never use sawdust or newspaper.  Sawdust clogs up when it gets wet, and is too dusty.  Guinea Pigs are dedicated readers, and tend to get quite upset with today’s headlines.  When in such a state they will devour the paper and may get sick from the news print (it’s getting harder and harder to find anything good about a newspaper).  (Actually, papers using soy based inks can be used as liners beneath the pine shavings.)

Another nice touch is a “room” for the Guinea Pig.  Usually the size of a shoe box, and each Guinea Pig should have its own (another reason for larger cages for multiple pets).  While they should be the size of a shoe box, they shouldn’t BE a shoe box.  Next to newspaper, shoe boxes are the Guinea Pig’s most favorite food.  Make it out of wood.  Make sure that you provide an opening large enough for entry, and that there is enough room for the Guinea Pig to turn-around inside.  (These “rooms” sometimes affect the process of getting the little ones use to YOUR house.  It is suggested that you only put the “room” in at night when you go to bed — that way piggie will use his “room” for sleeping also.

Do Not Paint the “room”.  Your new resident will want to do some “renovations,” and paint could cause some upset tummies.

Oh, make sure that the “room” does not provide a means to get out of the cage.  Your new friend(s) are very inquisitive, and very fast.  They have been known to jump on top of the roof of a “room”, and then up and over the top of an open cage.  Before you know it they’re sitting on the couch having tea with Aunt Bea.

Location, location, location.  The cage should be placed where it can get natural daylight, yet out of a draft.  The ambient temperature should be in the mid-sixties to low seventies, and the humidity should be between 40 and 70 percent.  Keep the cage away from dry heat (radiator), and avoid rapid changes in temperature.  It should also be in a room where the family spends a lot of time; you want your new pet to feel like it is part of the family immediately.

Guess what.  These guys are going to act as if they’re renting a motel room instead of living with you as part of the family.  Probably very similar to your normal teenager.  In other words, all of the housekeeping is up to you.  (This may be a good training exercise for your teenager!  Ya, right)

Cages have to be completely cleaned at least once a week.  That means removing the old bedding, cleaning the cage bottom with a disinfectant (one that is harmless to animals), and then putting down new bedding.  Water bottles and food bowls must  be cleaned – on a daily basis.  Also on a daily basis, remove soiled bedding and replace with clean bedding.

Now what?


Your Guinea Pig is now in its new home.  Chut, chut, chuttin’ all over the place, trying to find out about its new abode.  Well, let it be.  Don’t get all excited and try to socialize just yet.  It’s going to need a few days, maybe a week, to get fully comfortable with its new surroundings, and its new friends.  Act normal (or what passes for normal).  No loud or unexpected noises; let him adjust to the routine of your home.

When you begin to socialize don’t be surprised if it tries to get away, hide, or burrow under the bedding.  It’s natural.  Approach it again with no fanfare.  When it starts to run around gently herd it into a corner and place your hand GENTLY on its shoulders.

Pick it up behind the front legs and enclose its back with your thumb and fingers.  Hold the Guinea Pig with both hands.  It will become more comfortable the more secure it feels.  Letting it lay along your forearm or on your chest is the best.  Oops, almost forgot – you can’t usually house train a Guinea Pig.  Plan accordingly and have an old cloth or towel between you and your Guinea Pig.  Stay alert, many pigs that have been sitting quietly will turn around or back up just before wetting you.  [While not usually the case, several people have had success house training their Pig.  The use of litter pans in the cage and in the room where they are allowed some “floor” time has seen some success.]

Guinea Pigs have fun outside of their cages.  You just have to make sure that you “GP Proof” the room or area where it will be set free.  Always, always make sure you’re in the room and watchful.

Clear away all possible problems, including electrical wires, household cleaners, indoor plants, socks and other articles of clothing (you can usually spot a Guinea Pig owner by all of the little holes in their clothing).  Reduce hiding places.  Cover all holes in the walls and floors.  These guys will find the most unlikely places to hide or crawl into, under or behind.  Make sure you know where it is at all times, and maintain the ability to pick it up at a moments notice.

Cats will not like it (it looks like small game), and will gladly demonstrate their un affectionate feelings.  Dogs may react in the same manner, or they may just be curious and sniff.  In either event, the Guinea Pig will be terrified.  Its worst nightmare will come true.  Avoid these types of confrontations.

Beauty Secrets


Short hairs don’t need to be combed, longhairs do.  Neither needs a bath.  If absolutely necessary to bathe, use a mild baby shampoo, and rinse and dry thoroughly.  Protect it from getting a chill.  You can use a hair dryer on a low setting to dry them (be careful not to burn your buddy).

Their claws should be clipped regularly (every 5 to 6 weeks) at a slanted downward angle.

The Dinner Bell


Your Guinea Pig will benefit from fresh Guinea Pig pellets available at your pet store.  We stress fresh because it will contain Vitamin C that has a freshness period of only 90-days.  And, your buddy NEEDS Vitamin C!  Do not feed it rabbit pellets.

But, (“Thank God.” says the Guinea Pig) pellets should not be its only food.  Watery foods are also required.  In fact, the Guinea Pig gets much of its day’s water requirements from these foods.

Give it fresh, again we stress fresh, green foods like dandelions with flowers, yarrow, chickweed, red/white clover (make sure it is free of any pesticides).  Dark green lettuce is also good for them, but iceberg is pretty useless as a food (even for humans).  Many also like red, green or yellow bell peppers for a treat.  They are naturally suspicious of new foods, so it could take a few days for them to try something new.  Give them time and they will develop a wide range of good foods that they will eat.

As a treat – only as a treat to prevent diarrhea – you can feed it green cabbage (never red), cauliflower, ripe apples, carrots, pears, cucumbers, and melons.  Cucumbers are especially good for a “Weight Watchers” diet just in case your furry friend starts to resemble a hedgehog.  It will also love the rind of oranges and grapefruit.  The citrus may set it back at first, but it will work its way through that problem.

Quality hay is also good.  But, it MUST BE DRY.  Spoiled, damp or moldy hay will lead to problems.  If the hay gets soiled after it has been put in the cage, remove the soiled portions.  Alfalfa is good for young growing pups, but at around 8 months switch to timothy or other grass hays.

Always make sure there is a continuous availability of fresh, clean water.

Health Issues


Guinea Pigs are generally very hardy and healthy, but they do have some common ailments.

You should get a vet’s exam as soon as possible after you bring it home (set the bench mark).  Then, every year thereafter.

Diarrhea can be common and is usually caused by harmful substances in its food, or by spoiled food or hay.  Correct the diet.  If the problem persists see your vet.

Constipation is usually due to a lack of water and liquids.  Feed it plenty of juicy foods and water.  If that doesn’t work call the vet.

A Guinea Pig that catches a chill, or has a Vitamin C deficiency may show signs of respiratory problems; bacterial or viral infections.  These can lead to pneumonia.  Watch for signs of coughing, sneezing, breathing difficulties, or other signs of respiratory trouble.  Get it to a vet immediately.

Soft or loose stools can indicate too many watery greens in the diet.  Hair loss or cracking skin can mean a Vitamin C deficiency.  Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) can also cause joint stiffness and soreness or loose teeth.

Getting’ Old


Your Guinea Pig is getting old when it is between the ages of 5 to 7.  It will begin to lose body mass, and become more susceptible to skin disease and parasites.  Its coat may also get thinner.

Talk with your vet about using more nutrient rich foods, and foods that are easier for an older Guinea Pig to eat.  An increase in Vitamin C may be needed.  This can be given through the drinking water, or with vegetables that have more Vitamin C — like green and red sweet peppers.

The Rainbow Bridge


When your Guinea Pig finally crosses the Rainbow Bridge set aside time to grieve; to remember the pet’s life, good and bad; the comfort and joy given and received; and the special warmth you experienced with your furry friend.  Some of your friends may wonder “why are you grieving about a Guinea Pig?”.  Ignore them and grieve — you know why you’re doing it.

Written by Ron Lueth, Pet Guardian Angels of America.  Our thanks to Dale Sigler at The Cavy Care Site (http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/2517) for his work in editing this article.

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