Having guinea pigs as pets is popular for a good reason. Not only are they totally adorable, they are in many ways easy to fit into most people’s daily routine.
Keeping a pet like a dog or a cat can be both costly and time-consuming, especially with today’s hectic lifestyles.
By comparison a pet guinea pig is low in maintenance and cost. They also love interacting with people and live a relatively long life span of between five and seven years.
But before you decide to go out and buy one, you need to find out all the info on guinea pigs as pets and what owning one involves.
Because even fairly straight fprward pets have some essential care requirements.
But don’t panic! W are here to tell you all you need to know about these adorable pets.
Are guinea pigs good pets?
Gentle, intelligent, affectionate, talkative and extremely cuddly. All this is true, but is a guinea pig a good pet?
There are thirteen different breeds available, with variations in coat lengths, textures and colors.
Although they are generally healthy and relatively easy to care for, keeping guinea pigs as pets does require giving a certain amount of your time and commitment every day.
They need feeding fresh food and water and their cages spot-cleaned daily, with a complete clean once a week. Long-haired types also need brushing daily.
At least one hour should be allowed for them to run around in a secure outdoor pen, or even exercise in an area such as the kitchen or bathroom under supervision. They also need some one-on-one time with their owners.
Guinea pigs are prey animals so, in the wild, live in herds to protect one another.
For this reason, it is far better if you keep two guinea pigs of the same sex together as pets. If kept alone, they tend to be fearful and nervous and are prone to depression.
In some countries, such as Sweden, it is illegal to sell one on its own!
Having a minimum of two cavies ensures they remain active as well as providing a source of entertainment for the owner.
Watch them play tug-of-war with a carrot, chase, groom and chat to one another before cuddling up together to go to sleep! What could be cuter?!
How to pet a guinea pig
Petting is a good way to build up a lasting bond between you and your pet guinea pig. Make sure that this is done where he is unlikely to fall, such as in his cage, on the floor or your lap.
Guinea pigs have very delicate bones, so it is vital that they are handled correctly, especially as they are inclined to jump.
Dropping one could result in serious injuries or even death, so care must always be taken.
Young children should never pick up or handle a guinea pig unsupervised.
How to pick up a guinea pig
When picking up a guinea pig, place one hand securely around the chest with one finger around a front leg. The other hand supports the back feet and rump.
Never pet a guinea pig when carrying him as you need both hands to hold him. When putting your guinea pig back down, always place him rump first.
Guinea pigs have various favorite petting spots, so you will need to experiment before you find them.
Using one finger, stroke gently and slowly in the direction that the fur grows, observing your cavy’s body language.
Listen to any sounds your guinea pig might make which is a good indicator of whether he is happy or annoyed.
Some love a tickle under the chin, while others prefer a rub behind their ears. It all depends on the individual’s personal preferences.
Are guinea pigs good pets for kids?
Many parents want a family pet so that their children can learn about responsibility and empathy for a living creature.
Although this is a valid reason, caring for a guinea pig must always be done under the supervision of an adult, who will ultimately be the primary carer.
Remember, a guinea pigs’ average life span is seven years, so it is a significant commitment with children often tiring quickly of looking after a pet.
They are easy to tame and don’t tend to bite so are ideal for children to manage under parental guidance.
Guinea pigs as pets for toddlers
Guinea pigs are not suitable pets for toddlers due to their fragile frames, and they should never be allowed to hold or carry one, possibly treating it like a toy.
They may accidentally drop the guinea pig or squeeze it too tightly, which could ultimately end in tragedy.
If you have a toddler and want a guinea pig then it must be your pet and your responsibility. They must never interact with them unsupervised.
If you want them to be involved then letting them do simple tasks such as placing the guinea pig’s food inside the cage is a great idea, as long as you are watching and are ready to intervene if their hands wander.
Are guinea pigs friendly?
It is very easy to find a friendly guinea pig as they love people and interacting with them.
However, when you first bring your pets home, they may be a little timid. They need to be given time to get used to you and being handled.
They will often purr like a cat when you pet them and frequently squeal with delight when they see their owner. Running to the front of their cage and even “popcorning!”
This adorable trait seen in guinea pigs is their “happy dance.”
They run quickly and repeatedly jump into the air landing on all four feet like a popcorn bursting out of its kernel, hence the term!
Do guinea pigs bite?
Guinea pigs don’t tend to bite so if they do, there is a good reason why.
It could be that your hands smell like their food, but they tend to stop trying to nibble you once they realise it is your fingers they are chewing.
Other explanations could be that they are frightened due to loud noises or rough handling, or they just want to be left alone.
Regularly observing and handling your pet guinea pig alerts you to any changes in behaviour, such as biting, that could indicate he is sick or in pain.
If this is the case, take him to your veterinarian immediately as those that are ill can rapidly decline in health if not treated straight away.
Taming guinea pigs
When you first bring your guinea pig home, allow him some alone time at first and keep him in a quiet area.
Make sure he is eating and drinking properly and speak to him whenever you go to the cage, so your voice starts to become familiar to him.
Once he becomes more used to you, start picking him up and taking him out of the cage. You may find he is a nervous guinea pig at first, but remain calm and patient. He will become more confident in your presence and start to relax.
Feeding him healthy treats like green leaves or broccoli will also allow him to start trusting you.
Find time daily to have him sitting on your lap while doing something like watching television, so you start to bond.
Caring for a guinea pig as a pet
Guinea pigs do not require too much equipment. Although as prey animals, it is vital that they are away from animals such as dogs, cats and ferrets.
The ideal size cage should measure a minimum of 7.5 square feet for one guinea pig. For two, 10.5 square feet is perfect, filled with lots of bedding. Shredded paper is the safest.
Provide your pet guinea pig with chews to wear down their teeth and lots of toys and tunnels both in the cage and in his running area. Never use exercise wheels or balls as they can cause back pain and spinal injury.
If kept indoors make sure their cage is located away from heat sources such as heaters and electric fires. Guinea pigs are unable to sweat so are prone to heat stroke if they become overheated.
Outdoor hutches will need a thermal cover or to be moved into a warmer area like the shed when the weather is extreme.
Clean water, both in a bowl and in a water bottle hung on the side of the cage, should be provided. Along with hay, fresh vegetables and a small amount of specially formulated guinea pig pellets. Make sure these have an adequate source of vitamin C added.
Like humans, guinea pigs are unable to manufacture their vitamin C, so feeding dark, green leaves, broccoli and cauliflower are good sources. Some owners give vitamin C supplements.
Avoid feeding iceberg lettuce, cabbage and beans as these can cause digestion problems for your guinea pig.
You will need to take your guinea pig to an exotic veterinarian who focuses on rodents for check-ups at least once a year.
Their nails need trimming once a month so ask your veterinarian to show you how to do this if you are unsure.
When you go away on holiday, it is preferable that you have someone come to your home to look after your pets. They can become very stressed travelling and in new surroundings.
Guinea pigs as pets
Gorgeous guinea pigs make wonderful family pets provided children are always supervised, and you have time to spare for them daily.
Their wonderful personalities and docile temperaments will leave you with happy and memorable moments that last a lifetime.
Resources and further reading
- Dietary vitamin C supplementation reduces noise-induced hearing loss in guinea pigs
- Muraoka, T et al. 2007. Role of subchondral bone in osteoarthritis development: A comparative study of two strains of guinea pigs with and without spontaneously occurring osteoarthritis.