Are you thinking about adding a new fury friend to the family? If so, maybe you’re considering a guinea pig! Before taking the leap, or maybe you’re a new owner and want some more information, here is a little review on care for guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are amazing little critters. They have a wide language, made up of squeaks and chatters, to help them communicate to their fellow pigs. They are technically rodents, so in the same family as mice and rats. They are originally from South America and roam the jungle in packs!
The most important thing to know about guinea pigs is their unique dietary requirements. Like rabbits, guinea pigs have very unique gastrointestinal tracts that make them pretty much a tiny version of a horse. A diet consisting primarily of hay is crucial to the health of your guinea pig. The high fiber supports their unique intestinal tract, and having to chew and break down this tough food source helps to grind down their teeth that grow their entire lives. A diet consisting primarily of hay is crucial for dental health!
The type of hay that you feed your guinea pig is important as well. The two most common types of hay seen at the pet store include timothy hay and alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is much higher in calcium and calories, and is appropriate for young guinea pigs (less than 6 months) or nursing females. However, this is not appropriate for adult guinea pigs! The hay is too high in calories, and guinea pigs are especially predisposed to making calcium based bladder stones. They should be fed timothy hay, or another type of grass hay. You can get multiple types and mix and match. Guinea pigs should have fresh hay in their cage at all times.
However, because we are human, we often feel the urge to feed guinea pigs more than just plain, boring, hay (which most guinea pigs actually really love). One thing that is common to feed are guinea pig pellets. It is recommended that young guinea pigs (less than 6 months of age) and nursing females receive pellets made from of alfalfa hay. However, adult guinea pigs should get pellets consisting of timothy hay. The general rule for an adult guinea pig is that for every 5 pounds of guinea pig, they should get approximately ¼ cup of pellets per day. Most adult guinea pigs weight about 2 pounds, so 1/8 cup of pellets per day is a typical amount.
Guinea pigs are also very unique in that they also require a source of Vitamin C in their diet daily! Guinea pig pellets are supplemented with Vitamin C. However, Vitamin C is very unstable and will break down over time. Therefore, by the time you are getting half way through the bag of pellets there is generally not adequate Vitamin C. It is also possible to purchase a water based Vitamin C that you can add to the water. Again, Vitamin C is unstable and break downs in light (which most water bottles are in!) and many guinea pigs do not like the taste of this source. Oxbow makes a Vitamin C tablet, and they place an expiration date on the container which indicates when the Vitamin C will be degraded and therefore not adequate for your pig. We believe the best source of Vitamin C is a fresh source! See the next page for a list of fruits and vegetables and their levels of Vitamin C. Fruits are ok to give in small quantities (one slice per day). Some vegetables (spinach, kale, mustard greens, parsley) are high in Calcium, and so if given frequently can predispose guinea pigs to making bladder stones. Our favorite fresh source of Vitamin C is a slice of pepper (red, orange, green) per day! Most guinea pigs love it and it is easy to keep in the refrigerator.
The next thing to discuss is the house you want to get for your guinea pig. A general rule is that the cage should be as long as four times the length of your guinea pig lying stretched out, and at least one time that width. The bigger, the better! The bedding that you pick for your guinea pig is also very important. Guinea pigs have very sensitive respiratory tracts, and soft woods such as cedar and pine produce a lot of oils that are unhealthy for your guinea pig to be breathing in all day. Stick to aspen wood shavings, or even better, recycled newspaper bedding. Avoid typical cat litter that is clumping and scented, and could cause a big problem if ingested. Wire cages should be avoid as guinea pigs can get foot injuries. Be sure their flooring is solid, soft, and clean!
There are some things that guinea pigs are commonly seen for at the veterinarian. Likely the most common reason is for something called “gastrointestinal stasis”, which basically mean that the guinea pig is not eating well or at all, and their intestines have slowed down as a result. This is generally a symptom, not a disease itself, and has some underlying cause. This could be as simple as the guinea pig eating an inappropriate diet (not enough hay, too many vegetables) or could indicate something very serious. Any guinea pig that skips a meal or does not produce feces should be seen by a veterinarian right away, as this can indicate an emergency.
Respiratory infections are also very common in guinea pigs, and owners usually notice eye or nose discharge. This is a bacteria that healthy rabbits carry that can be given to guinea pigs and cause them to be very ill. Guinea pigs and rabbits should never be housed together! Dental disease is also common, especially middle aged to older guinea pigs, and is usually indicated by a guinea pig who is not eating well, is dropping his food, or his drooling. A yearly examination by a veterinarian is recommended for any guinea pig!
I hope that answers a lot of your questions about guinea pigs! They are amazing little critters, and make great pets for those young and young at heart!
Julia Katzenbach, DVM
|Vitamin C per 100 grams — Vegetables
190.0 mg — Peppers,Red
|Vitamin C per 100 grams — Fruits
98.0 mg — Kiwi