The guinea pig has become a very popular pet over the years. It was mostly known in South America at the beginning, but eventually it became more and more popular all over the world.
This article will answer your 14 most frequently asked questions about this adorable animal.
Dr. Franck, I love my guinea pig and I’m wondering if I should add a companion to it. Is this a good idea?
This animal can be kept alone if you offer him time every day, no worries there! However, he also enjoys company. So how do you decide? Read on: if you already have a female, adding a second female is suggested.
Another option is to add a neutered male, because if he is not operated on then there will inevitably/probably be little babies in the next few weeks. This may sound cute when you think about it quickly, but you need to have a clear plan of what you will do with this litter and be aware that there are risks during gestation and whelping for your female.
If you already have a male that is not neutered, then it may be problematic to put him in contact with a female or another male (operated or not). You would have to find a veterinary clinic to neuter him. Or simply keep him alone. In any case, think before acting…
My neighbor and his young children sometimes come to my house to see my guinea pig. We both wonder if it would be a good idea for them to adopt one too, what do you think?
To be clear, this type of animal may not be ideal for young families. Let me explain! First, rest assured, they are generally social and enjoy contact with humans.
However, they can also be nervous and fearful by nature (after all, they are considered prey), so many individuals will instead seek out a quiet place that will allow them to hide.
If you read between the lines, you will understand that ‘quiet’ does not necessarily equal ‘child’, and that ‘hiding animal’ will equal ‘child who wants the animal to come out of hiding’. However, I don’t want to discourage you, but rather make you realize that if a child wants an animal that cuddles and plays with for hours, it is probably better to continue his search either towards another type of animal.
Or you could simply go towards an adult guinea pig that already has an established temperament (and that is known for its great sociability for example)
If you had to name the most important thing for him, what would it be?
If you answered hay, you’re right! Indeed, hay is something essential for the guinea pig because without it, he can’t get enough fiber in his diet. The consequence is various chronic problems (especially digestive and dental) that could occur after a few months or years.
In addition to hay, fresh water should be offered daily, as well as a variety of vegetables. A small amount of guinea pig feed can also be given. Finally, vitamin C supplementation is often mentioned in this species. Remember that this vitamin is already in the feed and some vegetables/fruits so he may already be getting some of it that way.
However, it may be considered prudent to offer a daily supplement as there may well be a few days when the vitamin is not available and the supplement will meet this need without concern.
Dr. Franck, I found an old aquarium in my house. Can I put my guinea pig in it?
Honestly, it is not ideal. It is better to get a large cage with wire mesh on the sides and a plastic bottom.
It will be much better ventilated, which will prevent lung and skin problems. Of course, you will have to put in a good quantity of substrate (= a cage bottom), for example made of recycled paper. Soft wood shavings (based on pine or cedar) have been discouraged for several years.
Finally, offer him one or more hiding places because this is essential to his well-being. Indeed, its prey behavior will make it like to camouflage itself, out of sight.
All this being said, if you have a dedicated room or a large play area outside the cage, this is also very good! Just don’t leave it unattended in a house to avoid accidents.
Dr. Franck, I have been told that guinea pigs will generally live longer than other rodents, is this true?
In a word, I think we can say ‘yes! Indeed, if we compare the average life span (and I insist on this word because it is obviously quite variable according to the circumstances), the guinea pig will be able to live about 5 to 7 years.
This is quite a bit more than other rodents such as rats (2-3 years), hamsters (1.5-2.5 years) or mice (1-1.5 years), but still less than rabbits (9-11 years) or chinchillas (15-25 years).
Personally, I find this longevity interesting because you have enough time to get to know it well, without being obliged to make it a long-term project (if, for example, you compare it to some birds that can live for several decades).
I would like to keep my guinea pig healthy for a long time. What is the best advice I can get?
Well, let’s say you have already found a spacious cage for your guinea pig, that it is being fed properly (as described above), that it is getting daily attention, then I suggest you go see a veterinarian who is used to seeing rodents.
The veterinarian will evaluate the various aspects of his health by asking questions and examining your pet. There may be some corrections to be made at times.
Ultimately, the goal of all this will be to have as few problems as possible and also to prolong the life and quality of life of your small rodent.
Speaking of health, do you know what is the most useful tool you can use to monitor your guinea pig?
The scale! How do you use it? Nothing could be simpler: you put it on the scale and note its weight (in grams) in a notebook. When he is doing well, you can do this once a month or so.
On the other hand, if you have doubts about his health, then weigh him every week. Then if unfortunately you are sure that he is not well, then it would be wise to weigh him every day. A variation of 0 to 5% can be considered normal, while a change of more than 10% from the ideal weight is often abnormal. Example: Your guinea pig’s ideal weight is 1000 grams. If the variation is between 25 and 50 grams, you don’t have to worry about it.
However, if there is a weight gain or loss of 100 grams, then you should question yourself.
I’m sorry Dr. Franck, I have a few more to finish, I promise it will be quick.
So: should I give him baths sometimes? Not unless he’s really dirty!
Does he need to be vaccinated? No, there are no vaccines for pet rodents.
Should I have him neutered? Possibly. Let’s just say that it is to be considered mainly if you have more than one guinea pig at home, in order to avoid reproduction and certain conflicts. Please discuss with your veterinarian.
Should I take him out of his cage to get some exercise? Yes, of course! Ideally in a room already dedicated to this purpose. This will help avoid silly injuries.
Should I clean his cage? Yes, ideally every day (which is always much better than for example twice a week, in which case it takes much more time and is not very pleasant for your guinea pig anyway).
Should I brush him? Not especially, unless it has a very long coat like some breeds.
What about the claws, should I trim them? Preferably yes. Because they will grow, and if they are never done, they will eventually break off (thus hurting him).
As usual, I encourage you to continue educating yourself to improve the health and understanding of your little rodent’s behavior. Even if you think you know enough about a certain animal, it is possible to continue learning over and over again since each one is unique.
Tell me, I’m curious: what fun things have you ever had with your guinea pig?
Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.