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SMALL PETS | VET ADVICE

CARING FOR GUINEA PIGS

Everything you need to know to look after a pet guinea pig

As friendly little bundles of fur, guinea pigs are commonly thought of as the perfect first pet for your littlun. Although true, adult supervision is needed to make sure they get the very best care.

Family: rodent (cavie)

  • Lifespan: 5–7 years
  • Personality: sociable, cautious
  • Best kept: in female pairs or a neutered male with one or more females
  • Sleep cycle: crepuscular (awake during dawn and dusk)
  • Diet: herbivore
  • Best for: adults and children, when supervised
  • Contrary to popular belief, you should not house rabbits and guinea pigs together; a rabbit will often fight with and bully a guinea pig.

    Diet

    Guinea pigs need a balanced diet that is high in fibre. Hay and grass should form the majority of this, as it allows them to maintain healthy digestion and wears down their teeth effectively. Good-quality, fresh, and dust-free hay must always be available. Fresh, leafy greens such as broccoli, kale and fresh dandelion leaves should be given to your guinea pig daily, but remember to introduce new foods gradually to avoid digestive upsets. Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, and so vitamin C-enriched guinea pig foods should be fed in small, measured amounts daily. Apples and carrots are high in sugar, so reserve these as occasional treats.

    Cecotropes (known as night feces)

    Guinea pigs undergo a digestive process called caecotrophy to extract as much goodness as possible from their food – in short, they eat special droppings that they produce, called caecotrophs, to allow the food to be re-ingested.

    Water

    Guinea pigs need fresh water daily. You should check their water supply at least twice a day, especially during winter – you don’t want their water to freeze! A bottle snug or insulating layer is ideal for your guinea pigs’ water bottles – it can help to keep the bottles cool and algae-free in the summer and help to prevent them from freezing in the winter.

    Nervous nature

    As prey animals, guinea pigs are generally nervous of new sights, sounds and smells. Their immediate response to a perceived threat is to freeze (remain still and alert). This freezing behaviour can last from a few seconds up to 30 minutes, after which they may then flee to a place of safety such as a burrow.

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