A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO GUINEA PIGS (Part 1)
TWELVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE BECOMING A PIGGY PARENT
NUMBER 1: DO YOUR RESEARCH!
You are about to become piggy parents - Do your research! Guinea pigs should not be an impulse buy! In order to get the most out of your pet guinea pigs and also to do your best for them, it’s very important to find out how to care for them properly. This guide is a great start but we’re not the only source of information out there!
There are many wonderful websites, forums and blogs for you to visit. For example, The Guinea Pig Forum has been running since 2006 and is a fountain of knowledge. You’ll also find social media a very useful place for videos and tips, just choose your sources carefully and try and cross-reference them with other care and welfare advisors.
NUMBER 2: KNOW THE BASICS.
Guinea pigs are really sociable animals. They love each other’s company so must have at least one other guinea pig in their lives to interact with. The best groupings of guinea pigs are either two males together or a group of two or more females. With a herd of females, you can also add one neutered male; that way the male keeps the peace amongst the girls but you don’t get any accidental baby guinea pigs! While more than two males can live together harmoniously, you are taking a big a risk, as they are more likely to fight and you could find yourself having to make the heart-breaking decision to separate them. Male guinea pigs are called boars, females are sows and baby guinea pigs are called pups.
While guinea pigs can be bought at pet shops and from breeders, we strongly recommend finding your local rescue and adopting. All of our piggies here at HayPigs!® were adopted from our local rescue in the UK, Blackberry Patch. As well as the obvious rewarding feeling of giving a guinea pig a new forever home, rescues are also a great source of information and help you get the best start with your new family members.
NUMBER 3: WHAT TO FEED YOUR GUINEA PIGS.
Guinea pigs love hay. You should provide them with unlimited hay every day. A good quality feeding hay is really important for their digestion and general health, so look for hay that is green, dry and sweet smelling (not yellow, brown or damp or mouldy). Replenish their feeding hay several times a day as, if it’s good stuff, they’ll get through it! Water is of course also vital and they should be provided with clean, fresh water daily.
As well as at least 80% hay in their daily diet, guinea pigs need fresh vegetables to provide the vitamin C they need. Leafy green vegetables and bell peppers are just a couple of examples, but you can check out our website at haypigs.com for a more comprehensive list. Fruits, while welcomed by the piggies, are a treat and should be given just once a week. There are some fresh foods that guinea pigs cannot eat, so it’s important to do your research and check what is safe for them first. Again, please feel free to check our website.
Dry pellets can be fed in small quantities, but if you are feeding a good diet of hay and fresh veg, they won’t need many. Guinea pigs love fresh grass and can eat lots of it! Just be careful if they have not had it before that you introduce them to it gradually and don’t let them eat too much all at once, as their digestive system will need to get used to it.
NUMBER 4: WHERE TO HOUSE YOUR GUINEA PIGS.
Guinea pigs need lots of space. Probably way more than you think. It’s really important they have lots of room to encourage them to run around, exercise and interact. Be wary of a store-bought cages and hutches, in truth very few of them are fit for purpose beyond the infant stage for a guinea pig. Guinea pigs will grow and their homes needs to grow with them!
There are various options out there for cage systems, such as C & C caging – a modular grid system that you can customise to the size you want - and the more classic hutch accommodation. You can even build you own! Whatever you chose, bigger is better and again, do your research BEFORE you commit to taking piggies on.
We would say here in the UK that a 6 or 7ft hutch (approximately 2 metres) would be OK for two guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs can live indoors or out, but it really is dependent on the climate you live in. Piggies do not like damp and drafts and are susceptible to extreme temperatures. If you’re keeping them outdoors, please place their hutch within an outhouse or shed during the colder, wetter months and in the shade during summer. Ideally, they can spend much of warmer times of the year outside, but they must have plenty of shade and fresh, cool water as well as a secure run. Just be mindful not to switch your guinea pigs in and out of the house a lot, sudden jumps in temperature are not good for them as they struggle to regulate their own body temperatures.
Then comes the choice of bedding. Guinea pigs wee and poo A LOT! So, whatever bedding you chose, you will need to clean them out regularly and keep it dry. Our preferred bedding choices are a layer of newspaper with lots of hay on top, or a fleece cage liner (which you would need to change and wash regularly). Ideally, provide both. Some people use wood shavings but we’re not big fans of this as it can lead to respiratory problems for the piggies and foot sores.
For Part 2 of our Beginner's Guide blog, click here!