Guinea Pig Care – An Introduction
Guinea pigs are highly social animals with a happy and chatty nature. They rarely bite or scratch if handled correctly which makes them popular pets in the UK. Due to their gentle nature they are commonly seen as good first pets for children. However, they do have special dietary and housing needs as well as craving love and attention. Therefore, it’s important that an adult takes full responsibility to ensure they are cared for and handled correctly.
Guinea pigs are social animals and need to be kept with at least one other guinea pig. They rest together, groom each other, play together and naturally live in small groups of 5-10 in the wild. In Switzerland, it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig because they’re prone to loneliness. Just like other ‘herd’ animals, they feel safe in numbers and enjoy running around and playing together.
Providing the right diet for your guinea pig is essential to ensure it remains fit and healthy. Unlimited hay, fresh water, 1 cup of fresh veggies and a small handful of special guinea pig pellets are required daily. (Diet ratios are 90% hay, 5% veg and 5% pellets). They do have a special requirement for vitamin C because they can only store it in their bodies for short periods, which is why providing a variety of daily fresh food is essential. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, parsley are highly recommended and carrots and fruits (such as strawberries) can be given as a treat but not too often as they are high in sugar. Apple should be avoided as some guinea pigs are allergic to the acid and it can cause burns and ulcers, so it’s not worth the risk.
You can keep guinea pigs either indoors or in well-insulated outdoor accommodation such as a shed as long as there is plenty of space for them to run around. We recommend including tunnels and other toys to provide enrichment so they don’t get bored. Simply stuffing toilet rolls with hay or freshly picked grass will keep them entertained for hours. A secure run for the garden is recommended so they can enjoy some time outside safely – plus they love munching grass.
Guinea pigs are easily scared especially when being picked up, so they need to be handled gently. They can be difficult to catch and can be jumpy so it’s important that children are always supervised when handling them. It’s important that their body is properly supported when picked up and both hands are used to make sure they are secure.
You might wonder what your guinea pig is doing when you see it leaping in the air and changing direction. This is known as ‘popcorning’ and is a sign of a happy guinea pig. Guinea pigs are known for being very vocal and will give a good squeak when they see you especially if you are delivering fresh veggies.
Squeaking is just one form of guinea pig communication. There are many other common sounds that they use to communicate such as teeth chattering, purring, vibrating and whistling. Teeth chattering or grinding is used to warn others that they’re upset and are ready to fight. Vibrating and purring often signifies happiness and contentment.
We can offer further advice on general guinea pig care, the best housing options and the bonding process. Please call 01625 520 802 for more information or pop in and meet the guinea pigs that are currently in our care waiting for forever homes.