Guinea pigs are wonderful pets. We’ve had them now for over three years when we rehomed a pair of four-year-old long-haired beauty’s named Bubble and Squeak. I had never owned guinea pigs before then, never even held one, but the minute I held them, I fell in love with them and so did my daughters. We were thrown in the deep end, no time to research and given everything we needed for the next few days! Slowly, over the years, I’ve learnt a lot more about guinea pig welfare and how to keep them healthy and the fact that Bubble and Squeak both lived to be 8 is a testament to our care and love when you consider the average life-span of a guinea pig is 5-8 years. Sadly, in 2017, we lost Bubble and then Squeak. I still miss both of them, especially Squeak as she would love lying on my shoulders and licking my neck.
We still have guinea pigs. Last year we rehomed a one-year-old boar we named Barry and recently we added Ozzy to our family and to give Barry some company.
If you’re thinking about getting a guinea pig, go for it! They are such lovely pets and being bigger than hamsters means they’re not as easy to lose down small holes and gaps. In fact, my dad used to tell me about a tenant they had in their flats who had a hamster and they caused thousands of pounds of damage ripping up floorboards trying to find it!
The most important thing to remember is that guinea pigs are social animals and they need a friend. If you do plan on getting two piggies, please ensure that they are the same sex. Guinea pigs are very fertile animals but pregnancy is high-risk for the female and isn’t recommended if over the age of one unless she has had previous litters. Males can impregnate a female from three-weeks-old, yes weeks, and a female can become pregnant within half an hour of giving birth
rather her than me.
Before you can bring your new pet(s) home you need to make sure you have their habitat all sent up and ready.
Guinea pigs can be kept indoors or outdoors and it really is a personal choice. Some prefer them outside because they can get a little smelly if you don’t keep on top of the cleaning and of course space can be an issue, there’s also the risk or predators, such as neighbourhood pets and foxes, and the risk of them getting too cold (too hot is not an issue in the UK), you also need to check as some countries won’t allow them to be kept outside and some won’t let you keep a lone pig. However being outside gives them more freedom, more space, more fresh air and more sunshine. If you do decide to keep them outdoors they ideally need to be kept in a building, not directly outside, giving them extra shelter from the elements. Keeping them indoors means you can spend more time with them and watching them, some people even have them roaming around their homes, you can keep an eye on them and pick up on any illnesses quicker as guinea pigs hide when they’re sick. The downside can be the space their cage takes up and the smell and mess if you don’t keep on top of the cleaning. You also need a cage with a lid if you have indoor pets, such as cats or dogs.
Our guinea pigs are kept indoors, mostly because we don’t have a garden so there was never any choice for us. They’re kept in my daughters room and she loves being able to fuss and cuddle them when she’s feeling down or even just watch them playing and running around her room.
Once you’ve decided where you’re going to keep your guinea pigs, either indoors or outdoors, you need to ensure you have the correct size cage for them. We need a bigger cage in fact as whilst our current cage is big enough for two female guinea pigs, two boars need more room to discourage fighting.
Once you have chosen your cage, maybe you’ve even decided to build your own C&C cage which are quite popular and I will be covering soon when I attempt to build my own, but until now you can find information on them at Guinea Pig Cages.
The next decision is what bedding to use. Here there are again plenty of choices; towels, pine shavings, paper products, fleece, hay and more. Again it is down to personal choice. The most commonly used beddings are hay (lots of it), pine shavings (which is what we use) or processed paper (not newspaper) or Care FRESH which is starting to take off in the UK. A little soft barley straw can also be used. All are safe to use and have their own pros and cons, but please DO NOT USE Cedar, newspapers, straw or other shavings which haven’t been kiln dried. Aspen shavings, pine shavings and pine pellets are safe alternatives. Owners with larger cages, such as C&C cages, often prefer to use towels or fleece, along with an absorbent underlayer such as puppy training pads (securely fastened so that your guinea pigs cannot get to it). I haven’t personally tried fleece yet, although I have been tempted to give it a go. I guess my main concern is washing the fleece in my washing machine and the complaints from hubby who I swear has OCD, but I guess I could make a visit to the laundrette once a week!
Finally, once you’ve set up the cage and the bedding, the next step is to get it reading for your piggies! They’ll need hay, lots of hay! Guinea pigs are foragers and a big pile of hay will have them squeaking in delight. Hay is also essential for their diet as well as a comfy place to hide. A house or hidey-hole somewhere that the guinea pig can hide is also essential, two if you have two piggies or one with different exits. Water bottle and food bowls, one each for your guinea pigs, are also essential.
Once your cage is all set up, all it needs is your new piggies to make it complete!
There are several places where you can get guinea pigs, you’d be surprised at how many are in animal rescue sites. Often these are guinea pigs which have been surrendered after their owners have decided they don’t like owning them or ones who have been poorly and unable to be sold. Your best bet for a healthy guinea pig is either a breeder or an animal rescue centre. Our latest baby guinea pig is Ozzy, we got him last week aged 8 weeks from a breeder near our home. He was advertised for sale on a local pet for sale facebook group and we saw pictures of his parents, who have won ribbons at local county shows, and when we picked Ozzy up we were able to meet his mum and sisters (his dad and brothers were separate). Ozzy was also advertised as being available for sale with his brother or alone provided you already had a boar, which we do. This was to ensure that Ozzy wouldn’t be alone as guinea pigs are social animals and need company and should never be kept alone.