By Jennifer Barrows
If you’re contemplating getting a pet but are not quite ready to take on the added responsibility and time commitment associated with a cat or dog, why not consider adopting a guinea pig or two? Guinea pigs, also called “cavies,” originated in South America. These sweet animals make perfect pets for single people, couples, or families with children. Since these pets are easy to care for, young children can be taught to become capable and caring pet owners by tending to their daily needs.
“Guinea pigs require just enough upkeep to offer a certain level of commitment and engagement, without being too demanding,” says Marlene Wilhelm, President of the House Rabbit Connection.
“With adult supervision, children quickly learn how to handle these pets with care and respect. Guinea pigs are perfect for this because they don’t mind being handled by a gentle caregiver, and tend to be less fragile than pet rabbits,” continued Marlene. “They are usually more engaging than typical smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils.”
If properly cared for, guinea pigs are generally very healthy. They tend to like indoor living, as extreme temperatures can be detrimental to their health and comfort.
Guinea pigs are very social animals, and you can choose one with the kind of personality that best suits you. Some are more feisty and energetic; then there are those who are quiet and shy; some are snuggly and affectionate; others are quirky and even silly. They can be every bit as loving as a dog, cat or domestic rabbit.
Guinea pigs come in different colors and sizes. There are more than a dozen breeds and about ten basic colors. Their coats, depending on the breed, can be long-haired or short-haired; some breeds are even hairless. Guinea pigs can be absolutely beautiful. Their faces are precious – in many cases, they look very similar to rabbits, minus the long ears of course.
Three things most guinea pigs have in common are (1) that they usually are very good-natured; (2) they are adorable and fun; and (3) they are easy to care for.
Did you know that guinea pigs purr? They recognize their human guardians and they become very attached to them. It’s not unusual for a guinea pig to jump for joy and squeal with happiness – they may even attempt to climb up out of their cages, when they see their humans. Guinea pigs are known to produce other vocalizations, depending on the situation, for example when they are engaged in courtship behavior or feel they are being threatened.
Have you ever heard of “popcorning?” Well get ready, because if you adopt a guinea pig the chances are good that you will observe this endearing behavior. It’s most common in young guinea pigs and is their way of showing how happy or excited they are. Popcorning can take various forms; sometimes the guinea pig may run forward and backward quickly; or they may choose to jump straight up into the air over and over again – at times turning ninety degrees in mid-air; or they may do a little dance by kicking one leg at a time out to the side and in an alternating fashion.
Guinea pigs make wonderful pets because they live longer than many other small mammals – on average, around 7 years; but some live well into their teens. They require very little upkeep, but a few things are essential.
They need a large cage to allow them to run around comfortably (at least 7.5 sq. ft. for one guinea pig and 10.5 sq. ft. for a pair). The larger the cage, the happier your pet(s) will be. A homemade cage is often much less expensive and you can build it to be roomier than most commercial cages. You can find plans and instructions online. Be very mindful if you purchase a commercial cage, not to get one that has wire floors and/or wire ramps. A guinea pig’s feet will slip between the bars and this will prevent them from being able to run comfortably and freely and may lead to injury. Ideally, the cage should offer enough space for the guinea pig to run back and forth or around and around. The cage should be spot-cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned once a week.
For bedding and cage floor lining, a layer of paper can be positioned underneath a second layer of fresh hay. Every cage should have a hiding place for your pet to feel safe, such as a little hut structure; even something as simple as a cardboard box. Guinea pigs enjoy toys that are relatively easy to obtain, such as paper bags, crumpled paper, pieces of cardboard, cardboard boxes, and empty rolls from both paper towels and toilet paper.
“On a daily basis, guinea pigs require fresh water, fresh hay, fresh vegetables, and a modest amount of food pellets especially formulated for their species,” notes Marlene.
“A heavy ceramic food bowl is your best option for inside the cage – one that does not tip over easily. They also should receive a Vitamin C supplement each day.
There are plenty of resources online to assist you in providing a happy and healthy home to a deserving guinea pig. There is a helpful e-book called The Guinea Pig Guide, which can be found at theguineapigguide.com. Also, Marlene Wilhelm recommends visiting oxbowanimalhealth.com for helpful information. “I love this company for its educational aspect,” she says.
“Rather than a bowl for drinking water, guinea pigs prefer to use a water bottle that attaches to the cage, with a steel spout and ball. They are known to drink a lot of water, so please be sure your pet always has a good supply.”
In addition to having a nice roomy cage, guinea pigs benefit greatly from time outside their cage, to exercise and play in a protected area and under supervision.