If you are a first-time owner of a pet guinea pig, here are 10 guinea pig facts for new owners that should help you learn about the needs of these small family pets.
Guinea pigs are social animals that need comfortable living space and a balanced diet with lots of vitamin C to keep them healthy. Their teeth grow throughout their whole life. Piggies are fragile, sensitive, and need regular exercise. Like all pets, guinea pigs require affection and care to keep them happy and healthy.
As a new guinea pig owner, you have much to learn about these wonderful animals, so let’s get started.
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Last update on 2023-03-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Table of Contents
10 Most Important Guinea Pig Facts For New Owners
1. Guinea Pigs Require a Comfortable Living Space
Guinea pigs are not suited for a small cage. They need plenty of space to live, roam, and run around. Large space is important for these small animals, especially if you have more than one pet guinea pig sharing the same living space.
You can also place them outdoors confined within a hutch but only do so if the area is comfortable, waterproof, and predator-free. The hutch should be placed in an area that is not exposed directly to sunlight as guinea pigs cannot tolerate extreme temperatures.
However, don’t let your piggies live outside, especially during the winter months.
If kept inside, guinea pigs need a relatively quiet area, without sudden and loud noises.
Regardless of whether your piggies live in a hutch or a cage, separate their sleeping area. Guinea pigs need a hideout, a place where they can withdraw and hide to feel safe.
You should regularly change the hay and bedding to maintain proper hygiene and keep the space odor-free. Besides, dirty bedding is responsible for infections in guinea pigs. Even small guinea pig feet can get infected (bumblefoot) and your small pet can suffer greatly. So, by changing the bedding regularly, you not only maintain the health of your pet but keep the environment odor-free.
Learn all about the best bedding for allergies here and about the best bedding for odor control here.
2. Guinea Pigs Need a Balanced Diet
Guinea pigs have a sensitive gastrointestinal tract. They are prone to digestive issues and can suffer from diarrhea and bloating, which can be life-threatening conditions for them.
To keep their digestive system healthy and functioning, guinea pigs need non-dusty hay available to them at all times. Feed your baby guinea pig alfalfa hay and gradually start adding timothy hay or orchard grass hay to your pet’s hay rack until you eliminate alfalfa.
The reason for this is that alfalfa is rich in calcium. Adult guinea pigs cannot tolerate much calcium as it accumulates in their bodies and leads to kidney and bladder stones. Often, bladder stones require surgery and they are especially dangerous to male guinea pigs. Timothy hay and orchard grass hay are low in calcium and high in fiber. Besides, orchard hay is softer but these two are on par with nutrients.
Fruits and Vegetables
Apart from hay, other guinea pig food is probably something you already have in your kitchen.
Guinea pigs require 1 cup of a mix of fruits and vegetables to get all the nutrients they need for the proper functioning of their bodies. Apart from lots of fiber, vitamin C is another crucial element in a guinea pig’s diet.
Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, so they need to get it through fresh and raw vegetables and some fruits. Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) is potentially fatal for guinea pigs if left untreated.
Mostly, feed guinea pigs fruits in very limited quantities and serve them as a sweet treat. The reason for this is that the sensitive digestive tract of a guinea pig cannot digest sugars well.
Furthermore, never feed your guinea pig meat, dairy products, commercially frozen raw food, any processed food (cooked, baked, fried, etc.), and sweets. Feed your guinea pigs only raw and fresh produce. Also, make sure to feed your guinea pigs only foods that are safe for them. Food that is healthy for humans is not always healthy for guinea pigs, and the balance of nutrients in fruits and vegetables can be detrimental to their health.
Guinea pigs also need 1/8 of a cup of guinea pig pellets fortified with vitamin C that you can buy at a nearby pet store.
While you cannot overfeed your piggy with hay, you can offer too much fruits and vegetables, so stick to the recommended serving size to prevent overfeeding.
When introducing new foods to your pet guinea pig, it is advised to do it gradually over a week to prevent upsetting its digestive system.
If your guinea pig doesn’t eat the fruits and vegetables you’ve served, remove them within an hour or two to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Also, replace the stale water several times a day. Make sure that your pet always has clean and fresh water in its water bowl or water bottle.
We have to mention that some guinea pig owners prefer water bottles over water bowls. Guinea pigs, when they roam around and play, they collect wood shavings, hay, and waste and soil the water and food in their bowls. Also, guinea pigs may tip over the bowl and, when no one is at home, they may stay thirsty.
This also makes it hard to track their water consumption, which is important when monitoring your piggy for potential health issues.
3. Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C
Vitamin C is essential in your pet’s diet because guinea pigs cannot store nor synthesize vitamin C in their bodies, just like us.
This vitamin promotes the proper functioning of your guinea pig’s body and immune system. If your guinea pig does not get its daily vitamin C requirements, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) can develop within 60-90 days.
Scurvy affects your guinea pig’s bones and joints, making them swell painfully as the cartilage and bone formation becomes abnormal. This vitamin is vital for creating collagen, which is a structural protein that maintains blood vessels, bone formation, and heals wounds.
In guinea pigs, scurvy is a potentially fatal illness.
Guinea pigs with a severe deficiency rate bleed around the gums and teeth, skin, and in their internal organs. This makes it incredibly painful for cavies to move and chew their food.
Experts estimate that humans require 75–90 mg of vitamin C per day to avoid scurvy. To prevent scurvy in guinea pigs, however, include at least 30 to 50mg/kg of vitamin C in your guinea pig’s daily diet.
Some guinea pig owners prefer giving vitamin C supplements to their piggies, such as vitamin C tablets. We recommend that only if you are sure that your pet doesn’t get its daily dose of this vitamin through vegetables and fruits.
This is because guinea pig food fortified with vitamin C is unstable. It easily degrades under certain conditions and, within three months of manufacture, such food can lose half of its vitamin C.
4. Guinea Pigs Are Social
Guinea pigs are social creatures. They need company and love having you around. However, they also crave the company of their own species.
Regardless of how much you love each other, you can never learn to speak the same language and have fun together as you would with another human being and your guinea pig with a representative of its own kind.
There is nothing wrong with owning one guinea pig, but one guinea pig can feel lonely and even suffer from depression.
Most people have at least two guinea pigs. That way, while you are at work, at school, or you’re just out running errands, your guinea pigs have each other for company.
Just make sure that your pets have enough space. Overcrowding makes them susceptible to infections and diseases.
5. Guinea Pigs Are Sensitive
Common problems found in cavies are skin infestations accompanied by hair loss, urinary problems, scurvy, respiratory infections, digestive issues, and corneal ulcers. Aging, dental disease, reproductive disorders, injury, or improper care are other most common causes of health problems in guinea pigs that live alone.
Infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria are most commonly found in guinea pigs that live in groups, while skin infestations (fleas, mites, lice, etc.) usually occur in piggies living with other animals.
Although guinea pigs might get intestinal parasites such as worms, that rarely happens. The fact that guinea pigs are more sensitive to antibiotics than other types of pets complicates the treatment of infectious diseases.
It is critical to prevent health problems in guinea pigs.
The things you can do to prevent illnesses are to:
- provide your pet with a consistent, balanced diet that is safe for them
- make sure they always have clean water
- provide them with a low-stress environment
- maintain their habitat clean (frequently clean and disinfect the cage)
- use only bedding materials gentle on your pet’s skin
- provide them with accessories such as chew toys and balls, tunnels, and ramps so they can have adequate exercise
- observe their behavior to notice any changes in time such as hair loss, lack of appetite, weight loss, bloating, unusual discharge from the eyes, etc.
Also, you can learn much about your guinea pig’s health by paying attention to its poop.
Speaking of poop, you should know that guinea pigs have an unusual habit of eating their own feces. Don’t worry, that is normal for these small animals.
6. Guinea Pigs Usually Sleep With Eyes Wide Open
Many pet owners haven’t seen their piggies close their eyes… ever. Many other people believe that guinea pigs never sleep or that they are nocturnal animals. However, that’s not true. Piggies are not nocturnal but crepuscular animals, which is why there’s a lot of activity going on in your guinea pig’s cage at dusk and dawn.
Guinea pigs sleep 4 to 6 hours per day, dozing off for 10 to 30 minutes at a time both during the day and at night.
They usually sleep with their eyes open, and they may snore or make other noises while sleeping. As prey animals at the bottom of the food chain, they are light sleepers, naturally cautious and aware of their surroundings.
As a result, they rarely sleep for long period at once.
While guinea pigs in captivity sleep slightly longer than those in the wild, they still sleep less than other common pet animals such as dogs and cats.
Also, guinea pig eyesight is quite an interesting topic.
7. Guinea Pigs Need to Wear Down Their Teeth
The teeth of guinea pigs grow continuously throughout their life. Guinea pig teeth should be white rather than yellow, as they are in most rodents. Also, they shouldn’t be too long or curved, and piggies should not show any signs of pain or hesitation while eating.
If your guinea pigs eat normally, without any signs of stress or discomfort, their teeth are in good shape.
Although your piggy leaves an impression of only having two upper and two lower incisors, guinea pigs actually have twenty teeth. Apart from the incisors, there’s a pair of upper and lower premolars, and three pairs of upper and lower molars.
If a guinea pig has teeth problems, the small animal suffers greatly from mouth sensitivity, redness of the gums, and cannot eat due to constant pain. Almost always, the cheek teeth are affected as well.
To keep your guinea pig’s teeth healthy, all you need to do is to have unlimited supplies of low-calcium hay readily available to your pet.
At pet stores, you can also buy chew toys safe for guinea pigs. Usually, those chew toys are made of compressed hay, so they are perfectly healthy for your pet.
Therefore, hay not only serves as a great supply of fiber that aids digestion but also as a “teeth trimmer.”
Likewise, many pet owners make sure that their piggies have clean tree branches to gnaw on.
Be careful, as some trees are unsafe to guinea pigs and other rodents such as chinchillas, gerbils, and squirrels. Don’t give your pet wood from the Prunus family trees (almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, and plum).
Guinea pig pellets fortified with vitamin C are also hard enough to help your piggy wear its teeth.
8. Guinea Pigs Should Exercise Regularly
As advised to provide your guinea pigs enough space to roam, this also implies that exercise is vital for cavies.
Like all animals, guinea pigs get bored. You need to provide them with as much fun as you can to encourage them to be active.
One of the ways to keep them entertained is to create obstacles, and ramps, and give them balls that guinea pigs may push around the cage. Guinea pigs are smart and new challenges stimulate their brains and keep their curious minds active.
Guinea pigs are not runners, and they are not particularly good climbers, but obstacles, elevated areas, and tunnels present a challenge to them.
Never attempt to place your guinea pig in an exercise wheel. Piggies are not hamsters and they can get a serious injury.
Keep your guinea pigs safe from obstacles and toys that may harm them.
9. Guinea Pigs Are Usually Kept in Single-Sex Groups
There’s a reason why guinea pigs are kept in single-sex pairs.
You might have heard that female guinea pigs don’t get along well with male guinea pigs but that’s simply not true.
The main reason is the reproductive cycle of guinea pigs and the age at which they reach sexual maturity.
Both female and male guinea pigs can become sexually mature when they are just a few weeks old. Of course, it is not advisable to breed very young guinea pigs just as it’s not advisable to breed female guinea pigs after they reach 7 months of age. Besides, guinea pigs don’t menstruate, so it’s impossible to predict when they are ready to mate.
According to estimates, the mortality rate of pregnant guinea pigs is as high as 20%. However, unlike first-time guinea pig owners, pet owners who have bred their piggies before might be able to lessen the mortality rate of their female piggies.
For instance, they are experienced in feeding the pregnant piggy correctly and catching symptoms of problems such as toxemia early. Likewise, they ask for a help of an exotic vet who can perform a C-section on older piggies who never had babies before.
Still, every pregnancy is risky because baby guinea pigs are born large and fully furred. They can see, hear, and run almost instantly. Usually, the guinea pig mother carries more than 2 pups, which doubles her weight and puts a huge strain on her whole body and every organ. Even with the best care, a pregnant piggy can suffer from dystocia, hypocalcemia, prolapsed uterus, or toxemia.
Besides, here’s another fascinating fact: a guinea pig can get pregnant within 12 hours of giving birth!
That is another reason why male and female guinea pigs shouldn’t be in the same cage.
Even if you have your male guinea pig neutered, keep it apart from the female for some time because neutering doesn’t prevent new pregnancies instantly. It takes time to have an effect.
Many pet owners may be guilty of avoiding a trip to the vet.
Instead of trusting an internet forum, trust a professional.
Take your pet to a regular check-up.
A veterinarian can run proper tests, prescribe the right medicine, and provide advice on how to take care of your guinea pig. You can also learn how to perform weekly health checks on your pet.
10. Guinea Pigs Require Commitment
A guinea pig typically has an average lifespan of around 4 to 8 years.
While some guinea pigs don’t live very long, other guinea pigs can live much longer and be happy, thriving in a healthy environment.
Simply keeping them in a cage with food and water without meeting their needs is insufficient to have a happy and healthy guinea pig pet.
Take your time to learn as much as you can about guinea pigs and then take the time to get to know your furry friend.
Every guinea pig is different and has its own personality.
One of the most important things you will have to do regularly, which will take your time, is to maintain your pet’s surroundings healthy and clean.
- Regularly clean the cage and change bedding.
- Make sure to regularly clean your pet’s water bottles and food bowls.
- Ensure they always have clean and fresh water (change it frequently, a few times a day)
Bonus: Guinea Pig Starter Kit Essentials
Before you bring your new pet guinea pig home, make sure to have the following:
- Guinea pig cage
- Water bottle or water bowl
- Guinea pig pellets
- Food bowl
- Hay rack/ hay feeder
We recommend doing some research to find the best options on the market as many guinea pig starter kits don’t include what your pet really needs.
Whether you’ve just adopted a guinea pig or you’re thinking about it, likely, you don’t know your pet very well.
What if your pet would rather drink from a bowl instead of a water bottle? Are water bottles better?
What if a hay rack that you can buy separately is a better option than the one included in the guinea pig cage you’re thinking about buying?
What if you don’t have much room but would really like to own a guinea pig? Are there cages for small places?
Which tunnels are the best?
What bedding should you choose? Is paper bedding better than wood shavings? Should you also buy a fleece one?
Can you bathe your guinea pig?
There are many questions and many different opinions. Although we’ve done our best to provide as much information as possible in this article, it is impossible to have all the answers in a limited space.
Feel free to browse through our website for guidance, information, interesting facts, as well as the best accessories on the market.
The top guinea pig products on the market:
Last update on 2023-03-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
So before adopting a pet – any pet – make sure you have the time and willingness to commit to the animal. Learn as much as you can about your chosen pet’s care and make your home a welcoming place for the new member of your family.
Be aware that the well-being of your pets depends solely on you.
When your pet arrives, take your time to get to know its personality. Every living being is different but all share one thing in common: all need love, affection, time, and dedication.