Guinea Pig Housing
As already mentioned guinea pigs can be kept either indoors or out. Although both are acceptable, it's worth pointing out that inevitably guinea pigs kept indoors will become more accustomed to human contact and therefore more tame and easier to handle. This results from the more frequent exposure to the sounds, sights and smells of the owners with whom they co-habit. Outdoor guinea pigs, on the other hand, are liable to be be a bit more withdrawn and less tame, simply because of less frequent contact with their owners.
Outdoor guinea pig accommodation usually consists of some kind of traditional hutch. The important elements to consider here are:
- spacious enough for the guinea pigs needs
- shelter from the wind, rain and sun
- protection from predators e.g. cats
- ideally elevated on legs or stilts
- mobile to be flexible to the environmental conditions
- try to avoid bare wooden flooring
Hutches vary from simple to elaborate multi-levels playhouses and price varies accordingly.
Housing your guinea pigs indoors removes the weather from being a factor in positioning the housing and other than avoiding direct sunlight the main decision to be made here is in which room you want to have the guinea pigs. I would recommend a room that you spend a fair bit of time in to maximise your contact with the animals and to socialise them more. The housing itself can be any of the indoor cages available and obviously the bigger the better is the golden rule, as in any animal housing.
Guinea Pig Bedding
A number of different small animal bedding materials are available for guinea pigs and of these hay is hard to beat. It is soft and edible so not only does it provide comfort but it ensures that they can always be nibbling which keeps their teeth in good shape. It also absorbs urine well and with an underlay of newspaper can be rolled up and easily disposed when cleaning their cages out.
If bought in bales, hay can also work out very economical compared with many of the other bedding types. Some people use wood shaving but these are generally best avoided as they will always contain dust particles which is not good for the guinea pigs respiratory system.
Feeding Your Guinea Pig
As with all animals to ensure good health in your guinea pig the diet that you feed them plays a central role. It is important that you provide an interesting and varied diet consisting of hay, vegetables, dry food and fruit. You wouldn't want to eat the same food every day and neither do your guinea pigs. So be a little adventurous and offer them a wide range of different foods as they have different tastes, just like us, and you need to discover what they like.
Hiding little pieces of their favourite snack foods around the cage can keep things interesting for your guinea pigs. Don't give them old food, past it's use by date, a good rule of thumb is that if the condition of the food is not good enough that you would eat it yourself, then don't give it to your guinea pigs.
Hay: This is important in the guinea pig diet and should always be available as it provides much of the required roughage.
Vegetables: Like ourselves guinea pigs rely on a constant dietary supply of vitamin C and it is important that they have a regular supply of fresh green vegetables. Grass, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach, in small amounts, are ideal. They also love corn on the cob and cauliflower including the leaves.
Root crops: Guinea pigs generally love carrots and will also eat turnips, swedes, sugar beet and some will like beetroot.
Fruit: There's a whole range of fruit which guinea pigs will eat but each individual guinea pig will have its own likes and dislikes. Melons and cucumbers are liked by most guinea pigs, tomatoes, bananas, grapes and pears by some and apples by many, although some can have a reaction in their lips which can give them sores. So if this happens with your guinea pigs apples should be avoided.
Dry feedstuffs: There are a wide range of commercially available dry food for your guinea pigs. These come at a range of price points, the cheapest ones are usually a false economy as you will be left with more uneaten materials so it is probably best to go for a mid price point feed. They all contain a mix fibre, protein, oil and ash usually in the required proportions, although the exact levels vary from brand to brand.
Handling Guinea Pigs
As guinea pigs are not designed for robust self defence they are very adept at taking evasive action when they perceive a threat. They can move very quickly when they feel under threat and therefore appear very nervous and insecure. This is their protective instinct and has served them well. To overcome this and make them comfortable with you does require a lot of handling and patience. If your guinea pig continues to appear nervous or hyperactive it is probably because you are not handling it enough so try to spend a bit more time with them, handling them gently.
Guinea pigs should be picked up carefully as removing and returning them to their cages are when most accidents tend to occur. The best way to pick up a guinea pig is to put one hand under its "bottom" end and the other hand over its back. Once lifted you should then settle down seated at a low level with the guinea pig securely on your lap.
Most guinea pigs like to be massaged under the ears or on the back of the neck. Some like to be stroked under the lower jaw and others on the top of the head. When they seem to become restless it usually means that they have had enough and want to return to their cage and this should be respected. You can usually tell when they are going to urinate whilst on your lap, but they will discreetly drop multiple little pellets!
Long haired guinea pigs will need regular grooming and all guinea pigs should be shampooed roughly every three months to keep their coats and skin in good condition and help to avoid parasites. You should have them well lap tamed to make these processes easier.
Guinea Pig Behaviour & Sounds
Guinea pigs are very sociable and adaptable animals and mix well with each other and humans. Most of their emotions are expressed through vocalisations and they have a complex range of vocal sounds to convey what they are feeling such as fear, anger and contentment. Guinea pig sounds broadly fall into three main categories:
The purr: This is often associated with contentment and can occur during grooming or stroking or in a more growling way can indicate aggression particularly when accompanied by pacing on the spot with the back feet.
The squeak: There are a wide range of squeaking sounds made by guinea pigs from a low level conversational type squeak to a much louder staccato type sound if annoyed. Another type is an inquisitive type squeak when the guinea pig is presented with a new object or environment as it investigates.
The throat moan: This is a whining type sound which often means that the guinea pig just wants to be left alone both by you and any other guinea pigs.
Breeding Guinea Pigs
As with most animals breeding guinea pigs is generally best left to specialised breeders. They have the necessary knowledge and experience of dealing with all matters related to breeding for the good of both the mothers and the baby guinea pigs. The ideal age for breeding is at 5-6 months old and certainly under 12 months. The gestation period is about 70 days in a guinea pig and the main thing to be avoided is in-breeding. The young are usually weaned at around six weeks from their mother. Males reach puberty at between six and ten weeks and should be separated from their immediate family before this age to avoid in-breeding.
Guinea Pig Health
Guinea pigs are generally healthy and robust animals but like all animals there are a long list of ailments and afflictions from which they can suffer. These will be considered in more detail the upcoming guinea pig health section.
Go to our Guinea Pigs Articles pages to learn more about guinea pigs