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Guinea Pig Pet Care Guide for Beginners

Mychelle Blake
Guinea pigs in their hideout

Guinea pigs make wonderful, interactive pets, but they do require some specific care in order to keep them healthy. With the right diet, housing and maintenance, these small pets can easily live a good five years on average - and sometimes even longer! Learning how to take care of a guinea pig for beginners or more advanced pet owners can help keep your pet healthy and happy.

Guinea Pig Cages

A single guinea pig needs at least four square feet of cage space. However, the more space the better. The cage you choose should offer good ventilation because guinea pigs need a lot of fresh air. It should also have a very deep litter pan to prevent your pet from kicking out its bedding.

Guinea Pig Temperature Needs

Guinea pigs do not tolerate extreme temperatures well, so it's important to place your Guinea pig cage in an area with adequate temperature controls. Avoid placing them where they might be subject to cold drafts in the winter or in direct sunlight in the summer. They should be kept within a range of 68 degrees to 72 degrees Fahrenheit to be comfortable. They can handle dropping down to a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit if they have ample bedding in their cage to snuggle in for insulation and warmth. They also do not care for humidity so you may need to keep a dehumidifier in the room with their cage.

Flooring for a Guinea Pig Cage

Using a floor with a grate is optional. This type of floor allows the animal's waste to drop through, but it can also damage its feet. Guinea pigs also happen to be hindgut eaters. This means they will eat some of their droppings a second time in order to digest them fully. Therefore, they need some access to them, but you can compromise by covering part of the grate with a rabbit floor mat to provide your pet with a more comfortable place to rest.

Three pet guinea pigs

Guinea Pig Cages Need a Secure Lid

The cage should also be fully enclosed. Guinea pigs aren't very good climbers, but they do occasionally like to jump just for the joy of it, and it is possible for them to escape if their cage has no lid. A lid also protects the animal from other household pets.

Bedding for a Guinea Pig Cage

Do not use cedar shavings because the fumes will make your pet sick. Pine shavings can work, but many pigs and people are allergic to them. Instead, use safer bedding such as

  • Shredded or recycled newspaper bedding
  • Carefresh Shavings
  • Hay
  • Hemp
  • Ground corn cob
  • Cotton towels or cloths
  • Fleece liners

Guinea Pig Cage Accessories

You'll need to equip your pet's cage with the following.

  • A water bottle with a gravity-fed drinking tube - This is essential to keep your pet from soiling its water. Mount it on the outside of the cage with the tube inserted through the bars to prevent damage from chewing.
  • An attaching food dish - This dish is equipped with a screw that allows you to anchor the dish to the cage bars so your pet won't knock it over.
  • A hay rack - This hangs from the cage bars, keeps the timothy from getting soiled, and allows your pet to pull out blades of hay as needed.
  • A hide - Your pig will want a place to stay in when it wants some peace and quiet or a nice nap.
  • A bed - Some Guinea pig owners enjoy giving their pet an extra comfy place to cuddle in, and they'll definitely appreciate it, especially on colder days.

DIY Guinea Pig Cage

Some Guinea pig owners prefer to make unique environments for their pet instead of a standard cage purchased at a store.

  • You can make a cage using an old dresser and some drain pipes to create a multi-level unusual home for your pig.
  • Another fun and inexpensive option is using Cubes and Coroplast (C&C) which can be arranged in any pattern that fits your room and they can be easily connected with heavy duty zip ties.

As long as the materials are safe for your Guinea pig and the "cage" is secured to keep out other pets, you can be really creative and use items like a child's dollhouse or PVC pipe and hardware cloth.

How to Clean a Guinea Pig Cage

It's extremely important to keep your pet's cage clean. Fumes from excess droppings and urine can make the animal very sick. You should plan a regular cleaning regimen for your pig's cage:

  1. Scoop out your pet's main soiling area once a day. Most guinea pigs will pick a particular corner that they'll use the most for this purpose.
  2. Completely change the bedding once a week.
  3. Wipe down the inside of the cage with a 50:50 ratio of white distilled vinegar and water to kill germs and odors.
  4. Wipe the surface dry before refilling the bedding and putting your pet back in the cage.
  5. Wash the food dish and water bottle tube and nozzle with the same vinegar mix, and rinse and dry them thoroughly before you place them back in the cage.

The Right Diet for a Guinea Pig

Providing your pet Guinea pig with the ideal diet will ensure his good health and a long life with you. Guinea pigs have specific nutritional needs that can lead to significant health problems if not properly met.

Guinea Pigs At Home

Guinea Pigs Need Vitamin C

The most important thing you need to know right from the outset is that guinea pigs cannot synthesize vitamin C. Therefore, they must get it from the foods they eat, or their health will quickly deteriorate. Pet supply stores do sell vitamin C supplements for these animals, and your pet will especially love those C-fortified yogurt drops, but providing the diet outlined below will usually provide adequate vitamin C.

Feed Guinea Pig Pellets

Guinea pig pellets are formulated with vitamin C. Rabbit pellets look virtually the same, but do not contain the added vitamin C. Do not feed your pet rabbit pellets, even though they are considerably cheaper because you'll set your little friend up for a health crisis. Always buy your pellets from the freshest source you can find because vitamin C deteriorates rather quickly, and this reduces the amount your pet will receive from the pellets, regardless of what the package analysis says. As a rule of thumb, avoid purchasing your pet's pellets from a bulk bin where you can't be sure how old the feed is or if it's being rotated properly.

Feeding Amounts for a Guinea Pig

All Creatures Animal Hospital (ACAH) recommends limiting an adult guinea pig to two tablespoons of pellets daily. Pigs under four months old should be allowed to free feed unlimited pellets.

Provide Your Guinea Pig With Unlimited Timothy Hay

Pellets are most beneficial to young guineas that are still growing, but they generally contain more protein and calcium than the average adult needs. Fresh timothy hay is an excellent source of fiber and nutrients, and it should make up the bulk of your pet's diet. Chewing the long blades of hay also helps keep your pet's teeth from overgrowing. Your Guinea pig should have an unlimited amount of hay so your pet can eat whatever it wants.

Guinea Pig Veggies and Fruits

Fresh foods offer the best opportunity to supplement your pet's vitamin C intake in the most natural way. Some great choices that contain significant amounts C include:

  • Dark, leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Carrots
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges (Feed sparingly because of the acidity)
  • Apples (Less C, but lower acidity)
Guinea pigs muching hay and carrots

Always feed fresh fruits and veggies rather than cooked in order to preserve the vitamin C and make sure you thoroughly wash everything before offering it to your pet. To avoid waste, divide the cup of food into several servings and feed a little throughout the day.

Guinea Pig Foods to Avoid

There are several items that might seem like they would be a good fit for a Guinea pig's diet but can cause digestive issues and some are even toxic to them. Do not feed your Guinea pig any of the following:

  • Potatoes, including sprouts, peels, and parts of a potato plant
  • Beans, including bean plants
  • Dill
  • Flowers or any part of a flower including stems and leaves
  • Rhubarb including the plant
  • Tomato plants (although you can feed your pig tomatoes)
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Avocado
  • Onions
  • Chives
  • Leeks
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Thawed frozen foods
  • Weeds you find in the wild and in your garden
  • Common houseplants
  • Seeds, pits and cores of any type of fruit
  • Meat and dairy products

Guinea Pig Grooming

Your pet's grooming needs will vary depending on which type of coat it has. Keeping the cage clean will also limit the amount of grooming needed. In general:

  • Short-haired guinea pigs really don't need much brushing, but you can brush them once a week to remove loose hairs.
  • Long-haired specimens need daily brushing and the occasional trim.
  • All guinea pigs can benefit from having their nails trimmed twice a month. Just take off the sharp tips.
  • All guinea pigs occasionally need to have their hindquarters bathed to remove crusted droppings or urine buildup, but long-haired specimens will need bathing more often.
Sheltie Guinea Pig on wooden floors

How to Trim a Guinea Pig's Nails

It's best to start trimming a Guinea pig's nails when they're young so they get used to the procedure, making it less stressful for both of you.

  1. You can use human nail clippers or purchase clippers at a pet store. Clippers that are made for cats or small pets are suitable.
  2. You should also buy some styptic powder to have on hand in case you accidentally cut the quick, which will cause bleeding.
  3. If you've never trimmed nails before, you need to learn where the quick is in order to avoid cutting it. With Guinea pigs with clear nails, it's easy to see where the tip of their toes begin under the nail. If you have a pig with dark nails, it's best to cut tiny amounts off the ends of the nail to avoid hitting the quick.
  4. It's easiest to trim the pig's nails if you have him sitting in your lap on something soft like a towel or blanket. The pig should be sitting on your lap with his back toward you.
  5. You can also use the "burrito" method and wrap him snuggly in a towel or blanket with just his feet sticking out.
  6. It helps to provide something for him to focus on that will make him find this more enjoyable. You could give him a carrot or some apple slices to chew on while you give him his pedicure.
  7. Hold one foot and gently use the clippers to cut each nail, starting with just a tiny amount at the end if this is all new to you. You'll find as you do it more often that you'll be more confident cutting his nails.
  8. If you feel really stuck, ask your veterinarian to show you how to cut your Guinea pig's nails. Most veterinarians will be happy to show you or have a veterinary technician demonstrate the process.

How to Bathe a Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs don't need regular baths but they can benefit from one a few times a year or if they've gotten particularly dirty. It helps to start bathing them when they're young and pairing it with something nice like a veggie or fruit treat so they won't be as stressed by baths as they get older.

  1. You will need Guinea pig-safe shampoo such as Kaytee Squeaky Clean Critter Shampoo.
  2. If you have a large enough sink, you can bathe the pig there, otherwise using a large bucket or tub works best. If the sink or tub has a slippery surface, it helps to place a washcloth or a shower mat at the bottom so they don't slip and get scared.
  3. Put some warm water in another bucket or large bowl and then slowly pour small amounts of the water on the Guinea pig, staying away from their face. Using water this way instead of turning on the faucet is quieter and can be less stressful for the pig.
  4. Use your hands to move the water around the fur to make it wet, being careful to avoid your pig's face.
  5. Put a tiny amount of shampoo in your hands and lather it and then slowly work it into your pig's fur with your fingers.
  6. Rinse your pig gently until the water runs clear. You want to make sure all the shampoo is completely rinsed out before you move on to the next step.
  7. Take your towel and gently dry as much excess water as you can from your pig. You may need to use a few towels with a longer haired pig.You should also keep a comb with you and occasionally comb their hair if they are a longer haired pig to prevent matting and tangling.
  8. Using a regular blow dryer, place your Guinea pig on a secure surface, such as a bathroom counter, and dry their fur using the lowest available setting. Move your fingers through their fur to help it dry faster and use a comb or brush to prevent tangling.
  9. Make sure your Guinea pig is fully dry before placing him back in his cage.

Mental and Physical Care of Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are sociable animals who need to have environmental and physical enrichment to stay healthy and happy. Providing for your pig's behavioral needs will help him to live longer as well.

guinea pigs

Exercise for Your Guinea Pig

If you're feeding your pet the diet described above and the cage offers adequate room, your pet will get most of the exercise it needs. However, one or two exercise toys can provide some much needed mental stimulation and exercise. A large running wheel or exercise ball gives your pet a chance to work off some extra energy.

Socializing for Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are very social animals, so you might want to consider keeping two together to prevent loneliness. Just make sure they're the same gender or you could wind up with unwanted litters and a population problem. If you only have room for one pet, try to spend at least 15 minutes interacting with it at several points throughout the day.

Veterinary Care for Your Guinea Pig

Providing the right diet and proper cage conditions will keep health problems to the bare minimum in most cases. These animals don't require any vaccinations, but you will want to consult a veterinarian if you notice:

  • Overgrown teeth that don't align neatly together
  • Open sores, poor coat or other skin problems may be a sign of scurvy
  • Unusual lumps or growths can be a sign of cancer
  • Sores on their feet which is a sign of a common condition known as bumblefoot
  • Trouble breathing which can indicate a respiratory infection
  • Diarrhea is common and can be due to parasites or bacterial infections
  • Lack of appetite can be a sign of several conditions such as urinary problems, bladder infection, stress and dental disease

Guinea Pig Sounds

One of the most charming aspects of Guinea pig ownership is the delightful noises that they make. While they're definitely not a loud pet, Guinea pigs still have lots to say. Common noises including a high-pitched whistling or trilling noise that they may make when they're aroused, such as if they're happy to see you approach the cage (especially if it's dinner time!). They can also make a hissing sound that indicates they are upset and this is usually done with a display of teeth and stiff body language.

Guinea Pig Purring

Guinea pigs can purr just like a cat, but the type of purr can indicate different mental states. If the sound is low, and the pig seems relaxed, this is a sign they are happy. If the purring has a high pitched tone to it accompanied by more agitated body language, this is a sign your pig is stressed or irritable. If the purrs happen in short bursts, this can indicate that your pig is worried and afraid.

Cost of Owning a Guinea Pig

Depending on your choices and any sales you find, expect to make an initial investment of about $180 to purchase your pet and its cage setup. After that, you'll spend about $45 a month on bedding, pellets and hay, plus the cost of fresh fruits and veggies. Veterinary care is rarely needed, but you should seek out a vet that treats rodents and find out the cost of the average office visit. If you feel you have room in your budget to handle these costs plus the time it takes to keep your pet's cage clean, you can provide all the basics your guinea pig will need to have a healthy life.

Guinea Pig Care for Beginners

Guinea pigs do have specific requirements for care but overall they are not a hard pet to care for which makes them an excellent choice for children and beginners. They also are a wonderful pet if you live in a small space but still want an engaging and cuddly companion.

Guinea Pig Pet Care Guide for Beginners