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Guinea pigs (cavies) can live up to 8 years or more with proper care. Therefore, it is important that you feed your guinea pig a balanced and healthy diet to maintain optimal health. Guinea pigs must obtain Vitamin C from their diet because they cannot synthesize their own. They also require a diet high in fiber for digestive health, and low in calcium for urinary tract health.
Some health conditions attributed to inadequate nutrition in cavies include:
• Vitamin C deficiency
• Malfunction of the digestive tract
• Enteritis (intestinal inflammation)
• Bladder stones
Obesity itself can lead to health complications including:
• Respiratory, heart, and liver disease.
• Pododermatitis (Bumblefoot): An extremely painful infection of the foot pad.
• Ketosis: A condition in which their body burns more fat than necessary. It can lead to sudden death or result in stillbirths and abortions in pregnant sows.
Feeding for Health:
You can help your adult guinea pig attain a healthy weight and body condition through proper diet. Speak to your veterinarian if you have health concerns. These are some guidelines to follow:
• Guinea pigs are grazing animals; they should be provided with unlimited access to grass hay such as Timothy or Orchard hay. Legume-based hays, such as Alfalfa, are high in calcium, protein, and carbohydrates, and should only be fed to pregnant, and young or sick cavies. Hay helps to file down the teeth of your guinea pig and satisfies the need to chew. Be careful not to feed coarse hay that can injure the soft tissues of the mouth and can lead to infections, or hay that is moldy or dirty.
• Always feed a food that is formulated specifically for guinea pigs. Pet stores provide a variety of brands of pelleted food. Look for one that is made from Timothy grass, which usually means it is high in fiber, and low in protein and calories. Feed 1/4 to 1/8 of a cup of pellets for the entire day, in a ceramic bowl to prevent tipping.
• Eliminate the fattening, commercial snacks. Give your guinea pig fresh, healthy foods as snacks instead.
• Cavies will eat a variety of greens and vegetables. Those that are very high in calcium should only be fed from time to time, while others are appropriate for everyday feeding. These include, among others:
green and red leaf lettuce, escarole, one cherry tomato, cilantro, endive, swiss chard, cucumber wedges, zucchini
Less frequently (1-2 times a week):
kale, red or green peppers, a baby carrot, basil,
watercress, Romane lettuce (Never feed Iceberg lettuce! It is harmful for guinea pigs.), parsley, arugula, spinach, a cauliflower floret
Remember- variety is the key. Provide two-three items from the everyday list, and one-two from less frequent vegetable list in one daily meal. Try not to repeat meal ingredients two days in a row, and keep a list of what was given when so variety can easily be achieved and maintained.
Feed 1 cup of greens daily. Feed fruits rarely (such as every 3-4 days), or not at all, since they have a high sugar content.
Provide fresh, clean water at all times, preferably in a drip bottle to avoid contamination. Do not add supplements to the water as they can encourage bacterial growth. Change the water and clean the container daily.
Cages sold at the typical pet store tend to be too small and, therefore, inappropriate for guinea pigs. If you have the space, choose a C&C cage or a MidWest cage. We recommend to use a MINIMUM 6 squared feet for a guinea pig (a 2x3 C&C cage) and to add 2-4 squared ft per additional guinea pig. Ideally, a female pair should have around 10 squared ft of space, and a male 12 squared ft. Adding different levels to the shared cage provides a fun activity for the human, as well as happy guinea pigs! And, always keep in mind- the larger the cage, the better.
Cages to avoid are- Critter Nation, Kaytee My First Home, Kaytee My First Home Delixe, and all Ware Manufacturing cages.
A good resource for purchasing guinea pig enclosures can be found here.
Depending on the type of cage you are using, you may be able to use fleece, aspen, or paper bedding. Every type of bedding has advantages and disadvantages, so make sure you do your research to choose what works best for you. AVOID cedar shaving and raw pine because they contain aromatic oils that may lead to respiratory problems. How often you clean the cage depends on a number of factors such as type of cage, type of bedding, and number of guinea pigs, but in general, a cage should be completely cleaned out and all bedding changed at least once a week. This prevents ammonia build up from urine that can lead to respiratory problems in both your guinea pig and yourself.
Place the enclosure in an area away from drafts or direct sunlight. It is also advisable to house the piggies in an open area rather than in a bedroom; housing them in a bedroom could disturb sleeping humans or lead to allergies due to the dust that bedding and/or hay often carry. Provide huts or boxes for the piggies to hide, as well as toys and soft surfaces for them to rest on. Make sure that there is no exposed metal where their feet can get caught and result in injury.
You should handle your guinea pigs on a regular basis so that they can become accustomed to it. When you do so, make sure to support the entire body, as some guinea pigs have a tendency to jump, and others are squirmy and could slip out. Use both hands, using one hand to support the lower body and the other for the upper body. Small children should not be allowed to carry guinea pigs as they may accidentally hurt them by squeezing too tightly or dropping them.
Brushing your guinea pig everyday with a soft brush can help to maintain his coat clean. If a guinea pig (long-haired ones in particular) needs a bath, a shampoo formulated for small animals, such as Bunny Bath by Four Paws, should be used. Make sure to rinse the shampoo off completely, and then dry the guinea pig’s coat using a towel and a blowdryer set on low until his/her coat is completely dry.
You can also occasionally trim long guinea pig hair. Video of this can be seen here.
It is important to trim the nails of your guinea pig every 4-6 weeks. If you are nervous to do it yourself, ask your veterinarian to do it or to show you how. Failing to clip the nails on a regular basis will result in overgrown nails that will curl back, making it difficult and painful for the guinea pig to walk. Worse yet, overgrown nails can become embedded into the foot pad, which could lead to infections.
Video can be seen here.
Guinea Pig Behaviors
Guinea pigs have a wide variety of sounds/vocalizations that they produce in order to express different emotions or needs. In addition, they also display certain behaviors, such as popcorning (jumping up quickly) which is used to express contentment/joy. Become familiarized with all the sounds that your guinea pig makes to better understand their needs. A good resource to learn more can be found here.
Routine exercise is necessary for the health and body condition of your guinea pig. Here are some tips for promoting physical activity:
To read about the importance of exercise, and out-of-cage time see THIS link to our recent FB article.
Guinea pigs are social animals that thrive in pairs or groups. Having only one guinea pig is cruel to the animal, and it may prevent the human from seeing the guinea pig’s true personality. Guinea pigs cuddle, play, and communicate with each other, which is something that a human could not possibly provide, regardless of number of hours spent with them. In fact, we never really know about their true personalities until they are living among other members of their species. Empty Cages aims to respect their natural bonds, and we will only adopt guinea pigs in pairs, or to homes that already have one or more.
Be 100% sure that you know the sex of your guinea pigs. If you are still not sure about the gender, ask your veterinarian.
Unless you adopt 2 or more guinea pigs together, you can follow these tips for a successful introduction:
• Never put your new guinea pig directly in the cage where your old guinea pig is already living. This is recipe for disaster.
• Unless you know the health status of the new animal, it is important to quarantine your new guinea pig for at least two weeks, to prevent the spread of potential illnesses. Keep the newcomer away from your resident guinea pigs, and always wash your hand after handling the newcomer.
• After the quarantine period is over, you may begin by placing the cages next to each other so the guinea pigs can see and smell each other.
• Their first meeting should be done on the large, enclosed “neutral ground” – a space that is new to both guinea pigs, like an enclosed area of a kitchen or a bathroom.
• Place a pile of hay and treats (vegetables) into the center of the area.
• Place all your guinea pigs into the area.
• Prepare some towels to separate them in case they start to get physically aggressive.
• Observe they behavior: ignoring one another is normal. Then, all this could happen: mounting one another, teeth chattering, chasing around, purring accompanied by swaggering walk, etc. These are all natural and normal behaviors, used to establish the hierarchy, particularly if you are introducing males. Observe them for another couple of hours, and do not intervene unless a fight ensues and they physically hurt each other.
• After the observing period they should appear comfortable with each other. You can place them at the cage together, or you may repeat the bonding session on a different day following the same procedure.
• Once they are placed in the same cage, observe their behavior in the cage, to ensure that they are getting along.
Make sure you read our HOUSING tips and recommendations for cage selection!
Technically all surgeries have some risks associated with them. However, if you have a great veterinarian who is familiar with anesthetizing guinea pigs along with spaying and neutering techniques, there are many wonderful health reasons for having these surgeries performed.
• If you want to ensure that your guinea pigs do not add to the overpopulation problem. Spay/neuter ensures that they can not reproduce.
• Female guinea pigs have an elevated risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cysts, mammary tumors, and other reproductive organ tumors as they age. Spaying them eliminates those risks.
• Male guinea pigs often have atrophy of rectal muscles as they age. This can lead to impaction problems that require daily cleaning of the anal sac. Additionally, the development of smegma (the cheesy and smelly secretion from the sebaceous glands) can be a health concern. Neutering a guinea pig almost always eliminates these problems.
• Female guinea pigs, when spayed, have less likelihood of developing obesity.
• Male guinea pigs can get prostate cancer and mammary tumors. Neutering them eliminates the risk of prostate cancer and greatly lessens the risk of getting mammary tumors.
• It is life treating for females to get pregnant after a certain age (most vets agree it being 6 months). Their pelvic is spread when they are young, but it fuses then they are older and it is very dangerous for them to get pregnant then.
Far too often guinea pigs purchased at pet stores are ill, mis-sexed, and/or pregnant. They often have life threatening respiratory diseases or parasitic infestations because of the horrible living conditions.
After all, a pet store is a business- their priority is making a profit, not providing adequate care and housing for the animals at the store.
Furthermore, the breeders and pet mills (where the animals get purchased from in order to come to the pet store) are mass-breeding facilities that crowd many animals into barren cages with little regard for their welfare. The breeding Guinea Pigs at these farms are forced into lives of confinement, only to be destroyed or discarded when they can no longer churn out cute young ones.
Knowing there are already thousands of homeless guinea pigs, why not choose to adopt instead? The only way to break the cycle of homeless animals in shelters, abuse of animals in pet stores, and by initially well-intentioned pet owners is to stop all demand for the animals in the pet stores.
Even if you think a particular pet store is good to its' animals, supporting that store supports the whole process. ANY purchase at ANY store supports the channel and continues the demand and supply across the board. EVERY sale of an animal in a pet store can be correlated to a death of an animal in a shelter.
At ECC, potential adopters are screened, qualified, educated on proper care, and guided in purchasing (or making) of housing. Our fosters are there to share with new adopters tips and recommendations based on their extensive experience.
Adopting an animal from a rescue group such as ECC greatly reduces the IMPULSE BUY at the pet stores- a huge contributor to animal neglect, misinformation, abuse, and abandonment.