RIVERSIDE COUNTY – Rather than open their home to a dog or cat, some people would prefer a different type of companion animal. Some peruse the pet store and become enamored with the whiskered face of a guinea pig. But before making an impulse purchase, it’s wise to research the needs of guinea pigs to determine if one would be the right fit in your home.
Larger than hamsters and smaller than bunnies, guinea pigs seem the ideal pet for someone looking for a small animal that doesn’t require a lot of room or constant attention. According to veteran rescuer Vicki Palmer Nielsen of the Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue in Stacy, Minnesota, even prospective pet owners who do their homework do not always understand what it is like to live with guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs require attention and are not the type of pet that will simply sit around and be content all day. There are things prospective guinea pig owners should know
before beginning the adoption process.
What is a guinea pig?
Guinea pigs are not from New Guinea, nor are they a variation on the pig. They are members of a family of rodents called caviidae, abbreviated to cavy, which are native to South America. This rodent family has fewer members than most other rodent families. Cavys have short, heavy bodies and large heads. Guinea pigs, like other cavies, are herbivores, meaning they feed on grasses and leaves.
Guinea pigs may measure 8 to 10 inches in length and weigh between 1 to 3 pounds. For a rodent, they are relatively large, and they can live anywhere from 4 to 8 years.
Level of care
Guinea pigs will require a cage large enough for them to roam around. Many of the cages marketed for guinea pigs are actually too small. Err on the larger size when getting a cage. Avoid a fish tank because it prevents adequate ventilation and the guinea pig can suffer heat stroke.
Guinea pigs should also be allowed out of their cages each day. They should be able to stretch their legs and explore. Daily socialization and interaction is also necessary to help a guinea pig become less skittish and accustomed to handling.
The cage will need to be thoroughly cleaned once a week, and may need to be spot cleaned every few days. As with other rodents, urine and feces will buildup in the bedding of a cage and become quite smelly if not maintained.
Guinea pigs also need weekly or daily grooming depending on the length of their fur. Routine nail clipping and ear cleaning are also recommended.
It is important to note that guinea pigs are social animals and may do well and be most happy with another guinea pig. Therefore, you may want to have two cavies of the same sex kept together, which doubles the amount of upkeep.
Guinea pigs and children
Many guinea pigs are purchased as pets for children. In general, a guinea pig should be reserved for a child age six or older. Guinea pigs have small bones and they can be easily crushed or injured if dropped. Careful handling is a necessity, so only capable children should be trusted with carrying or holding the guinea pig. Through constant, gentle handling, the guinea pig will become tame quite easily. Although unlikely, during extremely stressful situations a guinea pig could scratch or bite.
Some adults and children are allergic to guinea pigs, so it is important to determine if there is an allergy present before buying or adopting an animal.
Guinea pigs can make wonderful pets for families who have the financial ability, time and patience to care for these delicate animals.