I’ve owned pets most of my life and have written about animals since the 1980s. I concentrated on dogs, cats, and horses, but when I got guinea pigs recently, it opened up a whole new world to me. I learned that they’re complex little critters with lots of personality. They have needs that many people don’t even know about. Here are six things that might surprise you:
1) Guinea pigs are herd animals. So many people see a cute guinea pig in the pet store, buy it, and keep it as a single pet. Sadly, this goes against the piggy’s natural instincts, since guinea pigs actually prefer to live in pairs or groups. Always get a same-sex pair so you won’t end up with unwanted babies.
I originally planned to have a single guinea pig until I found this out. I now have two girls, and it’s a real delight watching them play together. I’ve heard people with single guinea pigs say they’re boring pets, but in reality the poor animal has nothing to do and no playmate with whom to interact.
2) Most pet store cages are too small for guinea pigs. Even if the box says that it’s for guinea pigs, it probably doesn’t provide enough space. According to the Guinea Pig Cages website, 7.5 square feet is the minimum for a single pig, while two need at least 10.5 square feet. You can make your own inexpensive cage using Coroplast and storage grids if you can’t find anything suitable. I have two of the largest available pet store cages, which I linked together to give my two girls more room.
3) Male guinea pigs don’t get along. While this is true of some small animal species, like hamsters, male guinea pigs can live peacefully and happily together. Part of the reason people believe this myth is that boars, as they’re known, will fight if they live in too small of a space. They’re more likely to be buddies if their cage has enough room for them to get away from each other when needed.
4) Guinea pigs need fresh vegetables and hay every day. Like us, guinea pigs can’t make their own vitamin C, and fresh vegetables are the best source. Don’t bother putting drops in their water, since vitamin C degrades quickly in that form. Good quality pellets, which should be timothy-based, are fortified with the vitamin, but supplement them with one cup of vegetables per day for each guinea pig.
A grass hay like timothy is also a daily necessity to keep your guinea pig’s teeth ground down. You can feed it in a hay rack, but I’ve discovered that my girls love to play in it and make nests. That wastes more hay, but it’s so cute to see them curled up and sleeping in it.
5) Guinea pigs can be injured by exercise balls and wheels. Forget those cute movie portrayals of guinea pigs running in hamster wheels and traveling all over in plastic balls. Their spines aren’t mean to curve that way, and they can suffer irreversible damage from those toys.
Leashes are also dangerous to guinea pigs, although they do like to get out of their cages for some floor time. Put them in a safe indoor area where they can wander freely or a large, temporary enclosure. I use a kiddie swimming pool as my guinea pigs’ exercise zone.
6) You can adopt guinea pigs. I’ve always been an advocate of dog and cat adoption, but I didn’t know until recently that you can adopt guinea pigs and other small animals, too. Most pet store guinea pigs come from breeding mills that are as bad as puppy mills.
My first guinea pig was store-bought and died of a respiratory illness within two weeks. Thankfully, I learned that animal shelters, rescues, and even some pet shops have unwanted guinea pigs for adoption. Craigslist is another great source of guinea pigs needing homes. My two current guinea pigs are both adoptees, and it’s the only way I’ll ever get any future small animals.
If you’re planning to get a guinea pig, or even if you have one already, these six facts will hopefully teach you something about proper guinea pig care.