Caring for Your Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are small and gentle-natured, but lively too. They love lots of tasty hay, they’re quite vocal and they rarely bite or scratch. Guinea pigs live for between four and eight years and looking after them properly means knowing about the right handling, housing and food.
Take a look at the Burgess Excel website which offers an excellent resource for learning about Guinea pig welfare. Their care guides cover each of the five welfare needs of Guinea pigs, and their Guinea Pig Awareness Week (22 – 28 March) offers lots of fun and competitions for Guinea pig owners.
The aim of GPAW is to give guinea pig owners the knowledge and information to be able to meet the five welfare needs of their guinea pigs. By meeting these needs, you can help keep your piggies happy and healthy.
The 5 Welfare Needs Of Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are herbivores which means they are entirely vegetarian and need high levels of fibre in their diet. Fibre keeps their digestive systems healthy and their gut moving. Feeding lots of good quality feeding hay is the best way to ensure your guinea pigs are getting enough fibre in their diet.
Guinea pigs can live outside and indoors. Although in these two environments, their housing will be slightly different, the fundamentals of a great guinea pig house are the same. Think of your guinea pigs’ housing as a ‘bedroom’, so it should be permanently attached to a much larger guinea pig run. Your guinea pigs only sleep for around four hours a day, so they’ll need plenty of space to exercise throughout the day and night.
Their housing should be as big as possible, but at an absolute minimum it should be 4ft by 2ft to allow your guinea pigs to exercise with plenty of space. Make sure there is a separate toilet area to their sleeping area, with plenty of guinea pig bedding hay or straw, or paper-based, non expanding litter.
Guinea pigs might be small, but their personalities are not! Gentle and lively, and definitely full of life, understanding guinea pig behaviours will help you have a great relationship with them.
Guinea pigs are generally very friendly pets who rarely bite or scratch. Have you noticed your guinea pigs jumping up and down? Or seen your guinea pigs zooming around their housing? When they are excited guinea pigs run and jump straight up and down, turning 90 degrees in a move known as popcorning!
However, their behaviour can change if they feel scared or stressed. Guinea pigs are prey animals so are always on the look out for potential dangers and like to have a safe space to retreat to when they feel threatened. When they do feel unsafe, they can become aggressive or hide away, and occasionally guinea pigs can bite. This is very rare, and a great way to keep your guinea pigs feeling safe is to provide them with plenty of tunnels and hiding places in their housing.
Guinea pigs should not live alone as they love the company of other guinea pigs. Single sex groups or pairs are ideal and littermates make the best companions. Male and female guinea pigs can live together but to avoid your guinea pigs mating, it is important to have the male neutered first.
Never keep guinea pigs and rabbits or chinchillas together. They have different food and housing needs and, sadly, could fight. Rabbits also often carry a bacteria called Bordetella Bronchiseptica which can lead to severe pneumonia in guinea pigs.
A healthy guinea pig is alert and chatty, with bright eyes and a good coat. As with all healthcare, prevention is better than cure. Understanding the signs of ill health and knowing what to look out for can make all the difference between your pet enjoying a speedy recovery or becoming very poorly.
The average lifespan of a guinea pig is between 4 – 8 years. You can help your piggies into their golden years by looking after their health. Make sure to find a guinea pig vet near you and take them for yearly check ups. By taking out guinea pig insurance you can help cover against future illnesses or injuries. If you are ever in doubt or have any concerns about your guinea pigs’ health, always seek the advice of your vet.