All About Guinea Pigs: A Guide to Your Pet's Habitat, Nutrition and Well-Being

All About Guinea Pigs: A Guide to Your Pet's Habitat, Nutrition and Well-Being

Vanessa LeRoux


Experience Level: Ideal for beginners! Best for kids over ten, but they'll need adult supervision.
Size: Guinea pigs grow up to 30 cm in length.
Lifespan: These cuties accompany you for a hearty 5 to 8 years.
Behaviour: Guinea pigs are nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning they are most active at night and in the morning and evening. Read to the end to discover unique piggy facts.
Diet: As herbivores, guinea pigs love grasses and fresh greens. Remember: an adult needs 25-50 mg of Vitamin C daily.
Social Life: They're happiest when they have a buddy or two. Stick to same-gender pairs or groups for the happiest results. A more spacious habitat is required for more than one guinea pig.
Skinny Pigs: For the most part, skinny pigs receive the same care and show the same traits as regular guinea pigs. The differences are that they must be inside; they eat more and can get sunburnt with dry skin.

Shopping Checklist: What will I Need for my Guinea Pig?

    • Habitat: Choose a spacious 120 x 60 cm cage, or bigger, or a large wooden hutch complete with a ladder. The ladder must be solid and gently slanted; their delicate paws cannot walk up rungs.

    • Food: Include fortified guinea pig pellets enriched with Vitamin C and rich in fibre, as well as fruit, veggies and grass. See the guinea pig food menu below.

    • Hay Rack & Food Ball: Equip with a hay feeder and food ball to maintain fresh hay. Eating grass daily is vital to the health of their teeth, particularly the back molars that are only ground down by chewing grass. See the guinea pig menu below.

    • Food dish: Choose an attachable food dish or sturdy ceramic bowl since guinea pigs have a playful tendency to flip them.

    • Water Source: Use a water bottle. If opting for a bowl, choose a sturdy ceramic dish or ensure it's one that can be securely attached to prevent spills. Remember, dishes can get contaminated with bedding or food, necessitating daily cleaning.

    • Comfy Bedding: Consider paper bedding, straw, or wood pellets.

    • Fleece blankets: Additionally, guinea pigs love soft fleece blankets and cat beds for snuggling. The blankets need to be cleaned at least three times a week. Tile and wooden floors can be too slippery for guinea pigs to get traction; it helps to put down a fleece blanket for them to play on when taking them out of their cage.

    • Piggy House: Provide a cosy house spacious enough for all your guinea pigs; they enjoy group snoozing. A house is important for your guinea pig's mental health as they need a place to hide when stressed.

    • Toy Time: Guinea pigs love to run through tunnels; don't be surprised if you find your piggy asleep in the middle of one. Other toys include small soft toys, ping pong balls, paper boxes and paper shopping bags.* Rotate toys to sustain your guinea pig’s interest.

    • Treats: Now and then, treat your guinea pig to something special. See the food menu below.

    • Dental Care: Keep in mind that guinea pig's teeth never stop growing: gnaw stones and chew sticks, wooden blocks, or natural loofahs help keep them at the right length. Allow for daily eating of grass for this purpose. See the guinea pig menu below for further information.

    • Mineral Block: Include a healthy mineral block.

    • Litter Box: A litter box contributes to a healthy guinea pig and a fresher-smelling habitat.

    • Grooming kit: Regular gentle brushing is essential for long-haired (daily) and short-haired guinea pigs to keep them tangle-free. Use a miniature brush designed for guinea pigs.

    • Nail Care: Add a rough surface, like a clean rock or piece of wood, to their habitat. It helps keep their nails in check. But remember, if their nails need trimming, it's best left to a professional.

    • Outdoor playpen or rabbit run: Consider dog playpens for safe and fun outdoor adventures and access to grass. Supervision of your little piggy is required for adventures. Please remember to provide shade and water as well.

    • Harness & Leash Set: A comfy harness and leash set for outside day trips is a must.

    • Cage Cleaner: You’ll need an animal-friendly mild disinfectant or cage cleaner.

How Do I Set up a Guinea Pig Habitat?

    • Location Choice: Position the habitat in a low-humidity area with a cool temperature range of 18-24 degrees, away from direct sunlight. Place in a quiet, low-activity spot. Preferably house a guinea pig inside and never house a skinny pig outside.

    • Bedding Basics: Layer the habitat with 3 to 5 cm of suitable bedding. Regularly spot-clean and replace as per the product's guidelines.

    • Cosy Shelter: Put in a cosy house where your guinea pig can relax and occasionally munch.

    • Dishes and Toys: Ensure your guinea pig’s habitat includes accessible food and water dishes that are easy to reach and refill. Add the full range of toys and keep them well-fed with lots to do.

    • Hay Essentials: Attach a hay feeder and hang a food ball for a consistent food supply.

    • Litter training: Start training by placing a litter box in the corner where they usually ‘go’.

    • Chewing Options: Add edible nests and hay mats to encourage your pet to chew; they should be cleaned regularly.

    • Nail Care: Include a rough surface, like a clean rock or piece of wood, in their habitat.

    • Dental Essentials: Put a gnaw stone and chew sticks, wooden blocks or natural loofahs in their cage to ensure those teeth stay short and healthy. Add the healthy mineral block.

    • Cleaning Routine: Clean the cage from top to bottom once a week. Use mild, unscented dishwashing liquid and hutch cleaner or a small animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC.

The Guinea Pig's Menu: What, When, and How Much to Feed

Main Diet: Ensure that 80% of your guinea pig's daily intake consists of hay or oat grass, which should constantly be accessible. Remember, guinea pigs need hay and grass for their digestive systems to function properly. Guinea pigs need a complete diet with all the choices as noted.

Pelleted Provisions: 10% of their diet should be pelleted food. Refill daily, keeping the bowl about 3/4 full.

Veggie Variety: Daily, serve fresh vegetables like carrots, broccoli, kale, red and green leaf lettuce, and peppers, making up 5% of their diet. Remember to discard any uneaten veggies after a few hours and avoid iceberg lettuce.

Fruity Treats: Twice a week, treat your Guinea pig with fruits such as cherry tomatoes, oranges, and blueberries, which should constitute about 5% of their diet. Ensure any leftover fruit is removed.

Guinea Pig Treats: The Burges Excel Forage and Feast bar, Friendly Farm Scrummies, and a Timothy ball all make great treats for your piggy. Serve about once a week; the Timothy ball they can have any time.

Fresh Grass: Eating fresh grass daily is crucial for your guinea pig's health. It helps grind down their back molars, which is essential for their dental structure. However, avoid giving them grass clippings from a lawnmower, as these can ferment quickly in their stomach and lead to bloat. If your guinea pig doesn't have regular access to outdoor grass, you can cut fresh grass using scissors and offer it to them. Another option is to grow cat grass in a container or place a patch of lawn on a tray for them to enjoy. Always ensure the grass is free from pesticides and chemicals.

Hydration Habits: Provide fresh water daily, either from a bottle or a bowl. Regularly check the cleanliness of the water container; wash the bowl daily and scrub the bottle weekly using an animal-safe disinfectant.

Switching Brands: When changing to a different food, it is important to ‘wean’ your guinea pig onto it by mixing old with new and gradually decreasing the old brand to avoid upsetting the tummy with food he has not had before. Introduce new foods one at a time to see if your guinea pig's system tolerates it.

Food Storage: Store food in a tightly sealed container in your fridge or freezer to maintain freshness for a lot longer.

Main Course: 80% hay or oat grass Refresh daily Consistent 24hr availability
Pellets: 10% of their diet Refresh daily 2 Tablespoons, Leave bowl 3/4 full
Fresh Veggies: 5% of their diet Refresh daily 1 Cup per day; variety is key
Fresh Fruit: 5% of their diet Twice a week 1 Tablespoon (remove seeds/pips)
Fresh Grass Eat daily At guinea pig's discretion
Water Refresh daily 24hr availability; check regularly

Safety First for You and Your Guinea Pig

Remember always to wash your hands with warm, soapy water and dry them thoroughly before and after cuddling or tending to your guinea pig to protect against potential germs.

When handling your guinea pig, approach with caution. They might bite or scratch if they feel stressed, and a long, high-pitched squeak often indicates their discomfort with being picked up or touched.

Lastly, be mindful of their sensitivity to sunlight. Extended exposure can lead to heatstroke, so always provide a shaded area with fresh water when they're outside. Close supervision is a must.

From First Touch to Daily Play: A Guide to Gentle Guinea Pig Handling

    • Settling In: Give your guinea pig a few days to acclimate before trying to handle it.

    • Gentle Approach: Allow your guinea pig to sniff and hear you open the cage. It's best to move slowly and speak softly as they are frightened of loud noises.

    • Safe Handling: Scoop them up gently from underneath with both hands rather than grabbing from above to reduce stress.

    • Injury Prevention: Always handle over a low surface to prevent injury from falls. Always hold them securely against your body. If they pick at your clothes or nip, it's a sign they want to be put back in their cage or on the ground.

    • Daily Exploration: Let your guinea pig out of its cage daily for supervised exploration in a guinea pig-safe environment. They will need time to investigate their surroundings.

    • Attention Calls: Guinea pigs will squeak that goes 'weet weet' when they want your attention when you come to their cage and when you start preparing their food.

    • Happy Purring: Guinea pigs purr when you tickle them behind their ears or on their back from the neck down. Feed them veggies, treats or hay to enhance the positive interaction.

    • Developing a Bond: Guinea pigs are clever little critters that are easy to develop a bond with. Never leave a guinea pig alone for more than twelve hours.

Guinea Pig Care Essentials: Training, Grooming and Bonding

Litter Lessons: Starting young is the key to success. Routinely put their poop into the litter box. Take some toilet paper with their pee on it and place it in the litter box. This will further reinforce that they are supposed to relieve themselves there. Clean the litter box with white vinegar and dishwashing liquid. Small animal cage cleaner works the best.
Playtime Fun: Deck out their space with toys, hidey-holes, and chewables. It's like a mini amusement park for their daily adventures.
Spa Day: Guinea pigs are self-cleaning champs, so no baths are needed. But if they get a little messy, a gentle spot wash (use puppy or baby shampoo) does the trick. And when brushing, think of it as a gentle massage.
Nail Time: Those tiny nails grow fast! It's best to leave the trimming to the pros, ideally every month once they hit the 3-month mark.
Piggy Treats: Who can resist those big eyes? Treats are a sweet way to bond, but remember; a little goes a long way. Handfeeding can be your special moment together.
Garden Adventures: Shade, fresh air, and a nibble on the grass - it's a guinea pig's dream day out!

Guinea Pig Health Checklist: When to Call Your Vet

A good rule of thumb is to be aware of changes in your guinea pig's condition or behaviour. Guinea pigs need to be checked annually by a vet. When you check your guinea pig and notice any of these signs, you should immediately take them to a small animal vet. It's best to find a pig-savvy vet before anything goes wrong.

    • Eating less or not eating. Big weight loss or weight gain (especially over a short time)

    • Signs of pain, for example, grinding their teeth, not wanting to be touched or squeaking loudly

    • Swellings, lumps and bumps

    • Overgrown teeth

    • Fast, noisy or heavy breathing

    • Diarrhoea, drinking or peeing more

    • Lack of energy/sleeping more than usual

    • Skin rashes, flaky skin or hair loss

    • Limping or Wounds

    • Bleeding (or finding blood in their cage)

    • Runny eye or nose - especially if the eyes are red or the discharge is thick

    • Ear infection: Causes loss of balance, head tilting, discharge and odour, redness or swelling and scratching of the ear. Lethargy and loss of appetite occur as well.

    • Breathing problems

    • Heatstroke^

Fun Facts: Learn About Piggies!

Vocal Creatures: Guinea pigs are known for their wide range of vocalisations, including weet-weet, rumbling, purring, and chirping, each indicating different moods, needs, or feelings.
Vitamin C Requirement: Unlike many other rodents, guinea pigs cannot synthesise their vitamin C and thus require a dietary source, much like humans. A deficiency can lead to scurvy.
Group Snoozing: Guinea pigs enjoy group snoozing and often sleep together in a huddle. They feel safer and more comfortable when they have companions around.
Altricial Offspring: Guinea pig babies, called pups, are born fully furred, with their eyes open, and can eat solid food within a day of birth, a condition known as being altricial.
Dancing Moves: Guinea pigs perform a behaviour known as "popcorning," where they jump up and down repeatedly, often when they are happy or excited. It resembles a kernel of popcorn popping.

Endearing Qualities: A Final Look at the Wonderful Guinea Pig

In the delightful world of pets, guinea pigs stand out with their unique characteristics and endearing nature. One of the most fascinating aspects of these little creatures is their ever-growing teeth. This constant growth necessitates a diet rich in items they can chew on, particularly grass. This not only aids in their dental health but also ensures their digestive systems function optimally.

Moreover, guinea pigs are inherently social animals. They thrive in the company of their peers and exhibit a happier demeanour when paired or grouped with fellow guinea pigs. This social inclination underscores the importance of providing companionship and ensuring they lead a contented and emotionally fulfilled life. When it comes to companionship, it is worth noting that guinea pigs and bunnies should not share a cage as they can’t communicate with each other.

Lastly, guinea pigs cherish their playtime. Their toys, ranging from tunnels to chewables, not only entertain but also stimulate their minds and keep them active. Ensuring a variety of toys in their habitat enhances their overall well-being and happiness.