Diet: Herbivorous Adult Size: 1½ to 4lb
Lifespan: 3-6 years, but some live longer
Native to: South America Characteristics: Lively, friendly, easy to tame and tolerant of handling
Did You Know???
• Compared to most mammals, which are born naked and blind, Guinea Pigs get off
to a fast start, coming into this world with fur and their eyes opened. Within a day
or two of birth, they’re able to eat the same plant matter as their parents. By the age
of three months, they’re weaned from mother’s milk. In the wild, they’re capable of
breeding themselves after about three months.
• Guinea Pigs are related to the chinchilla, the porcupine and the capybara, a semi-
aquatic South American mammal weighing in at 75-140 lb.
• The origin of the name ‘Guinea Pig’ is lost to time – one theory is that when the
animals first arrived in Europe in the sixteenth century, people mistakenly thought
they came from Guinea or Guyana. The animals’ chubby, rounded little bodies and
the squealing sounds they make are responsible for the ‘pig’ part of their name.
Look out for this:
A Guinea Pig’s incisor teeth grow constantly. If the teeth are not worn
down by chewing, they will grow too long and the animal will starve. A
diet offering plenty of grass hay wears down the teeth, and wooden
chew toys can also be offered. Excessively long teeth can be trimmed by
a veterinarian. Guinea Pigs require a daily source of Vitamin C.
8 Things You Should Know
About Guinea Pigs
The Basics – Social animals, Guinea Pigs are happiest living in same sexed pairs. However,
two males should be introduced at a young age to increase the likelihood that they’ll get
along. If handled regularly early in life, Guinea Pigs become very tame and enjoy human
contact. Mellow and friendly animals, they rarely bite or scratch. When threatened, the
Guinea Pig’s first response often is to freeze. They can remain in this motionless state for
up to 20 minutes.
Their other common reaction is to panic and run in circles squealing. Naturally fastidious
animals, Guinea Pigs will regularly groom themselves, using their teeth, tongue and claws.
This friendly critter isn’t shy about expressing itself vocally with various squeals, grunts
and whistles. A pet Guinea Pig needs -- and thrives on -- human companionship and
Warning: Female Guinea Pigs will not be able to have their babies normally if bred for the
first time after 7 months of age. Baby Guinea Pigs are born very mature and large; the
female Guinea Pig must have her litter before 8 months of age before her pelvic symphysis
fuses too small to pass the babies. If an unspayed Guinea Pig is accidentally placed with a
male after 7 months of age and becomes pregnant, she will need a c-section. For this
reason, this is the one species that many pet stores will house in mixed sex groups. If you
do this, warn your new pet owner about the potential to have a birth and give them a plan
for how to manage the potentially unwanted babies.
Enclosure: Room To Play – Despite their relatively small stature, Guinea Pigs must have space
to move about and explore. A single Guinea Pig’s cage should be at least 14 inches high,
by 18 inches wide by 25 inches deep. Another rule of thumb is to provide 1 square foot of
floor space for each Guinea Pig in an enclosure. (As noted above, Guinea Pigs are happiest
when housed in same-sex pairs, but will also do well alone, if given attention by their
The cage must be large enough to contain a secluded hide-away, which is essential for a
Guinea Pig’s psychological health, as well as a food bowl and toys. Cages that open from
the top are preferable, since they make it easier to pick up the Guinea Pig safely and are
less difficult to clean.
A Guinea Pig’s enclosure must be well ventilated. Aquarium tanks must not be used to
house Guinea Pigs, because they do not provide adequate ventilation. Poor air circulation
promotes infectious diseases and respiratory ailments. Avoid wire mesh floors, since they
can cause foot and leg sores. Slatted plastic floors are acceptable, but solid floors are better.
Commercially available Guinea Pig cages comprise a plastic tub base with a detachable
wire top. Never locate a Guinea Pig’s cage in direct sunlight or drafty areas, including
attics and basements. The cage should be place in a quiet area that has a consistent
temperature and is not accessible to other pets.
Exercise: Chewing and Other Indoor and Outdoor Activities – Guinea Pigs will be healthier,
happier and more alert if they’re given the chance to get outside their cage every day for
some play and exercise. Letting the Guinea Pig run free in a room of the house under the
constant supervision of its human companion is fine, provided the room is pocket pet proof.
This means that doors and windows are secure, so there is no way for the Guinea Pig to get
out or another pet to get in; that the space below or behind heavy furniture is blocked off;
and that electrical cords and potentially toxic household plants and cleaners are not
An alternative is to place temporary playpen gating in the room. The pen should be at least
20 inches high to prevent escapes. Most Guinea Pigs will welcome the opportunity to
explore the inside of a paper bag or box when let outside the cage. For fun, place a plastic
child’s wading pool in a room and fill it with timothy hay, then watch as the Guinea Pigs
have the time of their lives burrowing.
Inside the cage, a Guinea Pig must have constant access to chew blocks, gnawing logs or
any other toy that it can chomp on safely. A Guinea Pig’s teeth are constantly growing,
and must be trimmed by chewing. Platforms that afford climbing opportunities are always
appreciated by Guinea Pigs as are tunnels that they can crawl through. Make sure that
tunnels are wide enough for the pet to enjoy without getting stuck. Large fleece logs and
blankets can also be provided to the Guinea Pig.
All toys and accessories must be inspected for soiling or damage caused by chewing.
Soiled or damaged items should be removed from the cage and either cleaned or discarded.
Guinea Pigs should not be given exercise wheels, since this can harm them.
Although Guinea Pigs should not be kept outdoors, they will enjoy spending time in a
secure escape-proof backyard pet pen under the close and constant supervision of their
human companion. Never leave the Guinea Pig alone outdoors – it can soon dig its way
out, or be attacked by a passing cat. If a Guinea Pig’s pen is placed outdoors for even a
brief play period, make sure that the grass below it has not been treated by pesticides or
other chemical agents.
Bedding: Must Have Shavings and Hay – Guinea Pigs need around an inch of an absorbent
substrate such as aspen shavings or a pelleted rodent bedding on the floor of their
enclosure. Fine sawdust can create too much dust in the enclosure, leading to eye irritations
and respiratory infections. Cedar and pine based products should never be used, since they
can cause severe respiratory problems.
Hay is essential for a Guinea Pig’s health and well-being. Guinea Pigs enjoy burrowing in
hay, plus chewing on hay will help wear down their constantly growing teeth. Timothy, oat
or orchard hay are preferable to alfalfa hay, which has a high fat content. Alfalfa hay can
be offered during early growth periods and to pregnant females. Straw should never be
used in a Guinea Pig enclosure, because its sharp points can injure the animal’s eyes.
Since hay does not control odors and turns moldy very quickly when it gets wet or soiled, it
should be changed every day or two. The absorbent wood shavings beneath the hay need to
be changed once a week.
Temperature & Humidity: An Easy To Please Pet – Guinea Pigs have no special heating or
lighting requirements, and are generally happy at an average room temperature. A
temperature in the 65-70 degree Fahrenheit range and a humidity of 50 percent are ideal.
Food & Diet: Plenty of Fiber and Vitamin C – Guinea Pigs are the only rodents that cannot
manufacture their own Vitamin C, so they must receive it completely from their diet.
Without an adequate intake of Vitamin C, a Guinea Pig will develop scurvy. Quality
Guinea Pig pellets are enriched with Vitamin C, which is one reason why they should be a
staple of a pet’s diet. (Rabbit pellets, and pellets formulated for other small animals should
not be given to Guinea Pigs, because they are not Vitamin C enriched.) Vitamin C is
rapidly oxidized by heat, air, and sunlight, so Guinea Pig food should be purchased fresh in
small quantities, in a package that shows an expiration date. “Cavy Cuisine” by Oxbow is
a food that meets this requirement, especially since the Vitamin C is microencapsulated to
make it more stable in the food.
In addition to pellets, a Guinea Pig should be given fresh and washed leafy greens such as
spinach, parsley, romaine lettuce, carrots, green bell peppers and turnip greens on a daily
basis. Occasional fruit should also be offered, including oranges, strawberries and apples,
but be sure all seeds are removed, because they can be toxic to a Guinea Pig. Sweet fruits
such as grapes or raisins should not be included in the diet. Do not attempt to provide the
Guinea Pig with adequate Vitamin C by including fruit in its diet. It is far safer and
healthier to do this by providing a Vitamin C tablet.
Avoid giving a Guinea Pig cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and similar vegetables, since
they cause gas. Iceberg lettuce should also be avoided, since it has little nutritional value.
Vitamin C tablets developed for Guinea Pigs can also be added to the diet. Guinea Pigs are
strict vegetarians and should not be given meat. Unlimited hay should be available to the
Guinea Pig at all times. This includes timothy, oat or orchard hay, but alfalfa hay should be
avoided. Growing Guinea Pigs (under six months) should be offered unlimited pellets
along with their hay. After six months, the size of the pellet portion should be cut back to
1/8 cup per day, depending on the size of the individual Guinea Pig and the amount of fresh
produce served. A Guinea Pig can be given ½ cup to one cup of greens a day.
It’s a good idea to give Guinea Pigs their food in two or three feedings per day, rather than
in a single meal. Use common sense and follow the advice of a veterinarian to ensure that
your Guinea Pig receives an adequate diet, but does not become obese.
Water: They Need Plenty of Fresh Water – Guinea Pigs need a constant supply of clean, fresh
water, most preferring a cage-mounted drinking bottle to a dish. Change the water daily,
and check for leakage - the water should only come out when the animal sips at the tube.
Grooming: Long hair means high maintenance – Shorthaired Guinea Pigs need brushing only
once a week, with a fine-tooth comb or a pin brush. Any rosettes should be brushed in the
natural direction of hair growth.
Longhaired Guinea Pigs need thorough grooming every day with a wide-tooth comb and a
slicker brush. When the hair is thoroughly detangled, the hair is often set in special balsa
wood or cotton wraps to keep it clean and tidy. If the hair is left unwrapped, the animal will
trip over it, drag it through soiled substrate and may accidentally urinate on it.
All Guinea Pigs need their nails trimmed every 8 to 12 weeks. Since the nail has a blood
supply known as the ‘quick’ that can easily be nicked, this task is best left to a veterinarian
at first. After observing the correct way to trim the nails, some owners choose to trim their
pet’s nails at home, one person holding the animal wrapped in a towel while a second
person trims the nails.
BRIGHT IDEA: Pellets are an essential part of a Guinea Pig’s diet, in part because
they are enriched with Vitamin C. However, pellets lose about half of their
Vitamin C content within six weeks of their production. For this reason, pellets
should not be purchased in quantity, and they should always be stored in a
cool, dry place. Vitamin C supplements and fresh vegetables should be given
to a Guinea Pig along with pellets. Do not use Vitamin C water
supplementation, because the vitamin value is lost within 20 minutes of
placement in the water bottle.
New fruits and vegetables should be introduced to the diet gradually to avoid
upsetting the digestive system.
The Second Time Around
The Guinea Pig’s fibrous diet of hay and vegetable matter is hard to digest efficiently, so it
has to eat its food twice to extract all the nutrients it needs. Guinea Pigs produce two kinds
of droppings – brown, oval shaped pellets, and a greenish gooey dropping known as a cecal
or cecotrope. Guinea Pigs gain more nutrition from eating cecals than they do from eating
regular food, since these partially digested droppings contain beneficial bacteria picked up
on their way through the digestive system. These bacteria produce essential fatty acids and
vitamins that the animal cannot obtain in any other way. Guinea Pigs often eat cecals as
they are passed, so some owners may never actually see them lying around in the cage.
Finding a large amount of uneaten cecals in the cage can be the first sign of illness –
observe the animal carefully for any other symptoms.
How To Handle A Guinea Pig
As befits their gentle nature, Guinea Pigs are delicate animals with fragile bones. They can
easily become injured if dropped or mishandled. Approach a Guinea Pig gently with two
hands. Place one hand gently but securely under the chest, restraining one front leg by
placing a finger in front of it. Use your other hand to support the Guinea Pig’s hindquarters.
Cradling the pet, pull him closer to your body so he feels safer. Never pick a Guinea Pig up
by the shoulders or front of his body, since this can cause injury. Some Guinea Pigs have a
tendency to jump out of their human companion’s hands when being set down. To reduce
the risk of this behavior and the injuries it can cause, lower a Guinea Pig back into its
enclosure rump first, rather than holding the animal parallel to the ground.
Cleaning The Enclosure
Inspect the bedding daily, picking out droppings and removing uneaten food. Remove and
replace hay every two days. Once a week, empty out all the bedding and thoroughly clean
the cage and accessories with hot, soapy water using a scrubbing brush. Rinse and dry
everything thoroughly before putting in fresh bedding and replacing the accessories. Never
use pine-scented products to clean animal enclosures, since they can cause respiratory
problems. Periodically disinfect the cage with a product designed for small animals or a
bleach solution, following the guidelines found earlier in this manual.
Common Guinea Pig Ailments
Though Guinea Pigs seldom fall sick, owners need to be aware of their pet’s normal
behavior, paying close attention to any subtle changes in activity, eating habits or the
amount of droppings. If the animal appears unusually lethargic, is sneezing, coughing or
has diarrhea, seek immediate veterinary advice. Here are some of the most common
illnesses suffered by Guinea Pigs:
• Parasites – Excessive scratching, scaly or irritated skin, twitching, bald spots
(mange) or tiny specks in the fur are all indications of a mite infestation. Prompt
treatment is vital: a veterinarian will prescribe appropriate medication.
• Constipation and intestinal blockage – constipation is usually due to a diet with
insufficient liquid or fiber, while intestinal blockages, also known as impactions,
are often caused by swallowing substrate or foreign bodies. If the animal seems to
be passing fewer droppings, or if blood is seen in the urine or feces, consult a
• Respiratory Infections – watery or dull eyes, runny nose, wheezing or labored
breathing can all be signs of respiratory infection. Firstly, ensure the cage is not
situated in a drafty location, then raise the room temperature a little. Isolate the
animal from his cage mates, and make sure he has constant access to fresh water. If
symptoms persist for more than three days, seek veterinary advice.
• Vitamin C Deficiency – also known as Scurvy, this serious condition can strike
within two weeks if a Guinea Pig is deprived of Vitamin C. Symptoms include
swollen joints, lethargy, loss of appetite, and bleeding gums. As soon as these
symptoms are noticed, seek veterinary advice. In future, be sure that the animal
receives sufficient Vitamin C by including more fresh fruits and vegetables to the
diet. Vitamin C has a very short shelf life - fortified Guinea Pig foods lose their
potency after 6 months, so purchase them in small quantities, and store in a cool,
Recommended Guinea Pig Supplies:
q Vitamin C Enriched Guinea Pig Food Pellets
q Vitamin C Supplement
q Chew Block
q Gnawing Log
q Climbing Platform
q Absorbent, Dust-Free Bedding
q Timothy Hay
q Metal Tipped Water Bottle
q Food Bowl
q Comb and Pin Brush