A lot of thought must be put in before you make the decision of bringing a piggy into your life. A lot of people want to get small pets like cavies because they think it is a lot less maintenance work than cats or dogs. HOWEVER, guinea pigs are one of highest-maintenance rodent pets.
Estimated time required towards caring for cavies:
Among rats, hamsters, mice or even bunnies, guinea pigs require the highest maintenance- they really keep you on your feet! If you have hamsters, they are pretty easy to care for. You probably change their shavings once or twice a week, and just add their food mix and change fresh water everyday. But guinea pigs require a LOT more, for one thing, they cannot be litter trained (hardly, anyway), meaning their living quarters will be promptly soiled and it will look a mess, and you need to do the cleaning.This is how much time I invest in my pigs:
- wash out their water bottles and refill fresh water
- wash out food bowls and refill pellet mix
- provide fresh hay
- provide fresh vegetables at least once a day
- sweep up/out their poop in the cage
- lap time
Every 2 days:
- change fresh blankets in their cage (I bed my pigs on fleece blankets. If you bed yours on wood or paper shavings, you will have to change out their bedding twice a week)
- floor time: give them an open space to run around and explore in for at least 30 minutes. This is important especially if you have a small cage. They need an opportunity to exercise. (a note on exercising: please do NOT use exercise balls for your guinea pigs. The are suitable for hamsters but NOT piggies. Their skeleton is not built for such toys)
- Inspect their ears, eyes, nose, teeth, skin and feet every week to make sure they are all in good condition
- Grooming, brushing their hair, etc.
- scrub down their cage with vinegar/cleaning agent
Every 2-3 weeks:
- Clean their ears
- Clip their nails
Every 2-3 months:
Difficult to litter train:
Piggies are very random animals, they pretty much poop and pee to their liking, whenever and wherever they like. -_-. They will usually not pee when on your laps, when I give my guinea pig lap time and he needs to pee, he will become restless and stand up against my chest and nibble my shirt. This is his signal of letting me know that he needs to go potty. Only when he really cannot hold it any longer will he reluctantly relieve himself.
Guinea pigs will not pee in unfamiliar territory. If you think about this, it makes a lot of sense. In the wild, if they urinate anywhere they like, predators can easily track them down. Since the cage is your piggy's comfort zone, they will most likely establish any random spot in it and do their business. I find that my pigs pee in a corner occasionally but more often just anywhere in the cage.
Since they are hard to litter train, their cage will quite quickly look a mess and be soiled. It is your job to wash it out then and change fresh bedding.
Guinea pigs you buy at pet stores are usually just a few months old, which means that they will be with you throughout their whole life, which can be up to 7 years. Please keep that in mind before you purchase, it IS a long term commitment. Are you a student? Does your campus allow pets? Can you be there for your piggy all the time? Will you will be going off to college in a year or two? If you are a young child, please make sure your parents are also up to the responsibility. If you are an adult with a full time job, will you have time to care for your piggy at the end of the day? Do you have space in your apartment?
If you have thought through everything and still want a cavy, then welcome to the club.
Check the SPCA and Animal shelters first:
If you look on the website in the LINKS page, you will see that all the big guinea pig websites (mostly from US and UK) encourage to ADOPT rather than purchase from pet stores. there are thousands of homeless piggies waiting for a second chance in life in shelters throughout the world,so please check your local animal shelter first.
There are several advantages from adopting from shelters:
1) You know that you have done a meaningful thing, giving an animal a second chance in life. Hundreds of piggies are put to sleep because there is no permanent home for them.....
2) You can bet the SPCA/animal shelter staff take very good care of their animals. Pets at pet
shops are sometimes overcrowded, spreading skin problems. Pet shops frequently house males and females together, this means your pet might already be sick or even pregnant when you bring them home.
3) When you adopt from a shelter, sometimes you can enroll as their member, they will keep you updated with future piggy events or volunteer work to help animals in need. It is also a place where you can get to make friends who share the same passion for guinea pigs.
Choosing your piggy:
When you pick your piggy, observe it first. Does it behave normally? Does it interact with its cage mates? If it sits in a corner hunched up, oblivious to everything else going on around, that is a cause for concern.
When you ask to hold/pet it, it should initially run away from your hand. Guinea pigs are very skittish little critters, they can be nervous and paranoid. Right now, your large hand reaching into the cage to grab it will very much be considered "predatory" by the little guy, so it is normal if he runs away from you. Hold it gently in your arms, firmly and against your chest, so that he has a firm support and something to lean against to feel secure.
Check the ears: make sure ears are clear of any lumps or clumpy ear wax.
Check the eyes: eyes should be bright and clear. It should not be cloudy or half-open or swollen. There should be no liquids coming out of it.
Check the teeth: gently pull back the top lip of the piggy and you can see its incisor teeth. Check that they are aligned neatly.
Check the skin: part the fur carefully, right down to the skin, and check the skin and the hair closest to the skin. Make sure there is nothing "dotty" which can be an indication of lice or mites. There should be no bald patches or obvious hair loss. Skin should look elastic and clean, not dry or flaky.
Check the gender: tell the shop assistant to check if it it is a boy or girl. You can also check yourself. If you gently press down on the top of its genital area, a male's penis should protrude, this is the most certain way to sex guinea pigs.
Male or female, 1 or 2?
If you are a beginner, I would suggest just buying one piggy to begin with, as 2 might be a little overwhelming for you. There might also be the (not-too-likely) problem that you are allergic to them, which will be tragic and you might end up having to give them away. So it is better to start off with just one. But remember that guinea pigs are very social animals, they will very much appreciate a companion to snuggle up to. Young piggies are especially active and playful; giving it a friend can encourage them both to play.
If you cannot decide between males or females, here are their differences:
to me, males are a lot more active. They can be aggressive sometimes, and might make a mess of their living quarters. (my female cage is always neat and tidy, while the males have knocked their cozy beds and tunnels all over the place...) Males also have a slightly strong scent, which is their "boar stink". This is not too much of a problem, though. More than 2 males kept together MAY result in fighting for dominance when they reach adolescence.
females are more mild, they can live in packs, meaning you can generally put as many sows together as you like, they should get along fine.
Getting more than 1:
If you are getting more than one piggy, please make sure they are the same gender, as you do not want any unplanned offspring. Alternatively, you can neuter a male and pair him with a female.
males are best kept in pairs, as they can sort out their dominance issues easily: one the boss, one the subordinate. The best male pairs is either 2 young boars, or 1 young boar with an adult boar. 2 adult boars can be paired up together as well.
2 or more females:
Females are usually a lot more compromising than males. There might be the occasional squabble, but they generally get on fine with each other. Females can be kept in a herd.
Male and female:
if you are getting one male one female, make sure one of them is neutered/spayed. Bare in mind that it is a lot safer medically to neuter boars than spay females, due to the procedures of the surgery. It is safe to put 1 male with as many females together as you please, but do NOT put 2 males together with a female, as they will fight tirelessly for the position to mate with the female.
Introducing a new pig:
Pairing up guinea pigs can go smoothly, or terribly wrong.....depending on the personalities of your pigs.
It may help to give them both a bath first (see Bath and Grooming) to get rid of any smells which can be provoking. When both your piggies are smelling fruity or flowery (depends on the shampoo...), put them in a neutral environment such as the floor or the sofa. Place some hay or veggies in a pile so they have something to occupy themselves with. Now observe.
Your pigs should soon become aware that there is someone unfamiliar close by. They will go up to each other and check each other out by smelling their faces or butts. Most piggies will show some general interest and curiosity, and then go on to mind their own business after they've established that the newcomer is not dangerous.
If things go really well for you, they will start to groom each other, which is their first step to bonding.
Puffy and Buggy catching some rays together....
If things go wrong....such as with some aggressive males, they will immediately start chattering their teeth when they smell another boar. If they start to circle each other at a distance (like gladiators...), wobbling their behinds with hackles raised and hissing at each other, things are not looking good. Your best hope now is that they can somehow settle down after a mini fight. If war does break out, be very cautious when you attempt to separate them. Guinea pigs have very sharp teeth and they can inflict great pain when you stick your hand in. Wear oven mitts, or throw a towel over them to confuse them and then separate them. Try putting them together again a few hours later, if there is still much aggression, you'll have to arrange separate housing for them.
Other essentials you must buy:
Other things you must buy along with your piggy:
1) Water bottle- these have a metal spout which keeps the water inside clean.
2) Food bowl- please buy a bowl that is non-tippable. Some pigs are so enthusiastic when they see food they turn the bowl over! Or they could knock it over while jumping around....
The bowl on the left is plastic, the middle is ceramic and the right is terracotta clay (flowerpot).
Plastic bowls are not recommended, as your pigs can chew on the edges.
Ceramic and terracotta is much better because they are heavy and non-chewable.
3) Cage- first of all, make sure your cage has a solid bottom, NOT wired bottom. Many bunny/chinchilla cages have wire mesh bottoms. Guinea pig feet are bare and hairless, meaning they are particularly painful walking on wire floors. Their little footpads may become inflamed and swollen, or worse, develop Bumblefoot. (you don't want to know what that is)
Pet store cages:
Please buy the LARGEST pet store cage you can find. The largest I've come across is 60cm by 100cm, housing 2 piggies max. This is still far from big enough in my opinion. What you can do is buy 2 pet store cages with doors on the side, then remove both doors and place the cages facing each other, so the pigs get both cages.
For pet store cages, I suggest the cages with doors on the SIDE, rather than the top. If you manage to set up a "play area" for your pig during floor time, you can just open the door and let your pig leave/come back to its cage whenever it pleases (this is not possible for a cage with a door on the top). Guinea pigs know the cage is for sleeping/resting/eating and will probably return to it soon.
Cubes and Coroplast Cages:
I have never been satisfied by any pet store cages, the best cavy cages by far are the Cubes and Coroplast Cages you can find on guineapigcages.com, where they have detailed instructions on DIY and finding materials. These cages are absolutely awesome. For more on C&C cages, please see "HOUSING".
4) Bedding- there are essentially 3 types of begging: wood shavings, paper shavings and fleece blankets.
The most common is wood/paper shavings. They come in large bags in pet stores. They can absorb urine and odors, and can easily be dumped out with fresh shavings put in during cleaning. The down side is that they can be costly, since guinea pig cages are quite large and you use a lot each refill. Paper shavings are absorbent and have good odor control. They have no harm on the health of your pet. Wood shavings are cheaper than paper shavings, but they can irritate your pet's respiratory system, or cause allergies. Pine/cedar shavings are particularly harmful to your pigs. Please do not use wood shavings of any kind.
Fleece blankets: this is an excellent alternative to bedding. Please check out HOUSING.
5) Food- your piggy needs pellets and hay for its diet. The main thing to watch out for when buying pellet mixes is make sure the mix does NOT have any seeds still in their shells! Sunflower seeds can be a choking hazard for piggies….if you have hamsters, you will know that they adore sunflower seeds, but not piggies! They cannot crack the shells like hamsters do, and if it gets stuck in their throats….
Please see FEEDING for more information on pellets and hay.
6) Hidey house: it is a good idea to buy some kind of shelter for your piggy. the best ones are the straw homes that look like this:
Your piggy will feel safe and secure in its little hidey house, it will even nibble on the straw and feel very at home. These straw homes last for a long time and if it gets soiled by their urine, then just spray it down with water (don't use soap!) then leave it to air-dry.
When you are home:
Please do NOT take your pig out repeatedly on the first few days, no matter how curious you are. Guinea pigs are shy and timid, they are nervous little critters and are not used to his strange new home, and he really needs some time to settle down before he's ready for any socialization.
Place your cage in a quiet place of your house, away from loud high traffic places so it doesn't stress your pig out. Provide it with plenty of fresh hay, yummy pellets and fresh water. Maybe offer it a piece of lettuce to nibble on. Observe your pig from a distance or talk to it in a gentle voice so it gets used to your voice. Piggies have poor eyesight but excellent sense of smell and hearing, so your voice and your scent will be the main way it will learn to recognize you. When interacting with your pig, don't wear strong perfumes to confuse your pig of your scent
Holding a piggy:
When you want to pick your piggy up, kneel down to his level and talk to it in a soothing voice while slowly reaching your hand in. when you pick up your piggy, ALWAYS use two hands. Hold it firmly with one hand under its chest, and the other hand supporting its butt. Lay it down on your lap and stroke it while you talk to him.
Give your pig a name!!
Piggies DO recognize their names when called and even run up to you, it's so adorable. Whenever you offer a treat, call its name, and murmur its name softly when you spend lap time with your piggy. My piggy Puffy would jerk up his head whenever I call his name: he knows!