Bringing Home a New Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs make great small pets for a number of reasons. Their smaller size makes them perfect for children (as long as they are taught proper handling and care) or more urban spaces with less outdoor areas, and they don’t tend to be as fragile or skittish as other small pets, like rabbits or hamsters.
There is no doubt that guinea pigs make great pets, but despite their cuddly appearance and small stature, this animal comes with its own set of special needs. Taking proper care of a guinea pig requires research and dedication. Here’s what you need to know to keep your new guinea pig happy and healthy.
1. Set the scene for a proper home.
Your guinea pig, while small (most are around eight to 11 inches in length), requires some thoughtful consideration when it comes to habitat. Avoid direct sunlight or drafts when picking the place to put your guinea pig hutch, and a minimum 36”L x 30”W x 18”H escape-proof habitat with a solid surface area and lots of room for exercise and play is recommended. Fill the home with 1 to 2” of high-quality paper bedding, crumbled paper bedding or hardwood shavings (be sure it’s a brand that’s safe for small animals).
Guinea pigs also love to hide, so provide an enclosed area in your guinea pigs home where they can relax, as well as plenty of toys to keep them entertained. You should plan to clean and disinfect the home at least once a week with a 3% bleach solution, remove wet spots daily and completely change the bedding at least twice a week, or more if needed.
2. Stock up on a good food.
A well-balanced guinea pig diet includes a number of important things, as well as some specific no-nos. High quality, fresh guinea pig food, Timothy hay and water should always be available to your guinea pig in their habitat and should be changed out every day. From there, a limited amount of vegetables and fruits shouldn’t exceed 10% of their total daily diet, and fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C are important, since they require 30 to 50 mg of vitamin C daily. Never feed your guinea pig chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, since it can cause serious health problems. Guinea pigs who are fed a healthy diet and kept in a safe and proper habitat can live up to eight years.
3. Guinea pig proof your abode.
Since guinea pigs are social, they love to spend time out of their habitats with their family, but that requires some prep on your part. Guinea pigs like to chew on things to maintain their teeth, which grow continuously, so enclose any wires or other dangerous things in chew-proof casing and keep any sharp or important items off the ground and away from where your pet could get to them. Providing plenty of chew sticks and mineral chews will also help keep unwanted chewing at bay.
4. Give your guinea pig some space at first.
It might be hard to give your cuddly new furry friend some space when they first arrive, but most guinea pigs need some time to get acquainted with their new surroundings before they prefer to be cuddled and handled. Guinea pigs can be timid at first when they are set in new surroundings, so pay lots of attention to them in those first few days, but try your best to allow them to roam and explore on their own terms while getting the lay of the land. Once they seem settled — usually after a couple of days — guinea pigs are social animals that require daily care and attention.
5. Understand your guinea pig's actions.
Keeping your guinea pig healthy means understanding their typical behavior so that you can pick up on any changes that might occur and require veterinary care. Once they’re acclimated to their surroundings, guinea pigs are quite social (although it’s common for them to require some quiet hiding time in their habitat throughout the day) and love to hang out with their people. They are quite vocal and will squeak to communicate with you, as well as perform “high-jumps” in the air when they’re really happy—a behavior known as popcorning.
Guinea pigs generally keep themselves pretty clean (with a little help from you when it comes to their enclosure) and they rarely need baths, but you should clip their nails about once a month.
6. Be on the lookout for any health issues.
Your healthy guinea pig will be active, alert, sociable and talkative, and they will eat and drink regularly. Signs that your guinea pig could use medical attention include a change in personality (becoming withdrawn or overly sedentary, for example), bathroom behaviors or a change in eating patterns. A guinea pig that is experiencing any swelling or losing weight and/or hair or has eye or nasal discharge should see the veterinarian immediately.
7. Pair your guinea pig appropriately.
As social animals, guinea pigs are happiest living with other guinea pigs—just be sure to keep same-sex pairs to avoid litters, or spay and neuter your pet.
Essential Guinea Pig Supplies
Guinea pigs may be small, but they still require the proper set of supplies to keep them healthy. A great starter guinea pig shopping list should include:
Supplies for the perfect guinea pig habitat
- An escape-proof guinea pig hutch should provide enough room for your new pet to stretch and play, and it should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from vents or other drafts
- Heavyweight food dishes that your guinea pig cannot turn over
- Water bottles that hang from the cage so that dirt, debris and other things don’t get into their water supply
- A hiding place that’s big enough for them to relax and enjoy their privacy
- Safe small animal toys that they can chew, pick up and throw for their, and your, entertainment
- It is recommended you use 1” to 2” of high-quality paper bedding, crumbled paper bedding or hardwood shavings that are safe for small animals
Guinea pig food
The proper guinea pig diet includes a few different items.
- High-quality guinea pig pellet food that has stable vitamin C included
- Timothy hay
- Chew sticks to keep their teeth at a healthy length (and to help avoid having them chew on harmful items when they are out of their cages)
- Fresh water
- Healthy treats, fresh fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C but low in sugar (but remember that treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s overall diet)
Although guinea pigs make great pets, do not let their small size fool you—they require work and attention, just like larger pets do. Providing them with a safe space and access to healthy food and clean water is a great start, but be sure to also keep them mentally stimulated and provide them with the social needs they require. For more information on how to care for your guinea pig, check out Petco’s small pet care guide and small pet habitat guide.