Guinea Pig Maintenance – Ultimate Pet Hub Guide
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Guinea Pig Maintenance Guide
Guinea pigs, also called cavies (from Latin Cavia Porcellus), are absolutely adorable and endearing little pets whose popularity among critter lovers has being steadily increasing for decades.
Although there are various guinea pig breeds, piggies are usually about 10 inches long, weigh 1.5 – 2.5lbs and have an average lifespan of 5-7 years. Affectionate and gentle, their health and happiness mainly depend on your care, love and devoted companionship.
Lots of people keep guinea pigs as pets because they are such cute little creatures to have in your home. The more you interact with them, the more they get to be relaxed with you around. If you let them sit on your lap, they will purr happily and sometimes fall asleep if you groom them gently.
On other occasion, when are they are happy and alert, guinea pigs will jump straight up and down in the air which is known to as “pop corning” and often done by pups while playing.
Guinea Pig Habitats
According to The Humane Society of the United States 7.5 square feet cage should be a minimum for one cavy with dimensions of 30″ x 36″ being a good size. As it’s always better for cavies to be kept in pairs, the bigger cage the better! Check out our article where we reviewed 7 best cages for a guinea pig.
You should go for a smooth bottomed cage because wire bottom, wire ramps or wire shelves can cause injuries to their feet. A small covered house or box inside the cage with more than one entrance will give them a sense of protection and a cozy place to sleep.
As a rule of thumb, guinea pigs should not be kept with other small species often kept as pets. If you have a cat or a dog at home, be extra careful as guinea pigs are prey animals so a sturdy cage top is highly recommended.
You shouldn’t keep cavies in aquariums and plastic tubs as they are much too small for adequate homes and, more importantly, they have poor ventilation. Another con is the fact that this type of cavy housing isolates them from their surroundings by limiting their sight, hearing and smell.
The most commonly used bedding is processed paper and similar products but you will find a number of interesting and innovative beddings such as hey, towels, EnviroTiles and so on.
You’ll soon figure out what works best for you by trying different beddings and, of course, make sure to change it regularly and keep the living area clean. A build up of ammonia is a health risk for your pet’s respiratory system and you won’t like the odor, either.
Furniture and toys
Food and water bowls must be kept readily available and clean. Guinea pigs are not climbers so no need for ropes and hammocks. Tunnels and tubes are great hideaways, and super fun for them to run through.
Do avoid wheels for guinea pigs at all costs. They are dangerous for the cavies’ backs and pose other potential risks and bring discomfort into their lives.
Get some chew toys and nibblers. Guinea pigs’ teeth keep growing throughout their lives and can make it difficult for the furry cuties to eat properly. Cavies need to regularly wear their teeth down by chewing, biting and grinding rough objects so that their teeth stay at manageable length.
Guinea pig chew toys are specifically designed to wear their teeth and also keep their mouths clean and healthy at the same time. Chew toys are usually made from hard, natural wood, which provides good abrasive surface to help wear down their pointy front teeth. Avoid plastic nibblers as they are too soft and can be poisonous to your pets.
Basic guinea pig diet
Being herbivores, a basic guinea pig diet consists of fresh water, unlimited grass hay, a cup or so of vegetables per day for each pet, and good quality cavy pellets.
These adorable critters cannot synthesize vitamin C so it’s necessary to include a variety of fresh vegetables to supplement their requirements for vitamin C and other micro nutrients.
Cost, availability and convenience are also to be factored in: some pet owners strive to provide an all natural diet, but the majority will conveniently include pelleted products specifically produced for guinea pigs. Grass hay and fresh vegetables do need to be included in the diet, as well. Make sure to read our guinea pig food reviews.
Guinea Pig Diet – Foods to Avoid:
- Guinea pigs commercial treats, which often have zero calories (many of which contain fat, sugars and excess calcium) but can result in decreased consumption of much needed cavies’ basic foods
- Mixes or treats with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dyed pieces
- Mineral wheels
- Rabbit pellets (they do not contain Vitamin C and some may include antibiotics toxic to guinea pigs)
- Dairy products
Guinea Pig Care
Guinea pigs are gentle critters with delicate bones so it is really important to learn how to hold and carry them safely. Since some pets might be inclined to jump when you are returning them to their cage, make sure to have a good hold and let them down safely.
Falls and jumps from a height may result in broken bones, injury, and even death in guinea pigs so young children should not be allowed to pick up or carry guinea pigs and adults should be careful.
It’s important to support the entire body pet when taking your pet. Wrap one hand securely around their chest. A good way is to restrain one front leg by placing your finger in front of it. Then use your other hand to support the hind feet and rump.
This hold technique is especially helpful with new or nervous guinea pigs that might have a tendency to nip and bite when being transported.
At times, carrying can be very scary experience for a guinea pig so it’s good to have them fully used to you handling them. When returning them to their cage, be alert to prevent jumping injuries we mentioned. A good way to do so is to hold your pet safely a few inches above the cage floor first. Then when their feet touch the bedding, do not let them go before they stop squirming. Once they finally stop struggling, let them go gently.
In a few weeks, your pets will learn not to struggle when held and put back into the cage. What’s more they will also learn not to run away immediately after you let them down.
Another way is to return your guinea pigs to the cage rump first. This will also prevent injuries from jumping. Stick to the same routine and your pet will learn quickly.
Once again, young children should not be allowed to carry a guinea pig. They may squeeze it too tightly or accidentally drop the pet and cause serious injuries. By all means, you can patiently teach older children how to handle cavies, supervise them and monitor their progress.
Nail clipping and brushing
Guinea pigs really need bathing but they do need regular brushing and nail clipping.
Regular brushing will help keep your guinea pigs’ fur in good condition and most of them do not mind being brushed. Just make sure you use a small, stiff brush and a small metal comb. While brushing and combing your guinea pig, use the opportunity to check for problems such as lice or sores and scratches on the skin.
The need for brushing depends on how long your guinea pigs’ hair is, and whether they are shedding. Long-haired guinea pigs need daily brushing. If you have a hard time coping with the long coat, the hair can be trimmed to make it easier on you and your pet.
Simply trim the longer hair so that it doesn’t dragging on the ground. You may want to see a groomer for advice and if you find it difficult to do the grooming yourself, ask a professional to do it from time to time.
Short-haired guinea pigs can be brushed every few days, the minimum being once a week. If your guinea pig is shedding and losing more hair than usual, brush at least every other day.
As for the nail clipping, the hardest part is probably holding your pet still. With patience and practice, nail clipping will become a routine for you and your guinea pig will most likely squirm less over time.
Most guinea pigs are not too difficult to hold, but when starting out, have a helper hold your guinea pig so you can trim the nails. Try to sit with your guinea pig on your lap facing away from you with its rump against your stomach. This will to keep your guinea pig from backing up.
Hold your guinea pig upright with its back against your body by placing your hand lightly around your guinea pig’s chest. Make sure the hind end is supported either on your lap if you are sitting down, or with your other hand. It time and with a little practice, you will be able to hold one foreleg out by placing it between your fingers using this method.
Another option is to gently wrap up your guinea pig’s body and three of its legs in a light towel, leaving one leg free for clipping the nails. Don’t wrap him too tight as this may impede breathing and take a break between legs to reduce stress.
You can use human nail clippers if you like or nail clippers designed for cats and other small animals. These look like little scissors with small notches toward the end of the blade for cutting the nails. You should do the clipping at least once a month, although you can do them even more often if needed.
The longer the nails get, the harder they will be to trim because as the nails get longer, the blood vessel gets longer too, and the nails will start to curl. Regular nail clipping helps keep the nails in good shape and your pet good looking
The trick to nail trims is to cut the sharp tip off the nail without cutting into the blood vessel. The part inside the nail where the blood vessel and nerve endings are located is called “the quick”. If you cut into the quick, the nail will bleed and it will hurt your guinea pig.
If your guinea pig has light color or translucent nails, the quick will be visible as the pink part inside the nail. Make your cut a bit in front of the quick because if you get too close, it may still be a bit painful for your cavy.
If your pet has dark nails, you cannot guess where it’s safe to cut based on the shape of the nail, it is safest to just clip off about 1/4 inch of the nail tip. Again, if in doubt, have a groomer, veterinarian or other experienced owner show you how to trim cavies’ nails before you attempt to do it yourself.
Guinea pig training
When training a guinea pig, always use his favorite treat. Give a reward the moment he performs the behavior you want. Ignore your cavy when he makes a mistake or gets it wrong but don’t scold or punish him. Instead, always give only positive reinforcement.
They can be trained to obey simple commands using treats. You can teach your furry pet to come when called. Simply say his name and then give him a treat. Yes, it’s that simple!
Do this repeatedly and one day you will proudly notice your guinea pig looking up at you when you say his name before you give him a treat. To further the training, say his name but hold out the treat from a few inches away and wait for him to come to get the treat.
Always make se sure to give a treat and praise your small pet and you can gradually move farther and farther away when you call his name. Eventually, they will come when called from reasonable distance.
Guinea pigs can also be taught to sit up and get food. Sitting up is a natural behavior for guinea pigs to check whether there is any danger.
To teach them to sit up, just offer them a treat by holding your hand a little above his head. When he sits up, give him the treat and he’ll be happy. Then add a verbal command of your choice once he starts responding by sitting up consistently. In the end, your guinea pig will sit up when you tell him to, waiting for a treat.
Guinea pigs can also be litter box trained although this cannot be 100% reliable.
Sometimes they will use a litter box and sometimes they simply won’t. If you place a litter box in the spot in the cage where he usually goes to the bathroom most often, add a handful of hay inside the box and a few fecal pellets.
When you see your guinea pig use the litter box, give a treat as praise. If he does it elsewhere, simply ignore him without punishing a poor little snoop. Don’t forget to reward your small pet when he correctly uses the litter box.
And if you move on to teaching cavies neat little tricks, make sure you never lose your patience. Just relax and enjoy the fun time spent with your pet!
As for bathing your piggy, we wrote a special guide to how to bathe a guinea pig!
Carol is a head content developer for ultimatepethub.com and mother of 2 adorable chocolate labs(and one child). Growing up on a farm, she has handled all kinds of animals and pets. When Carol isn’t taking her two labs to the park, you can find her researching products and topics to keep you updated with the latest info for your pets!