First Time Owners
Guinea pigs could be the pet for you if....
You are vegetarian or dislike handling meat products
Guinea pigs are herbivores which means they only eat hay, plants, fruit and vegetables. Your fruit and vegetable leftovers also (mostly) won't go to waste because guinea pigs can eat a huge variety of different fruits and vegetables, which has the added bonus of combining your food bills with theirs!
You're not mobile enough or don't want to walk a pet
Although they require a certain amount of exercise, guinea pigs don't require you to walk them like dogs do.
Their exercise can be taken in a run in the garden, in a large indoor pen, or supervised in a room inside the house. All you have to do is put them down for their play time and then catch them again! If they already live in a large cage (the recommended minimum size is 2ft x 4ft for two guinea pigs with room for expansion), then they will be getting plenty of exercise in their own home.
You want a gentle pet
Most guinea pigs are very gentle and when they become tame and comfortable in your company, they often go to sleep in your lap and purr with happiness when cuddled. Handle them daily and give them lots of attention and they'll become your friends.
You want a pet to live in the house with you
Guinea pigs can live happily in your house if you build them a great indoor cage. Guinea pigs thrive on the company of both human and guinea pig (although keeping more than one guinea pig, even if they live in the house with you, is strongly recommended as they do largely prefer the company of their own species), and both you and your pets can learn to enjoy living together.
You want a small pet
An adult guinea pig generally grows to a length of 8-10 inches, a weight of 2lbs-2lbs 6oz (900g-1200g) for an adult male, and 1lb 5oz-2lbs (700g-900g) for an adult female. They are much bigger than hamsters, mice and gerbils.
Questions to ask yourself
- Do you have allergies?
Are you allergic to hay? Are you allergic to fur? Are you allergic to woodshavings? Are you allergic to excessive dust? If you are allergic to any of these, a guinea pig may not be the pet for you and you may prefer to research keeping creatures such as reptiles or fish as an alternative.
- Are you under 18 years of age or being financially supported by someone else?
If you are under the age of 18 and in the care of your parents or guardians, or being financially supported by someone else, you must ensure that they have agreed to pay for weekly upkeep and medical care.
- Can you afford to pay for vets bills?
Most health complaints are easy for the vet to sort out and the average vets bill is usually between £15.00 and £30.00 inclusive of the appointment time and medication. In an extreme case, your pet might become quite unwell and may need to be admitted to the surgery for medication, around the clock care, and tests. For a single guinea pig I have had a bill for £200.00 after a serious illness that required admission, medication and intensive care. It's only happened to me once, but once is enough to be glad I saved up!
- If the guinea pigs are for your children, are you prepared?
When bringing any animal home for the children you must be prepared to carry out or even take over the upkeep of the animal(s) if your children become bored. A guinea pig might not be as large an investment as a cat or dog, but they are still living creatures with needs and feelings and should always become as much a part of your family. Some guinea pigs bought for children end up in rehoming shelters because the parents weren't prepared to maintain an appropriate level of even basic upkeep - they require much more than being left to their own devices in a hutch at the bottom of the garden!
- Can you afford their complete weekly upkeep?
Every week you need to purchase basic items to keep your guinea pigs happy and healthy. These include vegetables, dried guinea pig mix, fresh hay and bedding. Can you afford it each week?
Where will you get their vegetables from?
Will you go to the supermarket? Do you use the local market? Do you know a farmer who can supply you with fresh vegetables? Wherever you get your vegetables, you must ensure the supply is regular and you have at least two sources you can turn to.
What bedding will you use?
Do you have allergies to certain types of bedding, such as woodshavings? Do your guinea pigs have allergies or respiratory problems (woodshavings are inappropriate for guinea pigs with these complaints)? Which type of bedding works best for your finances while still being comfortable for your guinea pigs?
Where will you keep your guinea pigs?
Will you keep them in the garden in a hutch? Do you have a properly equipped shed to keep them in? Will your guinea pig live in the house?
Where will you get their hay and dry mix from?
Will you use an animal supplies wholesaler? Will you use a pet shop or the local garden centre? Does your nearest supplier regularly stock the brand of dried guinea pig feed you want? Your dried feed suppliers must get the same feed in regularly because changing guinea pigs over from one dried feed to another can be a lengthy process. Do you know of two places you can turn to for hay should there be a hay shortage? It can happen sometimes so be prepared!
Can you keep two guinea pigs together?
Guinea pigs love company and they can get painfully lonely without a companion. They should be kept in pairs wherever possible so they can interact and enjoy the company of their own species.
Purchasing from pet shops
Some pet shops are very reliable and have a good knowledge of guinea pigs, although unfortunately it seems that many pet shops currently don't have the knowledge they should. Therefore it's a good idea for you to be clued up before you make a purchase.
- Observe the general health of the guinea pigs
The guinea pigs should be of a healthy weight and the body should be tube-shaped or even a slight pear shape. If the torso becomes sunken before reaching the hind legs, the guinea pig is probably underweight.
- Observe the coat for bald patches or signs of a skin problem
The coat should be thick and shiny with no bald patches or skin flakes.
There should be no discharge from the nose or mouth, the ears should be clean, and the eyes should be bright.
- Check the sale pen for cleanliness and basic essentials
Are the animals well cared for by the pet shop? Is the pen clean? Do the animals have hay, feed and water in easy reach?
- Ask to see the sex of the guinea pig
Have the staff pick up the guinea pig and show you the sex. Pet shops can mistake one for the other and sometimes, in the case of mistaking a male for a female, this can end up in an unplanned pregnancy if you have been sold "two females". This happened to me before I knew how to sex a guinea pig, but fortunately I noticed the mistake before the female had become pregnant. Take a look at our guide to sexing a guinea pig and teach yourself how to do it!
- Decline offers to sell you a rabbit companion
Many people have had rabbits and guinea pigs happily living together for years. However, there are particular physical risks to the guinea pigs, so new rabbit and guinea pig pairings are discouraged.
Rabbits and guinea pigs have different dietary requirements and therefore require different dried food. Dried guinea pig feed contains Vitamin C, but dried rabbit feed does not. Guinea pigs require Vitamin C in their diet. I have also heard rumours that rabbit feed manufacturers add rabbit antibiotics to the feed which can be harmful to guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are tube shaped and low to the ground. This means every important part of their anatomy is vulnerable. A kick from an excited rabbit can cause injury and because of their shape, a kick to any part of the guinea pig can be serious.
For both rabbits and guinea pigs, the company of their own species is far better than the company of another. I know little about rabbits, but guinea pigs are certainly very social and the company of another guinea pig is almost a requirement for most.
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