Care of Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs make excellent pets for Hong Kong as they are reasonably quiet, do not need much space and are sociable and entertaining little creatures. With the correct diet they can bring several years of happiness and make good pets for families or for working people.
The wild guinea pig ancestors live in the hills of South America on a diet of grasses and leaves. They have developed teeth and a specialized gut adapted for this high fibre and coarse diet. The large intestine contains bacteria which break down the grass fibre to make it digestible. The guinea pig passes the fibre through the gut twice to make sure all the nutrients are absorbed. This means that they produce and eat a special kind of faeces (poop) which many owners do not ever see as their guinea pig eats them directly from their bottom. These faeces are dark, sticky and smelly, and are called caecotrophes.
Because of this specialised gut and the constantly growing teeth the adult needs a high fibre, restricted carbohydrate, restricted protein and virtually no fat diet to stay healthy.
Hay is the perfect food to base their diet on.
Guinea pigs are unique amongst our small pets, as like us, they cannot make their own vitamin C and must get it in their diet. We recommend 50 mg per adult guinea pig per day.
We recommend oral sources of Vitamin C such as Oxbow “Daily C” tablets. Adding drops to the water is not recommended for several reasons:
- It may make the water taste sour, and the guinea pig drink less.
- The vitamin C will break down in the bottle, in contact with water and light.
- It is difficult to know how much Vitamin C the guinea pig has had in a day.
This should make up almost all of every guinea pig’s diet. It keeps the teeth and gut healthy.
We strongly recommend TIMOTHY hay (first cut, or high fibre). Orchard grass, botanical & mountain hay are good choices as they are high fibre, low protein hays. Alfalfa hay is too rich, with too much protein and calcium for healthy adult pigs, although it can be useful for growing, pregnant or old and sick pigs .Your guinea pig must have 24 hour access to loose hay (not cubes).
Check the hay is good quality, it should have a fresh sweet smell and not smell dusty or mouldy. Hay varies in colour according to the weather conditions and can be cream, yellow, green or light brown. As long as the hay smells fresh and nice then the color is not important. An occasional insect may be found, and this is quite natural, but if it is crawling with insects then please throw the remainder of the hay away.
These are an important source of vitamins, and most pigs love them. Most will start squeaking as soon as you open the fridge!
Around 1-2 rice bowls of vegetables should be given every day. It is best to feed at least 3 different vegetables every day and to rotate through the list. Sticking with one or two vegetables may lead to dietary imbalances or problems, even if these are your guinea pigs favourites. Too many carrots can carry too much sugar.
Choi Sum, pak choi, chinese lettuce, romaine lettuce, bell peppers, broccoli leaves, carrots, parsley, spinach and yau mak choi are all good choices. Make sure they are fresh and wash thoroughly. Like all new foods, introduce them slowly, start with a little and work up.
We recommend that the healthy adult guinea pig be given a limited amount of fresh pellets twice a day, each time around 1/2 a soup spoon full. We prefer pellets that are based on Timothy hay such as the Oxbow pellets. The pellets may well be enriched with vitamin C but as the vitamin C is quite fragile it does not last long and therefore the pellets cannot be relied upon to have the correct amount of vitamin C necessary.
A few small pieces of fruit can be given twice a week – perhaps 1/2 a teaspoonful. Do not give larger amounts in an attempt to supply vitamin C. Guinea pig snacks and sweeties, seeds, nuts and biscuits are unhealthy and should not be given.
Be careful where you buy your guinea pig food. You must buy from a supplier that sells a lot of food to ensure the foods will be fresher. (such as our retail shop) We keep all our hay in air conditioning to ensure it is fresh. We recommend the shop you buy from does the same.
Remember any diet changes MUST be slow and gentle. Upsetting the gut causes bacterial imbalances and may kill your guinea pig. Please take up to 1 week to gradually introduce a new vegetable or brand of hay or a new brand of pellets.
24 hour access is essential. It is good to have a sipper and a bowl as Guinea pigs often suffer from urinary tract problems and taking in more water should reduce the chance of this. We believe Hong Kong tap water is safe, but of course you may boil it first if you prefer. Do not change water abruptly (i.e. to a bottled water) as it may taste different and your Guinea pig may not drink it.
Size is important. ! Guinea pigs are not climbers so they need a relatively large floor space to keep them exercised. We recommend at least 2 ft x 3 ft ( 60 x 90 cm) for one pig.
The floor of the cage should be solid, not wire, as wire may cause ulceration of their feet.
If you leave a corner of the cage with wire, many guinea pigs will use that corner for the toilet. You may also put a special toilet in.
Of course you must keep the cage clean and dry. Newspaper may be used to cover the base as the inks are soya based and non toxic. You should then use bedding such as hay or paper bedding like care fresh. We don’t like woodchips here as they can be dusty, irritant and even poisonous. A hide box in the corner will help keep your guinea pigs feeling safe.
We would like all guinea pigs to have at least one companion as they are a very social species. Bonded pigs will groom each other, talk to each other and play together.
Having a friend will make all those hours in a cage, waiting for you to come home go quicker.
A young guinea pig should take quickly to a companion, but adults often will not and they may fight and cause horrible injuries. Please ask us during a consultation how best to introduce your adult pet to a potential companion. We do not advise keeping a guinea pig with a rabbit as they may transmit diseases to each other.
We hope that you will adopt a guinea pig friend rather than buying one from a pet shop.
This part of being a good owner means checking your pet regularly, we would suggest once a month. Check the eyes and ears are clean, the teeth are not growing too long, and there is no skin disease. Check the bottom is clean, there are no ulcers on the feet and trim the nails if necessary.
Guinea pigs are quite relaxed little animals and find life less stressful than rabbits and chinchillas. However they will still enjoy having their lives enriched! They are social animals so a companion is a great idea. If not, please spend lots of time with your guinea pig.
They are very keen on their food so a wide variety of vegetables will keep them happy.
Make a foraging tray which you can fill with pieces of cardboard or hay and hide their vegetables in here so they need to search for them.
They are inquisitive and like exploring so let them out of the cage every day to explore, making sure there are no electrical cables they can chew on. Provide them with a hide box for when they need to sleep. Always offer them chew toys made out of safe woods so they always have something to nibble on.
We recommend a veterinary check at purchase, every year up to five years old and then every six months. Guinea pigs are quite sensitive animals and often do not do very well when they are sick, so we suggest that owners be alert to any symptoms of change and seek veterinary help quickly. This is particularly true in the event of loss of appetite or lack of faeces whereupon veterinary care should be sought within 24 hours.