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Small Pets - Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are cute and sociable pets that are very popular in many parts of the world. They make great pets, but require more social interaction than many other pets because they can become lonely and stressed. If you are thinking about purchasing a guinea pig make sure that you check out your local shelter for a guinea pig that you can adopt. Guinea pigs need to have exercise and social time outside of its cage every day. Make sure that your schedule fits well with the needs of your guinea pig. Guinea pigs may not be the best suited for families with small children, because they need to be handled very gently to prevent them being scared and attacking. It is also important to consider all of the costs associated with owning a guinea pig which includes a large cage, bedding, shelter, timothy hay, water bottle, high-quality commercial pellets, teething products and toys. Although guinea pigs are small, they can easily cost several hundred dollars per year not including medical expenses, so make sure that you are ready for that kind of commitment. Guinea pigs are also very social animals and if possible should be housed with other guinea pigs if possible to prevent boredom and stress.

Food

Guinea Pigs need a nutritious, well-rounded diet complete with pellets, hay and fresh vegetables. Guinea Pigs do not require that much food, with approximately 1/8 cup of commercial pellets once a day being adequate. Pellets should be replaced daily because they can become contaminated from shavings and waste. They also should have unlimited access to fresh timothy hay so that they can wear down their teeth and have a healthy digestive tract. Fresh vegetables should be offered once per day including kale, spinach or parsley. Sweeter vegetables including carrots and zucchini should only be offered once or twice per week. Fruit can also be offered a few times throughout the week, but keep the portion small because fruit is high in sugar. An appropriate serving size of fruit could be a wedge of orange or apple and a few berries. There are many different commercial treats marketed for guinea pigs, but keep in mind that these are heavily processed and provide very little nutritional value. Mineral and salt wheels are other supplements for your guinea pig’s diet and can also become a tool for teething. Make sure that you clean your guinea pigs cage often because they often bury food which will then go bad.

Care and Handling for Your Pet

Bringing your guinea pig home will be a stressful change so it is important to make sure you are prepared for your new pet’s arrival. The transition can be overwhelming so make sure that the cage is ready with food, water and the appropriate accessories. Introduce your guinea pig to new products slowly by trying to use the same or similar bedding and food that it was using before. In order for your guinea pig to adapt to its new home, give it time to check it out privately by placing a towel over the cage for the first few days. Reserve handling your guinea pig for the first few days so that it can become more comfortable with its new surroundings and owner.

Guinea pigs have scattered bursts of activity followed by short sleep cycles. They are able to breed year round, with peaks being in the spring. Guinea pigs can have up to five litters per year, and the gestation period lasts from 59-72 days. A litter usually contains one to six pups, with the average being 3. Toxemia of pregnancy is common and kills many pregnant females with symptoms including loss of appetite, lack of energy and seizures. Guinea pigs live a lot longer than other small pets, with an average lifespan ranging from 5 to 7 years.

Common health ailments in domestic guinea pigs include scurvy, respiratory tract infections, lice, mites and diarrhea. Scurvy is due to a poor diet without enough vitamins C, with symptoms including impaired motor function and decreased energy. Mange mites can cause hair loss from excessive scratching and aggressive behavior when handled due to pain. Guinea pigs can also suffer from genetic disorders including eye disorders, digestive problems and deafness.

Guinea pigs require a lot of living space, far bigger than many commercial cages marketed for guinea pigs. The space in the cage should have enough room for an eating area, bathroom space, sleeping area and room for play and exercise. For one guinea pig the cage should be at least 7.5 square feet, but larger is better. The more guinea pigs you have housing together the larger the cage should be. The larger your guinea pig’s cage the happier your guinea pig will be because it has room to play and exercise preventing boredom. Larger cages also provide enough space for your guinea pig to have separate areas for each of its daily activities. Cedar and pine shavings are not a good idea for guinea pigs because they contain harmful chemicals. Paper shavings should be between two and three inches deep so that your guinea pig can burrow and cover its waste. The proper temperature to the cage in is 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Never keep your guinea pig in a cold or breezy area like a garage or basement. They should be located away from direct heat sources because they do not sweat and are susceptible to heat stroke. Keep your guinea pig in an area that it can be closely monitored from children and predators.

Accessories

Guinea pigs require regular grooming, with short-haired breeds needing weekly brushing and long-haired breeds needing daily brushing. Guinea pigs should also have a ceramic feeding dish so that they do not chew through it and should also have a water bottle. Fresh timothy hay and water should be available to your guinea pig at all times. Your guinea pig will also require a sheltered area in order for it to take naps and get privacy. This shelter can be made of wood or ceramic and should be safe for climbing around on. Cardboard boxes and paper bags can also provide fun for your guinea pig. Make sure to provide your guinea pig with a covered area in its cage to ensure that it can fall asleep in the dark.  Although there are many toys marketed to guinea pigs there are also many things you can find around your house that will provide just as much entertainment.

Once you have settled in with your guinea pig it is time to bond. Guinea pigs will quickly warm up to their owners if they are treated gently and will even begin to whistle with excitement when you approach. Treats are a good way to first start of the bonding process and soon your guinea pig will enjoy time outside the cage interacting. If you find that your guinea pig is lonely even with play time, do not be discouraged. Many guinea pigs like to be placed in groups for mental stimulation and play so you may want to consider adopting another to keep your guinea pig company.