Guinea pigs are small, sociable, gentle-natured and chatty rodents that originate from South America. Domestic guinea pigs typically live for around five to six years, but can live longer.
The guinea pig has a broad head with a short face, and the eyes are bright and large. The ears are petal-shaped and droop, while their bodies are relatively long and rounded, measuring around 20-30cm or more in length.
Guinea pigs are often bought as ideal first pets for children as they very rarely bite or scratch, but it is essential that an adult takes responsibility for the guinea pigs to ensure they are being cared for and handled properly, as they have very specific healthcare, housing and dietary needs.
Guinea pigs should never be housed with rabbits. Guinea pigs communicate using various different squeaks and sounds, and will often talk to each other, and you!. Rabbits will only squeak when in pain, so essentially guinea pigs and rabbits speak very different languages — this can lead to the guinea pig being bullied and potentially hurt by a large rabbit. Rabbits and guinea pigs also require very different foods — did you know guinea pigs can't product their own vitamin C?
There are more than 40 different guinea pig breeds — here are some of the most common:
Smooth coated — smooth coated guinea pigs come in either one solid colour (known as 'self”), or white with one or two other colours. They come in a wide variety of different colours and each of these colours is referred to as a different breed. The coat is short, smooth and satin-like, so they are reasonably easy to care for.
Himalayan — Himalayan guinea pigs have point markings similar to that of a Siamese cat; darker noses, ears and feet. The feet pads should be darker too. The coat is short so they are reasonably easy to care for.
Abyssinian — the coat of an Abyssinian guinea pig is unique in that it grows from eight rosettes across the body. They come in a variety of colours including solid or ‘self’ colours, tortoiseshell, roans and brindles.
Peruvian — this breed is longhaired, with hair growing continuously all over the guinea pig's body, even over their eyes and back end. These are the hardest of guinea pigs to groom and care for — their coats will need to be groomed daily and trimmed to stop the coat becoming matted. There are many varieties of colours, the most popular being tri-colour or a mixture of two colours.
You won't be becoming the owner of one guinea pig — guinea pigs must live in pairs or ideally small groups as they are very sociable animals.
Can you afford a guinea pig? You'll need to able to afford accommodation, food, guinea pig insurance, and have funds available to pay for regular health check-ups for your guinea pigs as they can be prone to skin issues.
Guinea pigs may look cute and cuddly but they have lots of needs — go along to your local animal charity and do lots of research to find out if guinea pigs are suitable for you.
Guinea pigs need lots of space and access to grass for grazing is essential, are you really willing to give up your garden?
Your guinea pigs will need daily health checks, cleaning out regularly and will need to be socialised daily so that they are happy to around humans. It's a big commitment.