What do I need to buy for my guinea pig?
It is important to make sure that you are fully prepared before you embark on becoming a new owner of a guinea pig. Ensure that you have all the necessary provisions for your guinea pig in place before he arrives, including:
- A suitable outdoor hutch or indoor cage — this should be five times his length, with a closed-off area for sleeping and, if outdoors, a sloped roof
- An exercise run for access to grass
- A heavy-bottomed food bowl
- Gravity-fed water bowl
- Concentrate feed
- Toys, tunnels and hiding holes
- Gnawing sticks
- Fresh vegetables
- Cleaning products including bottle brushes and cage disinfectant
- Brushes and combs
- Also ensure that you have registered at your local veterinary centre.
Collecting your guinea pig
A cat carrier is the ideal container to transport your guinea pig in as cardboard boxes can become too warm. Ensure that your guinea pig does not overheat while in the car. Place the carrier in a secure, ventilated place where it will not move around. Ensure that this is out of direct sunlight. Try to drive smoothly and sympathetically, avoiding any unnecessary stop-offs on the way home, this is particularly important in hot weather when the temperature inside stationary cars can rise quickly.
Settling your guinea pig
Guinea pigs are naturally timid; their default reaction is to run, as a prey animal this is their only defence when living wild and the instinct is very keen.
As tempting as it may be, avoid handling your guinea pig for the first couple of days. Give him time to settle into his new surroundings, including the various sights and smells. During this time sit and talk to your guinea pig in a gentle tone so that he can be accustomed to the sound of your voice. Try to conduct any interaction you have with your guinea pig on his level from a crouching position.
When he seems to be growing more comfortable in your presence you can begin to increase your interaction with him.
Handling your guinea pig
Firstly it’s important to remember that a guinea pig's body is very fragile — any rough handling of your guinea pig will startle him and could potentially cause him injury. From the crouching position, offer him your hand to sniff but try to avoid making any sudden movements; instead let him continue to get used to your smell. Offering a small suitable food treat may also help to break the ice.
When you feel ready to pick your guinea pig up; gently place your hand across his shoulders, placing your thumb behind the front legs on one side. Slowly lift him up, placing your other hand under his back end. Stand up slowly, keeping his body supported at all times, but do not squeeze him.
When holding your guinea pig sitting down, let him settle on your lap keeping a gentle hold of him to ensure that he doesn’t jump free. Initially, keep handling sessions to a minimum to avoid putting undue stress on him. You can then gradually build up the amount of time you are holding him to around ten minutes.
When you return your guinea pig to his hutch or cage, lower him slowly back down to the floor; do not let him jump from your hand as this may result in injury. Remember at all times to try to stay quiet and avoid any movements that could startle your guinea pig.
If properly introduced your guinea pig will become accustomed to regular handling and may even enjoy it; although to what extent they enjoy being handled will depend on the individual guinea pig. There are some guinea pigs that will stand on their hind legs to be picked up while others will never fully relish human handling.
It is important that you maintain regular handling of your guinea pig so that he will accept handling and so you can regularly conduct a thorough health check.
Children and guinea pigs
Small children under the age of five should not be allowed to hold a guinea pig, at this age they may not be able to regulate their grip and could cause harm.
When letting older children hold a guinea pig ask them to sit, preferably on the floor, before placing the guinea pig on their lap. Ensure that the petting is gentle and that they stroke the guinea pig in the direction of the coat. Every guinea pig will have some areas that they don’t like to be stroked so it’s important to read their behaviour and ensure they are comfortable with the attention they are receiving — some may like to be scratched under their chin for example. Do not let young children walk around carrying guinea pigs and always ensure they are quiet when in the guinea pig's presence.
Marie Channer, head of small animal welfare at Wood Green, recommends the following: “Guinea pigs can be suitable for handling by children but they should be supervised at all times. It's really important that children sit on the floor with their legs flat to the floor and the guinea pig on their lap. That way if the guinea pig wants to get off then they can without being injured.”
Provide food for them so they have something to nibble on. If done so properly, a guinea pig will enjoy some handling.
Do guinea pigs need companions?
Yes absolutely. Guinea pigs are sociable animals that should live with company; they should have at least one guinea pig friend to live with but they can enjoy living in small groups. A group of females or one single castrated male with one or more females will be the best combination. Two male guinea pigs can also live together happily. Male guinea pigs should be castrated when living with females in order to avoid unwanted litters. Guinea pigs should not be housed with rabbits.
Guinea pig grooming and skin care
It's important that you pay close attention to the condition of your guinea pig's coat and skin. Check for running lice, burrowing mites, fur mites and ringworm. Long-haired guinea pigs will require daily grooming in order to stop the coat becoming matted and tangled, while short-haired guinea pigs will benefit from a weekly groom to keep the coat in a good condition and to help monitor the coat for signs of mites, lice and ringworm.
In addition to this guinea pigs should be bathed four times a year in a special guinea pig shampoo – we do not advise using pet shampoos from your local pet shop, but to contact your local rescue centre for advice on the correct products to use to help keep the skin in good condition.
Regular vet check-ups are also needed to ensure that your guinea pig's coat remains healthy.
Provided that grooming, bathing and coat checks are introduced from a young age, your guinea pig will get used to the process and should not find it too stressful.
Another cause of guinea pig skin problems is bedding – always avoid wood shavings and choose dust extracted materials that won't irritate their skin.
Clipping your guinea pig's claws
Your guinea pig's claws will need clipping regularly and should be trimmed every four to six weeks. Claws that grow out of shape or too long will be painful and can ultimately result in muscle wastage if your guinea pig cannot move properly. Guinea pigs have four claws on the front and three on the back. Ask your vet to show you how to cut the claws if you're not sure.