What’s bigger than a hamster, smaller than a rabbit and makes a fine furry companion? A Guinea pig, of course!
For those who keep track of obscure national observations, March is adopt-a-rescued guinea pig month. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) joins the leader in online pet adoptions, Petfinder.com, to invite families to learn about these darling critters and to consider adopting one of many cuddly cavies available at your local animal shelter.
Guinea pigs, Cavia porcellus, or “cavies” are native to South America. They can live up to ten years in captivity and are quite social creatures. There are approximately thirteen different breeds of Guniea pigs, differentiated by their hair types, colors and markings. Some cavies have long silky hair, while others have a rough coat resembling multiple cowlicks all over their bodies.
These cute, hairy, hamster-like animals make fabulous friends. Since not all families have the space or can afford to care for a dog or cat, a Guniea pig can be an ideal family companion.
On any given day, the animal shelter in my town has between two and 10 healthy guinea pigs awaiting adoption for just 10-25 dollars. When they are turned in to a shelter, it’s usually because people realize that their care and clean up is more intensive than first thought. Just because a pet is little, doesn’t mean it’s easier to care for.
The domesticated Guinea pig is quiet and affectionate—even cuddly, according to enthusiasts. They don’t require constant attention and have relatively low-cost, but daily upkeep. Perhaps the most adorable Guinea pig trait is their language of squeaks, squeals, gurgles, growls and murmurs.
Cavies only bite if they are very frightened by things such as mishandling or a threatening animal. Guinea pigs may look like toys, but they are delicate critters that need gentle handling. Children under six years of age are too young to handle Guinea pigs. Older kids should be supervised by an adult and taught how to pick up and hold them properly.
Find a knowledgeable veterinarian who treats Guinea pigs and ask about their special dietary needs and how to groom them and house them in their new surroundings.
Personalities: Cavies are social herd animals. They prefer each other’s company and thrive best if kept in pairs. Be careful not to pair a male and a female or you’ll have enough pigs for a parade before you know it! Adult females are easiest to keep. Young male Guinea’s get along well, but may become aggressive as they become adults.
Housing: Guinea pigs love to run and play and are capable of jumping 12 inches. Therefore, the minimum enclosure for a single pig is a two-foot cube, (two foot by two foot by two foot). More space should be provided for any additional Guinea pigs.
Wire bottomed cages may be used as long as something is placed on the floor to prevent their little feet from getting caught in the floor bottom. Glass aquarium enclosures should never be used due to inadequate ventilation. Keep housing away from direct sunlight, drafts and temperature extremes. Always line the cages with safe bedding such as sawdust or wood shavings.
Guinea pigs love to hide and play! Outfit their enclosures with cardboard or PVC tubes wide enough for them to fit through. You may also allow cavies playtime in a single room, once it has been pig-proofed for safety. Always supervise their playtime outside the cage.
Diet: Feed a quality, commercial pellet made especially for Guinea pigs. They require daily vitamin C, which rabbit pellets do not contain. You can also supplement their daily diet with small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables. Be sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. Water should be provided in an inverted bottle that attaches to their enclosure. Change water every day.
Grooming and general care: Just like all rodents, Guinea pigs’ teeth grown continuously. Provide pigs with a piece of wood to gnaw on. This will wear his teeth down. Use a pesticide free tree branch, or an unpainted wood not chemically treated.
Brush your Guinea pig regularly to keep coats smooth and remove loose hair. Long-haired Guinea pigs should be groomed daily to prevent tangles and matting.
If a Guinea pig sounds like a great family addition, visit www.petfinder.com to search for available Guinea pigs at your local animal shelter.