Hi there! – If you’re new to guinea pigs, I've included this page as a basic guide to keeping your pets healthy and happy. For more in-depth information there are many excellent books available, as well as on-line advice and, of course, your vet.
Living Space and Accommodation
The cage should be as large as possible to house at least two guineas. (I would recommend a minimum of 4ft by 2ft for two guineas; larger than that for more than two.) Cages are readily available flat-packed from pet stores, or they can be purpose built to suit your requirements. Two levels are good (although not essential), but make sure that the access to the upper level is both safe and usable. Ramps leading to an upper level must have a very gradual slope, must have a comfortable non-slip surface for the guineas to walk up (not the chunks of wood often seen in flat packs), must have a tall full length banister to prevent the guinea pig from slipping off, and absolutely must actually lead somewhere! (In some flat packs, the top of the ramp is positioned so close to the end wall of the cage that there is virtually no landing for the guineas to step onto, rendering the whole system completely unsafe.)
If guineas need to be kept separately, stacked cages (one on top of the other) are an option, but do bear in mind that the lower cage is usually right down at ground level; it could be susceptible to damp, the guineas can't readily be seen and the hutch is also within easy reach of cats, dogs and even rats if they're around. If you do buy flat-packed, I would advise putting the cage up on legs and adding extra weatherproofing as they are often made out of very thin plywood. Raising it up also gives the guineas a good view of their surroundings, which is much better than paving slabs or feet, and it also allows them the opportunity to run and hide if they see something which alarms them. It has been said that guinea pigs have poor eyesight so what's the point of giving them a view. However, I think the jury's still out on this. All I can say is that my own guineas can spot me from a very long way off no matter how craftily I try and sneak off the premises. The fact that they don't utter a single squeak if anybody else walks down the path supports my theory that guinea pigs can see perfectly well thank you!
The cage should be kept dry, out of the wind or draughts, protected from extremes of heat or cold and shaded from full sun in the summer. A sleeping area is essential, not only for warmth, but to give the guineas somewhere to go out of view if they want to.It should be big enough to take all guineas comfortably, (ie lying down) as well as accommodating the extra bedding needed in the winter.
Many owners move their cages into sheds or garages during the winter.This is absolutely fine as long as there is plenty of light and the shed or garage is bone dry and well ventilated.If cars are to be regularly driven in and out of a garage, it’s not suitable for guinea pigs – exhaust fumes are a serious health hazard and can linger for a long time.
Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that guineas tucked away in a shed or garage for the winter can’t readily attract your attention if something is wrong.Do check on them often, and continue to handle them every day.If you set up a run make sure they have bedding for warmth (unless the shed/garage is heated) and check that the floor is level so that they can’t escape. Guineas are very inquisitive and always seem to want to know what’s on the other side! (Then they forget how to get back in again.)
Guineas Inside: Indoor guinea pig caging takes the form of either single unit accommodation, (pet stores) or C&C caging.
Single Unit:Consists of a plastic base tray with wire lid top section.They often include a raised platform; additional platforms can be bought and easily installed.As they are fairly small, guinea pigs need daily access to indoor runs.
C&C Caging:Consists of several wire mesh sections which can be joined together to make any size and shape of accommodation.This type of caging is widely used in America and is gaining popularity in the UK.The following link is to a UK supplier:http://www.candcguineapigcages.co.uk/
Cage Floor Litter:
There is conflicting advice about whether or not to use wood shavings.I have used small animal wood shavings for many years and have never had a problem with it.There are several other alternatives on the market – it’s really a matter of choice.
Straw, hay, a mixture of both, or one of the manufactured bedding materials specifically designed for small animals.Vetbed (a kind of carpet for small animals) is increasing in popularity although it does have its drawbacks.Again, it’s a matter of choice.If you decide on straw, make sure it doesn’t have too many nodes (the knobbly bits on the stalks) as they are very hard and don’t make a comfortable bed. Some types of hay contains sharp needle-like bits of dried grass or dried thistles which can cause injury to a guinea pigs eyes.I use pre-packed processed barley straw for all my guineas.It’s a bit pricey, but it’s dust free, node free, fluffs up beautifully and makes a soft warm bed. It's also feed quality, in that they can munch away on it if they like for a bit of added 'roughage' - but it is not a substitute for hay or any other nutritional requirement. Guineas love to nibble things, and this is a safe nibbler!
Fresh Air and Exercise
Guineas need as much run time as possible, especially if their cages are on the small side.
Inside and outside runs are readily available in pet stores, or they can be custom made to your requirements.They must be sturdy and constructed of appropriate materials – ie – wood and cage mesh (not chicken wire) or purpose built wire sections in the case of small animal indoor runs. They must always be fitted with the correct sized lids (wood and mesh for outdoor runs and wire sections for indoor runs) to protect your pets from other animals and, indeed, children who are not old enough to handle guinea pigs on their own.
Hideaways are essential so that the guinea pigs have somewhere to run if they want to, and piggy toys/tunnels are always a good idea to keep your pet interested.Food, water and shade must be provided, inside and out.Shading is easily provided by a bath towel or sheet laid across the lid.In hot weather keep the towel damp for free and highly effective air conditioning! A word of caution – keep an eye on the position of the sun, even if the run is inside, as the shading will undoubtedly have to be moved.
Before putting your piggies outside, make sure the grass is clean and free of contamination or hazards, and draw your hand along the base of the run to make sure it’s properly flat on the ground with no gaps for the guineas to wriggle out underneath the frame of the run.
A final word of caution:if your neighbour has been spraying their garden, do find out what they used.Even a slight breeze carries a fine spray quite a distance and if any of it has settled on your grass you need to know what it is before you put your piggies out.
Guinea pigs, unlike rabbits, do not manufacture their own vitamin C and care must be taken to ensure that their food contains enough of this vitamin to maintain health.Luckily for their owners this is not complicated – appropriate vegetables and the correct dry food, if given in the right quantities, will provide everything they need.
Hay is essential for digestion and teeth (high fibre) and must be available at all times.Fresh uncontaminated grass when available not only provides an excellent foodsource, it also allows run time out in the fresh air if you have a garden.If not, handpicked grass is equally valuable, but do make sure it doesn’t contain anything poisonous, especially bindweed which is lethal.
Don't give supplements, salt licks or mineral licks unless advised by a vet.
Water must be available all times and be clean and fresh. It can be given in drinking bottles, bowls or both. Be careful to check the spout of drinking bottles at least twice a day, especially in the summer, as they can become blocked quite easily with constant use. Bits of chewed up food mixed with saliva sets like concrete in the heat, preventing water from releasing from the bottle. Just looking at the level in the bottle is not enough; you need to squeeze the bottle to make sure the water is actually coming out.
Vitamin drops in the water is not usually advisable or necessary provided the guineas are receiving a properly balanced diet. When exposed to sunlight and mixed with water, the vitamins in the drops begin to deteriorate. They also make the water taste different, which some guineas like and others don't. If they like it they may over-drink, and if they don't they may not drink enough.
There are several types of hay available in the UK, the most common being meadow hay, which is widely used as a foodsource for several different animals, including guinea pigs.It can be bought by the bale, or in pre-packed bags of various sizes.It is very high in fibre and should be available to guinea pigs at all times as it is essential for digestion and dental health. Guinea pigs’ teeth grow continually and must be worn down by their food; the best food for doing this is hay. (It takes a lot of work to grind up all those stalks!)
Other types of hay are:
Timothy grass hay; very good for guinea pigs
Orchard grass hay; also a good choice for guinea pigs but difficult to get hold of
Alfalfa hay is not recommended for guineas over nine months old, except as a treat, as it is higher in calcium. It is, however, recommended for nursing sows and youngsters.
Friendly Readigrass, which is dried grass as opposed to hay. (hay is grass which has been allowed to grow long and stalky before being cut; dried grass is cut much shorter.) Some guinea pigs find it a bit rich for daily use - offer it a couple of times a week.
All hay should feel dry and smell pleasant. It should be as green as possible, although this is often a bit hit and miss and you may have to search around for a decent batch. (It’s pointless offering your piggies rubbish hay because they just won’t eat it.)
Avoid hay which is damp or mouldy; it is not fit to give to your guineas.If it smells sour and/or “yeasty” it has been processed or stored incorrectly and is beginning to ferment; it should also be rejected.If you buy a bale of hay be careful of thistles – the prickles are even sharper when they’ve been dried and they hurt! Remove these before giving it to your piggies.If it’s absolutely full of them, don’t use it.Pre-packed hay is pretty much guaranteed to be thistle, stone and dust free.As a general rule, offer your piggies a variety of hay and dried grass; keep alfalfa as a special, very occasional treat for 'grown up' guineas.
There is a huge amount of information available on the internet.Most of it good, but contradictions from site to site can also be confusing.For example, some sources advise feeding carrots very sparingly, some advise moderation, and yet others include them daily! The same can be said of broccoli, greens etc etc. ( … this is not helpful …)
Over the many years I have been caring for guinea pigs, I have come to the conclusion that ringing the changes on a daily basis is the best thing you can do to keep your guinea healthy and happy. It goes without saying that whatever vegetables you feed your guineas, they must be as fresh and wholesome as you yourself would eat. Anything less could quite easily make your guinea ill. A word of warning about spinach - it goes off very quickly in warm weather, but piggies will still eat it anyway, which is dangerous. Remove any wilted or spoiled vegetables as soon as possible to avoid digestive problems. Please note: all green leafy vegetables, including broccoli, brussel sprouts and carrot tops, should only be given in moderate amounts as they can cause bladder stones (excess calcium) or bloat (liquid or gas) in some guineas who are prone to these conditions. The following is my own standard list of fresh foods. (There are of course many other foods you can you can add, but this is my own basic ‘storecupboard’)
Safe to Eat
Melon, peeled Banana (and skin) Black cabbage (moderation) Spring greens (moderation) Parsnip Apple (red, no pips) Kale (moderation) Kiwi fruit Corn on the cob (occasionally) Cauliflower and leaves Celery and celery leaves Broccoli and stalks (moderation) Brussels sprouts (moderation) Carrots and tops (tops with moderation - high calcium) Watercress (treat) Sweet red peppers, green, yellow and orange Spinach (occasional treat) Parsley (occasional treat)
Dandelion Groundsel Fresh grass and clover (no mower clippings or contamination)
If you pick two or three items from the list and change the combination each day so that they never get the same food two days running you won’t go far wrong. Your guinea pig’s requirement for vitamin C will be met and you won’t be either under or over feeding any one food. It also keeps them interested! If you have a large number of guineas to feed, chopping up several different veggies into small chunks and mixing them all together on a daily basis will also do the trick. Again, variety is the spice, and you won't be under or over feeding. Do bear in mind also that all decent quality dry foods contain protected vitamin C plus most of the other vitamins and minerals your guinea needs, as long as the pack is within its use-by date and has been stored correctly. Any small deficit will be met by hay, grass if available and their daily veggies; don't be tempted to feed huge quantities of vegetables 'just to be sure' as this could cause tummy upsets. There's also a possibility that the guineas could start getting picky about food generally, including their dry food. This is not great; you'll end up throwing a lot away, and it's difficult to get them back on track again if they've developed the habit of fussy foraging. Good all-round no nonsense feeding is what you're after for a balanced diet.
Find out what your guinea likes (having checked it out first) and add it to the list, introducing new foods gradually in small quantities. Aim to feed about three quarters of a mugful of veggies, loosely packed, per adult guinea per day. All items should be chopped, but not too far in advance as the vitamin content starts to deteriorate about an hour after cutting.
THESE FOODS ARE UNSAFE FOR YOUR GUINEA PIG TO EAT If you are unsure about any food, the golden rule is: If in doubt, leave it out.
Potato and potato leaves Rhubarb and rhubarb leaves - lethal Iceberg lettuce Mushrooms Anything grown from a bulb Green parts of a tomato plant Ivy Moss Pips and stones of fruit Leaves and bark of fruit trees with stones (plum, cherry) Oak Ground elder Most cultivated garden flowers and their leaves Houseplants Bindweed - lethal Buttercup
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