What a lovely pet a guinea pig is. Small and gentle-natured, but lively too, they love being handled, they’re inquisitive, they’re quite vocal and they rarely bite or scratch. They live for between four and eight years.
Guinea pigs have complex digestive systems. Food is passed through the gut and small droppings, called caecotrophs, are produced. Guinea pigs then eat caecotrophs, allowing the food to be re-ingested.
But looking after them properly does mean knowing about the five welfare needs – and that’s just what this section is all about. With the correct diet, care and handling you and your guinea pig will have a long and happy time together. In the sections below we will introduce some of the most important things you need to know in order to enjoy the experience of being a guinea pig owner to the full.
Guinea pigs love company and should ideally be kept in single sex groups or pairs – litter mates make the best companions. Males and females can live happily together, but should ideally be neutered to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Never keep guinea pigs with rabbits or chinchillas. They have very different food and housing needs and may fight. . Firstly bullying and aggression often occurs between species, and secondly rabbits often carry asymptomatically the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, which can lead to severe pneumonia in guinea pigs. Although guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas are all fibrevores, they do have different nutritional requirements.
Guinea pigs are the happiest when they are kept in pairs or small groups.
Guinea pigs are active for up to 20 hours per day and sleep only for short periods.
Traditional small hutches can compromise guinea pigs’ welfare as they do not allow guineas to behave normally. A hutch should actually only be viewed as your guineas’ ‘bedroom’. The hutch should be permanently attached to a much larger run or exercise area, so your guineas can decide when they go outside to stretch their legs. If a ramp connects the hutch to a run, ensure it is wide enough and not too steep so your guineas can get up and down safely and easily. A good quality hutch provides shelter and protection from extremes of weather and temperature, is draught-free and predator proof, and is a cosy place to sleep. Provide lots of Excel bedding for your guinea to keep them warm. In the wintertime when it’s particularly cold, you should consider moving your guineas’ home somewhere warmer such as a shed, unused garage or outhouse; and don’t forget to make sure they can exercise every day. The bedroom area should be as big as possible:
Big enough to allow guineas to lie down and stretch out comfortably in all directions.
Tall enough for them to sit (and ideally stand) up on their back legs without touching the roof
As guineas should be housed in friendly pairs or groups, their bedroom area should be enough to allow all guineas to perform all the behaviours mentioned above at the same time.
Clean the hutch out two or three times a week – especially in warmer weather, to keep flies away. In extremely hot weather, bedding may need to be changed even more often to stop it becoming mouldy and damp.
Guinea pigs are hunted by predators in the wild, so they’re naturally frightened of big, open spaces. Your pets will spend a lot of time around the edges of a room or run, so a few well-placed upside-down cardboard boxes will give them extra space where they can feel safe and exercise.
If the weather is bad, you can arrange all these things indoors. But life can get more interesting in an outside run. Firstly, make sure it’s placed out of direct sunlight and that there is a shelter inside. Then fill it with places to hide, things to climb and tunnels to run through – making sure it’s not too tight a squeeze and that they can’t escape.
Guinea pigs like to play, so make sure there are plenty of toys for them. Play makes them exercise, which is good for their physical health, and keeps them contented, which is good for keeping them happy and healthy.
Guinea pigs are natural foragers, so hide some food and your pets will enjoy looking for it. For example, try hiding some Excel Nature Snacks around their hutch or in Excel Herbage. In addition to providing nutrition, Foraging mimics their natural behaviour, keeps them occupied and prevents boredom.
It’s easy to scare your guinea pigs when you approach them, so it’s best to crouch down and talk softly as you get nearer. Let your pets come to you – offer your hand to sniff, perhaps – then gently place your hand across their shoulder with the thumb tucked between the front legs on one side.
You should then be able to slowly lift your guinea pigs and support their weight by putting your other hand under the bottom. You should then hold your pets on your lap or, if you’re standing, close to your chest.
If your guinea pig is a long-haired breed, groom daily to keep the coat in good condition. But every breed likes some grooming – and it helps to strengthen the bond of friendship between you and your pets.
Vets recommend that all guinea pigs should be neutered. It not only prevents unwanted pregnancies, it will also make your pets calmer and less aggressive. Please ask your vet about the correct age for neutering.
If you have a question, please email us or call us on 0800 413 969. Our dedicated consumer care team are available to answer any questions you may have. If you are concerned about the immediate health of your pet, please seek the advice of your vet as soon as possible.Email us