If you are a first time Guinea Pig owner or are looking for a refresher then this guide is for you. Owning a Guinea Pig comes with the responsibility to ensure your pet is comfortable, healthy and happy in an environment that replicates their natural habitat where possible.
1. Finding the right cage size
Guinea Pigs love to roam and they need plenty of space within their home to stretch their legs - if they are really excited you might find them zooming from one end to the other.
From our experience we have found the typical metal cages from high street retailers to be a little snug once our Guinea Pigs hit their full adult size so it is worth considering something with greater flexibility like the modular build it yourself cages which allows the cage to grow with your Guinea Pigs.
2. Needing a friend
Guinea Pigs are social animals and in the wild you will find them in large herds, often with 10 or more others. You should not have one Guinea Pig living on their own in a cage as they need a companion. It is also advised to keep Guinea Pigs in same sex groups. Socialising is an important aspect of enrichment for guinea pigs.
Females (sows) will get along well, and males (boars) can also live in harmony providing they are bonded from a young age and don't have any female love interests to fight about. If you mix sows and boars, well, you know what happens so be prepared to look after a family of Guinea Pigs. You can have your boars neutered if you wish to have a mix of male and females.
Guinea Pigs also welcome human interaction and love a stroke or neck scratch. If you wish to sit with your Guinea Pig on your lap you could use something like a Cuddle Cup or Pee Pad to ensure that they don't make a mess on your clothing or furniture. It is likely that your Guinea Pigs will wee if they are nervous or stressed. It is important when you are lifting your guinea pigs in and out of their cage that you follow correct lifting techniques to keep your piggies safe and secure.
3. What do they do?
In a domestic setting Guinea Pigs still display similar behaviours as they would in the wild. They are always on the move, foraging for food and exploring inside and under the obstacles that they find on their path. Within their house you must provide enough stimulation for them to not get bored.
Things like tunnels, tubes, houses and hideaways are great options and easy for you to regularly reconfigure within the space. If you have any loose textiles like blankets you might find them climbing inside once they find an opening as it helps them feel safer once they are inside of something.
4. Feeding your Guinea Pig
You'll notice that Guinea Pigs get through a lot of food and they need a constant source to keep themselves healthy and their digestive system functioning. From any pet store you can pick up some fibrous hay bales and a bag of nuggets - from our experience you might need to try a few to find out their favourites as they can be fussy. For more information on hay quantity and quality, read How much Hay does a guinea pig actually need?
In addition, Guinea Pigs eat a lot of vegetables and they love leafy greens, carrots, cucumber and much more. If you are unsure about whether certain foods are safe for consumption, check out Can Guinea Pigs Eat... our online food database. Please always do your own research and consult a veterinarian if you are unsure.
5. Keeping them clean
Guinea Pigs keep themselves clean but they do make a big mess of their enclosure. As well as going toilet frequently in all corners of their cage, they've been known to tip their food bowl over, kick hay around and leave their unwanted vegetables so it doesn't take long before their house starts to look, and smell, a bit sad.
We advise a weekly deep clean and find it is good to establish a routine with same day cleaning each time. You may also find they need a quick spot clean as you go but its fairly simple to keep on top of. If you have a larger group of Guinea Pigs then you might find they need cleaning more frequently depending on your setup. To help you keep on top of things, why not try using a planner.
If you use fleece bedding as your cage liners then they should be washed each time you clean the cage. Alternating between a few liners while you clean a dirty set will ensure your flooring or furniture remains protected.
For those that use fleece, we have created an easy clean hay tray that is water resistant and the access lip makes it easy for your Guinea Pigs to climb in and out. Simply lay down a thin bed of sawdust and load it up with hay. It works well to contain the mess and can be simply taken out, quickly emptied and then rinsed with water before refilling. Never used a hay tray before? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Guinea Pig Hay Trays
6. The finer details
In addition to keeping your Guinea Pigs clean, you should also be grooming them to ensure they are in good health. A healthy guinea pig is a happy guinea pig. You will need to trim your Guinea Pigs nails to avoid discomfort and an occasional hair cut is advised where the hairs around their bum can get long and gather dirt.
As mentioned, Guinea Pigs are self cleaning animals so you do not have to bathe them or use products to clean their smell. If they smell particularly bad it could be a sign of poor health and it is advised that you see a specialist. Sometimes Guinea Pig owners might use a bath to neutralise scents as part of a bonding process but this should be limited to a couple of times per year as it gives them dry skin and fur.