Aysha one of our lovely Veterinary Nurses has kept guinea pigs for many years and shares her knowledge on this fascinating and interesting pet.
Guinea pigs, also known as the cavy belong to the rodent family. The average life expectancy of a guinea pig is 4-8 years. They are extremely social animals, so it is advised to keep them in the same sex pairs or in small single sex groups. Guinea pigs can love their cuddles with humans but also some guinea pigs prefer not to be handled as much, so it is important to listen to their behaviours and take handling slow with them. Guinea pigs require a specialised balanced diet to ensure they get all the nutrients they need, below is some information on keeping guinea pigs. It is important to health check your guinea pigs daily checking their eyes, ears, nose, feet, skin and coat and their weight. It is recommended to have a vet check every 6-12 months to ensure their teeth are not overgrown as dental disease is one of the most common issues in guinea pigs, the vet will be able to do a full general exam and discuss any concerns you may have.
Did you know guinea pigs cannot synthesise their own vitamin C?
This means that vitamin C needs to be added to their diet. Vitamin C is essential in making collagen. Collagen is needed to maintain bloods vessels integrity, bone formation, wound healing and maintaining a healthy skin. Vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs is known as Scurvy. Some of the clinical signs for scurvy are Weakness, swollen joints and decreased mobility, poor skin and coat, teeth grinding, loss of appetite, weight loss and small wounds that bleed excessively or slowed healing.
So how do we prevent this from happening?
Providing a balance complete guinea pig pellet and used within 90 days if opening – opening for excessive amounts of time can reduce the quality of the vitamin C. Provide a variety of vitamin C vegetables daily. (Leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers are all high in vitamin C. Carrots and certain fruits such as oranges, strawberries and kiwi are also high in Vitamin c but should be fed in small quantities once a weekly due to the high sugar content.
Did you know 80 % of their diet should consist of hay? timothy hay is required as an unlimited source to ensure they maintain healthy and keep their teeth at a good length. Guinea pigs require a mixture of vegetables and fruit within in their diets to ensure they are gaining enough nutrients. A teacup size of fresh food is recommended per day per guinea pig.
Finally let’s talk about pellets verses muesli mix - Muesli food. This type of foods is not recommended to be fed, due to guinea pigs being able to selective fed by picking only the stuff they like which can cause issues where they will not be gaining all the nutrients, they need a complete guinea pig pellet mix.
Enclosure and enrichment
Guinea pigs love to run and zoom and popcorn so the bigger the enclosure the better. One of the most important things to consider when it comes to enclosure is the size— a pair of guinea pigs needs at least 10.5 square feet. Guinea pigs are not as good with ramps and heights as rabbits are, so it is best to have a large single level. Avoid wire bottom cages as this can lead to issues such as bumblefoot. Suitable bedding materials are fleece, towels, care fresh bedding or chopped straw or hay ensuring the dust has been extracted to prevent any respiratory issues. Below are some ideas to add some enrichment to their enclosures:
Tunnels and hides are perfect to provide comfort and enrichment. These will need to be checked daily and thrown away if there is any damage. Scatter feeding – hiding pellets or fresh food within piles of hay so they must forage for themselves. Safe herbs can be used to feed and provide enrichment. Apple tree branches. Try putting some fresh food or pellet inside a cardboard egg carton or closed cereal box and letting your guinea pig figure out how to open it to get to the prize inside! (Just make sure anything you provide is untreated and unstained!). Corn on the cob with the husks on are great as a treat and enrichment.
Guinea pigs do make wonderful pets, I own 17 of my own but they do require a lot of specialist care. If you are thinking of getting guinea pigs but unsure what you may need, please call to discuss this with one of our amazing nurses.