Guinea pigs are busy, inquisitive animals. They make adorable pets for both adults and children, being relatively easy to keep and not too demanding in terms of space, time and cost. If you are thinking about getting your first guinea pig you will want to get off to the best start to give your new friend a long and happy life with you.

Tip 1: When you are considering getting your first pet guinea pig, think about getting two!

Your new pet guinea pig’s social needs are important to consider. In an ideal world, you should be thinking about getting at least two guinea pigs to keep together. As much as guinea pigs enjoy interacting with their human friends, we cannot replace the company of their own kind. 

Most pet guinea pigs will be happy in pairs. Keep two female guinea pigs together or try a neutered male with one or more females. Be wary of keeping two boys together though, as they sometimes fight.

Careful and sensitive introductions are needed when guinea pigs meet for the first time. Guinea pigs all have different characters and not all pairs will be happy together. When you introduce a potential new friend it is best to allow them to meet for the first time on neutral ground such as in a large outdoor run. Keep an eye on them at first to make sure they are going to get along.

Although rabbits and guinea pigs are sometimes kept together, rabbits are not the best companions for guinea pigs. They are usually larger and stronger with powerful back legs. Guinea pigs can be bullied by larger rabbits and may also get hurt if they get in the way as the rabbit moves around. You will also soon find that guinea pigs communicate vocally and rabbits just cannot join in these conversations!

Tip 2: You can purchase ready-made guinea pig homes, or if you are creative and have some basic carpentry skills, you could build one yourself.

Whether they are kept indoors or outdoors, guinea pigs need plenty of space in which to play and explore. For a pair of guinea pigs, the dimensions of the enclosure should be around 1.5m long by 60cm wide. If you have the space, make it larger. But remember, if you have more than two guinea pigs you should increase the space as necessary. The height of the enclosure should allow them to comfortably stand up on their hind legs.

The top of your guinea pigs’ enclosure should provide security against predators and inquisitive pets such as dogs or cats. This is particularly important if you keep them outside. Not only must your pet be safe, they must feel safe too. So provide tunnels and hiding spaces for them to retreat into if they feel threatened. These spaces also provide places for your guinea pig to explore and rest in if they wish.

The main enclosure can have a relatively hard floor as this will help to keep your pet’s claws from becoming overgrown. You can line the main run with newspaper then use hay or similar safe bedding on top for your guinea pigs in this area. Remember that any bedding must be safe if your guinea pig should eat it.

In addition to their main run, your guinea pigs should have access to a warm and cosy area for sleep or rest. 

This space should be snug and enclosed with an opening which allows your guinea pigs to come and go freely. There should be enough space for all your guinea pigs to lay together, stretching out fully and there should be plentiful bedding. Good quality hay is ideal as it will keep your pets warm and they can nibble on it too.

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If you generally keep your guinea pigs indoors and they have a separate outside run, ensure that they always have hiding spaces, tunnels and shaded areas in which to hide from threats, rest and keep out of the sun when enjoying their outdoor space.

Tip 3: Give your guinea pig a varied diet to ensure good health

A healthy guinea pig will spend a large amount of time eating. To ensure that your guinea pigs do not become overweight the main part of their diet should consist of hay. Give them an unlimited amount. Good quality hay should be dust free and will have a pleasant smell. Reject any hay which is dusty, damp or smells mouldy. You can provide the hay in a special feeder and you can also use it as bedding. If it is used for bedding do check and change it regularly to ensure it does not become soiled or damp. 

In addition to hay, guinea pigs can be given a portion of guinea pig pellets every day. Be careful not to overfeed these as your pet could gain too much weight. You guinea pig will certainly enjoy a variety of foods and the rest of the diet should be made up of green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach or broccoli. These healthy vegetables are a good source of the vitamin C which guinea pigs need to stay healthy.

Guinea pigs will also enjoy something a little sweeter as an occasional treat. Consider slices of apple, a handful of blueberries or a tasty carrot.

It goes without saying that your guinea pig should always have access to fresh clean water. This should be provided in a bottle with a spout for your pet to suck on when they are thirsty. Check your pet’s water bottle regularly to ensure there are no leaks or blockages in the bottle and change the water so it is fresh every day.

Tip 4: Regular gentle handling is a good way to build a strong bond and trust. 

Cuddles and gentle handling are all part of the fun with guinea pigs. If you and your pets are going to get the most out of your relationship, you will want to ensure that your guinea pigs are happy and comfortable to be handled.

If you gently handle and hold your guinea pig every day as part of their regular routine they will become confident and relaxed with you. Start slowly with gentle stroking and gradually work up to picking them up for cuddles. You will learn about your guinea pig’s character and your guinea pig will learn to be relaxed and confident with you.

This daily handling time is a great opportunity to groom your pet if they have long hair, or care for their skin if they are a hairless guinea pig. Remember to give them a general health check during this part of the day too.

Tip 5: Monitor Your Pet’s Health

Ensuring your pet is in good health is part of responsible ownership. It is a good idea to check your guinea pig’s general wellbeing at least once a day. This is a really simple thing to do once you are used to handling your guinea pig and are familiar with their regular habits and behaviour.

Take a little time to simply watch your pet. Are they eating and drinking normally? Have they passed urine and faeces? Are they active and interested in their environment? Is their movement normal? All these things are easily observed as you do your routine care and cleaning around your pet.

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Next, it is time to check your guinea pig while you gently handle and play with them. Take time during your cuddles to look at their body generally. Pay particular attention to their eyes, ears, bottom and feet. Check their skin and ensure that claws and teeth are not abnormally long.

Poorly guinea pigs will often be quieter than normal. They will not be so active or interested in play. They may not be eating, drinking or going to the toilet as regularly as they should. If you notice any of these changes it is certainly time to call your vet as these small creatures can become extremely sick very quickly.

If you have any doubts about your guinea pig’s health it is important to call your vet. Your local veterinary practice will be able to help with routine procedures such as claw clipping as well as taking care of your pet if they become unwell.

The bottom line:

Guinea pigs aren’t rabbits, and have different needs, that we have to make sure we meet. But it’s worth it to have happy guinea pigs squeaking away contentedly to each other every morning!

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