If you are reading this article, you either want to get a little guinea pig as a pet, or you already have one, and you don’t know how to take care of him properly.
What do guinea pigs need? Firstly, I have to take the elephant out of the room and say that taking care of a guinea pig, just like taking care of any other pet, takes a lot of time and responsibility. Guinea pigs are tiny creatures that need a lot of attention and love as they are prey animals (bottom of the food chain) and they are always scared. After they learn you are not a threat to them, these little creatures will show affection. This is why they are the best choice for a child’s pet, but the owner needs to be very responsible and careful.
Of course, you will need to buy a home for them, a lot of food and many other things that many of you might not think of. Now I will give you a list of things that you will need, and I will provide you with advice on every single one later on:
- A friend (not necessary but highly recommended)
- Special shampoo
1. A Friend
It might seem kind of strange that this is the thing on the top of the list, but guinea pigs need guinea pigs as friends. Of course, you can be their friend, but this will take just too much of your time. This is why it is recommended to buy at least two little rodents as they naturally live in groups, not alone. They will be happier together than when they are alone, and your relationship with them will be a lot simpler.
These little creatures can be scared easily, and it’s hard to create a bond between you and your guinea pig. This is why having two or more can be beneficial as it makes them happier. Another reason is that it can be easier to clean their cage if they have a big cage (it’s easier for them to share and have separate areas, especially the toilet area).
On the other hand, it might get a lot messier, mostly if their cage is not big enough, but it’s a price worth paying. It is up to you whether you want your guinea pig to be happier (and you would clean more) or for you to have more free time (despite your friend probably being depressed).
If you are going to have one guinea pig, then you will have to invest more time because they love affection and attention.
Related: Are Guinea Pigs Affectionate Pets?
2. The Cage
It is evident that any rodent needs its own cage, his own home. It is recommended that the cage should be just that tall so the guinea pig would not escape. They are small pets but quite big as rodents, so they will need a cage as big as possible.
The Humane Society of the United States had noted that the cages for guinea pigs sold in the pet store are way too small for them. They need a lot of floor space, not vertical space like the majority of rodents. Also, they certainly do not require complicated things like wheels as firstly, they don’t fit, and secondly, this is not their kind of activity. They need a lot of space to move around and to exercise in order to stay healthy.
They need at least 7.5 square feet (for one or two pigs). The more space they have, the easier it is for you. On the one hand, your pig will be happier as it would a lot easier for him to organize his cage and eventually separate the ‘bathroom’ area from everything else. On the other hand, him separating his areas is beneficial, and you will have a lot less cleaning to do.
However, having a small cage can be the most depressing thing for a guinea pig as they need a lot of floor space to move around. Also, not only that a small cage causes changes in mood, it is proven that it can cause some medical conditions such as pododermatitis (the equivalent of bed sores but on their hocks).
If you have more than a single guinea pig, you should consider putting them in the same cage. This way they can play together, do their activities together, and this creates a strong bond between them (the stronger the relationship, the better; they are naturally social animals). Moreover, it’s better to have the both of them in the same cage as they can organize their personal space much more efficiently.
Another important thing related to the cage is the cage’s location in the house. Before getting a guinea pig, you need to make sure that you have a quiet and safe place in your home. Never put their cage near a noisy device: these little guinea pigs have an extremely sensitive hearing. Also, be careful about the temperature in the room (the recommended temperature is between 18 and 24 degrees).
The bedding is a layer that you put on the bottom of the cage and which you need to replace or in some cases clean regularly. It is crucial to choose the right kind of bedding for your little guinea pig. There are a lot of types of beddings in the pet store, but they are not as good as they claim to be for your sensitive little friend.
A well-advertised type of bedding is the odor-free one: it should keep your guinea pig’s home fresh for several days. Although it might be a relief for you as an owner, this bedding can be too harsh for your pet’s skin. These unique beddings are designed to keep the air fresh for a long time, so they contain a lot of chemicals, most of them being very harsh. This type of bedding can be damaging to the rodents’ skin and health overall.
Also, cedar and pine shavings are not a good choice either. Even if they are available at most of the pet stores (especially for the small rodents), they are bad for your guinea pig. They contain a very harmful substance for guinea pigs called phenol.
This substance can have a lot of adverse effects on your guinea pig, causing a lot of medical conditions (for example, it affects the liver of guinea pigs). So always pay attention to this substance and beddings in general.
You can use paper or straw as bedding; the advantages are that it retains heat and keeps the guinea pigs warm and away from a lot of damaging chemicals. Be generous when it comes to bedding, they like to make a tunnel and hide under the bedding so put about 2 to 3 inches of bedding in their cage, and it should be enough.
Handy advice about bedding is that you should practice spot cleaning daily and also change the whole bedding weekly to prevent bad smell and to keep everything clean for your guinea pigs.
This way it will not seem to be a tedious and stressing thing to do.
I know this is one of the most obvious things on the list, but I have some pieces of advice to offer on this, too.
Firstly, you need to buy some type of a container that the guinea pig is going to drink water from. There are two main options for that container: a bottle sipper and a water dish. I strongly recommend the bottle sipper because it is more practical. A bottle sipper can be attached to the cage; the water is not spilled everywhere when the guinea pig drinks from it. If you buy a water dish, be sure there will always be wet bedding in the cage, and the guinea pigs do not like that.
You can buy a glass bottle sipper, but a plastic one is good too, and it is easier to find in pet stores. The size recommended is about 32 ounces (almost a liter).
About cleaning the bottle sipper, I need to say that washing it once a week should be enough. It is even better if you use a special brush to scrub it out. More than that, you can also use a Q-tip to clean the nozzle of the bottle.
Change their water daily even if the bottle is not empty!
Related: What Can Guinea Pigs Drink?
The first thing you need to know about the food is the container you have to buy. Try buying a ceramic bowl over a plastic one. They are harder to be destroyed, more durable and impossible to chew, so they are safer overall.
Make sure the bowl is wide and that your guinea pig can put their front feet on the rim of the bowl (this is how they typically like to eat). Also, place their food bowl as far away as you can from their bathroom area and clean the bowl when needed and the cage whenever there’s some spilling on the bedding.
Guinea pigs are rodents, and as you can learn from a biology book, their teeth grow continuously. To prevent a lot of severe and unpleasant problems with this, they need to grind their teeth. They do that by eating a lot of green leaves so if you want a guinea pig, prepare to buy a lot of greens for your friend whether it’s summer or winter.
The perfect food for them is also hay, a key source of fiber and it can be food and bedding, too. Other foods recommended are pellets, vegetables (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce) and fruits (they love them, but of course, too much can hurt – fruits shouldn’t represent more than 10% of their diet).
The food should always be fresh and always check the cage an hour after you feed your guinea pigs to remove anything that’s uneaten.
It might seem a bonus thing on the list, but let me explain why a toy is essential in a guinea pig cage. As I have already mentioned, these little guys are always scared, and they are always in alert because they got used to always be in danger. This is why anything new to them might be something dangerous.
A very easy but a useful method is to keep a toy in their cage. It will catch your pet’s smell so when you need to clean the cage or to put your friend back into the cage; he will recognize the familiar toy by smell.
Also, you can place wooden blocks or cardboard boxes – chew toys – as their teeth are continuously growing. A hammock is another option as entertainment for your pet. You need to watch it carefully to make sure it’s safe for him.
Another toy that is not for entertainment as much as it is for privacy. Add a tunnel in your pet’s cage, and they will have a safe place to hide for a little moment of privacy. It’s in their nature to find a lot of places to hide.
Be sure there are no small toys in the cage as they can swallow them.
One of the important rules if you own a guinea pig is to clean their cage as much as needed or as much as possible. Of course, there is a lot of fall out that can collect dirt in the cage. A very good tip to help you prevent as much fall out in the cage as possible is to take out your little pet and brush him daily. This can be a part of your intimate time together, practically giving him a message.
8. Special Shampoo
It might seem like it’s some kind of a joke but pet stores actually sell shampoos for guinea pig fur.
If I were you, I would never take the risk of bathing my friend using a detergent or my shampoo. These detergents contain harsh substances meant to clean other surfaces. As guinea pig’s skin is very sensitive, you should definitely buy specially formulated shampoo just for guinea pigs, to prevent a terrible irritation.
Although specially formulated shampoos are without a doubt the most recommended, you can theoretically use baby shampoo as it is a lot less harmful than standard dishwashers or shampoos.
This is the most obvious one, and it’s also the most important. After all, the time you offer to another human being or a pet is what matters. Everything’s in vain if you do not give them love and attention. For example, if you feed your guinea pig ten times a day but you do not physically have time to spend playing with him, you are not going to create a strong owner-pet bond.
The bond you want to create with the little pet is conditioned by how much time you spend with him. This is one of the few ways of earning your guinea pig’s trust.
This kind of friendship requires a lot of daily time because trust is earned and it cannot be earned while doing nothing about it. You need to play with them as they are very active animals and they have a lot of energy.
However, you can also relax by cuddling with your little buddy, brushing his fur or scratching him. Give him even the smallest amount of time that you can spend every day and it will be worth it.
If you are careful about every need that your little guinea pig has, once time passes by, you two will grow together and be inseparable, and you will finally believe that everything was worth it.
It is easier to know your pet’s needs when you know its typical behavior. Trying to understand their universe and their perception about everything that they see or feel is far more important than just having a list.
This is why I tried to explain as much as I could why they need everything they need. In order to create a bond with them, you need to love them and take care of them, not because you’re obligated to, but because you love your pet.