These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care. They are NOT a substitute for veterinary treatment.
Portia (left) was bought on Valentine's Day 1998 from a pet
store. Portia was less than a week old, terrified, and infested with mites. Portia is one of two pet store guinea pigs I bought over the years. I would like to think that I rescued her from a bad situation in a pet store, but the reality is that Portia, being nothing more than store inventory, was quickly replaced with another unfortunate piglet.
We were still learning about guinea pigs back then. But with the
help of experienced piggy enthusiasts and books, we gave Portia
the extra care and attention she needed. She turned out to be a
beautiful, healthy piggy.
These care pages will introduce you to the care and culture of
guinea pigs, and will prepare you for becoming a responsible
guinea pig person.
Before you adopt a new guinea pig, shop for supplies so you have everything you need before you bring your guinea pig
Shopping list: Items for your guinea pig's home.
- A well-designed cage with a solid bottom;
- a pet carrier for transport;
- Newspaper and bedding;
- Hay rack and water bottle holder;
- Heavyweight food dishes that are un-nibble-able and untippable;
- Nesting items, such as tunnels and shelters;
- Things to climb onto or tunnel under;
- Storage bins for hay, pellet food, bedding, and other supplies;
- An appointment at a vet, for an introductory well-piggy checkup;
- Medical needs, including toenail clippers, styptic pencil,
mineral oil and cotton swabs
The pet carrier will come in handy right away your new
piggy needs a dark, calm place to hide, since he or she is probably
going to be a little scared of all the new sounds and smells. You
will also need this container for vet visits and any trips in your
car; a small cat/dog carrier is often perfect for a couple of bonded
piggies. Place newspaper and/or a towel in it so your cavy can burrow
and feel safe.
One very important aspect of bringing guinea pigs into your home
is the location of the cage.
Guinea pigs need human contact and a stimulating environment. We'll
discuss cage placement and necessities in more depth on the Habitats page.
You can leave your new guinea pig alone for the first day so that
he can become accustomed to the new sounds and smells around him.
Guinea pigs are creatures of habit, and this sudden change of scenery
is bound to stress them out. However, pick up and cuddle your new
piggy often so he can get to know you your smell, the sound
of your voice, the warmth of your hands. Even though guinea pigs
may never quite warm to the idea of being picked up, they need to
learn to trust you and develop a bond.
adding a piggy: the quarantine period
If you introduce a second (or third, or fourth...) guinea pig into
your home, you must keep it separate from the other piggies until
you are sure that the new piggie is free from any illnesses. The
average quarantine period is two weeks. Always introduce guinea
pigs gradually, on a neutral surface such as a floor.
pigs "know" each other largely by scent, so it's often
a good idea to try to get your scent on the new guinea pig. Sometimes
a bath will be needed, if the pig has been neglected or if his coat
is matted. If the piggy is otherwise clean, I often suggest rubbing
a dirty t-shirt or pair of socks on your new friend so that he or
she smells familiar to the other(s). Another tip is to put a teeny,
tiny dab of Vick's Vapo-Rub on all the piggies' bums, so that they
all smell the same. I am an advocate of "bath bonding,"
in which all the guinea pigs are bathed, dried, and placed in a
freshly-cleaned cage at the same time. Bathing tends to stress the
guinea pigs out a bit, so they concentrate on huddling together
for warmth and security. (Note that these bonding practices
are not guaranteed; you must find what works for you and your piggies.)
||Although having a single piggy is a rewarding experience, your
commitment must be firm and long-standing. As soon as you are away
from the home often for school, job, or anything that keeps your
guinea pig alone for more than a few hours each day, it becomes
essential to have a companion piggy. I advocate getting any pets
in pairs, as the companionship while you're away is essential for
their happiness. A lone piggy will pine for you while you're away,
and will be very bored. Remember that these are social, lively animals
who need some excitement and interaction in their day.
|Compatibility generally depends on the personality of the guinea
pig rather than the gender. Males are more territorial, and will
fight over females. Females can try to challenge their place in
the pecking order. Generally, though, guinea pigs get along quite
well with one another given the proper conditions. More about compatibility
is discussed in Boys and Girls.
pigs, or cavies, are part of the Rodentia order. Many pet care books
will list guinea pigs as rodents, but this isconfusing and often debated. Many other animals fall under the Rodentia
order that we don't consider rodents: degus, jerboas, pacas, beavers,
chipmunks, woodchucks, squirrels, prairie dogs, porcupines and capybaras.
These animals are generally herbivores, with long incisors. Guinea pigs have the long incisors typical of rodents, as well as a diet similar to that of rodents. However, I always differentiate guinea pigs from rodents simply because their care and lifestyle is more closely aligned with rabbits instead of rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils. Guinea pigs need horizontal space for running, much like rabbits. They also require a diet with Vitamin C, and cannot have nuts and seeds as part of their diet. They cannot use the typical "hamster wheels," since they are not known for agility. While they can climb to an extent, they cannot scurry up steep slopes like rodents. Both rabbits and guinea pigs need space, and lots of it.
Still, the rodent debate rages on. Read a New York Times article about their classification.
Domestic guinea pigs (cavia porcellus) are quite different from
their leaner cousins in the wild. The Caviidae family represents
South American rodents with one pair of teats, and four digits on
the front feet, three on the hind feet.
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Rodentia
- Suborder: Histricomorpha
- Family: Caviidae
- Genus (Species) Common Name:
Cavia (anolaimae, aperia, fulgida, guianae, nana, porcellus,
tschudii) Guinea Pig
Dolichotis (patagonum, salinicola) Patagonian
Galea (flavidens, musteloides, spixii) Yellow-tailed
Kerodon (rupestris) Rock Cavy
Microcavia Microcavia (australis, shiptoni) Mountain
Microcavia Monticavia (niata) Mountain Cavy
guinea pigs are often
compared to hamsters, gerbils,
or other rodents. While in the
Order Rodentia, guinea pigs
are not, technically, rodents.
The guinea pig does not come from Guinea, nor is it a pig. The
"porcellus" in its name is from Latin, meaning "little pig."
They do have some piggy characteristics: their WHEEEEK, for example, sounds a lot like
pigs to trough! The sexes are referred to as sows and boars, as
in pigs. The "guinea" part possibly comes from the fact
that, when they were introduced to European aristocracy in the 1500s, they were sold
for a guinea a very valuable sale. Another theory for the "guinea" portion of their name is that Spaniards mistakenly thought guinea pigs originated in Dutch Guiana.
Cavies are natives of the Andean region of South America, where they are generally found
in the mountainous regions of Peru. Their high reproductive rates and
accessibility make them an ideal source of meat; guinea pigs have been domesticated since 5000 B.C. by Andean tribes. In the sixteenth century,
Dutch merchants brought them to Europe, where they became pets for
the upper class. Europeans began to develop different breeds of
guinea pigs, and some guinea pigs were brought with immigrants to
America and other countries.
Wild cavies are generally found in grassy plains, in abandoned
burrows or rocks. They even live in the Andes Mountains, where they
withstand lower temperatures. They are very alert and fast, as they
are hunted by many other animals, especially snakes, foxes, and
birds of prey. They are most active in the morning and evening,
when predators are less active. Domestic guinea pigs instinctively
jump when surprised; the species has an excellent defense mechanism
against predators. In fact, when running from a predator, a colony
of guinea pigs will first crowd together and stampede, and then suddenly explode into a scatter, running every
which way in hopes of confusing the predator. Colonies of guinea
pigs become very familiar with their area, and escape routes are
second nature to them. Paths to food and shelter are ingrained in guinea pigs from birth.
Guinea pig colonies generally consist of a dominant male with his
harem. A social structure exists even within the females of the
group; one alpha female will preside over a court of lesser females.
If you adopt a pair of guinea pigs, you will notice this hierarchical
structure as one becomes the dominant piggy. Two adult males, however,
may fight viciously if a female is nearby, or even if one wants
to claim his territory. Males can be happy in pairs or groups, but
be aware of their instinct to be the only male in a colony.
pigs generally stay very close together, often seeking contact when
resting or walking about. This stems from their social behavior
patterns and need for protection. If you browse through Pignic photo
albums, you'll see guinea pigs instinctively snuggling together.
The gestation period for guinea pigs is rather long, about 60-70
days. Guinea pigs are born fully furred, with teeth and eyes open.
In the wild, pups need to be able to run quickly along with the
rest of the colony to avoid getting eaten. Baby guinea pigs are
adorably goofy, with ears and legs that are too big for their little
bodies. They are up and running about in no time.
Guinea pigs communicate with a large array of sounds, and keep
close together for warmth and security. They constantly assess the
dangers around them and alert the others if needed. You may notice
your guinea pig stretching up, nose high in the air to check out
what's happening nearby. These are very sociable animals, and need
lots of attention to be happy. They will actually feel lonely, so
if you are thinking of adopting a guinea pig, understand their needs,
including the need for companionship.
The humble guinea pig comes in a wonderful array of textures and colours in its coat. The wild cavy would have a short coat with an agouti coloring, meaning that it would light and dark bands of colour on each hair (much like our Titania at the top of the page). Breeding has wrought a whole assortment of beautiful coats - the guinea pig at right is a Satin, which means a shiny coat.
One of the oldest breeds; a "bedhead" piggy with rosettes, which are cowlick-like hair patterns that radiate from a center point. Breed standards require the rosettes to be in a specific formation; winnie, our model Abyssinian, is not likely a "proper" Abby. The variations of the Abyssian coat can be pretty to downright hilarious.
The most common breed, and usually what comes to mind when someone mentions guinea pigs. The smooth coat lies flat against the body. The colouring on the coat can be solid or patterned; a white stripe around the middle is a common pattern, and is often referred to as a Dutch coat. Nutmeg (the American, at right) shows an imperfect white band, and you can also see the Agouti colouring in her coat, which is a solid colour with black ticking among the hairs.
Peruvian, Silkie, and Texel.
Peruvians often remind Star Trek geeks of Tribbles, for their hair grows forward from the face, often obscuring it to the point where front and back are not easily identifiable. The hair grows from a center part down the back, and requires extensive grooming (and trimming, for comfort). Peruvians' hair can grow long enough to drape several inches from their body; show-quality Peruvians often spend their days in hair rollers! Silkies (also known as Shelties) are often confused with Peruvians, but their hair only grows back from the neck, and have softer hair. Texels (pictured below) appear to be a Silkie with a perm; their long hair grows in coarse ringlets.
The Teddy is the result of a mutation, and has a dense, coarse coat that can be either soft (often referred to as a plush coat), or rough, often with kinks in the short hairs. Show-quality Teddies are rubbed from back to front to keep their hair poufy. Titania, our Teddy model at right, has a silver agouti pattern, which is the coat of wild guinea pigs.
||Baldwins and Skinny Pigs have no coat, save for patches of hair on Skinny Pigs (Baldwins have no hair whatsoever). Their loose, thick skin needs additional care from sun and irritation. Despite their somewhat prehistoric appearance, their temperament is still docile and cuddly.
The white crested is a difficult breed, because the rosette of a Crested guinea pig must be centered between the ears, and no other rosettes can be present. Many guinea pigs will end up with a rosette on top of their head, which gives them this distinctive "stern" look.
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These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care. They are NOT a substitute for veterinary treatment.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.