Guinea pigs are often considered rodents, but they are not. One of their closest relatives is the rabbit, which is also not an actual rodent.
Guinea pigs live an average of five years and are a great pet for children. Their small size makes them suitable for many homes that can’t have larger pets like large rabbits or cats and dogs.
Guinea pigs have a few unique needs. One of these is that they are unable to make their own vitamin C, so this needs to be provided through diet. Guinea pigs can be fed commercially available pellets, but these should be supplemented with good quality hay, and fresh vegetables. They also need fresh water, either from a bowl, or a specially designed water bottle with a sipper tube.
Many people believe that guinea pigs need items to gnaw on to keep their teeth in good shape. Guinea pigs enjoy chewing, but the grinding down of their teeth is caused by their top teeth grinding against the bottom. If a guinea pig has properly aligned teeth, it doesn’t need specific items to gnaw on, because their teeth will wear evenly as they eat normally.
A larger cage is better than a small one. Guinea pigs love to move around. If you are able to let your guinea pig run around on the floor every day, it can live in a smaller cage. Buy the biggest cage you can afford, and have space for. Make sure it’s a cage that is designed for guinea pigs or rabbits. Cages designed for rats, mice, or hamsters will always be too small. Toys such as the tubes that would be in a hamster cage should also be avoided because a guinea pig may get stuck in them. Choose toys designed especially for guinea pigs. They will also enjoy toilet paper tubes and small cardboard boxes, such as cracker boxes. They will enjoy chewing up the cardboard and hiding in the boxes.
Cage bedding can be a variety of things. The most common is wood shavings. Avoid cedar shavings because these tend to be too harsh and can cause respiratory, or eye problems. Stick to pine shavings. You can also use recycled newspaper pellets.
It’s possible to litter train some guinea pigs. This is done by placing the litter box in the corner of the cage that the guinea pig seems to soil the most. Guinea pigs will never become as fully trained as cats or rabbits, but it will reduce the amount of times you have to fully clean the cage, because you can just clean the litter box. If your guinea pig is litter trained, you can use fleece fabric on the bottom of the cage. This is soft and cuddly for the guinea pig, and can be run through the washing machine on a regular basis to keep it clean. If you go this route, fill the litter box with shavings or newspaper pellets, and clean it regularly.
Guinea pigs can be handled by almost anyone and rarely bite. Very young children should be supervised so they do not squeeze, or drop a guinea pig and injure it. Guinea pigs need their nails trimmed on a regular basis, and all breeds benefit from regular brushing. Longhaired breeds will need to be brushed often so they don’t get matted. Guinea pigs also will benefit from an occasional bath. Too much bathing will dry out the natural oil in their fur, but an infrequent bath is beneficial. You can bathe your guinea pig in a sink, or in the bathtub. Keep your hand under the guinea pig to support it while you lower it into the water. Expect it to be startled at first. Most guinea pigs actually enjoy swimming, so offer your guinea pig the chance to swim during its bath. Never leave it unattended in the water, and be quick to pick it up if it looks distressed. Choose a gently shampoo to lather up the pig, avoiding the eyes. When it has been rinsed, dry it by wrapping it in a towel. Keep it out of direct drafts until it’s totally dry.
Guinea pigs are interesting pets that can fit in with many families.