Guinea Pigs as Pets: 17 Things to Know Before Getting One

Guinea Pigs are classic pets who are loving and adorable. But, before you fall in love with the idea of getting a Guinea Pig, it is crucial that you have an idea what they’re all about. I am a previous Guinea Pig owner, and I know first hand how painful it is to fall in love with these guys, and it end up not working out. Along with my personal experience, I have done some intensive research which I would like to share with you before you get a guinea pig.

So, what should you know before getting a Guinea Pig?

  1. They are an investment and commitment.
  2. Rescue before purchasing.
  3. Compatible with Other Pets?
  4. They can cause an allergy overload.
  5. Not the best pet for young kids.
  6. They require a lot of space and care.
  7. There are differences between gender.
  8. There are different breeds.
  9. They are very intelligent.
  10. They are very social.
  11. They are easily tamed.
  12. They can be loud.
  13. What exercise do they need?
  14. What does their diet look like?
  15. What does their hygiene involve?
  16. What materials are needed for a pet like this?
  17. What does their cage and bedding involve?

1. Investment and Commitment

First things first, we have to be honest. Pets are commitments. It is our responsibility to love, care, and nurture them once they come into our home. Each kind of animal requires a different amount of investment.

As for our lovely friend, the guinea pig, the investment and commitment is quite large. In order to keep a guinea pig healthy and happy, there are a few things that require money such as bedding, hay, food, veggies, vet, chew toys, etc. This, along with the time it takes to manage their living enviorment so that it stays sanitary and clean, there is a lot of time and money required with these little guys.

While they dont live as long as dogs and cats, they require just as much, or even more attention and time than they do. Their average lifespan is 4-8 years.

Also will need someone who can petsit them while you are gone. They are not like cats, and cannot be left alone for a couple days to fend for themselves. They need daily cleaning upkeep, need to be fed, and need to exercise. This will require whenever you go on a trip or out of town, there is someone that can care for them.

2. Rescue Before you Purchase

This is valid advice with all animals, but especially guinea pigs. There are so many abandoned guinea pigs at the animal shelters. When one thinks of animal shelters, they often simply think of dogs and cats. But, there are many other animals there often. And guinea pigs are one of the more popular to come and go from the shelter.

Not only does this help abandoned guinea pigs to find their forever homes, but it also helps you to find a good match for you and your family. Each guinea pig has its own individual personality, as do all animals. My guinea pigs name was O’Malley and my roommate’s guinea was named Misha. While they were brothers, from the same exact litter they were nothing alike. Misha was incredibly skittish and quiet while O’Malley was outgoing and brave.

When rescuing you can often get to know the guinea before you make a final decision and see if you’re a fit for each other. Pet stores often try to rush the process. They’re all about large turnover, and maximum profit. They often send people and pets on your way before you’re confident it’s a good fit. This leads to many abandoned, homeless guineas.

One important thing is to try to get them in a PAIR because this will be very benficial for their mental health.

3. Compatibility with Other Pets

Guinea pigs are very much bottom of the food chain. They are prey on every account. This makes them out to be very skittish fearful animals. Not only does this make them afraid of anything and everything, but it means that they have many predators.

This matters because many people have other pets. They have dogs, cats, birds, etc. While cats will (usually, we all know that they make their own rules) leave guinea pigs alone, there are some breeds of dogs that might have problems with guinea pigs. Usually, these are breeds that were originally bred to hunt. That instinct to kill smaller flighty animals can still be within them. There may also be problems with snakes and certain types of birds.

While it is in these animals genes, there can be steps taken to familiarize these animals with each other. If it is at all possible then have a few test runs of the animal in the home before fully integrating the guineas.

When O’Malley and Misha first met my dog Scamp, tensions were high. Scamp is half Yorkie and half dachshund (a dorkie), and dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers, rabbits, etc. It was in his genes to want to attack the guineas. But, I took precautions to ensure the safety of all the animals involved.

I created an outdoor pen for the guineas so that they could play outside and enjoy the grass without getting into trouble. So, when they met Scamp, I had them inside the pen. First I allowed them time to become comfortable in their surroundings. Then, I brought Scamp out, but kept him near me and under my control.

I thought that O’Malley and Misha (especially Misha) would immediately run to the other side of the pen. But rather, they were all very curious about each other. Scamp would stick his nose up to the chicken wire, and then Misha would stick his nose against Scamps. Then, even when Scamp started licking Misha’s nose, they stayed there. While I thought they were frozen in terror, they weren’t. Eventually Misha walked away and O’Malley came up to check Scamp out.

Every once in awhile Scamp would jump up on the chicken wire (because this is what he does when excited) , and they would scare a bit, but then I would get it back under control and all was well.

Mind, this won’t happen with all animals and all guinea pigs. It is very important to keep extremely close supervision when introducing and familiarizing them with each other. Also at this point the guineas were about six months old, so they knew me and trusted me. In the earlier months, a guinea might be frightened around you, let alone other animals.

4. Allergy Overload

Allergies are defintely something that need to be thought about and examined before bringing guineas into your home.

Many people are allergic to guinea pigs. But, a lot of those who believe they’re allergic to guineas are actually only allergic to their hay. Timothy hay is the majority of guinea pigs diets, and it also tends to be something that almost everyone is allergic to (hay fever).

“Hay fever affects 6.1 million of the children population and 20 million of the adult population.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

With my roommate and I, while I was only allergic to the hay, she was allergic to both the hay and the guinea pigs. This wasn’t something we had realized before bringing the guineas home, but we made it work. I would feed the guineas their hay, and simply wash my hands thouroughly before and after. This eliminated the allergic reactions for me.

But, with my roommate, things were not so easy. Everytime that she would hold or cuddle with Misha, her skin would break out in a terrible itchy red rash. While she dealt with this because of her intense love of animals, there are some people that this would be a problem for.

It is a good idea to get tested for guinea allergies, or simply find some guineas that you can play with, and test if you’re allergic that way.

Humans are not the only ones that suffer! Guinea pigs can be allergic to things as well! And although their sneezes are insanely adorable, in excess they can be a serious cause for concern.

After a month or so with O’Malley at home, I noticed that the sneezed a lot more than his brother, Misha. I started doing some intense research on what could possibly be making my baby sneeze so much. Although his loud adorable sneezes would make me laugh every time, I knew that there was something wrong.

My research gave me no comfort. Either it was simple allergies, or it was a URI (upper respiratory infection) which is a lot more serious. (We’ll cover that later in the Health Problem/Concerns section). I decided I could either play it safe or sorry. So I took him to the vet.

Turns out he was allergic to something in the house. So after some trial and error, I discovered that it was the soap I was using to wash their bedding. (I used fleece bedding, and potty trained them, rather than buying bedding for their entire cage. I’ll explain that later as well.) So I switched out the soap, and the problem was solved.

5. Contrary to Belief, Not Good Pets for Young Children

Guinea pigs are actually very fragile and skittish. They can easily be harmed or hurt if not lifted and cared for in the proper way. Many people think that they’re good starter pets for kids, they are a lot more complicated than hamsters.

Children can absolutely help to take care of these furry little friends, but children under the age of 6-8 (depending on maturity level) should not be the sole caretakers of these pets. Guinea pigs will require adult supervision and care with children these young.

One main reason for this is that guineas have very small bones, and so when handling them one must be extremely gentle and careful. Especially while the guineas are not yet tamed and comfortable with the family. During this time they will take everything in them to run when someone is trying to pick them up.

How to Pick Up a Guinea Pig: In order to pick up a guinea pig, you must approach calmy. Then take on hand (usually whichever hand can most easily reach them) and wrap it around their belly and chest. DO NOT SQUEEZE! Be very gentle. Then take your other hand and slide it under their bum. Calmly bring them close to your body, and hold them there until settled on the floor, couch or bed.

6. Lots of Space and Care Required

First off, guinea pigs need a lot more space than many people think. They idea is they are much more like rabbits than any rodent. They are very active, so lots of space is needed for them to be able to get this exercise.

The cliche “more is better” applies here very literally. The more space a guinea has, the better off they’ll be. But, since give them an entire room of their own isn’t very realistic. The Humane Society of the United States gives some guidelines to how much space your guinea shoudl really have.

One Guinea Pig:7.5 sq. ft. cage (minimum)/30″-36″
Two Guinea Pigs:7.5 sq. ft. (minimum), 10.5 preferred/30″-50″
Three Guinea Pigs:10.5 sq. ft. (minimum), 13 preferred/30″-62″
Four Guinea Pigs:13 sq. ft. (minimum)/30″-76″

Along with this, while guinea pigs are the cleanest rodents out there, they still make a mess. Their cage will most likely need to be cleaned every day or so. This can be as simple as sweeping it out. Food, hay and pellets often all end up on the floor by the end of the day. A simple sweep out of the cage helps to keep the guineas healthy and the smell down.

Amazon has many great tools for pet care, and one of them is the RIZON Mini Dustpan Brush. Using a small brush like this help to get all of the mess out of the hard to reach places and corners of the cage. While it sounds exhausting to have to clean every day, it is a simple sweep like this that will do the trick. The deep cleaning and sanitizing of the cage and stuff only needs to happen about once every two weeks depending on the guinea, and how many of them you have.

7. Differences Between Gender

While male and female guinea pigs make great pets, each gender has their own quirks. Males are called boars while females are called sows.

While groups of sows are the most popular, a group of boars are quite common too. With either group, there is bound to be some riffing concerning the hierarchy when it’s first being set up. But, a female group of guineas is thought to have the most civilized of all animals way of figuring out the hierarchy.

Some people think that males have more dominance problems, and they can’t live together peacefully, but that is just not true. All animals need to create a hierarchy. Once this is decided then they can live together just fine.

Both boars and sows require the same amount of cleaning, food, attention, etc. They really aren’t all the different. Although many people think that boars are mo aggressive and less friendly it is simply not true.

One thing is that boars do tend to smell a little more than sows. This is because they tend to run their undercarriage over their cage floor, marking their territory (which is something dogs often do). This can be easily solved though.

Guinea pigs all have a grease gland at the end of their spine that produces oil that marks their territory. Boars tend to have more active grease glands, which means that often there will be built up grease on their tail end. Not to mention when they’re rubbing it around the cage, they are likely to get food, hay and poop wiped on their undercarriage. It can easily be cleaned off though. Just watch out for the buildup and other unsanitary things.

Guinea pigs do best in pairs. They are very social animals and flourish with a same-species connection. Regarding gender, this is very important. If getting two guineas (which is highly recommended) be sure to get them the same gender. This will eliminate the need to spay and nueter them. Surgeries, even the smallest, can be extremely stressful for these little guys. It is much healthier for them to not be homed with the opposite gender.

While guineas may be a challenge to take care of sometimes with the amount of cleaning must be done, they make it so worth it.

8. Difference Between Breed of Guinea Pigs

There are many kinds of Guinea Pigs. There are differences from appearance, coat length, coat texture and even some personality differences.

Here is a list of the different breeds of guinea pigs, and a little bit about each of them:

  • American: The most common guinea pig, which comes in nineteen color combinations. Sweet and docile personality,
  • White-Crested: Much like American, but they have a crest of white hair on their head, and no other white on the rest of their body,
  • Satin Versions: Satin guineas have hollow hair, which is actually a medical condition called, Osteodystrophy (OD), an incurable and potentially painful metabolic disease of the bones. Some countries guinea pig associations have actually stopped allowing these to be bred because of the harm on the guinea pigs. There are sating versions of the “Abyssinian, American, Peruvian, Silkie, and Teddy” (Wikipedia).
  • Silkie: Has long and smooth hair going back over its body. Never growing towards or over the face. Always back.
  • Texel: Originally from Texas. Its curly bushy hair has grown thicker over years to be able to survive other climates. They are often known for being a little overweight.
  • Peruvian: A lot like Silkie, but the Peruvian has hair growing over it’s face too.
  • Coronet: A lot like Silkie with long smooth hair growing over it’s back, except they have a crest on their head.
  • Abyssinian: They are covered in rosettes, (aka cowlicks) all over their body, making their coat look excited and alive. Experts say that the Abyssinian is a great pet to have, but maybe not for first-time cavy owner, because like their hair, Abyssinian guinea pigs are excitable.
  • Teddy: Teddy’s too, resemble their name. Their fur is short and dense, which makes them feel a lot like an old teddy bear. Their fur is kinky and springy, which makes them the perfect cuddle buddies.

9. Very Intelligent

Guinea pigs have very active minds so they like their routine to be switched up every once in a while. One way you can do this is to hide their lettuce and other veggies in different places. Something I’ve done is weave a piece of lettuce through different parts of the cage. This way O’Malley had to solve how to get to the lettuce. Not only does this keep them stimulated but it’s very entertaining watching them try to figure it out.

They also are incredibly smart. They can actually be taught simple tricks like cats and dogs. Unlike them though, it is actually better for them to be trained around 9 or 10 months old, as this is when their mind is most open to learning new things.

With their keen sense of smell and hearing, they will learn quickly who you are if you are consistent and good to them. They will learn who their owner is and get excited when they see you. Everytime I used to come home from work, the second I would walk in and start talking to my roommate or the guineas, O’Malley would start wheeking exciteedly and run up to the edge of their cage.

Speaking of incredible hearing, they don’t always do this just for peoples voices. O’Malley’s favorite food of all time was carrots. So much so, that he could tell a carrot bag crinkle from any other crinkle. In the beginning, anytime a bag would crinkle he would get excited because he thought it might be carrots. But, as time went on, he picked out the carrot bag crinkle, and every time he heard it he would start popcorning and wheeking like a mad man.

Speaking of popcorning, I should probably explain what that is. Popcorning is a little dance they do when they get excited. It’s hard to explain, so if interested, watch this video. But it looks a lot like corn being popped (hence the name) or a bucking bull. One thing is for sure, and that is it is one of the most adorable things of all time.

10. Very Social

One very important thing to know is it much preferred that guinea pigs go home in at least pairs. They’re very social and so it’s important to be able to have another guinea pig that they can bond with, and socialize with at all times.

Along with this need to live with another guinea pig, they also love socializing and bonding with their human. They need to be shown affection and tenderness, and they will show this back to you. While they will need attention and affection from humans, they also need to have breaks from you too, because it can often stress them out, especially if they aren’t yet used to you. They will have their ways of telling you when they are done.

11. Easily Tamed

Guinea pigs are very easily tamed compared to other animals. At first, they are skittish and nervous, but with love and patience, they will open up to you and love you deeply.

It is important that when taming them, give them some space right after they come home. This will allow them to become comfortable in their new home before having to deal with another stress. Along with this, make sure that their environment is quiet and calm.

After this first period of space (usually a day or two) talk to your guinea pigs often and frequently. Talk to them lightheartedly and often, as you would talk to a dog or a baby. Along with this put your hand in the cage so that the guinea pig will start getting used to your presence and more importantly your smell. Getting your guinea pig accustomed to your voice and smell is a big part of taming the guinea pig.

Eventually you’ll be able to pick up your guinea pig. And with that, when you start spending time with the guinea pig, be sure that it is fun and food filled. This will help them feel right at home.

12. Can Be Loud

Squeeking is the very adorable noise that they use to communicate with humans. It is surprisingly loud for such tiny bodies. And while it definitely won’t get you any noise complaints from neighbors it might interupt a family even or two. If this unpredictable noise is something that you don’t think you could handle, a guinea pig might not be right for you.

13. Exercise

It is very important that guineas get the right about of exercise. And with this, they are quite active. This is where a larger cage comes in handy. The more room they have to exercise in their cage then the less amount of time you have to supervise them outside of the cage.

They need about an hour per day, and more is always good. It is beneficial to them on other levels though, that no matter how big their cage is, they are able to get out of the cage, interact with you, and explore new and exciting areas.

When exercising them outside, my roommate and I would either sit on the ground, legs out and feet touching so that they could run around in there, or we would block off a section of the room. It is important to supervise them though during playtime.

When in the cage, they will find a way to exercise. It’s definitely more beneficial for them to have more room to do this though. Misha’s favorite time to exercise was the middle of night, because he thought that there was no way we could see him in the dark. (Adorable little shy Misha.) But, he had made his own track through the cage, and would run that over and over.

The important thing to realize is that guinea pigs do need exercise and that will require some effort from the part of the owner.

14. Diet

Guinea pigs require daily vitamin C intakes, because they, like humans, cannot produce their own. This can be done through Vitamin C drops or supplements.

When giving them water give it to them through a water bottle tied to the side of the cage rather than a bowl. A bowl will make it so the water gets contaminated and spilt.

Timothy hay is the main part of a guinea pigs diet. They need this in pellet form as well as actual hay form.

Along with vitamin C and timothy hay they need a steady intake of certain veggies including dark greens.

Something to note also is each guinea pig will have their own tastes, likes and dislikes. When trying out veggies be sure to make a list of what your guinea will eat.

Image result for what guinea pigs can and can't eat infographic
Guinea Pig Food Pyramid

The number one thing to remember is to search for what greens and veggies are best or bad for your guinea!

15. Guinea Pig Hygiene

Guinea pigs are the cleanest of all rodents. They are very catious about their hygiene. They actually give themselves baths a lot like cats! They also are very cautious about their pee. The last thing they want to do is pee on you or your things. They make a corner in their cage, and that is their toilet. When hanging out with a guinea, it will try to tell you in needs to pee before they actually do. You just have to learn to read their language.

They have open-rooted teeth which mean they never stop growing. This means they will need chew toys that will help keep the teeth at a reasonable length. Nail clippers are also a must. Guineas nails grow quite fast, so you will have to learn how to cut their nails properly. Baby wipes are also very handy. While they do bathe themselves, they still sometimes get dirtier than they can clean themselves. Especially when it comes to their grease glands. Unscented baby wipes help do the job thoroughly and painlessly.

16. Materials Needed

  • Nail clippers
  • Brush Kit
  • Unscented baby wipes (water-based)
  • Timothy Hay
  • Timothy Hay Pellets
  • Dark greens (lettuce)
  • Snacks (carrots, oranges, banana, strawberry, green pepper, etc.)
  • Cage
  • Room for cage
  • A vet who specializes in small animals

17. Cage and Bedding

While you can buy a cage at a pet store it is often not big enough and way more expensive than needed. A great alternative to that is making your own. It is very easy and incredibly cheaper than buying one.

Some rules to follow when getting their cage set up is that there needs to be some kind of barrier from the ground up to about 4 inches. While guinea pigs are no escape artists, their hay, bedding and pellets are! This barrier will help to keep things more sanitary and safe.

Also, another thing to note, bedding can be quite expensive, so a viable alternative is fleece lining of the bottom of the cage. Then have rather a tray in which you can fill with bedding, and then potty train them to go in there.

“Like many animals, guinea pigs can be potty trained with patience and attentiveness.”

How to Potty Train a Guinea Pig

Wiki-How also provides a great resource to learn how to build a homemade guinea cage.

In the cage make sure that there are balconies, blankets, holes, and places to hide in the cage. Since guinea pigs are prey animals. it is important for them to have place to hide when they’re feeling stressed. They also like to hide out in these places to take their naps.

Related Questions:

Do guinea pigs smell bad? Guinea pigs are the best smelling rodents out there. While they can start to stink when not taken care of and cleaned after properly, they themselves rarely do stink. It is most often the smell of hay and farm animals that is associated with guineas.

Do guinea pigs recognize their owners? Guinea pigs can in fact recognize their owners. They have fantastic senses of smell and hearing, and after awhile they learn what you smell and sound like. Often when a guinea recognizes their owner, they will start wheeking for joy that they’re home (and for food of course).

Can you cuddle with a guinea pig? Guinea pigs do enjoy a good cuddle. While they enjoy their freedom and running around, they love to plop down on their owner and relax. They love being pet and scratched in all the right places too.

When do guinea pigs sleep? Because guinea pigs are so low on the food chain, they never actually are fully asleep. Rather, they take lots of short naps throughout the day and night. They often even sleep with their eyes open, as they always have to be alert.

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