Because guinea pigs are small animals, many parents choose them as their child’s first pet. They assume that such a small animal would need very little care, when in fact guinea pigs have many requirements. They will need a roomy cage, specialized diet, daily cleanup and gentle handling. It should also be noted that an adult should be the primary caretaker.
Guinea pigs may be small but they require ample room to move about. Their living space should be at least 18-inches wide, 14-inches high and 25-inches deep. Do not use aquariums because they do not provide good ventilation. Cages with mesh or wire floors are also not recommended because they will hurt your guinea pig’s tender feet.
Keep in mind that guinea pigs will chew on just about anything to wear down their ever growing teeth, so make sure everything that is placed in their cage is nontoxic. Use plenty of lining material such as ink-free paper or commercial bedding materials available at your local pet-supply store. Guinea pigs will use this material for both bedding and bathroom.
Always provide unlimited amounts of high-quality hay which pigs will use for nesting and for snacking. Timothy hay or mixed grass hay is recommended due to the high fiber and calcium amounts and lower calorie counts. Do not use materials such as sawdust or pine or cedar chips as these are toxic to your pet. Be sure to provide your guinea pig with a gnawing log (such as an untreated fruit tree branch), tunnels for crawling through and platforms to climb on. Use a heavy food bowl that is resistant to tipping and gnawing and a water bottle with a sipper tube.
Your guinea pig should be fed a commercial food formulated especially for guinea pigs, such as Oxbow Cavie Cuisine or Western Timothy. You should also provide a variety of deep green leafy vegetables such as collards, kale and romaine lettuce, introducing them one at a time. Be sure to watch for any digestive changes before making that food a permanent part of your pet’s diet. Treat your guinea pig to fruits, including melon slices and apples but be sure to remove all seeds as they are toxic to your pet. Your cavie should get three servings of different vegetables a day and should only get fruits once or twice a week.
Guinea pigs require frequent brushing and combing, (especially the long-haired breed), to stay clean and tangle free. And because their cage lining is used as bedding and bathroom, their cages require daily cleaning. You must scrub and disinfect the cage and let it dry before adding fresh bedding and replacing the cage furnishings. The water bottle and sipper tube should also be cleaned daily to prevent the buildup of food, algae and bacteria.
You must always handle your guinea pig gently. When picking up your pet, slowly place one hand under his chest just behind the front legs and gently cup your other hand under his hindquarters. Once you have a firm but gentle grip on your pet, lift him and hold him close to your chest or lap so he feels safe.
Since guinea pigs are happiest when with other guinea pigs, it is strongly recommended that their owners keep two or more together. Choose pairs that are the same sex and compatible. Females tend to be more compatible and less likely to fight. It is not recommended to keep more than two males together.