A Beginner’s Ultimate Guide To Guinea Pig Care (The Only One You Need)

When you’re thinking about getting a pet guinea pig, sometimes as a you’re not sure where to start or what source to use to guide you. What do guinea pigs eat? How often do they need to be groomed? How big should their cages be? These kind of questions can be overwhelming.

No worries. I’ve got you covered with the essential information that every first-time guinea pig owner needs to know.

how to take care of a guinea pig for beginners

Sometimes newbies don’t know the right questions to ask (I know I didn’t when I got my guinea pigs), so I took my own experiences packed them with the best, current research on guinea pig care and compiled them into this blog post for you.

This is guinea pigs 101 – the beginner’s guide to guinea pig care that every first-time owner needs to know before they bring a guinea pig home – the knowledge is right here at your fingertips!  Let’s begin.

How Do I Know A Guinea Pig Is Right For Me (Or My Family)?

how to take care of guinea pigs - a beginner's guide

Fantastic questions. If you’re not sure if guinea pigs are for you, that’s okay! This guide will help you out, because…

Guinea pigs shouldn’t be swept up like a toy and bought on impulse. You really need to be ready for the responsibility and to make sure your new, cuddly friend will fit into your life.

They can live an average of 4 to 8 years – so we’re talking a long-term commitment here.

When you’re considering getting a guinea pig, it’s important to think if a guinea pig would best suit your lifestyle based on:

  • how much time you have for grooming, cleaning, and daily interaction
  • if you’re within a short driving distance of an exotic vet – one that specializes in guinea pig
  • how much space is available for guinea pigs to live comfortably and exercise; (think cages sizes, food, & toy storage)
  • budget for unexpected vet bills and guinea pig supplies
  • whether or not you’re allergic to hay or to guinea pigs (please, check before you buy guinea pigs)
  • if any other pets (e.g. cats, dogs, ferrets) will be jealous or territorial

And forget everything you heard about guinea pigs being easy to take care of. There, I said it.

Just because they’re tiny animals, doesn’t mean guinea pigs are low-maintenance-they’re not.

Everyone’s perception of easy is different, but I’m telling you right now, piggies are not for lazy people.

I’m not including that point in this guide to discourage you from getting one (obviously piggies are awesome!).

I want you to make an informed decision, so you don’t end up having to rehome one – which can be traumatic for the poor, little things.

You can’t just plop them in a cage, toss in a bowl of food, and call it a day. Guinea pigs need care, attention, and interaction daily to ensure they’re happy and healthy.

Piggies are very much a “all -in” sort of pet.

Thankfully, their care is manageable. And it’s not difficult if you schedule the time for it (more on that later).

And guinea pigs are definitely worth the effort. If you do decide to get one, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your new pet becomes an important member of your family.

⭐Key Takeaway:

Guinea pigs are a long-term commitment. They require quality care, grooming, daily interaction and space to exercise. These things take time to provide. Be sure guinea pigs will fit in your lifestyle before getting one.

???? If you want some tips and information on how to better understand your piggies and why they sometimes behave the way that they do, check out these posts: Male Vs. Female Guinea Pigs-Which Is Better? (Find Out Here) and Guinea Pig Running Away? (Stop It With 9 Simple Tips)

Not As Low Maintenance As You Think (Piggie Pros and Cons)

The best place to start is by looking at some of the highs and lows that can come with owning a guinea pig.

This will let you know some of the things that you can look forward to as well as some drawbacks to adopting them.

Pros

Some of the positives of having a guinea pigs include:

  • They don’t take up a lot of space. As long as you allocate a space for floor time, they’ll be fine not going outside. They are also very quiet. Even their wheeking isn’t as loud as the barking of a dog. This can be perfect for anyone who lives in an apartment complex. There’s little risk that they’ll annoy your neighbors. Often, they won’t even know that you have them. 
  • They’re pretty laid back and docile. Cavies aren’t the type of pocket pet that’ll bite you (unlike hamsters or chinchillas). As sociable animals, they’re the type that’ll snuggle in a blanket and sit on your lap. This makes them perfect for children who are learning to care for pets, seniors with limited mobility, or people who may be allergic to other furry animals.
  • They live a long time. Unlike some other pocket pets, guinea pigs can live up to eight years (when properly cared for). This spares you the heartache of losing a your beloved, family pet after only a year or two. At least you’ll know that your guinea pig will be with you for the long haul.
  • They’re funny and an endless source of entertainment. There is no joy greater than the one you feel when your guinea pig “popcorns” around their cages when you’ve served them their favorite veggies, or when they drag all of their toys around to “redecorate” their cage. They do so many things that make you happy and smile. That’s why some people consider them emotional support animals.

“There’s no joy greater than the one you feel when your guinea pig “popcorns” around their cages when you’ve served them their favorite veggies, or when they drag all of their toys around to “redecorate” their cage.”

Squeaks, Scales, & Tails

Cons

For every high, there’s most likely going to be at least one low. There are plenty of things to consider before bringing your new pet home with you:

  • They’re naturally shy and anxious. There aren’t many downsides to owning a guinea pig. Though some people have reported that they can be shy and pretty anxious, so much so that some people think that their piggies hate them. Unlike dogs, which tend to show affection soon after being introduced to their owners, a guinea pig can take a little longer to get warmed up and will actually run from their owners until they learn to trust them.
  • They poop…A LOT. One of the main guinea pig downsides is that they poop a lot. They produce so much waste for their size it’s almost hard to believe, but guinea pigs can go through one hundred pellets PER DAY!
  • It’ll cost you some money initially. It’s possible to provide for guinea pigs on a budget if you’re willing to do a little planning. However, piggies are still an investment that requires upfront costs for cages and supplies. The initial down payment and purchase of supplies might be more than you can afford.
  • They require a lot of care and maintenance for their small sizes. Guinea pigs need to be groomed (once or twice weekly), fed daily, given fresh water every day, have the cage cleaned at least once per week, and sometimes guinea pig’s nails will need trimming if they grow too long.

⭐Key Takeaway:

Adopting a guinea pig is an excellent choice for families. They’re not super loud, they don’t need much space, and they live to be old! Despite this good news, you’ll still have some work cut out for you – feeding them daily and grooming their hair. They’re also quite skittish at first and like to poop everywhere which can be…tedious to say the least.

Guinea Pig Characteristics

Now that we have a better idea of some of the reasons why people love to keep guinea pigs as pets, let’s take a closer look at some of the characteristics of the species.

This will give you a better insight into this species and how they behave as pets. 

Breeds

There are many different guinea pig (also called cavies or “cavy”) breeds. Each of them has a slightly different appearance and temperament. Let’s look at a few of the breeds below:  

  • American Guinea Pig. This is one of the most popular types of guinea pig varieties in the world. They’re a short-haired breed and are available in lots of colors. The bodies tend to be the same color, except for a differently colored tuft of hair on the top of their head. 
  • Ridgeback. The name of this breed stems from the way their hair appears. It can look as though they have a ridge of hair growing along their back. It will often take a few weeks for this ridge to appear. They are a short-haired breed. 
  • Rex. The next breed is a rough-coated variety. This means that their hair will be frizzy, curlier, and denser than the short-haired varieties. This can sometimes make them feel wooly. In this case, the hair can be as high as one centimeter. They also have floppy ears and a wider face. Aside from their hair, they are known for their sweet personality. They love to be held and cuddled. 
  • Alpaca. The alpaca breed is one of the rarest and most expensive, because people don’t breed them that frequently. They’re long-haired guinea pigs.  Their curly hair makes their maintenance a bit more difficult than the average guinea pig.  But, it also makes them more beautiful. 
  • Sheba Mini Yak. This is also a rough-coated variety. The hair tends to be longer than the Rex variety. Their coat will have a soft texture, with the long hairs feeling springy to the touch. They also have mutton chop-style whiskers. They are known for wanting to investigate the world around them. 
  • Coronet. They’re another long-haired variety. These will have the longest coats. This can make them easier to cuddle. However, it does mean that you will need to spend more time grooming and caring for them. We’ll talk about what this will entail later. These are known for having a swirl of color on their heads. They also tend to be very playful.
  • Silkie. This is the most common type of long-haired guinea pig. Their coat tends to be very shiny and will be soft to the touch. The hair should flow over the back of their hair, without any parting. This gives them a teardrop-shaped body. They will have a laid-back personality, though they can be shy until they get to know you. 
  • Skinny Pig. Finally, you will come across hairless guinea pigs. These aren’t completely hairless, there are a few tufts of hair around their head and feet. They tend to be very soft, with a small amount of wrinkling. They tend to be the highest—maintenance breed, as they are at higher risk of skin infection. 

⭐Key Takeaway:

There are many guinea pig breeds that come in an array of colors.

“Only 13 cavy breeds are recognized by the American Cavy Breeder’s Association.”  

Squeaks, Scales & Tails

Social Behavior & Moods

A guinea pigs’ social behavior and moods are complex, and guinea pigs can be quite sensitive.

But, it’s nothing you can’t handle, once you know how to read guinea pigs behavior.

Here’s a couple things you need to know:

  • They enjoy company. Most cavies are social animals and prefer the company of other guinea pigs (that they like). In the wild, a single guinea pig is rare and does’ live long. Piggies live live in herds with a dozen or more other guinea pigs. This might mean you’ll need to have two guinea pigs that share a common living space, or just one guinea pig who has lots of interaction with you.
  • They’re night owls (and early birds). Piggies are the most active at dusk and dawn – and have unusual sleeping habits. During this time, they will often spend a lot of time investigating their cage, grazing, playing, and foraging for food.
  • Very gentle. Typically, they have low levels of aggression and are quite friendly once they get used to you. Often, the only times they’ll bite is when they’re scared.

The most important aspect for any owner to look for is subtle changes in your little friends’ behavior.

These can be a good way of spotting when they have become anxious, stressed, or uncomfortable, such as:

  • freezing in place
  • chewing on the bars
  • hiding
  • lack of appetite

There are lot of other unusual behaviors that guinea pigs have, too: from eating their own poop to some running up their owners’ necks. When you get your own piggie, eventually you’ll get used to their individual quirks.

⭐Key Takeaway:

Cavies can be very sensitive creatures and their behavior is complex – and quirky, to say the least. They like to play at dusk or dawn and are sociable creatures. If you notice any change in your pet’s attitude such as nipping or chewing on the bars of its cage- this could mean a sign that piggie is stressed. Find out why and take action to solve the problem.

???? If you want some info on other perplexing piggie behaviors, check out these posts: 6 Reasons Why Guinea Pig Shiver (# 3 Surprised Me), 9 Simple Reasons Why Guinea Pigs Stare (What You Need To Know) and Why Guinea Pigs Lie On Their Side (Explained Now)

Sounds and What They Mean

Piggies will talk up a storm once they get comfortable with you. They’re very vocal animals.

Each of these noises will have a specific reason. Knowing what these vocalizations mean can be a great way of learning more about the guinea pig and what they want. 

Here are a few of the most common:

  • Purring: This can also sound like a low grumbling, similar to the one that a cat would make. This often a sign that they are contented and will usually happen when you are patting them. Sometimes, though, it can be a sign that they are scared. They might make this sound to try and soothe themselves. 
  • Rumbling. This is similar to a purr, though it will often be deeper. It’s believed that this could be a way of attracting a mate. Usually, when they are making this noise, they will be dancing to accompany the movement. 
  • Wheeking. This is a sound that piggies make when they’re hungry or excited. Sometimes guinea pigs may wheek to try and get someone’s attention. You might even hear it when you open the refrigerator door or a bag of food – they’re anticipating something to eat.
  • Teeth chattering: This is a guinea pig’s way of showing aggression and anger. Cavies are trying to figure out who is the boss when they first meet each other. Often this will come with some teeth-chattering, which is quite normal.
  • Squeaking: This sound can be used for communicating their alarm when you have them outside of a cage. Sometimes they squeak if they’re in pain, too.
Get ready for some adorable sounds!

⭐Key Takeaway:

Cavies will often make sounds to communicate with its owner. Understanding what your little friends are trying to tell you can lead to a happy piggies.

Living Environment For Guinea Pigs (Make Home Comfortable)

Once you get guinea pigs, you’ll want to make sure that you are giving them the best possible living environment. There is a range of things that you will need to consider. Let’s look at some of them. 

Indoor Housing Basics

The first thing that we need to consider is how you should be housing the guinea pigs indoors. 

Their cage where they will be spending most of their time. So, think about the cage size you’ll need. This will depend on two factors: 

  • The number of guinea pigs you’re housing (you’ll need at least 7.5 square feet for one guinea pig – and that’s on the low side)
  • Can you fit a second cage in the area if you have to separate your cavies for some reason (e.g. fighting, gender mistake)

There’s two types of cages that are the most popular with guinea pig owners include the:

  • C&C (cubes & coroplast) cage. You have to assemble it yourself. It’s made from metal grids and plastic. The grids are black or white and they click together to make the frame of the cage. The plastic base of the cage is corrugated (which means it has grooves on it). You can easily add (or take away) grids if your housing needs change. But, they can be tricky to set up.
  • Midwest Cages. They’re cheap and come prebuilt. There aren’t a lot of cages that suit guinea pigs, but this is one of them. It’s dimensions are 47″ x 24″ x 14″. This is enough space for one guinea pig. It also has a canvas bottom which can be washed and makes care easier. You can always connect another Midwest cage to your first if you have two piggies.

No matter what you choose, make sure it’s made from non-toxic materials – for obvious reasons.

Also, getting a guinea pig enclosure with good, solid flooring material will help keep your pet healthy – wire flooring is tough on a guinea pig’s feet.

Take a look at the C&C cage set up below.

This picture below shows a Midwest Cage.

⚠️Warning

Keep your piggies in a location that’s away from heat sources like the stove, fireplace, or radiators. And don’t put them some place that ‘s extremely cold and drafty either. A guinea pig’s cage should be in an area that is well-ventilated.

???? Get a little info on how temperature effects your furry friends by reading this post: 13 Proven Ways To Keep Your Guinea Pig Cool When It’s Hot

Cage Accessories

No guinea pig cage is complete without a few accessories. They’re guinea pigs, so they need to chew on something and have a place to hide out of sight when the lights are turned off for bedtime or some other reason! Look at these key accessories:

  1. Dishes: You’ll want at least one bowl for their food. If you have two cavies, make sure you have two bowls. You’ll want to pick something that will be heavy. This ensures that they can’t push it over and accidentally become trapped.
  2. Water bowls or bottles: Guinea pigs need to stay hydrated, so make sure you provide fresh water at all times. Both have their pros and cons.
  3. Hideaways (or huts): You can buy little hideouts or build them yourself out of cardboard boxes! Make sure you make the entrances large enough so your guinea pig will be able to get in and out easily without getting stuck. This is a place where the guinea pigs can go and hide away when they are feeling stressed or just want to relax.
  4. Enrichment items: This can be toys or anything that provides entertainment and mental stimulation for your piggies. In particular, you’ll want to focus on chew toys – which will help keep your piggie teeth ground down. It’s important to have these because they help guinea pigs express their natural behaviors and stay happy and healthy.

“You want to make sure that you’re giving your cavy the best living environment possible.  Otherwise, what’s the point in having one?”

Squeaks, Scales & Tails

⭐Key Takeaway:

Cages keep your pet secure and safe. They also provide someplace familiar for guinea pigs to roam and explore. Don’t forget to give your piggies things for entertainment and basic health care, such as hideouts, chew toys, and dishes for food.

Outdoor Housing Basics

If you want, you will be able to house your guinea pigs in an outside hutch. This will require a little more focus on the enclosure.

  • Make sure that it’s predator-proof. Sadly, guinea pigs might attract predators like dogs, cats, foxes, rats, or eagles. You want to make sure that there’s no way that they will be able to get into the cage. 
  • Weather-proof it. Don’t place your piggies in an enclosure that has direct sunlight. You don’t want to risk your guinea pigs overheating. You also don’t want them in an area that is too chilly or drafty.

Prepare a spacious enclosure where they can run about. Include “hideaways” and spaces for them to relax in as needed.

Bedding Dos & Don’ts

Once you have set up your enclosure, you’ll want to consider the type of bedding you want to use. Here are a few basic tips that you need to keep in mind when choosing bedding for your piggies:

  • Avoid sawdust and untreated pine wood shavings. There is a risk that the dust will get into their lungs. This can cause potential health problems. There is also a chance that they can cause a potential allergic reaction. 
  • You can use paper bedding. They’re easy to change, so you shouldn’t have any problems keeping the cage clean.
  • You can use hay. Another popular option is to use hay. Because this is soft, it won’t hurt your pig’s feet. It will also be a good way of absorbing any messes, making cleaning a breeze. 
  • Fleece can be a good option in winter. The next material that you can contemplate using is a fleece. This is a great way of keeping them warm. On the downside, it involves more of an upfront investment than other types of bedding and it’s so hard to get hay out of fleece.

There are actually plenty of budget-friendly bedding options available for guinea pigs. You just have to choose the one that’s best for your guinea pig – and for you!

⭐Key Takeaway:

If you choose the wrong bedding, it’ll lead to your guinea pig experiencing health problems.

???? If you want some helpful info on guinea pig bedding options, check out these posts: 4 Cheap, Safe Guinea Pig Bedding Options (Piggie Approved!), How Often Should You Change Fleece Bedding? (Find Out Now), and 9 Foolproof Fleece Wicking Tips (You Need This Now)

Temperature & Sound

It’s vital to consider where you are going to put your piggie’s enclosure. The wrong environment can lead to health problems. Consider the following, before you decide where your piggie’s are going to be kept:

  • Noise Level: Noise can be a big issue for guinea pigs. You want to make sure your guinea pig’s enclosure is somewhere where it won’t have to deal with loud noises, such as the TV or vacuum cleaner often running in that room. This is sure to make your guinea pigs feel stressed, causing them to hide. This is especially important when you first bring them home.
  • Temperature: Guinea pigs are more sensitive to temperature changes than humans. You should aim to keep your guinea pig in a temperature range of between 18 to 24 degrees Celsius (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit). The room where your guinea pig is living in needs to have good ventilation. Too hot and your piggie could get heat stroke. Too cold and your guinea pig could get respiratory infection.

???? Tips & Tricks:

Consider investing in a digital thermometer that an alert you to big temperature changes in your piggie’s room. That way, you can keep your guinea pig in a stable temperature range.

“Keep your little friends in a calm, stress-free environment if you want them to be happy and healthy.”

Squeaks, Scales, & Tails

Beware Of Predators, Other Pets, & Pests

If you want to keep your cavies safe, then you need to plan to protect them from a couple of things:

  • Outside predators: If you having outdoor playtime with your piggies , make sure that they have an area to play in that’s not accessible by dogs, hawks, or other predators. Always keep an eye on them. If they live in a hutch, it needs to be strong enough to withstand an attack from a predator.
  • Other pets: Some people have other pets before they adopt guinea pigs. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are especially
  • Pests: It’s not hard to keep your piggies safe from pests. Mostly it involves you keeping their cage as clean as possible and being observant. Many common pests like rats, cockroaches, and flies can be eliminated (and kept out of your house – and away from guinea pigs) with a good cleaning regimen and a bit of effort.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Finally, you will need to keep their cages clean. This will help protect them from disease and minimize their odor.

The good news is that this shouldn’t be a particularly difficult task. You’ll just need to do a few simple things: 

  1. Remove the piggies 
  2. Remove the bedding and any toys
  3. Scrub the bottom of the cage (or hutch)
  4. Clean the toys and put in new bedding.
  5. Put your little friends back into their clean home. 

You should try to clean the cage at least once a week. More cleanings might be necessary, though – depending on how messy your little friend are.

You should also make sure that you are spot cleaning regularly. This means that you should try to remove any spoiled bedding that you see and scoop up droppings.  

???? If you want some tips keeping your cavy’s space clean and comfy, read these posts: Clean Your Guinea Pig’s Cage: An Easy Step-By-Step Guide and 10 Reliable Cage Liners For Guinea Pigs (What You Need To Know)

Guide To A Good Diet

Now let’s turn our attention to the right diet for your guinea pigs. As you’re doing this, there are a few general principles that you should keep in mind:

  1. They have evolved to forage and need to graze constantly.
  2. They need plenty of things to chew on. This helps them file down their teeth, which are constantly growing.
  3. Variety and moderation of foods are important.

Now, let’s go into specific food catergories. 

Hay (Or Grass)

One of the core parts of a healthy guinea pig diet is hay or grass. This should be constantly available. There’s a few reasons for this:

  • It helps cavies keep their teeth ground down (because their teeth never stop growing). This is because it’s so tough to chew.
  • It’s a high fiber, low calorie food – excellent for keeping cavies healthy. In the wild, piggies eat grasses as well as other plants to get their fill of nutrients. So, hay is the closest thing to what cavies would eat in the wild.  
  • Since piggies like the burrow and play in it, it can be used as enrichment and a food source.

Just put it in a big pile in their cage (a lot of guinea pig owners do). Sure, the hay is messy, but piggies like their cages like that.

???? Check out these posts about hay : 5 Best Ways To Store Guinea Pig Hay (Owner Approved!) and Are Hay Racks Safe For Guinea Pigs? (Find Out Now)

Some pet parents put the hay in a hay rack (or bag). That way their little friends won’t poop and pee in it (hey, it’s what they do).

Just make sure that your friends don’t have a hard time getting to the hay.

Most types of hay or grass will be acceptable. Timothy and orchard are popular types.

⚠️Warning

You should avoid giving alfalfa hay to adult guinea pigs (unless they’re pregnant), because there’s too much calcium in it. It’ll cause bladder stones.

Water

Another essential element to keep your little friends healthy is giving them plenty of water. This is easy to arrange.

You can put a small water bowl in the cage – be mindful of spills and other hazards.

You can also put a water bottle (or two) on the side of the enclosure – just watch out for leaks!

Both water bowls and bottles have their own set of pros and cons.

Just make sure they always have access to lots of clean, fresh water. The water helps keep their digestive system moving. It also keeps them hydrated and healthy.

???? Tips & Tricks:

Piggies will get a lot of their water from the veggies that they eat – particularly if you feed them a lot of watery, fresh vegetables. If it seems like they’re not drinking a lot of their water, take a look at their diet.

???? If you want some tips on how to build a better relationship with your guinea pigs or how they relate to each other, check out these posts: A Simple Guide To How Long Guinea Pigs Can Go Without Food (Or Water) and Is Eating Cardboard Safe For Guinea Pigs? (Find Out Now)

Fruit

While hay is the basis of a healthy diet, that doesn’t mean that it should be all your little friends should eat. 

You can always add fresh fruit into the diet. This will add variety to stop them from getting bored. It’ll make sure that they are getting the right mix of nutrients

However, there is a downside to offering fruit. Fruit often has a high sugar content. This can lead to potential health problems.

But you shouldn’t be afraid to give your piggies’ fruit. In most cases, you just need to make sure that you don’t give them too much of it, too often.

One of the weird facts about cavy biology is that they can’t make their own Vitamin C – that causes scurvy (a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency

So focus on fruits that have a high amount of Vitamin C – and relatively low amounts of sugar like:

In a pinch, you can also serve your piggies the following:

Just make sure that you serve the appropriate amounts.

???? Tips & Tricks:

Some piggies enjoy fruits as a tasty treat. They can be used to help train your little friends to do tricks. Fresh foods are also an awesome way to get your cavies to feel more comfortable around you.

Vegetables

The other important dietary element to include is vegetables. These can be another good way of helping your guinea pigs get the Vitamin C they need.

There are a few types of vegetables that you might want to use. The most common option are bell peppers (also called capsicums).

These can (and should) be given daily. It has a crazy amount of Vitamin C.

Leafy green vegetables are always an excellent addition to your guinea pigs’ diet. This can include foods like kale and collard greens.

But, you can also give them:

Just like with fruit, variety and moderation are the most important factors. Don’t overfeed or underfeed anything.

⚠️Warning

Don’t give your fur babies iceberg lettuce. Because of the high water content, it doesn’t offer a lot of nutritional value.  Actually some cavy enthusiasts recommend that you avoid all lettuce in favor of more nutritious, green vegetables.

???? If you want some tips on food safety for piggies this post: Things Few People Know About Overfeeding Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pig Pellets

Guinea pig pellets are formulated with vitamin C. Buying your guinea pig pellets isn’t just a luxury to make them happy, it can also help with their digestive system and immune response.

Offer your average piggie 1/8 cup (or about two tbsp of pellets) each day. To make sure that you’re getting the best quality follow these guidelines:

  • To ensure the freshness of the pellets, buy it from a store that you trust. Vitamin C degrades quickly, so the fresher you buy the pellets, the more nutritional content they’ll have.
  • Don’t buy pellets from a massive, bulk container. You won’t have any idea how long it’s been sitting around. A guinea pig does not need a lifetime supply of guinea pig pellets, so buy smaller quantities for freshness.

⚠️Warning

Don’t feed cavies rabbit pellets. They look the same, but they don’t have the Vitamin C included that your piggies need.

What To Avoid (Foods That Might Kill Your Guinea Pig)

Finally, there are some foods that you shouldn’t give to your guinea pig. They’re not walking garbage disposals. Some foods will kill your little friends.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some general rules:

  • Avoid any cooked human foods. Their bodies won’t be able to properly digest this.
  • No avocados, garlic, rice, or onions
  • Watch out for certain household plants. Better yet, just keep all household plants out of reach.
  • Nix the beans
  • And it’s a big “no-no” to potatoes and the tops (and vine) of tomatoes

Eventually, you’ll get confident about what you should (or shouldn’t) be feeding your guinea pig.

And if you aren’t sure about something, don’t give it to them at all.

Mental & Social Enrichment (Keys To Happiness)

The next thing to consider is how you can make sure that your guinea pig is happy. The good news is that this won’t need to be a difficult task. As long as you have a few basic things in place both of you will benefit. 

Guinea Pig Companionship

Most guinea pigs have evolved to live as part of a group. Because of this, they’ll often feel more comfortable and happier when they have a friend.

In the wild, they’d live in small herds.

There are a number of pairings that tend to work well (as long as the piggies like each other), such as:

  • A male with a few female guinea pigs
  • A male (or female) with a baby guinea pig (4 to 6 weeks old)
  • A pair (or more) of females

Don’t put two males with a female. You’re asking for trouble, if you do. They’ll start fighting for the right to mate with her.

Introducing cavies isn’t for the faint of heart. Some newbies have had success in this area (full disclosure: not me!).

So, I recommend that you adopt a matched pair to avoid this headache. A guinea pig rescue can help you out with this task.

Pairing up piggies is a delicate, tricky process and it’s very easy to mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing.

That’s how a lot of piggies end up living single lives.

If you are going to mate your guinea pigs, you’ll want to make sure they have been spayed or neutered. That way, they won’t breed and produce a bunch of babies.

⭐Key Takeaway:

Guinea pig companionship is also important for guinea pigs. Take your fur baby to a guinea pig rescue for matched pair arrangements if possible.

???? If you want some more information on cavy relationships, read these posts: 10 Simple Ways To Keep Male Guinea Pigs Happy Together and 10 Crazy Reasons Female Guinea Pigs Fight (You Need This Now)

Human Companionship

Piggies are naturally skittish. That comes from them being prey animals. So, don’t take it personally if your new cavy tries to run away from you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you little friends will never like you. It just takes time.

You’ll have to use patience and kindness to earn their trust. Treats are always a good idea to help them learn that you’re a friend and not an enemy. (Just don’t overdo it!)

It’s not hard work; just spend a little time each day talking to your guinea pig in their cage for starters. But, there’s lot of things you can do

Time spent with your guinea pig can be surprisingly relaxing. You might not need to do much more than stroke them while they lie on your lap – but there’s lot of cool things you can do with your guinea pig.

Hiding pieces of food around their cage to find provides an additional challenge and mental stimulation for your piggies. As well as a ton of fun for you.

???? Tips & Tricks:

When you first bring your piggie home, give them a little hidey-hut in their cage. They’ll be more comfortable and relaxed if they have someplace to go where they can hide.

???? If you want some tips on how to build a better relationship with your guinea pigs or how they relate to each other, check out these posts: Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners (10 Tips You Need Now), The Ultimate Guinea Pig Cuddling Guide (You Need This), and 10 Shocking Mistakes That Make Your Guinea Pig Hate You

Guinea Pig Toys & Games

Another way to make sure that your guinea pigs are kept mentally stimulated is by giving them plenty of toys to play with. There are lots of toys that you can use, such as:

  • Tunnels
  • Mazes
  • Chew toys

⚠️Warning

When it comes to guinea pig toys, there is one word of warning to consider. Avoid exercise wheels. These have been designed for smaller animals, like rats and hamsters. They can cause spinal damage to a piggie. 

Guinea Pig Exercise & Floor Time

Guinea pigs will need to spend some time outside their cage each day. This is a good chance to run around and get some exercise.

Ideally, you want to give your piggies minimum of an hour of floor time each day. The smaller the cage, the more often they will need to get out and run around freely

You should try to build a routine, getting the floor time at the same time each day. Don’t be afraid to get involved and play some games with them.

This should be your time to cuddle and bond together. 

???? If you want some more tips on how to play with your little friends and keep them happy, check out these posts: 15 Wonderful Ways To Entertain Your Guinea Pig (Right Now) and 10 Simple Signs Your Guinea Pig Is Happy (#7 Is My Favorite)

Guinea Pig Grooming (A.K.A Spa Day)

Everyone needs to have a spa day every so often.  Cavies no different. The good news is that they don’t have a demanding grooming schedule.

Long-haired breeds require A LOT more grooming than short-haired guinea pigs.  That hair needs a lot of care and attention.

Skinny pigs (hairless piggies) don’t need baths that frequently either – but it is wise to give them a good washing if they’re really dirty.

Bathing Piggies

Healthy guineas do a fairly decent job of keeping themselves clean. And that’s good, because a lot of piggies don’t like bathsand get very squirmy when it’s time for one.

But, sometimes piggies need help staying clean and fresh – especially when they have an overactive grease gland.

Some things you want to keep in mind about bathing guinea pigs are:

  • They don’t need baths frequently. Once or twice a year is fine for most short-haired breeds.
  • Avoid getting water or shampoo in their eyes or nose.
  • Use a gentle, pet-safe shampoo
  • Only put them back in their cage when they’re complete dry
  • The cleaner you keep their cage, the less likely they’ll need a bath

Fill a container with just enough warm water to cover their feet. If they can stand on the bottom of the container without any risk of drowning, then it’s a good depth.

Depending on how stinky your piggie is, it can be enough just to gently rub their fur with a warm, wet wash cloth. Then you should use a towel to dry them off before you put them back in their cage.

⭐Key Takeaway:

Guineas clean themselves for the most part, but they sometimes need help. So, bathing piggies is a good idea if they are very dirty, smelly, or are elderly guinea pigs that can’t clean themselves.

???? If you want some tips on how to keep your piggies (and their environment) clean and healthy, check out these posts: The Ultimate Guinea Pig Bathing Guide (With Wheeky Clean Tips), Do Guinea Pigs Stink? (+ How To Keep The Smell Down) and Can A Dirty Cage Kill Your Guinea Pig (Find Out Now)

Nail and Teeth Care

You’ll need to trim your piggie’s nails at least once a month – depending on how quickly they grow.  You’ll need a set of small animal nail clippers – like for a cat.  As you are doing this, you’ll need to hold them firmly to keep them from squirming too much.

Over time, they’ll get used to their grooming routine and will be less likely to wriggle around when you are trimming their nails.

Your goal is to cut the end of the nail. Don’t cut too deeply, you don’t want to cut into the quick (a blood vessel in the nail) – which can hurt your little friends. Keep styptic powder near by in case that happens.

Check your piggie’s teeth once a week to make sure that none of them are broken. You also want to make sure that they haven’t gotten too long.

Lastly, check the color of their teeth. If they’re brown, instead of white or yellowish, they’re probably missing an important nutrient in their diet.

Common Health Problems for Guinea Pigs

No one wants to think about the prospect of their pets getting sick – or even dying.

No one expects their pets to But it’s important to be prepared for the kind of health problems you can face.

If you suspect that something is wrong with your guinea pig, take them to the vet. The vet will be able to diagnose the problem and get your cavy the proper care she needs

Ringworm

One of the most common diseases that will affect guinea pigs is ringworm. This is a fungal infection.

It’s spread through infected bedding or contact with infected animals.

Symptoms of ringworm in guinea pigs include:

  • crusty, reddish skin (sometimes it even flakes!)
  • hair loss or lots of bald splotches that usually start around the head and face
  • inflammation if it’s a severe case
  • intense itching

If one guinea pig has ringworm, treat every guinea pig that you have. It spreads very easily.

So, make sure to wash their bowls, bedding and toys – and clean their cage thoroughly.

Cleaning your home is also important to prevent reinfection of other guinea pigs with ringworm.

???? Tips & Tricks:

Some people give their piggies baths in anti-fungal shampoo as a preventative measure against ringworm.

Respiratory Tract Infections / Pneumonia

Pneumonia is probably the most common cause of guinea pigs dying suddenly.

Bordetella bronchiseptica, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Streptococcus zooepidemicus are bacteria that can cause respiratory illness in guinea pigs.

Just like guinea pigs can get colds, they can also develop pneumonia – which is an infection in the lungs that causes difficulty breathing and wheezing.

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • weight loss
  • persistent coughing or sneezing
  • drooping ears/head
  • discharge from their nose or eyes.

Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common cause of pneumonia in guinea pigs.

It’s especially important to keep an eye out for any kind of illness that causes your cavies breathing problems. They will develop very quickly. Your piggie might be struggling to breath or have a sneeze and a crusty nose. But within 48 hours, they can be dead. 

If you suspect that your little friend has any kind of respiratory illness, contact your vet immediate for a diagnosis and treatment. This isn’t something you want to play around with.

???? Tips & Tricks:

Keep you guinea pig’s environment calm, clean, and dry to decrease the odds of them getting any kind of respiratory illness. Also, make sure that they have plenty of Vitamin C in their diet, because it boosts their immune system – which can help to prevent any kind of disease.

???? Want some information on cavy health issues, check out these posts: Is Your Guinea Pig In Pain? (11 Ways To Find Out Now), How To Successfully Clean A Wound On A Guinea Pig, and 11 Reasons Why Some Guinea Pigs Die Suddenly

Scurvy

People and piggies who don’t get enough Vitamin C, can get scurvy.

As mentioned above, guinea pigs can’t produce this nutrient in their body, they will need to get it through their diet.

If they aren’t eating the right mix of food (see how important a balanced diet is?), they’ll develop scurvy.

There are a few signs your guinea pig has scurvy. This includes:

  • having some issues walking, this often comes through swollen joints or feet
  • develops a rough coat
  • ulcers in their gums
  • bruising easily and a lack of energy to play or be active

Of course, this can have a big effect on your little friends’ physical health. Vitamin C is needed for the formation of healthy bones, skin, and gums. It will also affect how quickly they will recover from an injury.

You should never ignore a guinea pig’s scurvy symptoms. It could mean that you have to change their diet or visit the vet, but it is important not to let this go untreated because of how serious and painful the disease can be for your pet!

Parasites: Mites, Lice, & Fleas

Unfortunately, guinea pigs (like other household pets) are susceptible to parasites. These bugs can be contracted from just about anywhere: the guinea pig’s cage mate in a multi-guinea pig home or after being outdoors (in the wrong place at the wrong time)

Some common ones you want to look out for:

  • Mites: Guinea pigs are susceptible to many different types of mites, and some can cause extreme itching, hair loss, and crusty, scaly skin. One type burrows into your piggie’s skin and is very painful – even fatal in some cases.
  • Lice: Sometimes your piggie can have lice, but not show any symptoms ( I know, gross!) Other times, your piggie will get very itchy. Either way, you should take your guinea pig to the vet if you suspect a case of lice.
  • Fleas: This isn’t as common as the other two. Flea bites can leave guinea pig’s skin irritated, bitten up, red and itchy. But, fleas tend to prefer cats and dogs.

⭐Key Takeaway:

There are a couple of different parasites can affect guinea pigs. These range from mites to lice and fleas. Guinea pigs can contract these bugs from their cage mates or while outside. You should be looking out for symptoms like hair loss, extreme itching and crusty skin.

Final Thoughts: Guinea Pig Care For Beginners

Now that you know all the things a guinea pig needs to be happy, healthy and well taken care of. It is time for you to find your own guinea pigs!

Don’t forget about the tips from this blog post when looking at pets in shelters or pet stores!

You can also adopt homeless animals from animal rescue groups if they are available near where you live.

When it comes down to it, there’s nothing like having one as a best friend forever. They’re truly wonderful creatures who love humans so much- just don’t let them eat too many carrots!

Happy caring for your furry companions.

Cavia aperea (Brazilian Guinea pig). (n.d.). Animal Diversity Web. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cavia_aperea/

Disorders and diseases of Guinea pigs – All other pets – Merck veterinary manual. (n.d.). Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/all-other-pets/guinea-pigs/disorders-and-diseases-of-guinea-pigs

Domestic Guinea pig. (n.d.). BioWeb Home. https://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2008/nickel_sara/interactions.htm

Dumitru, S. (n.d.). Acba. ACBA – American Cavy Breeders Association. https://www.acbaonline.com/breeds.html

DVM, S. L. (2015). The Guinea pig handbook. Barron’s Educational Series.

Nutrient requirements of the Guinea pig – Nutrient requirements of laboratory animals – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231932/

Selecting A Guinea Pig. (n.d.). Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/all-other-pets/guinea-pigs/selecting-a-guinea-pig

What kind of housing do Guinea pigs need? (n.d.). RSPCA Knowledgebase – Let Australia’s most trusted animal welfare charity help you answer the big questions. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-kind-of-housing-do-guinea-pigs-need/

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