1. Housing & Bedding
Ideal housing for guinea pigs are hutches approximately 0.9 sq metre per adult guinea pig, although they need plenty of exercise outside their hutch. Hutches and runs should ideally be placed out of the sun and sheltered from the rain and ideally hutches should be raised off the ground. In the winter, the hutch will have to be moved into a garage or outhouse.
Straw or wood shavings are ideal for guinea pigs in outdoor hutches and wet bedding should be removed on a daily basis. Hutches should be completely stripped out and scrubbed, ideally once a week during the summer and more regularly during the winter when guinea pigs spend more time inside. In the winter it’s also advisable to put plenty of hay in the hutch for your guinea pig to burrow in.
Guinea pigs need fibre rich diets, such as hay or grass, to help digest food and maintain healthy teeth. Hay and grass should be supplemented with a complete food for guinea pigs, which is different to the food given to rabbits as guinea pigs can’t produce their own Vitamin C and they also require high levels of Vitamin A. Guinea pigs can also be given fresh vegetables, in moderation. Water must be accessible at all times and bottles are often easier to keep clean.
Dental problems are a major health issue for guinea pigs. Guinea pigs need to eat fibre to wear down their continuously growing teeth. If teeth don’t get worn down enough this can cause drooling and lack of appetite. Your vet will be able to advise you on your pet’s teeth.
4. Claw clipping
It’s advisable to clip the claws approximately once a month, however the more a guinea pig walks or runs on a hard surface the less frequently they will need clipping as they will wear down themselves. Guinea pigs that spend a lot of time in their hutch or on grass will need their claws clipping more frequently.
Neutering female guinea pigs is recommended to help prevent unwanted litters and behaviour such as nesting, aggression and mood swings. It’s also advisable to neuter male guinea pigs to prevent aggression. Your vet will be able to advise you on neutering your pet.
Regular exercise is important to keep guinea pigs fit and prevent boredom, which could lead to behavioural problems. It’s therefore advisable to exercise pets in an outdoor run, the garden or the house as often as possible, but ideally for at least 4 hours a day. You can make this time as fun as possible by using boxes and tubes to make tunnels and hidey holes for them to explore.
Guinea pigs will groom both themselves and others, as it’s a social activity. Some long-haired breeds will need daily grooming by their owners to remove loose and matted hair. You should also check a guinea pig’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bottom and claws daily.
Before attempting to handle your guinea pig, let him become accustomed to you by feeding out of your hand and stroking him. Once he is happy doing this, slide your hand under his chest and your other hand under his bottom. It is advisable to lift him against your chest or keep him on your lap.
It’s advisable to keep guinea pigs in social groups to encourage them to interact and socialise. Never keep rabbits with guinea pigs, as they may be bullied and injured.
10. Regular Health Checks
Your vet can carry out a ‘nose to tail’ MOT but you can play a role too by following the guidelines below to keep an eye on your guinea pig’s health, help him to stay in tip top condition and live a long and healthy life:
- Look out for changes in your guinea pig’s food consumption, drinking and toilet habits. Does he have less energy or is he slower in getting up or jumping? Monitor your guinea pig’s faeces for colour and consistency
- Rub your hands over your guinea pig’s body including his head, legs and feet to check for any lumps or bumps or anything stuck in his pads. Check your guinea pig’s coat quality and whether any dandruff or hair loss is evident. Is your guinea pig scratching, chewing or biting excessively?
- Check your pet’s nose, eyes and ears for any abnormalities or discharge. Your guinea pig’s nose should be moist, the corners of his eyes should be free of discharge and his ears should be clean
- Regularly examine your guinea pig’s mouth for signs of disease and overgrown teeth
- Monitor your guinea pig’s body condition by running your hands over his ribs and backbone. If he is losing weight or is overweight, it’s advisable to take him to the vet