Proper Care for Guinea Pigs as Household Pets

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs, or cavies, are small mammals native to South America. They first came to Europe about 400 years ago, and have been cherished as pets ever since. Guinea pigs are often calm and docile, but still make lively pets. They are vocal when excited and will make a variety of sounds when they see their favorite people or when the fridge door is opened (they love treats!).

Housing

Guinea pigs need a minimum of eight square feet of floor space in their cages. They are very social and will be happier if housed with another guinea pig, but this doubles the amount of space that they will need in their cages. Guinea pigs have sensitive paw pads and need solid flooring. They cannot be housed in a wire-bottomed cage.

Furnishings the Housing Area

When guinea pigs are frightened, they either freeze in place or run away, and they prefer to have a hiding place in their cage. Plastic tubes and wooden or woven hay boxes are available in pet supply stores. A good, free alternative is using a cardboard box with the bottom cut out of it. Many guinea pigs love to chew on cardboard boxes and, while you may need to replace it regularly, this chewing will help keep their teeth worn down to a good length. Small pieces of untreated wood can also be provided to help satisfy your guinea pig’s need to chew and keep their teeth from getting overgrown as well.

Paper or pine bedding should be several inches thick and should be changed twice weekly. Cedar shavings should not be used as bedding, as they contain phenols, which can be harmful to guinea pigs. Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food from the cage daily. Clean the cage completely once a week by replacing dirty bedding and scrubbing the bottom of the cage with warm water. Be sure everything’s dry before adding fresh bedding.

Comfortable Temperature for Good Health

Make sure that your guinea pig doesn’t get overheated or chilled, as they are susceptible to both. In general, if you are comfortable, they are probably at a safe and comfortable temperature. If you need to venture out with your guinea pig in cold weather, make sure to cover the carrier with a warm blanket. On hot days, the car should be pre-cooled for them. Remember to never, ever leave your guinea pig unattended in a car for any reason even for just a few minutes, especially if it is a hot or cold day.

Nutrition and Diet

Commercial guinea pig pellets should make up the bulk of your pet’s diet. Nutritionally complete, they’re available at pet supply stores, and are made from plants, seeds and veggies. Feed your guinea pigs twice daily, in the morning and in the evening.

Lange Animal Clinic veterinarians recommend offering small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables to your guinea pigs every day. These pets need to a good supply of Vitamin C.  Try grapes, cucumbers, corn, peas, carrots and pears. Half a handful of veggies and a slice of fresh fruit per pig is plenty. Always make sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. You’ll also need to make grass hay available to your pets at all times. It’s great for the digestive system, and will also satisfy your pet’s need to gnaw.  Guinea pigs can be very picky eaters. They will often decide which foods they like early in life, and it is often difficult to change their diets. It’s a good idea to expose young guinea pigs to a wide variety of foods, so that they will be more accepting of changes in diet when they’re older.

Adult guinea pigs should have access to good quality grass hay at all times. Alfalfa hay is generally not recommended, as it can lead to obesity. Pellets are typically limited to help prevent obesity as well. Pet parents can offer fresh, clean greens to their guinea pigs daily diet. Fruit can be offered in small amounts as treats, but shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your guinea pig’s diet. Growing, pregnant or nursing guinea pigs have higher calorie requirements and can be offered more fruit, pellets and alfalfa hay.

Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. Use an inverted bottle with a drinking tube, and change the water daily.  Be certain to clean the water bottle to ensure good sanitary conditions.

General Care

It is important that you get your pets used to you—and used to being handled. Start by feeding them small treats. When they’re comfortable with that, you can carefully pick up one pig at a time, one hand supporting the bottom, the other over the back.  Once you have hand-tamed them, you should let them run around in a small room or enclosed area to get some additional exercise every day. You will need to carefully check the room for any openings from which the guinea pigs can escape, get lost and possibly end up hurt. These animals must be supervised when they are loose because they will chew on anything in their paths—including electrical wires.

Guinea pigs that are on bedding will also need to have their nails trimmed. Typically trimming 1-2 times a month with a small cat nail trimmer will keep the nails at a good length.

Guinea pigs should see a Lange Animal Clinic veterinarian once a year. We are here not only to heal your guinea pig when they are ill, but also to help keep them healthy and strong! Our veterinarians can spay or neuter your guinea pig, help ensure that your guinea pig’s teeth are wearing evenly, that his or her weight is appropriate, and that they are not showing any signs of disease or nutritional deficiencies.


For over 45 years, Lange Animal Clinic has provided veterinary services in Pekin, IL and the surrounding areas for over three family generations. Our expert staff of Veterinarians, Veterinary Technicians, and Veterinary Assistants are trained to ensure the best quality medical care for your beloved pets-whether it be as a routine medical examination to more complicated surgical procedures. We are a small companion animal clinic providing services for dogs, cats, and exotic pets.

Dr. Colleen O’Rourke, owner and senior Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, takes great pride in making certain that every patient’s experience is handled with the utmost care, compassion, and economically in the best interests of our clients. Visit us at www.langeanimal.com.  

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