When you own guinea pigs, one of the hardest things to do is to leave them with a pet sitter while you go out of town. The natural inclination is to take them with you. After all, they’re small — how hard can it be?
Generally speaking, guinea pigs are not difficult to take along, especially when traveling by car. But what do you need to keep in mind?
#1: Keep Them Safe
The only way to transport a guinea pig is in a well-ventilated, small animal carrier (hard-sided is best) that can be secured with a seatbelt. For short trips, the top-loading, side-secured Cabin Kennel will hold one or two adult guinea pigs snugly. Cat carriers, such the Petmate Portable Carrier and the Small Kennel Cab, will hold two to three guinea pigs with room for hay and snacks. Cat carriers have secure locking front doors, and wire vents and/or small doors on the top that let you slip food into the carrier, quickly check on your pigs in transit, and slip in your hand to offer a reassuring pat. And while nothing is 100% protection in an accident, the tighter space in the carriers means less space for guinea pigs to get tossed during impact.
Guinea pigs should not be transported in cardboard boxes, cages, plastic storage bins, a towel in someone’s arms or lap, or whatever else one can think of. These items are not easily secured on seats and, in an accident, provide too much space for guinea pigs to get thrown around during impact. Accidents, sudden stops, or other sudden movements in any vehicle will cause injuries to a guinea pig if they slide around in an unsuitable carrier.
#2: Keep Them Hydrated
Guinea pigs dehydrate easily, so you want to make sure they’re taking in fluids. Water bottles hung on carrier doors, however, unfailingly make a mess inside the carrier. Instead, you can use chunks of cucumber, sweet bell pepper, or melon; they offer enough water content to keep your pigs hydrated until you reach your destination.
For longer trips, have a water bottle and bail handy to hang on the carrier door if you’re going to be making a lengthy stop somewhere. That way, they have a chance to get a good drink of water in addition to what they’re getting from their snacks.
#3: Keep Them Fed
Guinea pigs typically eat about every couple of hours, so you’ll need to accommodate this routine while they’re traveling. When you start out on your trip, give them a handful of hay, a chunk of carrot, and a couple of leaves of lettuce. Some folks put small plastic bowls of food pellets in the carrier, but I’ve found that when pigs are in transit they consistently choose hay, veggies, and fruit over food pellets. You can still provide food pellets, but don’t be surprised if your pigs don’t touch them.
If you’re going to be on the road for more than a couple of hours, keep a bag of hay and extra veggies and fruit handy. That way, you can replenish their food in the carrier without having to dig in the trunk or stop at a grocery store.
#4: Keep Them Comfortable
Very few guinea pigs enjoy traveling. They would rather be anywhere but in your car, on the bus, on the train, or on the plane. Though resilient, guinea pigs are very nervous creatures, easily disconcerted by sound in particular. Travel, for them, is sensory overload.
The more you can encourage napping between snacking, the better you can manage your pigs’ stress levels. Lining the bottom of the carrier with a soft towel (for traction and absorption) and providing a comfy cozy sack for them to tunnel into will make relaxation easier. (Guinea pigs feel safest when they can tunnel and hide.) If you’ll be on the road for awhile, bring extra sacks to swap out for dirty ones.
#5: Keep Them Company
When you reach your destination, put your guinea pigs in a cage with food, water, and hay and then leave them alone for a bit to eat, nap, and relax, but be ready to intervene in case they show overt signs of stress. Getting pulled out the carrier after the trip and immediately getting carried around an unfamiliar place or getting passed around from one stranger to another is the last thing they need.
While you’re in transit, don’t leave them alone in the car while you’re in a store picking up a couple of things or in a restaurant getting a quick bite. If there’s more than one human companion, have one stay with the pigs while the other leaves the car (the same applies for bus, train, and terminals). You would no more leave an animal unattended than you would leave a child.
By following these simple rules, you and your guinea pigs can have a safe and uneventful trip, and arrive at your destination healthy and happy to be there!