March is Adopt a Guinea Pig Month, an annual celebration of the virtues of this humble and utterly charming little animal. Those of us who have fallen under their spell can wax poetic for hours about the joy these furry friends bring to our lives. However, although we see nothing wrong with world domination by the guinea pig, we also know they’re not the right fit for all humans.
Working in a guinea pig rescue that has taken in hundreds of surrendered guinea pigs, you see first-hand the things that catch new owners by surprise and land critters in shelters.
#1: They Must Have Roommates.
Guinea pigs are communal creatures, genetically hard-wired for the company of their own kind. There are countless stories in the rescue community of inactive, depressed and sick solitary pigs coming to vibrant life within hours of being joined with a roommate. Within our own rescue, we have numerous experiences where guinea pigs abandoned outdoors could not be lured to safety with food and water alone but were easily captured once they smelled and heard another guinea pig.
No matter how much time you spend with them, you can’t replace the companionship of another guinea pig. This is a deal breaker; if you don’t have the space, budget or time to support a pair of guinea pigs, they’re just not the right pick for your current life stage.
#2: They Require More Care Than You May Realize.
Every species requires care; there’s no such thing as “low-maintenance” pets. The real trick is finding pets whose care needs fit your current lifestyle. You’ll never have to go out in inclement weather so your “piggy can go potty,” your furniture will never be used as a scratching post and your neighbors in the apartment building will never complain about pet noise. Piggy care adds a fair number of items to daily and weekly to-do lists, however.
- Food dishes and hay racks need to be checked daily, water changed daily, and fresh veggies and fruits provided daily.
- Their diet is a careful balance of sufficient hydration, constantly available timothy and grass hays, specialty guinea pig food pellets, and fresh and clean veggies and fruits. They’re dependent on high vitamin C, low-fat, low-calcium and low-sugar moderated food choices for good health.
- Cage bedding needs daily spot-cleaning in the most used areas. It needs to be fully changed out at least once a week.
- Food dishes and water bottles need thorough cleaning with hot water every other day.
- Nails need to be trimmed once or twice a month, depending on how fast they grow.
- Long-haired guinea pigs need daily brushing, whereas short-haired ones need it far less frequently; all breeds need to be brushed during shedding season. Long-haired guinea pigs need hair trimming every few weeks so their fur doesn’t drag in their bedding.
- Even when they have each other, your guinea pigs need daily snuggling and socializing with their humans.
#3: They Require More Space Than You May Realize.
Guinea pigs need an escape-proof living environment that’s draft-free, not too cold in the winter and not too warm in the summer. They need to be protected from dogs of all sizes, aggressive and/or territorial cats, heights and electrical wires, as well as small hands that are enthusiastic, grabby and unsupervised.
A minimum of 7 square feet of indoor, enclosed and solid-bottomed living space is strongly encouraged for a pair of guinea pigs. They also need daily out-of-cage playtime in a safe and enclosed area that is at least as big as their cage, and preferably twice as big.
#4: They Require Specialized Veterinary Care.
Guinea pigs need a veterinarian who really understands them, their unique needs and their delicate physiologies. In some areas, exotic veterinarians are few and far between, and may be a longer drive than you can reasonably accommodate. Before you get locked into a pet commitment, look in your area for an exotic specialist and for after-hours emergency veterinary clinics that accept exotics. Because this is an increasingly in-demand specialty, exotic veterinarians are very good about promoting their expertise in Yellow Pages ads, their own website, and veterinarian finder tools on species-specific websites and forums.
If you’re still uncertain whether guinea pigs are right for you, search out a guinea pig rescue and ask for an appointment or phone call for some one-on-one Q&A time. Even the busiest rescues will make the time to talk in order to help ensure a happy outcome for critters and humans alike.
- Cavy Cages’ Cage size recommendations (www.guineapigcages.com/)
- Seagull’s Guinea Pig Compendium vet finder (www.aracnet.com/cgi-usr/seagull/vetfinder.cgi)
- Guinea Lynx veterinarians list, with client recommendations (www.guinealynx.info/vetlist.html)
- Guinea Lynx complete guinea pig diet guide (www.guinealynx.info/diet.html)
- Cavy Spirit’s guide to your guinea pig’s social life (www.cavyspirit.com/sociallife.htm)
Whitney Potsus is vice president of The Critter Connection guinea pig rescue in Connecticut and a long-time pet parent and foster mom for guinea pigs.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter March / April 2012, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2012 AAHA. Find out more.