Guinea pigs are cute rodents that can make great pets. There are officially 13 different breeds of guinea pigs. Two of them are bold, some have long fur, some have rosettes in the fur, and some have short and smooth fur. The most commonly-held pet guinea pig is the American Guinea Pig. Guinea pigs biologically belong to a family that is related to chinchillas and degus.
Taking care of a guinea pig is not too challenging. Guinea pigs need a spacious enclosure with water to drink, hay to eat, fresh vegetables, pelleted food, and some houses and toys to play with and hide in. Deep-cleaning the cage is a weekly chore.
In this article, you will find all the information you need to take care of a pet guinea pig and offer your pet the best life by your side.
You will find plenty of information about housing, drinking, feeding, social interactions, and your regular chores, as well as many facts that will help you understand your pet and make the best out of your experience for both you and your guinea pig(s).
How to Look After a Guinea Pig
Since every guinea pig breed comes with different needs, this article will primarily take the American Guinea Pig into account but will tap into the needs of other breeds here and there.
Before you get your guinea pigs, keep in mind that these lovely creatures live up to 8 years in captivity. Make sure that you will be able to take care of a pet for that amount of time.
Unlike hamsters, rats, or mice, guinea pigs need daily interaction and some time to run around outside of the enclosure. They cannot be left alone for a weekend.
Is it Easy to Take Care of Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs are known as pets that are easy to take care of. But it’s still important to keep in mind, that every pet comes with a huge responsibility and that should not be taken too lightly. A young kid cannot care for a guinea pig on its’ own and will need parental supervision.
As a whole, the daily chores include feeding the guinea pig, providing them with fresh water, spending time with them, and offering them some out-of-cage time. The guinea pig cage needs to be deep-cleaned at least once a week, and every few weeks, the nails need to be trimmed down.
Taking care of guinea pigs involves feeding, cleaning, and spending time with them. Owning a pet also means that you are responsible for its’ well-being.
If you detect any health issues, you should see a vet, which might be costly, but that’s also part of being a pet parent.
Guinea pigs are one of the easier pets to take care of. They can stay in their enclosure most of the day, guinea pig food is widely available in pet stores, and they are rather clean, and healthy animals.
They are also very communicative, which makes it even more fun to spend time with them.
How to Clean the Cage
Cleaning the enclosure is one of the less fun things to do with pets, but it’s just as important as feeding and spending time together.
Cleaning the guinea pig cage involves removing everything in the enclosure, exchanging the bedding, cleaning the toys, houses, food jar, water bottle, and if necessary the metal wires, and putting everything back in a freshly cleaned home.
The daily chores include feeding, fresh water, cleaning, and playtime.
Guinea pigs need to have access to hay at all times. Just like any other rodent, their teeth grow all their life long and need to be worn down by chewing on hay and other hard materials.
Timothy hay is a good option for adult guinea pigs, just like orchard grass, and bluegrasses. Alfalfa hay is only good for young guinea pigs under the age of 6 months, or pregnant or nursing guinea pigs.
Alfalfa contains a higher amount of calcium than the other types of hay, which is the reason why only young and pregnant guinea pigs benefit from that hay.
It is about chinchillas, but since guinea pigs and chinchillas biologically belong to the same family, the facts also apply to guinea pigs.
You can use hay racks to keep the hay together in the enclosure, just like these ones:
Guinea pigs love their daily doses of fresh veggies. They can be fed with veggies such as cabbage, celery, carrots, cucumber, raw broccoli, or sweet pepper. You can also feed them fruits such as apples or strawberries but only in small amounts because fruits contain sugar.
Vegetables that should not be fed to guinea pigs are iceberg lettuce, red leaves, cauliflower, potatoes, and radishes.
Guinea pigs should be fed around one cup of veggies per day per guinea pig. They should not be fed more than that to prevent any digestive issues such as diarrhea.
Leftovers from the day before should be removed.
Pellets should also be fed on a daily basis. Timothy hay pellets are a great option. Only acquire pellets that are specifically made for guinea pigs and do not buy food mixtures with fancy colors.
The problem with the mixed food packages is not that they are not good. The problem is, that guinea pigs have the option to pick out their favorite food, which will lead to an unbalanced diet.
Even if the mixed food package contains all the vitamins a guinea pig needs, they might simply pick out the best pieces. Therefore you should go for the “boring” uniform pellets for guinea pigs.
The water bottle (or a water bowl) needs to be cleaned on a daily basis and the water needs to be exchanged.
If you live in an area with chemical-free tap water, you can use that for your pets. If you are unsure, you can go for bottled spring water.
The water bottle needs to be cleaned every day to prevent algae or bacteria growth inside the bottle. Food leftovers from the day before should also be removed.
You can also keep the enclosure clean by scooping up the scattered hay and poo with a hand brush. It’s easier if you use fleece on the bottom of the cage, but you can also do it with normal bedding.
Guinea pigs tend to pee and poo in certain areas in the cage and you can clean these areas every day to offer your guinea pigs a nice and healthy environment to live in. This will also help you to postpone the deep-cleaning session for a few days.
Guinea pigs need some time outside of the enclosure to play and explore every day. A playpen or a guinea-pig-friendly room with a floor that can easily be cleaned is perfect.
You should set up some things to hide in and play with. Guinea pigs should never be left alone when they are outside of their enclosure.
The time outside of the cage is a great time for bonding, so simply stay with your pets and get to know them better. They will be grateful for your company.
The entire enclosure of your guinea pigs should be deep-cleaned at least once every week.
Depending on the number of guinea pigs you own, and the size of the enclosure, you might have to clean every 4 to 5 days. Just make sure that your guinea pigs do not live in their own dirt.
They are clean animals and deserve a clean place to live in.
Every Few Weeks
The nails of a guinea pig need to be trimmed down every few weeks. It is best to let a vet do it the first time and you can learn from the vet how to do it properly at home without hurting your pet.
Cutting too much of the nail can lead to a painful injury. There are nail clippers for guinea pigs that can be acquired, just like this one:
What do Guinea Pigs Need?
Guinea pigs are curious, active pets that need a rather big enclosure in length and width, but not in height as they don’t climb or jump around.
Guinea pigs need several items to live a great and fulfilled life as healthy and happy pets. Here is a list of things you will need for a pet guinea pig:
- Food bowl for pellets
- Water bottle
- Bedding or fleece
- Transportation box
What Kind of Cage do Guinea Pigs Need?
Guinea pigs need a lot of space to roam around. It is safe to say: The bigger the enclosure, the better.
The bottom of the cage has to be solid. A wired bottom will hurt the guinea pigs’ feed and can lead to a medication known as “bumblefoot”.
Chinchillas do not climb or jump, therefore a lid is not essential in a cage but it is still recommended to prevent anything from falling in. Especially with kids or other pets in the household, a lid will help to protect your guinea pigs.
Since they don’t climb or jump, multi-levels are not needed and are rather dangerous because the guinea pigs might fall off.
The best enclosure is very big in length and width, has a solid floor, that is covered with fleece or bedding to protect the guinea pigs’ little feet, and is filled with many hideouts, toys, wooden structures, and other fun things for guinea pigs to interact with.
Where Should a Guinea Pig Enclosure be Located?
Guinea pigs are rather sensitive to extreme temperatures. They have to be kept indoors if you live in an area with very hot summers or very cold winters.
The enclosure should be located in a place where the guinea pigs are involved in the family’s activities, such as in the hallway, living room, or bedroom.
They need a lot of fresh air, therefore it would be great for them to have an outdoor playpen where they can spend some time every day. But they must be watched carefully outdoors, to prevent any accidents with other animals such as cats, dogs, or birds of prey.
Can I Keep My Guinea Pigs in my Bedroom?
Yes, it is possible to keep guinea pigs in the bedroom as long as the temperature is steady, and there is enough airflow. Guinea pigs should be in a place where the activities take place.
If the bedroom is only for sleeping, the guinea pigs might feel isolated. In that case, you might want to rethink that decision and relocate the guinea pigs to the living room or hallway instead.
Guinea pigs are not smelly, as long as the cage is cleaned on a regular basis. They are not too loud at night, and since they don’t climb around in the cage, the only thing you might hear is chewing, soft squeaking, and rustling through the bedding or hay.
What do Guinea Pigs Need in Their Cage?
There are several items that you need to acquire for a chinchilla. Some things are necessary, others are optional and might be a great thing for your guinea pigs but not obligatory. Here is a list of the things that you will definitively need in a guinea pigs enclosure:
- Water bottle
- Food dish
- Bedding or fleece
- Toys to play with
In addition to that list, there are plenty of things that are great for your guinea pigs and might improve the quality of life for your pets, but are not absolutely necessary, such as:
- Chew toys
Necessary items in a guinea pigs cage
A water bottle can also be replaced by a water bowl, but the bowl will lead to more mess in the enclosure. Some water bottles drip a lot, which leads to wet bedding. You should definitively go for a non-dripping option such as this one:
You can also get a water dispenser that prevents your guinea pigs to spill all the water in the cage by flipping it over by accident.
Food dishes have to be either heavy enough so that your guinea pigs do not flip them over by accidents, or ones that can be fixated on the enclosure such as these ones:
If you own a cage with a deep bottom part, you will not be able to fixate a food bowl on the wall, therefore a heavy bowl is the best option for you, just like this one:
Instead of a regular food dish, you can also get a combination of hay rack and food dish:
Food / Hay
You will need some Timothy hay for adult guinea pigs, or Alfalfa hay for guinea pigs under 6 months, as well as pelleted food, and fresh vegetables every day.
Kaytee has some high-quality Timothy hay that is suitable for guinea pigs:
And if you own very young guinea pigs, here is some good Alfalfa Hay by Oxbow:
The pellets you acquire should be made of Timothy hay and contain the extra vitamin C your guinea pigs need. Only feed your pets pellets that are specially made for guinea pigs, just like this product by Kaytee:
Guinea pigs have teeth that grow all the time, therefore they need to trim them down by chewing hay, wooden things, and chewing toys.
Chewing toys do not necessarily have to be made of a food source, such as hay. Wooden structures and houses are just as welcome as chewing toys, as hay sticks. Here are some ideas for chewing toys for guinea pigs:
Make sure that only natural ingredients are used, and no glues or nails can be reached by a chewing guinea pig.
Bedding or Fleece
The floor of the enclosure can be covered with either bedding or washable fleece cage liners.
Here is an example of fleece liners:
Adapt the size to the size of the enclosure. You can use several fleece liners to cover up the entire floor. Good fleece liners are of course washable, have an absorbing fabric, and can easily be cleaned with a hand brush and in the washer.
If you choose bedding in the enclosure, it should be a few inches high. Paper bedding or wood shavings are good options. Cedar chips are not good, as they can lead to respiratory issues.
The paper bedding must be removed and replaced at least once a week, and roughly cleaned every other day, while fleece should be brushed off on a daily basis and removed and washed at least once a week.
The bedding is essential to make your guinea pigs feel comfortable. They cannot be standing on wires or blanc plastic.
Some guinea pig owners use shredded newspaper as bedding. While this is possible, most newspapers are printed all over with lots of ink. It is cheap, easy to get hands-on, and absorbent, but if you use newspaper, make sure that the ink does not come off and color your pets.
Kaytee offers good dust-free bedding for pets, which is absorbent, not too expensive, soft, and odor binding:
Guinea pigs are prey animals. They need many spots to hide in, in order to feel safe and happy. The cheapest version is cardboard boxes such as shoe boxes with an entrance cut-in.
You can also buy tunnels, wooden structures to hide under, wooden houses, or hideouts made of washable cloth.
Guinea pigs do not need anything hanging from the ceiling because they don’t climb. And even if they manage to get up, they could get hurt if they fall down.
Here are some ideas for hideouts for your guinea pigs:
Toys to play with
Guinea pigs need toys to keep themselves entertained. Houses, hideouts, tunnels, wooden structures, cardboard, and chew toys are all toys that your guinea pigs will enjoy.
Exchange the items in the enclosure every now and then to make things more entertaining.
Where Can I Get a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs are animals that live in big groups and need each other to feel safe and happy. In Switzerland, it is even forbidden by law to own a single guinea pig, because they will be lonely on their own. Wherever you get your guinea pig- get at least two of them.
As a whole, guinea pigs are widely available in pet stores, but also in animal shelters, from local breeders and people who cannot care for their guinea pigs anymore.
Pet stores are often the easiest option, but keep in mind that they might not be the best option.
Not every pet store cares for their pets as much as they should, and the priority is rather making money than making sure that the animals live the best life possible. Guinea pigs from the pet store might also be shyer because they are not used to being handled.
Guinea pigs from a local breeder are usually used to being handled, and the breeder makes sure that no inbreeding takes place and that the animals are in good health conditions at all times.
You can also adopt a guinea pig from a local animal shelter, or from someone who cannot care for his or her pet anymore and has to give it away.
Keep in mind that the older a guinea pig is, the more difficult it might be to bond. You simply don’t know what the animals experienced in their lives.
Lisa is one of the two founders of Animal-Knowledge. She has been very interested in animals and insects from a very young age and has owned different kinds of pets such as snails, ants, fish, turtles, mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, a dog, … you get the idea 🙂