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How to take care of your guinea pig

These species were first domesticated in South America about a thousand years ago, now they are beloved pets all over the world. Highly social animals, so should be kept in breeding pairs or single sex groups (females after mating immediately change to aggressively defensive). They are crepuscular in nature (ie feed at dawn and dusk) and coprophagy (eating certain parts of their faeces several times daily-termed caecotrophs) is very important for certain vitamins. They do not jump or climb, and their response to danger is either freeze or flight (this behaviour is contagious). They love their food (have been observed excitedly squealing when fridge door is opened!) but do not take well to changes in diet. Guinea pigs do not like loud noises, and will get severely stressed if exposed to them. Sense of smell is really important, they recognise individuals via nose to nose contact, and you may see them rubbing against surfaces, this is a process known as scent marking, and is something they do to mark their territory. You will get to know the several different kinds of vocalisations your new pet will make, the ‘chut’, ‘purr’ or the ‘chutter’- if he/she squeals or screams however they are in pain or very stressed.

Diet for guinea pigs

MUST CONTAIN VITAMIN C (at least 10mg/kg/day but 5 times this if pregnant or sick). Most species make their own, guinea pigs however need it in their food. Commercial guinea pig diets are supplemented with it, but their shelf life is short and the vit c content depletes with time, and it must be kept in a cold dark place. If supplementing with human products ensure only vit c present as multivitamins contain too high levels of other things ie vit D. Vegetables high in vit c include kale/parsley/spinach/red and green peppers/tomatoes, fruits include kiwi and oranges. All veg must be removed after one day.  You can also put a amll piece of Rubex (dissolvable vit C tablet) into water but this must be changed after one day as it also degrades quickly. Good quality hay and lots of green foods ie grass/dandelions / broccoli are also essential for fibre, intestinal motility and tooth wear. Avocado is highly toxic so avoid this. Guinea pigs develop their tastes early in life and find it difficult to change – even a different brand of food may be refused. Water bottles easily plug with food remnants from the guinea pigs' mouth-check daily while changing. In general, it is better to have a water bowl as they will drink more from this and so keep their gut contents hydrate-important to avoid gut stasis which is a common problem in herbivores. Avoid sugary treats like apples or carrots as these can predispose to diabetes.

Housing for guinea pigs

Can house outdoor or indoor. If outdoor, ensure wooden hutch is raised off the ground to avoid damp, and brought indoors in winter. Hutches should be at least 25cm in height and well-ventilated. Wire mesh floors can lead to foot and leg injuries. Two compartments are ideal, one mesh fronted for ventilation and the other solid for nesting. Suitable bedding material include wood shavings/hay/straw. Cardboard boxes can be used as a hidey hole but these may be chewed so plastic is best. They should have access to a run for exercising and grazing (should be protected from predators). NEVER KEEP WITH RABBITS, as bullying occurs by the rabbit and can carry diseases that will not show in the rabbit but will severely affect your guinea pig - ie. respiratory infections or abscesses. Keep at a temperature of 18-26 degrees, as guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke, esp if pregnant. The cage should be cleaned out once weekly to prevent build-up of bacteria.

Fact sheet

Life expectancy    4-7 years

Weight                   Females: 700-900g, Male: 900-1100g Reach full size by 15 months

Gestation              60-72 days (shorter if small litter)

Size of litter          2-6   (can have 4 litters a year)

Weaning                3 weeks old

Puberty                  Male : 8-10 weeks / Female : 4-5 weeks

Feed                      ~40g a day / 100 mls water

How to handle your guinea pig

Hold around the chest and support the hindquarters, then reposition fingers so one or two support the collarbone, remaining ones support the chest and thumbs wrap around the shoulders. Bring him/her into your chest and allow to acclimatise before moving again.

Things to watch out for with guinea pigs

Hair pulling and nibbling are signs of stress, along with vocalisations mentioned earlier. If a guinea pig ever goes off their food for more than 12 hours, something is wrong, bring to us for assessment immediately.

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