The absolute beginners guide to guinea pigs

At some stage, with everything, we are all absolute beginners. When a lot of us started keeping guinea pigs, there was no GUINEA PIG MAGAZINE to help us find our way and we made mistakes that possibly make us cringe today(it’s not just me, is it?). But now, there is a handy magazine that just happens to be about these wonderful bundles of personality! So, without further ado, please welcome our new expert Catherine Alliss, with a beginners guide to having popcorning pigs…

Guinea pigs are delightful little creatures who have a lot of love to give to their owners. They’re Often seen as an ideal starter pet for children. They do make good pets for children, but they should not be left in the sole care of children, they should be a part of the family, with the adults taking final responsibility for ensuring the animals are housed and cared for properly and provided with everything that is needed.

What do you need to know?

Before getting a guinea pig, it is essential to research their basic requirements- housing, feeding, lifespan, different breeds, where to find a guinea pig, vet care, etc.

  1. Where to obtain guinea pigs

There are many places you can get guinea pigs.The obvious one is the Pet store– some pet stores sell guinea pigs. However, they are seen more as commodities’ or ‘shelf-space’ rather than living animals by pet stores. 

Some stores will provide a guarantee and will cover the cost of veterinary care should the animal fall sick within a certain number of days after purchase – but that is rare. The downside of purchasing from a pet shop is that you have no information on the parents or genetic lineage of the guinea pigs for sale – and no ongoing support.

From a Breeder– there are good breeders and not so good breeders; some people show guinea pigs, and breed small number to keep their show stock,and responsibly sell on piggies that may be mis-marked for example. But There are people who only breed to sell animals to shops or markets. A good breeder will keep full records and will be able to give you information about the parents and genetic lineage of the guinea pigs they sell. A good breeder will also often offer to take the guinea back should your circumstances change in the future.

If you are looking for a pet guinea, GPM recommends that you contact your local registered Rescue; many guinea pig rescues throughout the world rescue and take in unwanted guinea pigs and are always looking for homes for them. They may or may not be able to give you background information on the guinea pigs in their care, such as age, genetics, etc. But, a rescue will be able to offer you advice on the correct care of guinea pigs. They will ensure the piggies you get are free from illness and pregnancy. The rescue will serve as a useful source of advice and information, and will also always take the guinea pig back should your circumstances change in the future.

  1. How many?

Guinea pigs are sociable herd animals, and in the wild, they live in herds composed of a number of small groups of a male with up to 3 or 4 females. Because of their sociable nature, you should always consider having at least two guinea pigs.

  1. Cage or hutch?

Ideally your guinea pigs will live indoors – as part of the family. In which case you will need a cage or indoor hutch of a suitable size. If your guinea pigs will be spending some or all of their time outdoors, then a secure, waterproof structure of a proper size will be required.

There are many different cages and hutches available; Ready-made hutches, plastic cages, C&C cages, and bespoke hutch building companies who will build hutches and indoor enclosures to your specifications. If you are practical, you can create your own cage or indoor enclosure. The most important thing is the size.

  • 1 or 2 guinea pigs need a minimum available floor space of 7.5 ft 2or 0.7metres2
  • 3 guinea pigs need a minimum open floor space of 10.5 ft 2or 0.98 metres2
  • 4 guinea pigs need a minimum open floor space of 13 ft 2or 1.2 metres2
  • For each additional adult guinea pig add 3 ft 2 to these figures

If you plan on keeping two (or more) males together, it is advisable to have a cage that is at least one size larger than the minimum suggested above, as boys need lots of space to ensure they get on together. Remember, too, that the above measurements are the actual available floor space of the cage or hutch, rather than manufacturer stated dimensions. 

For example, the base of a plastic cage has slightly sloping sides and alip around the edge to hold the wire top (remember, manufacturers will always state the widest and longest measurements which are the external dimensions of the cage). Hutch manufacturers also quote the outside dimensions of the hutch, again not taking into account the thickness of the timber. Guinea pigs love to run and need plenty of exercise every day to help keep them healthy, so the more space for safe floor-time they have, the better.

  1. Feeding

The guinea pig’s diet should be 80% hay– they are fibrevores, and their digestive system is really well adapted to eating a diet consisting mainly of grassy plant material. Hay should be freely available at all times!

Around 15% of their daily diet should be fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit –roughly 50g in total daily per guinea pig, which can be fed either as one meal or split into two smaller meals. The guinea pigs will get used to their routine and will tell you when it is time for their vegetables. The final 5% should be commercially available pellets or nuggets. These pellets or nuggets provide the essential vitamins and minerals that may not otherwise be available in their diet that are required to keep the guinea pig healthy.

  1. Water

Guinea pigs need access to fresh water at all times!. This can be either a bottle –preferably multiple water bottles, so if one should fail, there is another one available; ideally one water bottle per guinea pig, so they don’t fall out over them. Or you can offer water in a bowl.

If you decide to use a water bowl, be prepared to change the water a few times a day – it will get contaminated, with either food, water, or urine, or knocked over while the guinea pigs are running around.

  1. Bedding

There are many different types of bedding available and there are advantages and disadvantages with each. The kind of bedding you choose is down to your personal preference. 

Fleece cage liners; These are really only suitable for use indoors, you also need an absorbent layer underneath as urine will soak through the fleece liner. You will need at least two sets of cage liners to enable you to change them regularly. Fleece liners will need regular changing and laundering and occasionally replaced if they become worn.

Wood shavings, wood flakes, hemp-based bedding, paper-based litter – these are all absorbent and can be used both indoors and outdoors. Once used, these bedding materials can be disposed of by composting.

  1. Finally

If you decide that a guinea pig is the right companion for you, remember that a guinea pig is a Forever Companion, not an until the kids got bored/we decided to get a puppy/we needed room for the Christmas tree companion.


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