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Caring for Your Guinea Pigs

Norma & Flo's Story

Caring For Your Guinea Pig: Norma and Flo’s Story

I have such fond memories of my son’s lovely, short-haired Guinea Pigs “Norma” and “Flo”. They were great pets for him when he was younger. He was very fond of them both, and he learned how to look after them well. "Norma" and "Flo" were always noisy and entertaining, and he had great fun and good times with them. 

Guinea pigs, also known as 'cavies', are social animals with a compact, rounded body shape, short legs, and no tail. They originate from the grasslands and lower slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America.  

There are different breeds and varieties of guinea pig, with a wide range of colours and coat lengths. Typically, guinea pigs live for five to eight years, but some may live longer. They are very busy little animals, and they are generally active for up to twenty hours per day and will only sleep for short periods.  

Guinea pigs are highly social animals. In the wild they live in close family groups of five to ten guinea pigs, though several groups may live nearby to form a colony. As guinea pigs are naturally social, they can get lonely and therefore shouldn't be kept alone, they are happiest kept in pairs and will then be content and more entertaining pets, though avoid pairing male and female guinea pigs together. They should therefore be kept in same sex pairs, or in small same sex groups. They are extremely vocal animals, with characteristic "squeals", "chirps", "squeaks", and "whistles"! They are wonderfully sociable animals, and they can make ideal pets for children. However, interactions with dogs, cats, and other pets should always be carefully supervised. Never leave a guinea pig unattended in the presence of another animal which could potentially be predatory to them.  

A guinea pig is an indoor pet. When providing housing for guinea pigs, keep the housing area dry and free from drafts and house your Guinea Pig in a clean, roomy hutch with plenty of deep, clean, dust free wood shavings, and fresh clean hay. Plenty of soft, deep, clean bedding is important to avoid foot problems such as "Bumblefoot" which causes painful swellings on the soft areas of their feet due to a bacterial infection. A guinea pigs cage should be in an environment that's well-lit, but not exposed to direct sunlight, and which is accessible and offers the guinea pigs some visibility to daily human activities. 

Guinea pigs are extremely social creatures, and they do require daily attention. Set aside time each day for cleaning out any soiled bedding from their cage, and for feeding and playtime to meet your guinea pigs socialising and exercise needs. When picking up your guinea pig, be sure to support his entire body with two hands, holding them gently, close to your body. Guinea pigs can be injured if dropped, and may nip or bite if roughly handled, so do supervise children when they are handling guinea pigs and teach them how to handle them gently and correctly. 

Guinea pigs need a high fibre diet to keep their teeth healthy, supplemented with vitamin C, as they lack the enzyme needed to synthesise this vitamin and can only store it for short periods. Guinea Pigs are prone to dental problems as they have continuously growing teeth and so they do require a diet high in fibre, for example a good quality timothy or grass hay. They must have daily access to hay as a high fibrous food to make sure that their digestive systems work properly, and to help wear down their teeth. They cannot make their own vitamin C, and so they must obtain this vitamin from their diet. This should be supplemented in the form of daily fresh greens such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, and parsley, fed in moderation. Also, Vitamin C can also be added to their drinking water in a carefully dosed, supplemented liquid form, but this supplemented drinking water should always be changed daily, as vitamin C does degrade quickly. Signs of a Vitamin C deficiency include lameness, swelling of joints, teeth problems, lethargy, skin sores and poor wound healing. Some complete pelleted diets do have added vitamin C, but often not enough. There is the potential risk that when guinea pigs are fed a “muesli” style diet that they may then selectively feed. Selective feeding is when animals only eat certain elements of their diet, such as the high sugar components, and this can then lead to nutritional imbalances such as Vitamin C deficiency. Feeding a single component good quality, pelleted, “nugget”-type Guinea Pig diet will prevent selective feeding. For feeding use a heavy food bowl that cannot be tipped, and fresh clean water should always be available in an easy-to-reach water bottle and heavy ceramic bowl. Food bowls and water bottles should be cleaned out and refilled with fresh food and water daily.  

If you need any advice on Guinea Pig care and health, do contact your Vet practice for good professional advice, and a general health check-up in you are at all concerned about your Guinea Pig's health. 

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 
Senior Consultant, 
Crown Vets