Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
Guinea Pigs, or Cavies to give them their proper name, are curious, fascinating animals and can make ideal children's pets when they are handled and kept correctly.
They do have a good lifespan and can live for around seven to eight years. They can be prone to dental problems as they have continuously growing teeth and so they do require a diet high in good quality timothy or grass hay and a small amount of pellet diet and fresh vegetables.
Avoid too many treats, starchy vegetables such as carrot/parsnip or sugary fruits such as grapes, banana. These may alter the gastrointestinal flora and so lead to intestinal problems. They are very fussy and don’t like change, so any diet change needs to be done gradually.
Make sure your Guinea Pig always has clean, good quality hay available to keep their teeth and digestive systems healthy and always ensure they have a constant supply of fresh clean drinking water.
A clean roomy hutch with plenty of deep, clean, dust free wood shavings and fresh hay as bedding is important to avoid foot problems such as "Bumblefoot" which causes painful swellings on the soft areas of their feet due to bacterial infection.
Guinea pigs require a high level of vitamin C in their diet which should be supplemented in the form of daily fresh greens such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, dandelions, and parsley. It can also be added to the drinking water in a supplement liquid form but this 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 and poor wound healing. Avoid lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea, also hay and fresh vegetables are just as important as a guinea pig pelleted diet so don't rely solely on a "complete" mix food.
Guinea Pigs are very sociable animals and should be kept in same sex pairs or small groups. We do recommend castration of any male guinea pigs in mixed groups to avoid aggression and unwanted pregnancies, do take note though that it takes around four weeks for a male to be "sterile" after being neutered!
Guinea Pigs are generally gentle animals and can make good children's pets, so do get them used to gentle handing form an early age and always use both hands to gently pick them up using a hand underneath the hindquarters as a support, holding the pig close to your body to let them feel secure.
If you need any advice on Guinea Pig care and health, or you are concerned about any health problems already, do contact your Vet practice for good professional advice and a thorough check up including a Dental examination.