Full disclosure: I don’t have a lot of experience with guinea pigs, but have always found the ones that I’ve met to be charming. My family isn’t in the market for a new pet at the moment, but if yours is, consider celebrating Adopt a Guinea Pig month.

Guinea pigs are a type of rodent. Their average lifespan is around six years, although some can live significantly longer. Don’t get a guinea pig on a whim (even during Adopt a Guinea Pig Month) because you will be responsible for his or her care for quite a long time.

Caring for guinea pigs is not difficult, and they do make good pets for children as long as an adult is willing to oversee the relationship. Most guinea pigs are not "biters" but anything is possible if they are handled roughly or become scared.

The basics of caring for a guinea pig include:

  • A roomy cage. Many people prefer enclosures with solid sides because guinea pigs tend to kick out their food and bedding. The down side to these types of cages is that airflow is restricted, so keeping the cage scrupulously clean is very important to prevent ammonia and odors from building up inside.
  • Bedding. Pine chips or shredded paper work well. Guinea pigs use their bedding both as a bathroom and as a soft place to sleep.
  • A water bottle. Non drips types will keep the bedding from getting soaked.
  • Food. The majority of a guinea pig’s diet should consist of grass hay supplemented with about ½ cup of primarily dark leafy greens with smaller amounts of other fruits and vegetables to provide vitamin C and other important nutrients. Guinea pig pellets can be fed in small amounts.
  • An untreated wooden block to satisfy the guinea pig’s desire to chew and help it wear down its teeth that grow continuously.
  • A way to safely let your guinea pig out of its enclosure for some exercise and a change of scenery. Large, ventilated rolling balls are good as long as you keep them away from stairs and direct sunshine. A well-fitting harness and leash will allow the two of you to head outside when the weather is nice. Some people will even pig-proof an extra room in the house.
  • Veterinary care. Yes, you need a veterinarian for your guinea pig, and not just for when he or she gets sick. They don’t require vaccines, but the preventive care is still very important. Schedule wellness visits at least annually so your veterinarian can perform a physical and oral exam (dental problems are very common in guinea pigs) and discuss husbandry. Select a doctor who is comfortable with and knowledgeable about guinea pigs even if it means that you have two vets to care for your herd.

Guinea pigs are very social. Most individual guinea pigs want and need a lot of "together time" with their owners. If you think this might be an issue, consider adopting two guinea pigs, or perhaps skipping Adopt a Guinea Pig Month and waiting until Adopt a Goldfish month comes around.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Danny Xu / via Shutterstock