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The Complete Guide to Guinea Pigs

By Cheryl Lock


With their furry features and funny personalities, it makes sense that many people see guinea pigs as a perfect solution to the question: “What will our kid’s first pet be?”


Whether you’re taking a guinea pig home for your kids or for yourself, the act of bringing one into your life requires the same due diligence that taking any other pet home would, which is why it’s a good idea to do some research in advance of your new arrival. From the different breeds of guinea pig to consider to their proper care and maintenance, there’s a lot to know before adding one to your family.


To help you get started, here are some of the basics any would-be guinea pig owner should consider.


Common Guinea Pig Breeds


Did you know there are different types of guinea pig breeds, each with its own set of characteristics? Some of the more popular types include:


  • American Guinea Pig: with its short, smooth coat that can come in a variety of colors, the American guinea pig is one of the most popular breeds of pet, generally due to their temperament and ease of care. Shorter hair means minimal maintenance, and they get along well with other guinea pigs, too. It doesn’t hurt that they also have a reputation for having a good attitude towards people, said Adam G. Denish, VMD at Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital with a special interest in small, exotic and zoo animals.
  • Peruvian Guinea Pig: although their long coat means you’ll need to consider more maintenance, Denish said that the Peruvian guinea pig also tends to be social and friendly, making it a solid choice for families. Curious, fun loving and alert are some of the words best used to describe this furry little fellow.
  • Silkie Guinea Pig: also nicknamed “The Sheltie,” the Silkie is known for its long coat that requires frequent brushing, Denish said, which means you may way want to think twice before taking home a Silkie to a young child — unless you’re okay with being on brushing duty yourself.
  • Teddy Guinea Pig: although the Teddy may appear to have a short, easy-to-maintain coat, their fur is actually quite dense and wiry, Denish said, and while it can be either rough or smooth, regular brushing is important to remove any debris that can become trapped and irritate the skin. Despite their need for some grooming, this breed makes a great option for kids, as their demeanor includes all those traits you’d look for in a family-friendly pet, like their fun-loving nature and curious personalities.
  • Abyssinian Guinea Pig: according to Denish, the Abyssinian is “a longer-haired guinea pig that tends to be a little feisty and is known as a ‘troublemaker.’” One thing to note about this breed is that, although the patterning of their coats may lead people to believe they need frequent maintenance, the Abyssinian is actually quite adept at keeping itself clean, so they require minimal coat care. Their mischievous personality is coupled with friendliness and charm, though, so this breed could make a great pet for older children ready to put in a little time and effort with their pet.
  • Skinny Guinea Pig: the hairless Skinny guinea pig may be easy to maintain and they’re generally very social, but their look and feel may be a deterrent for families in the market for a more “traditional” guinea pig option. Still, Denish said that the breed is commonly seen in the exotic pet trade, so there are definitely fans of this atypical breed.


For beginner guinea pig owners, Denish recommends purchasing a young, two-to-four month-old guinea pig from a breeder, pet store or rescue organization. “Though they can be shy in the first few weeks, they tend to bond to those that handle, care and feed them,” he said. “For an experienced guinea pig owner, they can purchase a young pig or adopt an older one.”


Guinea Pig General Care


Just because your guinea pig comes in a small package doesn’t mean she or he won’t require quite a bit of care. For starters, pigs can be housed as singles or pairs fairly easily, Denish said, although it’s normal for group-housed pigs to be a little less social towards humans, since they are exposed to other guinea pigs.


Here are some other factors to keep in mind:


Cages: since guinea pigs spend a lot of time in their cages, there are quite a few habitat details a potential guinea pig owner should know before taking one home. For starters, “cages should be larger than you might think,” said Kyle Donnelly, DVM, Exotics & Avian Medicine at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “The ideal set up is 7.5 square feet for one guinea pig and 10.5 square feet for a pair.”


Cages come in plastic, metal or wire varieties, and should have appropriate flooring for your guinea pig’s feet. “Soft bedding is important, as guinea pigs are susceptible to developing sores on their feet. And solid cage flooring is preferable to wire mesh, with shredded paper product or fleece blankets making for good bedding options,” Donnelly said.


Most guinea pigs will also use water bottles, Denish added, although some can be trained to use water bowls.

Feeding: according to Donnelly, you should feed your guinea pig a commercial diet specifically formulated for the species. “Formulated guinea pig pellets are necessary to supply essential vitamin C, along with abundant grassy hay for proper wear of the teeth,” she said.


Your guinea pig should also be offered supplemental fresh vegetables every day, with an emphasis on leafy greens like romaine, green leaf and red leaf lettuces. “Stay away from the darker greens like kale, collards or spinach, as these contain too much calcium and can contribute to bladder stone formation,” she said. Donnelly also suggests avoiding fruits and other sugar-containing foods.


“Starting a guinea pig on a good diet early in life may be the most important thing one can do to keep them healthy long-term, as guinea pigs develop dietary preferences early in life and do not readily adapt to change later on,” she said. “Ensuring their diet contains plenty of vitamin C, grass hay and low-calcium-containing leafy greens may help stave away some of the most common problems seem in guinea pigs, like dental disease, bladder stones and vitamin C-deficiency.”


Keep in mind also that most guinea pigs do not need to be spayed or neutered, Donnelly said, unless males and females will be housed together or a health problem like cystic ovaries develops.

Grooming: the amount of grooming your pet will need depends on the breed you own, with long-coated breeds, such as the Silkie and Peruvian, requiring regular brushing and grooming to keep them clean, Donnelly said. Your guinea pig may also require an occasional bath, Denish said, especially if he or she has diarrhea or is not grooming itself properly.

Playtime: you’ll find that most breeds of guinea pig are gentle, lively and especially enjoy playtime with their people, so be sure to give them plenty of exercise, time to run around on the floor, and stimulation outside of their cages.


Once you’ve done your research and decided which breed of guinea pig will be best for your family, and you’ve gathered all the necessary products to properly care for your new little furry family member, all that’s left to do is to bring him or her home and enjoy!


Image: Dev_Marya via Shutterstock 


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