Guinea Pig Care Sheet

Updated Jul. 11, 2024
A pet parent holds her skinny pig.

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In This Article

Species Overview

Guinea Pig Overview

  • Guinea pigs are native to South America and are also known as “cavies.” 

  • Pet parents might see their guinea pig jumping and hopping in joy. This display of happiness is called “popcorning”! 

  • Guinea pigs can be diurnal or crepuscular. Guinea pigs prefer a consistent schedule for feeding, playtime, and sleeping each day. 

  • Guinea pigs are friendly animals and can enjoy being handled when properly socialized. Pet parents should allow newly homed guinea pigs time to acclimate to their surroundings. 

Guinea Pig Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 

Beginner to Intermediate

Average Lifespan 

Up to 8 years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

8 to 10 inches in length 

Diet 

Herbivore 

Minimum Habitat Size 

36” L x 30” W x 18” H 

 

What Guinea Pig Supplies Do You Need?

To keep their guinea pig happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (36” L x 30” W x 18” H) minimum but at least 10.5 square feet or more is preferred

  • High-quality pelleted guinea pig food, such as Oxbow® 

  • Toys 

  • Hay rack 

  • Wood chews 

  • Mineral chews 

  • Vitamin C supplement 

Guinea Pig Handling

Guinea pigs are typically easy to handle.

They are social and curious and—if properly socialized—will approach the hands of their owners to be picked up from their cage.

Pick up a guinea pig using two hands, with one supporting their rump and back legs, and the other scooped under their front half.

Timid or nervous pigs may try to jump or run when picked up, but they rarely bite.

If a guinea pig is dropped, they are most likely to fall face-first but can also fall on their back sustaining serious injuries, such as a broken back.

If that happens, inspect their mouth for broken teeth and seek help from your veterinarian promptly.

Picking up your pig using a soft blanket to cradle them and supporting all four feet can help prevent injuries.

Recommended Home for Guinea Pigs

Environment

Guinea pigs are prey animals and highly sensitive to sounds, lights, and smells.

Do not use any essential oils, diffusers, plug-ins, aerosolized products, candles, or fragrance in the same room as your pig.

Quiet, peaceful areas of the house like a bedroom or home office work well for housing their enclosure.

Bedrooms are not ideal choices as guinea pigs are because they often wake up early as a mostly diurnal species.

Never place their enclosure in an area that receives direct sunlight, experiences large temperature changes throughout the day, or is immediately in front of an air conditioner or heating vent.

Guinea pigs are sensitive to both heat and cold, it's ideal to keep them in temperatures ranging between 65–75F.

Pet Parents

Guinea pigs make fantastic pets for both adults and children. However, children should be older and not the primary care giver for the guinea pig.

They require careful handling, daily maintenance, daily social interactions and close monitoring so an adult must be the primary care take of the pig.

It’s important that pet parents monitor and help children understand proper handling and always supervise interactions to keep the pig safe, happy, and healthy.

Guinea pigs can also be very affectionate.

Other Pets Guinea Pigs Can Live With

Guinea pigs prefer to live and interact only with other guinea pigs because they are being sensitive prey animals.

Other docile pets can be around if the guinea pigs tolerate it. Guinea pig enclosures are often open topped.

If choosing this setup, keep dogs and cats away. These predator animals can cause great stress to guinea pigs.

For the safety of the pig, keep them safe from animals with a high prey drive (such as dogs and cats) to prevent injury, stress, and death.

Keeping cats and dogs in a separate room, installing pet gates, and reinforcing the cage doors with zip ties can help keep your pig safe.

Family Friendliness Level

Guinea pigs are some of the most family friendly pets you could choose.

They will give an adorable “wheeking” sound when they’re excited to see you.

Young children pet and interact with them in their enclosure, while older children can take them out and handle them. Anyone in the household of any age can enjoy living with them.

Even babies will enjoy the sounds and movements of their pigs.

Guinea Pig Habitat

Enclosure

A typical guinea pig enclosure will have a solid floor base and wire sides and, if present, a top.

Guinea pigs have sensitive airways so good ventilation is a must.

A guinea pig enclosure should be approximately:

  • 100 square inches of floor area per adult guinea pig

  • Wire sides for topless cages need to be at least 10 inches high

  • Bars spaced about one inch apart

Bedding

The solid floor of your guinea pig enclosure needs to have a thick layer of bedding 1 to 2 inches deep or lined with fleece liners and a soft mat underneath. This is to prevent bumblefoot (a bacterial foot infection) or ulceration of the feet.

Do not use the following materials for your guinea pig:

  • Cedar shavings

  • Sawdust

  • Any particularly dusty bedding

Replace your guinea pig's bedding during regular cleaning. If your guinea pig is litter box trained, use corner litter boxes with either processed ground corn cob or commercial pellets.

Do not use cat litter for a guinea pig litter box.

Feeding Dishes and Water Resources

Guinea pig food can be placed in either bowls hanging from the wire sides of their enclosures or a heavy ceramic bowl with low sides they can’t tip over.

Hay makes up a large portion of their diet.

Provide enrichment that supports their foraging behaviors by placing hay into foraging boxes or toys. You can also stuff tissue boxes (with all plastic removed), as well as toilet paper rolls.

Water can be offered to guinea pigs through either sipper bottles hung from the wire sides of their enclosure or heavy ceramic bowls with low sides, like their food bowls.

Guinea pig enclosures leave a lot of room for creativity. You can purchase cage kits and design spaces for them that include tunnels, ramps, hide boxes, and more.

Guinea Pig Diet

Main Food

Guinea pigs are herbivores with specialized incisors that must constantly be worn down as they eat.

To this end, about 80% of a guinea pig’s diet is made of grasses/hays, and food must be available at all times. Almost any grass hay is safe to offer.

The only hay to avoid is alfalfa, as regular consumption can lead to health complications.

Commercially produced guinea pig pellets are available and can be offered in limited quantities.

When offering pellets, make sure they are formulated with extra vitamin C, are based on grass/hay, and are not expired. Vitamin C level drop drastically in pellets more than 3 months beyond their production date.

Feel free to offer pellets mixed in with their hay in their foraging toys, snuffle mats, and boxes rather than a bowl.

Guinea pigs also need fresh fruits and vegetables. Offer about quarter to a half cup of torn/chopped/shredded fresh fruits and veggies per guinea pig.

Fruits

Fruits can be offered in moderation due to high sugar content. Ideally only once to twice per week, these can be offered to your guinea pig:

  • Blueberries

  • Raspberries

  • Bananas

  • Apples (not the seeds)

  • Kiwi

  • Cantaloupe

  • Pineapple

Veggies

Vegetables can be offered to your guinea pig slowly.

Giving too many vegetables too soon can cause diarrhea or gastrointestinal upset.

Be careful of any vegetables high in calcium because guinea pigs are prone to bladder stones. It's best to avoid high calcium vegetables such as parsley, spinach, bok choy, dandelioins, and kale.

They can be given daily, when your pig has adjusted to them:

  • Romaine Lettuce

  • Tomatoes

  • Leaf lettuce

  • Carrots

Water

A guinea pig’s water must always be fresh and clean and readily available.

Water offered in a bowl should be changed daily or whenever dirty.

Sipper bottles need to be cleaned before refilling and inspected for any damage, such as a stuck ball or a leaking tip.

Treats

Guinea pigs may be offered treats sparingly. Fruit or veggie-based treats should have a source of vitamin C.

A few recommended treats​ include​ Oxbow® Simple Rewards Freeze-Dried Strawberry Small Animal Treats or Oxbow® Simple Rewards Oven Baked with Bell Pepper Small Animal Treats.

Supplements

Guinea pigs don’t produce their own vitamin C and can become sick with scurvy if not provided enough in their diet.

Vitamin C supplement treats can be given daily.

Additionally, you can assess the vitamin C content of common fruits and vegetables.

Foods to Avoid

Do not give the following foods to your guinea pig:

  • High-starch foods such as peas, beans, corn, nuts, cakes, cookies, cereal, grains, etc.

  • Lilies

  • Avocado

  • Onions

  • Raw potato

  • Mushrooms

  • Daffodils

  • Chocolate

  • Buttercups

Guinea Pig Daily Care

Feeding

Grasses and hays should always be available to your guinea pigs. Pellets can be offered at the beginning of the day for them to graze on as desired.

You can offer their portion of fresh fruits and veggies at any point in the day. Remove any leftover fruit and veggies after a couple hours to avoid spoilage.

Grooming

Fur/Skin Care

Guinea pigs have low grooming needs. They clean themselves—they do not need to be bathed unless they become very soiled.

They should be checked daily for fecal matter or anything else stuck on their feet or bellies and spot cleaned as necessary.

Long-haired guinea pigs require a quick brush, but otherwise they do a good job of keeping themselves cleaned.

Nail Care

Guinea pigs’ nails should be trimmed at least once a month.

If a pet parent accidentally clips into the guinea pig’s quick and their nail begins to bleed, they can use a styptic powder to stop the bleeding quickly.

  • Cornstarch can be used in a pinch if styptic powder is not available.

  • Pet parents should make sure that all bleeding has stopped before placing their guinea pig back into their habitat.

If you are hesitant about trimming your pig’s nails, schedule an appointment with your primary vet. They can help instruct and demonstrate best nail trimming practices for your pig.

Dental Care

A guinea pig’s teeth never stop growing, so daily chewing and grinding on hay, treats, and toys help keep their teeth at a manageable length.

  • Although other rodents have yellow or orange tooth enamel, healthy guinea pig teeth should be white. Discolored teeth should be examined by a veterinarian. 

  • Consult a veterinarian if a guinea pig’s teeth seem too long, if they are drooling excessively, or if they are dropping food when they eat.

Exercise

Guinea pigs should be allowed time to explore outside their enclosures for at least one hour every day.

Move any plants, wires, or spaces they can get stuck under and monitor them closely during their exploration time. Having guinea pig-safe play pens are also a great option for their exercise time.

Disinfecting/Cleaning

Beddings or liners should be replaced at least weekly, up to daily as needed.

It’s important that the schedule allows for cleanings before any moistness or smells have accumulated. Some of the most common health issues in guinea pigs are respiratory illnesses and foot infections.

Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily, as should litterboxes.

Clean surfaces of the enclosure with a pet friendly all-purpose cleaner or dilute vinegar. Soak any toys in dilute vinegar and replace once dried.

Guinea Pig Enrichment

Guinea pigs are natural foragers.

Encourage exercise of both mind and body by providing foraging boxes and toys.

Guinea pigs can be trained to use a litter box, which significantly lowers the cleaning effort required to keep them healthy. They can also learn their names and be trained to come to you when you call.

Make sure you offer your guinea pig different toys to keep them happy and healthy.

Guinea Pig Veterinary Care

Guinea pigs should be seen once annually by a veterinarian who has experience with the species for a general wellness exam.

Signs of a healthy guinea pig include:

  • Clear eyes

  • Clean nose

  • Clean ears

  • Shiny hair coats with no bald patches

  • Formed fecal droppings that are yellow brown to dark brown and never soft

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following in your pig:

  • Teeth grinding

  • Sitting hunched

  • Squinting eyes or discharge from the eyes

  • Nasal discharge

  • Drooling

  • Losing weight

  • Diarrhea

  • Breathing rapidly

  • Squeaking in pain

  • Bleeding

  • Unable to urinate, defecate, move, eat, or drink

  • Lethargy

  • Wounds

  • Lameness

  • Abdomen bloats

  • Seizures

  • Penis won’t retract

  • Losing hair

  • Sneezing

  • Lumps/tumors

  • Redness or sores on the feet

Common guinea pigs illnesses include:

  • Lameness

  • Abdomen bloats

  • Seizures

  • Penis won’t retract

  • Losing hair

  • Sneezing

  • Lumps/tumors

  • Redness or sores on the feet

Click here for a downloadable PDF of this guinea pig care sheet!

Guinea Pig Care Sheet FAQs

Are guinea pigs good pets?

Guinea pigs are great pets that are very social.

They make great companions for those willing to take care of them. Pigs should be ideally taken care of adults and children should always be supervised when handling guinea pigs for both the pig and the child’s safety.

Can guinea pigs live outside?

Guinea pigs are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations because they are so small and cannot sweat. Because they can contract tick-borne illnesses and are a prey animal, guinea pigs should never live outside.

How big do guinea pigs get?

Guinea pigs range from 8 to 10 inches long typically and 700 to 1,100 grams as an adult. Male pigs (boars) tend to be larger than the females (sows).


Maria Zayas, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Maria Zayas, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...


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