Guinea pigs are natural grazers and will eat fairly continuously throughout the day. Hay should be offered fresh and changed daily and makes up approximately 80% of their daily diet. Hay is an important source of dietary fibre to help with efficient digestion, and helps wear down their ever growing teeth. Timothy or Meadow hay are the most recommended types whereas Alfalfa hay is too high in calcium for guinea pigs
Guinea pigs should also be fed a high quality pellet specific for guinea pigs (rabbit diets are not suitable). Guinea pigs do require 30-50mg of Vitamin C per day, this can be derived from a quality fortified pellet (such as Science Selective or Vetafarm) and should be supplemented with Vitamin C rich leafy greens.
A small amount of vegetables (mainly leafy greens) and herbs can be given fresh daily and discarded if uneaten. Be careful to not overfeed; an average adult guinea pigs should receive no more than one cup of varied leafy greens and herbs per day, although this may vary dependent on life stage, body condition and whether the guinea pigs are also on grass/grazing. Fruit should be used as an occasional treat (once a week) and citrus fruits should be avoided.
Fresh clean water should always be available and changed daily. It is recommended to use a water (sipper) bottle rather than a shallow bowl; as they can get messy and are very easily tipped over. Fresh clean water should always be available and changed every day. It is best to use a water bottle or a heavy bowl to avoid contamination and spillage. If using a sipper bottle it is best to have two available as a precaution. Bottles should be checked regularly to ensure they are working properly, and not freezing over winter.
A guinea pig’s teeth continually grow; it is essential that they gnaw in order to keep them at a manageable length. Overgrown teeth can cause serious health problems and need to be assessed by your veterinarian.
Always provide your pig with chew toys and/or a fruit tree branch. Safe chew toys are essential for preventing health problems caused by overgrown teeth.
You are best to provide your guinea pigs with the largest enclosure possible and the run should be at least 90cm long, and the bigger the better. Length of run is more important than height or multi-levels as guinea pigs are happiest on a flat surface. There should be an attached secure sleeping area. It is recommended to add extendable pens on to your hutch to further increase the maximum run size. The enclosure should be escape proof and safe from predators.
If your guinea pigs are housed in an outdoor hutch, make sure there is shelter from the wind and direct sunlight, and able to be sheltered during winter. If in a colder region where snow or ice is common it is recommended to bring your guinea pigs inside.
Guinea pigs thrive indoors where they can be close to their humans. If kept inside they should have a large room or hutch and run in a secure location out of sunlight and drafts.
All hutches should be enriched with tunnels, textures, hiding areas, feeding zones and toys. Place 3cm to 5cm of bedding in the bottom of the hutch, bedding should be non aromatic such as aspen, paper bedding or alternatively using fleece blankets (very popular with indoor housing).
Remove the wet spots daily and clean the entire bedding weekly or more frequently as required. Clean the food and water vessels daily. Remove any wet bedding daily, change litter boxes if provided and spot clean the area. Each week complete a full clean, or more frequently if required. Clean food and water bottles daily and top up fresh hay. Fruits and vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be discarded. A good base of aspen or other non-aromatic bedding can be used and is great for absorbing odours. Other suitable bedding types include fleece or paper bedding.
Handle with care
It is important that you pick up and handle your guinea pig correctly. Guinea pigs should be picked up by placing a hand over their shoulders, which will make them crouch. When they are crouching, your other hand should be used to gently scoop them up from behind. Always handle your guinea pig with both hands as they startle very easily. Once picked up you should hold them close into your body, and support them from underneath. Your guinea pigs should be handled frequently to keep it tame and maintain a bond between you. Offering a favourite treat or vege can help encourage them to approach you. Lift gently with both hands and hold them close to your body. It's important to remember to always support their hind legs. Guinea pigs should not be scruffed or placed on their back.
Behaviour and exercise
Guinea pigs are crepuscular and most active in the mornings and evenings when it is cooler, as they will naturally spend the day grazing.
For playtime, an outdoor play arena can be used or a guinea pig harness allowing your new guinea pig to explore safely. Make sure that the outdoor area is protected from predators and secure.
Make sure to guinea pig proof your home prior to letting your pigs loose; remove electrical cords within chewing reach and provide toys to help prevent chewing on things such as your furniture.
Guinea Pigs naturally live in large herds and require same-species companionship. Groups should be same-sex unless the males are desexed. They are very vocal and make a myriad of chirps, squeaks and purrs - particularly when there is food around. Watching a group of guinea pigs interact is fascinating and they often stick close to each other.
Bonding guinea pigs, particularly adults can take time and some adults may be more accepting of two younger guinea pigs joining them as opposed to one older pig.
Grooming and health
Guinea pigs are very fastidious about self grooming and generally don’t need baths. You may clean them with a damp washcloth and brush them with a soft brush. Short haired pigs will benefit from a brush and comb once a week. Long haired pigs will require daily brushing and combing including a thorough comb through to ensure there are no matts forming close to the skin. Boar (male) guinea pigs will need additional care to ensure there are no long hairs matting around the genital area and to remove any dried boar glue or secretions that may become stuck in the fur. Grooming your guinea pigs is a great opportunity to keep track of their overall health, and can be vital if your guinea pig starts to feel unwell.
Discuss neutering/spaying with your veterinarian. Desexed guinea pigs are often calmer, happier and it reduces the likelihood of many cancers and illnesses as well as reduces hormonal aggression.
Check your guinea pigs' nails as these will need clipping about every four to six weeks. Always wash your hands before and after handling your guinea pig.
The signs of a healthy guinea pig are:
- Active, alert and sociable
- Clean, shiny fur
- Clear bright eyes
- Eats and drinks regularly
- Vocal - chirpy and communicates readily
- Walks normally
- Good weight
- Normal and regular stools
The signs of an unhealthy guinea pig are:
- Diarrhoea or a dirty bottom
- Overgrown teeth
- Weight loss
- Skin lesions
- Abnormal hair loss
- Lethargy or changes in behaviour
- Eye or nasal discharge
- Gum bleeding
- Heat stroke - panting, loss of consciousness or seizures
- Changes in behaviour or activity
- Gassy or bloated belly
- Good sized hutch (with weather protection if outside) and nesting box
- Minimum 90cm run (either included in the hutch or attached)
- High quality pellet diet specific for guinea pigs
- Hay and hay manger
- Food bowl
- Water bottle (or heavy bowl)
- Grooming products
- Toys (chew, play, forage)
- Emergency kit
Are guinea pigs right for you and your family?
- I have the appropriate housing for this pet.
- I understand that guinea pigs must be kept in same sex pairs or de-sexed groups (never alone).
- I can commit to regular vetinary care and checkups.
- I can provide for the needs of these pets, namely the nutritional, enrichment and behavioural care specific to guinea pigs.
- I can provide daily supervised time for my guinea pigs outside of their enclosure.
- I can commit to taking appropriate care of my guinea pigs.
- An adult can provide primary care for this pet.
Average size: 20cm to 30cm depending on the type and sex
Life span: 4 to 7 years