GUINEA PIG CARE GUIDE

Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, originally come from the Andean region of South America. They were domesticated for food and companionship due to their gentle nature. In the 16th century, they were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers and quickly won the hearts of European nobility with their charming looks and sweet dispositions. Over the years, guinea pigs evolved from curiosities to beloved household pets, cherished worldwide for their friendly and affectionate personalities.

How Long Do Guinea Pigs Live?

5-7 Years

Can You Have Just One Guinea Pig?

No. Guinea pigs are highly social animals and thrive in the company of their own kind. It is not recommended to keep just one guinea pig, as they can become lonely and may suffer from depression and other negative behaviors, similar to the effects of isolation seen in orcas in captivity or humans in solitary confinement. If you already have one or more guinea pigs, adopting a single guinea pig to join your existing herd is acceptable.

However, if you do not currently own a guinea pig, it is essential to adopt at least two. This ensures that your guinea pigs have companionship and can engage in natural social behaviors, which is crucial for their emotional and psychological health.

Our rescue adheres to this protocol by housing all guinea pigs in pairs or trios in our foster homes. When adopting from us, you have the option to maintain the existing pairs or trios, or we can assist in introducing a new guinea pig to a suitable companion, unless they are already part of a bonded pair. This guarantees that no guinea pig has to endure the stress and loneliness of living alone.

How Much Do Guinea Pigs Cost to Own?

Owning guinea pigs can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to understand the associated costs to ensure you can provide them with a happy and healthy life.

Initial Costs $150-300

The initial setup cost for two guinea pigs typically ranges from $150 to $300. This includes the purchase or adoption fee, which is about $25 to $100 per guinea pig. A suitable habitat can cost between $75 and $150, and additional accessories like houses, beds, tunnels, water bottles, toys, and fleece liners will likely total around $50 to $100. Initial supplies like bedding, hay, and food will add about $40 to your startup expenses.

Monthly Costs $80-120

The ongoing monthly expenses for maintaining two guinea pigs include bedding, hay, food, treats, toys, and fresh produce, amounting to approximately $80 to $120 for both.

Annual Costs $1,200-2,000

Guinea pigs should have an annual wellness exam and blood-work with an exotic veterinarian each year, which costs around $150 to $250 per guinea pig. Therefore, the total annual cost for maintaining two guinea pigs is typically between $1,200 and $2,000. This includes their regular check-ups and the monthly costs of food, bedding, and other supplies.

Lifetime Costs $6,000-14,000

It’s also important to consider the lifespan of guinea pigs, which typically ranges from 5 to 7 years. The estimated lifetime cost for owning two guinea pigs could range from approximately $6,000 to $14,000.

Planning for this financial commitment is crucial to ensure that you can continuously provide the best care for your guinea pigs over their entire lifespan.

Two guinea pigs cuddling in a cozy hidey

If you have decided to adopt or foster a guinea pig thank you & of course congratulations!

 

When properly socialized, guinea pigs are playful, curious and outgoing pets, making them ideal companions for both adults and children older than 12 years old. Guinea pigs are expressive and can communicate their moods through various sounds like purring, chirping, and squeaking. They tend to form strong bonds with their carers and provide a rewarding and interactive pet experience.

Whether you are a first-time guinea pig owner or are looking to deepen an existing bond, the following guide is for you. We’ll share insights into the best care practices used across multiple small animal rescues rescues and tips on feeding, housing, and handling guinea pigs.

Preparation

Before your new guinea pig, or guinea pigs, arrive you’ll need to make sure that you have all the essentials ready for their care and utmost comfort.

In addition to setting up their physical environment, sit down and write a daily and weekly care schedule that includes time for feeding, cleaning, and bonding. It’s important to overlap this care schedule with your existing work, school, social and familial commitments to ensure you can provide consistent and ongoing attention to your guinea pigs. Project this schedule over the next 5-7 years to make sure you can dedicate the necessary time to develop a lifelong bond with your guinea pigs.

Establishing a Daily & Weekly Guinea Pig Care Routine

DAILY ROUTINE

Feeding:
  • Morning (around 8-9 AM): Add a generous pile of fresh hay and 1 tbsp of guinea pig pellets.
  • Evening (around 6-7 PM): Repeat the morning feeding routine and add 1/2-1 cup serving of fresh leafy greens and vegetables. Rinse and refill all water bottles.

PRO TIP: Use feeding times as an opportunity to bond. Hand feeding greens build trust and familiarity with your guinea pig. You can even train your guinea pigs to climb into your hand in exchange for a yummy leafy green or slice of bell pepper.

Habitat Maintenance:
  • Morning and Evening (around feeding times): Remove uneaten hay and replace with fresh hay. Guinea pigs enjoy having a large pile of hay that they can burrow in.
  • If you are using bedding in your guinea pigs enclosure, you will need to spot clean each day to remove waste and change out of all of the bedding every 3 or 4 days to maintain a clean and hygienic environment for you guinea pigs.
  • If you use a guinea pig cage liner, fleece liner or bath mats, dedicate 15 minutes to tidying up your guinea pig’s enclosure each morning and evening. This includes sweeping or vacuuming loose hay and droppings to maintain a hygienic environment for your guinea pig. Liners will need to be changed out every 2 or 3 days so you will need at least 2 sets to use interchangeably.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Do you have access to a reliable washing machine and drier to wash soiled guinea pig liners in?

 

WEEKLY ROUTINE

Deep Cleaning:
  • Once a week you’ll need to do a deep cleaning. This means, removing all liners or bedding to wipe down the bottom of the enclosure with diluted vinegar or a safe cage cleaner. You can also use diluted vinegar and paper towels to wipe their hideys and litterbox, if you use one. Plastic hideys can also be rinsed in the sink. Examine toys and accessories for wear and tear and replace, as needed.
  • If your enclosure has a canvas bottom like the “MidWest Guinea Pig Habitat” you can wash it in the washing machine once a month. Wash any soft hideys, cuddle cups or beds in the washing machine at least once a week.
  • Wash their water bottles with warm, soapy water or in the dishwasher to maintain cleanliness and prevent bacterial growth.
Health Check:
  • Assess your guinea pig’s health by checking their eyes, ears, teeth, bottoms of their feet, nails, fur and general body condition. Keeping a close eye on their physical condition helps in catching signs of illness early, ensuring timely medical attention.

PRO TIP: Get a pet scale and weight your guinea pigs each week. Keep a detailed log and pay attention for signs of weight gain or loss. Most healthy guinea pigs weigh 800-1000g.

Essential Supplies for Guinea Pigs

How Much Space Do My Guinea Pigs Need?

 

A pair of guinea pigs need a minimum 2ft x 4ft, 8sq ft living space. Cages and hutches do not provide enough room for adequate exercise and overall well-being. Not providing enough space can lead to a host of problems, including depression and frustration for the guinea pigs, and undesirable behaviors like cage chewing, which can damage their teeth. Health issues such as infections, obesity, and heart disease are more common. As well as resource guarding, which can lead to bullying and fights.

For each additional guinea pig, add 2 to 4 square feet to their living space to maintain a healthy and harmonious environment.

Housing

Guinea pig cage with soft bedding.
Guinea pig cage with fleece liner.

Grooming

Short Haired vs Long Haired Guinea Pigs

Short-haired breeds like the American and Abyssinian have a smooth, short coat. These breeds are popular due to their friendly nature and ease of care in terms of grooming.

Long-haired breeds, like the Peruvian and Silkie, require more dedicated grooming. Their long, flowing hair will need to be brushed out daily or they can develop painful mats. They will also need to get their hair trimmed every 3-4 months, either at home or with an experiences groomer.

There are also unique and hairless breeds like the Skinny, which requires special skin care similar to hairless cats and dogs, and the Texel, with its dense, fuzzy coat. Skinny pigs, which are mostly hairless except for some fur on their nose and feet, have difficulty regulating their body temperature. They should be kept out of direct sunlight, away from vents or fans, off of tile/marble/granite surfaces, and the temperature of their rooms closely monitored. Texels are bred for their natural long curly coats which are gorgeous but can be time consuming to maintain. They overheat easily and also need to be brushed daily and get their fur trimmed every 3-4 months.

BRUSHING

Short-haired guinea pigs need just occasional grooming with a soft brush once a week or so. Long-haired guinea pigs need daily brushing to prevent tangles, and keeps their coat healthy and free of debris.

We recommend: “Oxbow Enriched Life Wood Small Animal Brush & Comb“, “Small Pet Select Hair Buster Comb“, “Small Animal Grooming Kit“.

 

NAIL TRIMS

Trim, or file, your guinea pigs nails once a month. You will need a pair of small animal nail clippers and styptic powder to stop any accidental bleeding. Make sure to identify the quick (the pink part inside the nail) and trim just the tip, avoiding the quick to prevent bleeding. If you accidentally cut the quick, apply styptic powder to stop the bleeding.

We recommend: “Pet Nail Clippers” and “Kwik Stop Styptic Powder“.

PRO TIP: offer a treat after nail trims and grooming sessions.

a guinea pig with overgrown nails
Trimming nails is crucial to prevent overgrowth, which can cause discomfort, mobility issues, and infections.

BATHING

Guinea pigs generally do not require frequent baths as they are self-cleaning animals. Bathing your guinea pig too often can lead to skin irritation and dryness, stripping their skin of natural oils. Over-bathing can also stress your guinea pig, potentially leading to health issues. Only bathe them when necessary and always use gentle products designed for small animals.

There are times when a bath is necessary, such as when their fur becomes soiled, they develop an odor, there is an infection or severe infestations of mites or lice.

Consult with a veterinarian if you you are unsure if your guinea pig needs a bath.

Guinea Pig Feeding Guide

Recommended Diet

HAY

80-90% of a guinea pigs diet should be hay. Guinea pigs should have UNLIMITED access to fresh high-quality hay 24/7. Soiled hay should be changed out daily.

  • Juvenile guinea pigs: Alfalfa Hay
  • Adult guinea pigs: Timothy Hay

PRO TIP: “Oxbow” and “Small Pet Select” offer a variety of high quality hays (oat, botanical, orchard) if you would like to offer diverse flavors and textures in addition to western timothy hay.

LEAFY GREENS & VEGETABLES

10% of a guinea pigs diet should be green leafy vegetables. Organic vegetables (no pesticides) are recommended whenever possible. Always remove seeds as these are a choking risk.

  • Juvenile guinea pigs: can start to have small amounts of vegetables introduced into their diet at 2 months old. Vegetables should be introduced gradually, one per week, so that you can monitor for sensitivity or stomach upset. If any vegetable seems to cause digestive problems do not feed it in the future.
  • Adult guinea pigs: can have 1/2 cup (a small pinch) of leafy greens and 1 tablespoon of non-leafy green vegetables per day.

You can feed up to 1/2 cup of green leaf, red leaf and butter leaf lettuces daily. Other leafy greens like romaine, spinach, kale, turnip greens, dandelion greens, arugula, bok choy, and watercress and herbs like cilantro, basil, parsley, mint, and dill can be offered for variety 1-3 times per week.

You can also feed 1 tablespoon of the following non leafy vegetables: bell peppers, celery (remove veins or cut into small pieces), cucumber, green beans. Feed broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts and radishes only occasionally.

If your guinea pigs poops become small, dark, or smelly this amount should be reduced to every other day or 3 times per week. Read this: “Guide to Guinea Pig Poop

FOOD PELLETS

5% of a guinea pigs diet should be fortified food pellets.

  • Juvenile guinea pigs: 1 tablespoon of pellets per day.
  • Adult guinea pigs: 2 tablespoons of pellets per day.

FRUITS & TREATS

Less than 5% of a guinea pigs diet can be fruits and treats. Guinea pigs should get no more than 1-2 teaspoon size servings of fruits per week. That’s about the size of 1 strawberry or 1 baby carrot per guinea pig.

Carrots, apple, berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), orange, banana, pear, grapes (cut), kiwi, mango, papaya, peach, pineapple, apricot, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe.

Always remove seeds and pits. Offer watery fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe sparingly as they can cause diarrhea.

 

We recommend: “Oxbow“, “Science Selective“, “Small Pet Select” or “Sherwood“.

Oxbow Essentials
Science Selective
Small Pet Select
Sherwood
Oxbow
Selective Naturals
Sherwood
Small Pet Select
Guinea Dad

Avoid: nuts, seeds, corn, grains, dairy, fillers, artificial colors and added sugars.

“Mix” pellets and treats with seed and corn can lead to chocking and malnutrition due to selective eating. The first ingredient listed for pellets should be timothy hay for adult guinea pig pellets or alfalfa hay for young guinea pigs.

Kaytee Fiesta
Kaytee Gourmet Recipe
Kaytee Forti Diet
White Mill Pure
Tropical Carnival
Browns Extreme Gourmet
Wild Harvest
Small World
Mana Pro
Mazuri
Kaytee Healthy Bits
Kaytee Treat Sticks
Kaytee Sticks
Browns Extreme
Sunburst Veggie Stix
Vitakraft Sticks
Vitakraft Drops
Kaytee Yo Chips
Wild Harvest Yogies
Full Cheeks Drops
Full Cheeks Sticks
Vitakraft Nibble Rings
Vitakraft Slims
Vitakraft Slims
Wild Harvest Glazed Donuts
Wild Harvest Danishes
Wild Harvest Rainbow O’s

THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL AVAILABLE FOOD PELLETS AND TREATS BUT SHOULD HELP YOU TO HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING ABOUT WHICH BRANDS AND INGREDIENTS MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR GUINEA PIGS.

Contact Us if you have a specific question about food pellets or treats.

What Happens if a Guinea Pig Doesn't Get Enough Vitamin C?

Scurvy is a painful and sometimes fatal disease that can occur to guinea pigs if they don’t get enough Vitamin C. Like humans, guinea pigs are unable to synthesize their own Vitamin C so it very important their caretakers provide it in their diet.

Symptoms: tiredness/lethargy (unwilling to move around as much as usual, disinterest in surroundings), problems with wounds / healing, bruising, small red dots on the gums and other areas of skin (petechiae), bleeding gums, decreased appetite / anorexia, difficulty eating, weight loss, diarrhea, swollen joints, rough fur, joint swelling, bumble foot, and increased susceptibility to infections. If untreated, can affect skeletal / tooth development, leading to brittle bones and dental problems.

Guinea pigs need about 10-20mg of Vitamin C daily to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of this essential nutrient. One of the easiest ways to ensure your guinea pigs get enough vitamin C is by feeding them one or two 1/2-inch slices of bell pepper each day. While all bell peppers are good sources of vitamin C, red peppers contain the highest amount. Always remove the seeds from the peppers to avoid choking hazards.

Other natural sources of vitamin C include tomatoes (ensure only the fruit is given, not the leaves or plant), kale, spinach, asparagus, mustard greens, turnip greens, red and green leaf lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, apples (with skin), oranges, and strawberries. Incorporating a variety of these foods into your guinea pigs’ diet can help meet their nutritional needs and promote overall health.

You can also offer “Oxbow Vitamin C Supplement” or “Sherwood Vitamin C Supplement“.

Sherwood Vitamin C
Oxbow Vitamin C

It is not recommended to supplement vitamin C through water. Vitamin C degrades very quickly when exposed to light and after 8hrs it is estimated that the amount of active vitmain C in the water is only 20% of the original amount added. So while the supplemented water bottle may have the correct dose in the morning, later in the day the vitamin C will have degraded. Some guinea pigs also don’t like the smell and taste of supplemented water so they may drink less and become dehydrated. This can cause further health problems like UTI’s.

NEVER FEED YOUR GUINEA PIG:

Meat, animal products (eggs / dairy), cat / dog food. Chocolate, seeds / nuts, peanut butter, muesli, cereal, oatmeal, rice, bread, cookies, crackers. Avocado, Swiss chard / silverbeet, iceberg lettuce, rhubarb, onions, garlic, chives, shallots, potato and tomato tops/leaves, eggplant, cauliflower, parsnips, raisins, fruit pits/seeds.

Sharing Is NOT Caring: always supervise children who are eating around the guinea pig to make sure they do not offer a bite of their food.

If your guinea pig has eaten one of the foods mentioned above, speak to your vet immediately. Some can cause death in a matter of hours.