Guinea Pigs - The Perfect Pet?
As far as I'm concerned, you can keep your exotic snakes and your fancy dog breeds. Why not open up a whole new world of possibilities with the amazing, environmentally-friendly guinea pig?
Guinea pigs, or cavies as they are sometimes known, are descended from the wild cui, originally kept by the Incas for food. The Spanish invaders called them Cochinillo Das Indas or Little Indian Pig.
The word 'Guinea' was probably added because the Spanish took them to Guiana before bringing them to Europe as pets.
Guinea pigs come in an amazing range of shapes and sizes from the basic 'English' short-coated variety which, when running, looks like a brick on wheels, to very hairy ones such as the 'Peruvian' which looks more like a Yorkshire terrier or a discarded wig.
Guinea pigs are very amusing and, at about the same size as a small rabbit, make perfect pets for children. They are big enough to sit on your lap and be cuddled but robust enough to be handled safely by younger children.
They are chunky and placid so there's little worry of being bitten by one (unless it mistakes your finger for a carrot) or losing it under the skirting board! Unlike smaller rodents like mice, pigs have a reasonable lifespan, living on average 5 years and occasionally as long as 14 years.
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Guinea Pigs Like Company
It is best to keep more than one as they live naturally in colonies and like company. If you choose to keep 2 males then you should put them together while young or they may fight.
Alternatively, you can introduce a baby boar, under 10 weeks old, to an adult. They are pretty cheap to run and in the summer they like to dine al fresco - literally on the lawn.
They will trim a square metre of grass in a few hours and love daisies and dandelions.
They are so environmentally friendly that they even eat each other's turds! They produce 2 kinds of dropping and the soft ones contain beneficial B vitamins and bacteria which can be extracted by passing food through their digestive tract a second time.
Incidentally, their turds (stools or poo, if you prefer!) are very clean to handle, like a fibrous pellet, so no problems if they let rip on your best Axminster carpet. The only hazard is allowing one to fall asleep on you. Once the bladder relaxes they produce a significant amount of urine!
Sleeping arrangements can be taken care of with a wooden hutch lined with newspaper and hay which they tend to eat (hutch, newspaper and hay!) It may be a good idea to give them a loose piece of wood to gnaw on (Guinea Pigs seldom stop eating).
They also adore carrot, apple, lettuce, cucumber and will also need some guinea pig mix, which you can buy from the pet store.
They will need their claws clipped occasionally. You can get the vet to do it but, it's OK to do it yourself, using a pair of nail clippers as long as you know what you're doing. Get someone to feed them a favourite snack while you clip.
As long as you keep them eating it's reasonably easy! Beware of cutting the claws too short. They will bleed (and it hurts them) if you cut into the 'quick'.
Don't Put Them Outside in the Snow!
Don't put them outside in the winter, if you live in a northern climate, for example, London or New York, or on damp days as their natural home, South America, is warm.
If you want to give them a run in the winter then we used a children's paddling pool (no water!) in the living room (the pool protects the carpet and stops them straying too far).
I read in an American pet book that it is possible to train pigs to do tricks (see RenaSherwood's HubPages article). This should be done with 'positive reinforcement', the book says, so no tiny whips!
If you leave them out in the garden, it's a good idea to build a wooden 'run' with netting over the top. This is to protect them from predators such as foxes (in the UK) or next door's cat. I've even seen a magpie's mouth watering at the sight of our plump cavies, Morris and Cadbury.
When they were loose in the garden our pigs actually chased the squirrels. Who knows what might happen if they caught one! Pigs move surprisingly quickly when loose and Cadbury could leap onto the sofa from a standing position. Amazing when you see how plump they are and what tiny legs they have.
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Peter Gurney - the Guinea Pig Man
Every hobby, pastime or pet has its nationally-known expert. What Sir David Attenborough is to wildlife Peter Gurney was to guinea pigs. Peter was the British guinea-pig guru. This lovable man dedicated his life to pigs and shared his London flat with around 80 of them, until his recent death in 2006.
He didn’t breed them for profit or show them but operated a pig refuge and also boarded pigs. His most famous boarder was Olga Da Polga who belonged to Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear. Olga is a guinea pig heroine Michael writes about in some of his children's stories.
Peter often appeared on British TV so if you every watched ‘The Big Breakfast’ or daytime TV, then sooner or later you would encounter Peter with half a dozen or so of his pigs, demonstrating how to groom them and bath them and, if you were lucky, you may even see one undergoing hydrotherapy.
Peter and his pigs were regular and welcome visitors to Gt Ormond Street Hospital in London where they provided enjoyment and therapy for the young patients. He has also written various books on this fascinating rodent including the oddly named but informative Piggy Potions which is all about herbal remedies for cavies.
So if you need a pet which is cheap to feed, easy to look after, lovable and good with kids then forget the parrot, piranha and the pekinese. Become a cavy affectionado and purchase some guinea pigs!
Peter Gurney on his Favourite Subject - Guinea Pigs
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