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Are Guinea Pigs the Right Pet for You: Six Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Getting a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are wonderful pets. However, caring for them is not as simple as caring for other small mammals and their needs are very different from cats and dogs. If you’re thinking about bringing a guinea pig into your home, consider the following questions before getting yourself a furry little roommate.
1. How much time do you have to devote your pet?
Guinea pigs are social animals and naturally live in groups. Consequently, they need a fair amount of attention from their owners, particularly if you choose to get only one guinea pig. This is not to say that they require the same level of attention as a dog or cat, but they need regular social interaction. If you can’t commit to playing with them for ten to fifteen minutes at least several times a week, either by sitting with them or allowing them to run around on a piggy-proofed patch of floor, then guinea pigs may not be the best option for you.
2. How much space do you have?
Many people are surprised by the amount of space guinea pigs require. Because they can't run in wheels like hamsters and gerbils – their spines aren't flexible enough – most of their exercise comes from running around inside their cage, even if they are frequently allowed to play on the floor. This means that their cages need to be proportionally much larger than those of their smaller rodent relations. Ideally, you should have at least 7.5 sq. ft. of space for one guinea pig and 10.5 sq. ft. for two, but, generally, bigger is better when it comes to cages. It's best to get your guinea pigs the largest home you can accommodate.
3. Do you have small children?
Guinea pigs are great pets for children; they aren’t aggressive at all and enjoy being held. However, guinea pigs are much more fragile than they appear and a young child could easily handle them too roughly. Falls, such as those resulting from the inexperienced grip of a four-year-old, can also be lethal. Children handling guinea pigs need to be supervised much more closely than those playing with dogs or cats.
4. Is your home effectively climate controlled?
This might seem like a strange question, but guinea pigs are very sensitive to temperature changes and don’t handle extreme temperatures very well. Drafts can make them more susceptible to illness and they can easily become overheated in warm weather. If you live in a home without air conditioning, for example, it may be hard to keep your guinea pigs comfortable and healthy.
5. Do you have other pets?
Since they are cage dwellers, guinea pigs don’t generally have a problem living with other animals. It may take them some time to adjust to the presence of your other non-human companions – they are prey animals, after all – but rarely will you encounter a guinea pig that can’t overcome their natural fear.
The much larger, and potentially more problematic issue, is the way your other pets will react to a guinea pig. There is no easy way to determine which pet combinations will work and which won’t; compatibility will depend largely on the personality of your other pets. You might be able to train your dog not to bother your guinea pig, but there’s no guarantee and cats are a different story entirely. If possible, it might be a good idea to expose your other pets to a guinea pig prior to bringing one into your home.
6. Are you willing and able to pay for unexpected medical costs?
In general, guinea pigs are fairly inexpensive pets. Finding economical food and bedding isn’t difficult and, because they are small, they don’t go through supplies as quickly or dogs or cats do. Nor do they need routine preventative medical care; many guinea pigs go their entire lives without ever needing to see a vet. But when a guinea pig does show signs of illness, it is important that they receive immediate medical care. Their health can decline very quickly and waiting to seek medical attention can seriously their prospects for recovery.