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How to Select a Guinea Pig for a Pet

Updated on January 24, 2013

Choosing a Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are sweet and lovable pets.
Guinea pigs are sweet and lovable pets. | Source

Guinea Pigs are Also Called Cavies

Guinea pigs often make for a wonderful family pet. These small animals are expressive, affectionate and gentle. But there are also many things you do need to know in order to keep them happy, safe and be a responsible pet owner.

Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, originally come from South America. Wild guinea pigs can still be found across many countries south of the equator from Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Papguay in the forests, swamps, and grasslands. For over 400 years, guinea pigs have been domesticated in many areas of the world. There are many varieties of guinea pigs:

  • short haired
  • Abyssinian
  • Peruvian

Guinea Pigs Are Sweet and Gentle

Guinea pigs live an average of 5 years. The average adult male weighs 900-1200g and females weight about 750-900g. At birth they weigh 60-110g. Gestation takes anywhere from 59 to 72 days. They can have anywhere from one to six babies, and generally average four offspring. By nine to ten weeks, males are fully mature, females are mature by six weeks. Guinea pigs have sweet temperament and are not aggressive. They rarely scratch or bite. Their defense when frightened is to usually run away. If in their cage, they will run around quickly, making it hard to grab hold of them. Although they are calm and sweet, guinea pigs are quite vocal, and can be noisy little creatures.

The diet, habitat and social life of a guinea pig are vital to their physical and mental health. Guinea pigs do not have any defenses against predators, except to run away. So it is important to provide an environment that will help them feel safe and secure. It is important to get a cage big enough to house them comfortably, to give them nutritious food, and toys for their entertainment so they are not stressed or fearful pets.

When you are choosing a pet like a guinea pig, it is incumbent on you to make the choice wisely. Guinea pigs are feeling, living beings who deserve a loving home. Sometimes kids will quickly lose interest in the new household pet and parents are too busy to care for the animal properly. It is unfair to any pet to bring them to your home and then abandon them.

Considering a Guinea Pig

When you decide to adopt any pet, it is a commitment, an obligation, and a responsibility that you will be taking on for many years. If your heart is not into it and you are not taking the adoption seriously, stop right now and don’t bring a pet into your life and your home. But if you are seriously considering a sweet pet that will bring humor, cheer, and happiness into your home, then a guinea pig may be just the pet for you and your family.

When you decide to adopt a guinea pig, you can go to a pet store, or to a rescue group, where these cute and fun creatures await a loving home.

Each pair of guinea pigs needs a cage about at least about 7.5 square feet in area. Wire bottomed cages can hurt the guinea pigs because their little feet can get caught and cause injuries to their feet and legs. The temperature should be about 65 to 75 degrees, and not near any areas that are extremely hot or drafty.

Guinea pigs spend a lot of time in their cages. You want it to be as comfortable as possible. Line the bottom of the cage with shredded paper, aspen shaving. Cedar and pine shavings can be toxic unless it is kiln dried.

Guinea pigs do not need exercise wheels. They do well with ramps and tunnels and an assortment of toys that keep them entertained and active.

Spot clean the cage on a daily basis. Every week scrub the cage and change all the bedding. Make sure they have access to clean water.

About Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs and Their Teeth

Guinea pigs enjoy timothy hay, it is a natural way to help them with their teeth. Guinea pig’s teeth grow constantly. They need to chew on things to help them wear their teeth down.

In the wild, a guinea pig’s teeth are naturally worn down by all the chewing they do. Give them hard food, and plenty of chew toys, and even hay so that their teeth wear down naturally.

When selecting a guinea pig, look at their teeth. If their bite is crooked, it could be a potential problem. An uneven bite means the teeth on one side of their mouth will not wear down correctly. Since guinea pig teeth grow and grow, they will not be able to chew their food and it will affect their appetite.

When you look at a guinea pig’s teeth, you will see their four incisors in the front. As long as they don’t seem overgrown or skewed, everything is okay. In a young guinea pig, an overbite can be a congenital defect that may prevent the guinea pig teeth from wearing down properly.
Guinea pigs also have molars in the back of their mouth, but they are not easily seen.

Overall, guinea pigs are very low maintenance animals. Anything hard like chew sticks, even old bread will help them wear down their teeth. Their teeth usually take care of themselves.

Guinea pigs need vitamin C everyday. If there is a vitamin C deficiency, it may affect their teeth also. Guinea pigs can not manufacture their own vitamin C. Giving a vitamin C supplement daily, is a good idea or at least make sure you give them food that is enhanced with vitamin C. Tablets are better than adding the vitamin to the water, but either will suffice.

If guinea pigs are not let to run on rough surfaces like cement, you will need to trim their nails so you don’t get scratched and too long of nails are not hazardous to themselves. You can do the nails yourself, or the local pet store or veterinarian can trim them for you occasionally.

Always keep a water bottle filled with fresh water.

Choosing a Guinea Pig

Some people have an allergic to guinea pigs, usually showing up as a skin rash. Most times this allergic reaction comes from the guinea pig’s saliva or even urine. It is usually not the fur as most people think. Sometimes the allergy is not to the pet at all, but to the hay or the wood shavings that line the cage. Try to test the waters before you bring one home, and if you find you are allergic, change the bedding first to see if the allergy is to the pet at all.

When handling your guinea pig, pick them up gently and hold their hind legs to help them feel secure when you are holding them. Over time a loving and trusting bnd will be built between you and your little friend.

Pet stores and rescues may very likely have a selection of guinea pigs to choose from. The main thing you want is a healthy, vibrant pet. Your choice will rely on observation instinct and personal likes about the personality and physical attributes of the guinea pig.

First observe how the guinea pig looks and then observe the environment. A nice environment will mean a less stressed guinea pig.

  • you don’t want one that is too thin or too fat, but you want them a little plump

  • their fur should like clean and have a healthy look about them

  • there should be no bumps or lumps on their body and no swellings, or redness

  • the guinea pig should look alert, and be curious

  • make sure they are not lethargic

  • their feet and nails should also be clean and well groomed

  • their eyes, ears, and nose should be free of any discharge,as should the fur around these areas

  • make sure they do not have a messy rear or it could be a sign of diarrhea

  • look at their teeth, as mentioned above to make sure they are not misaligned

  • their breathing should be calm, make sure they are not wheezing or breathing heavy

  • the guinea pig should look well groomed and have no bald spots

  • watch the guinea ig run around, they should move with ease, make sure there are no injuries to their legs

  • is their cage clean, does the pet have access to clean water and fresh food

  • does the environment look clean or is the cage overcrowded

  • how does the guinea pig react to you and to other people - being skittish is normal, but you want to be able to pick the little pet up

  • when you hold the guinea pig do they calm down and are they willing to let you handle them.

  • check longer haired guinea pigs for knots in their coats to make sure they have been well groomed

Be sure to ask questions:

  • how old is the guinea pig - you don’t want one younger than six weeks to make sure they have been properly weaned from their mother.

  • were the male guinea pigs kept separate from the females, otherwise you might have baby guinea pigs yoursel

  • has the guinea pig been kept with other guinea pigs or rabbits so they have been socialized with other animals.

  • do they know if the guinea pig you like is a male or female

Guinea pigs are very social animals. It is preferable to bring them home in pairs. They can also share a cage with a rabbit. But in any event they make playful pleasurable pets, who requirements are little and love is great.

Supplies you will need:

  • a cage that is about 30” x 36” for one guinea pig or 30” x 76” for as many as four guinea pigs with a safe bottom for their feet

  • a food bowl and plastic or glass water bottle

  • a box to hide in

  • a hay rack to keep the hay you give them off of the floor

  • bedding made of aspen wood or wood fiber or recycled paper

  • ramps in the cage

  • wooden chew toys

  • hay

  • vitamin c

  • guinea pig food

Guinea pigs are indoor pets. When you bring your new guinea pig home, put their cage in an area that has the least amount of commotion, out of direct sunlight, and in an area that has a comfortable temperature about 65to 75 degrees fahrenheit. If it is below 50 degrees or above 80 degrees, it may not be safe conditions for the guinea pig.


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    • Monis Mas profile image

      Aga 5 years ago

      You made some great points here, and some fantastic advice. Thanks a lot!

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Bill, I learned something new about you. I didn't know you had 3 dogs and a cat.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      this brought back a lot of memories. We bought a pair of guinea pigs for our older son when he was in 5th grade and I believe that line last until he graduated from HS. We sold the babies but kept one occasionally. They were a lot of fun but of course after a while the brunt of their care fell to me. Still, I would recommend GPs over hamsters or gerbils any day. Voted up

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm going to pass on getting a guinea pig, but great suggestions. With three dogs and a cat I just can't imagine having another pet. :)