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Guinea Pigs 101

Updated on October 22, 2012

So, you're thinking about adding a guinea pig to your family. Or maybe you've brought one home and are having the common anxieties of a new owner. Either way, you're on the hunt for credible information about how to care for them. And you're having a hard time sorting out the reputable sites from the hobbyists.

We're a guinea pig rescue that has taken in more than 950 guinea pigs in 8 years. We have pet guinea pigs of our own. We know guinea pigs. We know all the myths about guinea pigs -- and why they're just that...myths. We've nursed guinea pigs through allergies and cancer and everything in between -- and have seen and treated health conditions that most guinea pig owners will never see. We hang out in the leading online guinea pig communities with other rescuers, caregivers, veterinarians, and vet technicians. We also "speak guinea pig"...with 700 guinea pigs coming through your doors, you're bound to become fluent!

We've done the footwork, creating a list of the essential resources that can help make you a well-informed owner. And the "Stuff You Need" sections can help you pull together your regular shopping list of needed supplies for your guinea pigs.

The Adoption Option - Give A Lovable Critter A Second Chance At A Happy Home

Most people don't realize just how many guinea pigs there are out there who need to find homes. If you know where to look, you're almost guaranteed to find the age and breed you want through the "adoption option."

Please make adoption your first choice when you're looking to add guinea pigs to your home.

Guinea Pig Myths That Unnecessarily Impede Adoptions - Myths & Misconceptions We Wish Would Go Away

There's a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around about guinea pigs, in pet stores, on hobbyist Web sites or blogs launched by people who recently acquired their first pair of pigs, on user-contributed content sites like Helium and eHow, in question-and-answer forums like Yahoo! Answers, and even in books on guinea pig care!

Unfortunately, some of these myths have prevented guinea pigs from getting adopted to good homes and ruins matches that might otherwise have been successful. And it infuriates rescues.

Below are the myths that really need to die.

Essential Web Links For Guinea Pig Owners

While there's a lot of sites that we visit regularly, these links are essential resources for new or prospective guinea pig owners.

Do They Come With An Instruction Manual? - The Penultimate Primer On Piggies

No...actually, they don't come with a manual. But if ever there was a guide that came close to the task, it would be this one. This is the book that we at the rescue wish we could buy in bulk so that we could send a free copy home with every new adopter.

Proper Care of Guinea Pigs (Proper Care Of...Series)
Proper Care of Guinea Pigs (Proper Care Of...Series)

Peter Gurney is one of the world's best-known experts -- if not THE expert -- on all things guinea pig. His book should be in every home where there are guinea pigs. Human slave to a sizable colony of guinea pigs, he offers unique insights into guinea pig behavior and tips for guinea pig care that are not found in the many formulaic care guides on the market.


Critter Comforts: A Shopping List - Essential Items For A Good Guinea Pig Habitat

When you bring your new guinea pig(s) home -- or before you do -- these are the must-have items that you need to build a suitable habitat.

There's lots of options to choose from in every categories. If you want to make fast work of your shopping list, see our "Best of the Best" list below.

  • The cage. A single guinea pig needs a cage that provides at least 7.5 square feet of living space. A pair of guinea pigs needs at least 10.5 square feet. The cage must have a solid (not wire) bottom, and be constructed to allow ventilation from all sides. Aquariums and large plastic storage bins are not acceptable habitats. The best cages are C&C cages.
  • Bedding. Should be absorbent and good at helping to control odors. Wood pulp products, recycled paper bedding, and pine are all suitable. Never, ever use cedar bedding.
  • A shelter house. Guinea pigs need a shelter in their cage to accommodate their instincts to tunnel and hide. You can find grass huts, wooden lodges, plastic igloos, and plastic "waffle" houses. Plastic is easy to clean with hot water. Grass and wooden houses accommodate gnawing. Check out How To Spoil Your Guinea Pig for some options.
  • A water bottle. For one guinea pig, have at least an 8-oz. bottle; for two guinea pigs, have at least a 16-oz. bottle.
  • A food dish. Choose from plastic and ceramic dishes that sit on the bedding and bin feeders that hang from the side of the cage. Wide-bottomed, shallow, ceramic or plastic dishes provide easy access to the food, are difficult to tip over, and are easy to wash and dry.
  • A hay rack or basket. You want to keep hay off the bedding so that it doesn't get soiled. You can find racks, baskets, and balls. We avoid the hay racks with short spindles for holding salt licks -- when guinea pigs get to running in their cage, there's a good chance they could bump into these spindles and hurt themselves.

Finding The Right Vet - Specialty Is Everything When It Comes To Exotic Animals

Do your guinea pigs have a vet? One who understands them, their unique needs, and their delicate physiologies?

When you're caring for guinea pigs (or other exotics like rabbits, ferrets, chinchillas, birds, and so forth), you need a vet who specializes in exotics. Vets who only treat cats and dogs are among the first to agree with this assertion.

Take time to find a specialty vet BEFORE you're in a health crisis with your guinea pigs. Guinea pigs benefit from routine physical exams where a vet can check weight, teeth, heart rate, and so forth -- so these exams can be an excellent, low-stress way to find a vet and establish a relationship with him/her. Owners benefit from these exams because it gives them a baseline for things like weight, which will be useful to have in the event that their guinea pig does become ill.


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