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Minerva's Guide To Guinea Pig Supplies

Updated on April 1, 2013

What Does A Guinea Pig Really Need?

So you're about to bring a new guinea pig (or two) home? Want a starter shopping list that cuts through the marketing spin and sales clerk schtick? Minerva, our mascot, doesn't blame you. The fact that she's blind doesn't make her any less discriminating about what goes in her castle, and she has little patience for folks trying to sell her stuff that she doesn't need or that isn't safe for her.

When you're a new owner, it is confusing to face aisles of supplies for guinea pigs, trying to sort out what your guinea pigs actually need versus what pet supply manufacturers want you to think your guinea pigs need. At our adoption events in pet stores, we are frequently approached by people who say, "Don't make me think. Just tell me exactly what to buy."

The first thing we tell them is not to count on manufacturers or pet supply retailers to always -- or even ever -- have critters' best interests at heart. In the true spirit of capitalism, their #1 goal is to make money. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but it would be nice to see companies assume more responsibility. Until they do, we as consumers must be responsible shoppers, buying products that are appropriate for our furry friends and our wallets. This means doing our homework before we go shopping.

The second thing we tell them is the shopping list. The third thing we tell them is the non-shopping list. You'll find both here.

Build A Perfect Castle

Piggies Need A Lot Of Living Space

C&C ("Cubes & Coroplast") cages are the ultimate cages -- and the only ones that our rescue pigs are housed in. Spacious, affordable, and scalable,these expansive cages are constructed from:

  • sheets of coroplast (for the cage floor)
  • Neat Cubes (for the walls)
  • cable ties and connectors (to keep the grids firmly together)
  • binder clips (to hold the folded corners of the coroplast together)

One level, two levels, long and narrow, short and wide, rectangular, can create them all to fit the space you have and give your guinea pigs the space they need. These are the only cages that are pig-approved, owner-approved, and rescue-approved.

These cages are easy to build, easy to disassemble, and easy to clean. Check out the Guinea Pig Cages site to learn more and see photos of some of the cool configurations you can create!

Gimme Shelter - Hideaways Bring A Sense Of Safety & Security

Guinea pigs need a hideout in their cage to accommodate their instincts to tunnel and hide. Simply giving them a cage is not enough. They need a place to hide when the commotion of dinner guests or barking dogs scares them, when their roommates are bugging them, when they want to keep their snacks to themselves, or when they just plain want a good sleep.

You can find grass huts, hay bungalows, hay loungers, fiddle sticks houses, wooden lodges, plastic igloos, and plastic "waffle" houses. Each have their own appeal, advantages, and disadvantages. (See our other lens, How To Spoil Your Guinea Pig, for other ideas.)

Plastic shelters have the distinct advantage of being easy to clean with hot water and a good scrub brush. However, if you have a pig who gnaws a lot and starts focusing his/her attention on a plastic hideout, you'll want to swap the house for something more (safely) edible. The plastic shelters are advertised to be non-toxic, but that does not mean it's good for abrasive bits of plastic to be routinely passing through your guinea pig's gastrointestinal system.

Grass and wooden houses accommodate gnawing, and are materials that guinea pigs would encounter in the wild and instinctively chew on. They're not washable, and will have to be thrown out a lot sooner than a plastic house, but there are ways that you can extend their life. Dirty spots on wooden houses can be sanded with a piece of sandpaper (an electric sander will make faster work of this without fatiguing your hand). Grass houses can be put out in the hot sun to "bake" a bit.

Penn-Plax Guinea Pig House - Large
Penn-Plax Guinea Pig House - Large

Another variation on the wooden hideout, the large-sized Timber Hide A Way will accommodate two adult guinea pigs. Don't be surprised if your pigs gnaw on the bottom of the front window -- they're just remodelling it to become a second door!

Kaytee Igloo Hideout, Large
Kaytee Igloo Hideout, Large

In most any guinea pig cage, "pigloos" are prime real estate. If you have two pigs, get two of these large "single-size" pigloos. While this size will accommodate a couple of babies, it's only large enough to comfortably accommodate one adult pig. Rather than listening to your pigs dicker over whose turn it is to have the pigloo, just get them each their own.


A Soft Place To Land

Bedding Can Make Or Break A Home

Every cage needs a good 2 to 3 inches of quality bedding. It must be absorbent and good at helping to control odors. Wood pulp products, recycled paper bedding, aspen, and pine are all suitable.

Never, ever use cedar bedding. The strong cedar oil causes respiratory problems -- too often fatal -- in small animals. We also recommend avoiding products with chlorophyll, as they have strong odors that could irritate the delicate respiratory systems of guinea pigs (and, really, any small animal).

The #1 bedding choice of veterinarians, owners, and guinea pigs themselves is CareFresh. A wood pulp product, CareFresh is an excellent choice for humans and guinea pigs with allergies to pine (yep...guinea pigs have allergies, too). It's uber-absorbent and really great at controlling odor without using additives like chlorophyll. The one thing going against it is price; it's more expensive than pine or aspen, though less expensive than recycled paper bedding. We think it's worth the extra money, because it doesn't get soaked nearly as quickly as pine does.

The other thing to consider is that there are documented cases of guinea pigs getting lice that's come in on pine bedding. There's no definitive statistics (yet) that would help determine the odds of this happening to your guinea pigs, but we've stumbled across enough cases in the last two years that we're starting to question the quality control practices among manufacturers of pine bedding products.

Bring Me Some Water

When Piggy Needs A Long, Cool Drink

For one guinea pig, have at least an 8-oz. bottle; for two guinea pigs, have at least a 16-oz. bottle. In cages with two or more pigs, we recommend having multiple water bottles, especially if one of the pigs is a particularly heavy water drinker -- or else you're going to see pigs waiting in line to get to the water bottle.

You don't need to get fancy with water bottles or spend a lot of money on them. A simple water bottle will do the trick. We like the water bottles whose caps have removable rubber rings on the inside; you can better clean out any food debris that's come up the drinking spout and gotten trapped in the crevices of the cap. You'll also be able to sterilize the cap and the rubber ring.

A good water bottle guard/holder (about $5) is a lot more durable and long-lasting than the simple wire bails that come with water bottles. They also keep bottles more firmly in place than wire bails -- an important consideration if you have a guinea pig that likes to play with and tug at his/her water bottle.

Feed Me! Feed Me! - Food Is Easy -- It's Finding The Right Food Dish That Isn't Easy

You want a high-quality food pellet that is made specifically for guinea pigs. Like humans, guinea pigs' bodies do not produce their own Vitamin C and, so, must obtain it from their diet. Look for Oxbow Cavy Cuisine (for pigs older than 6 months), Oxbow Cavy Performance (for baby guinea pigs, pregnant females, and nursing mothers), Kaytee plain pellets, Blue Seal Guinea Pig Food, and plain food pellets from American Pet Diner and Sweet Meadow Farm.

Food dishes aren't always the simple purchase choice you might expect, and the first one you buy may not be your last. A lot depends on how many guinea pigs you have, their ages, and their food behaviors. 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.

Grazing Grounds

Keeping Hay Clean Demands Intelligent Design

Guinea pigs need unlimited access to hay for their entire lives. Pigs older than six months need timothy hay; pigs younger than six months old need timothy hay and alfalfa hay (which provides extra calcium for growing bones). Popular providers include Linda's Hayloft, American Pet Diner, Oxbow Hay, Sweet Meadow Farm, and Kaytee.

You want to keep hay off the bedding so that it doesn't get soiled. You can find racks, baskets, and balls that will keep hay clean. We avoid the hay racks with the 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.

Junk Food For Guinea Pigs

They Need It Like You Need Doritos, M&M's & Capt'n Crunch

In fact, this isn't just about eating "junk food," it's about feeding stuff that shouldn't be in their diets at all or are, as my mother would say, just "looking to borrow trouble."

We're not going to name names because -- frankly -- there's too many to mention. It would be like trying to list everything you can find in the chips, snacks, candy, and cookie aisles at the grocery store.

Pure junk food

Food pellet mixes with colored mystery bits. Anything with "puff" in the name. Anything that looks like jerky or fruit roll-ups.

Borrowing trouble

Seed mixes with nuts, fruits, and mystery bits. Seed sticks, fruit and nut sticks, nut and seed get the idea. These sticks present two dangers: choking when swallowing, and getting seeds jammed into the gums during gnawing. With choking, there will be no time to get to the vet. With embedded seeds, you'll choke when you see the vet bills for the surgery and medication that it will take to clean out the seeds, remove the abscess, and cure the infection.

Not even part of their dietary repertoire

Yogurt drops. Anything in which dairy is a major ingredient. Guinea pigs are vegan -- other than their own mother's "milk" when they're nursing -- dairy isn't something their bodies know what to do with, much less need. Most of these dairy treats are also very sweet, and prove to be addictive for guinea pigs with an overdeveloped sweet tooth. For pigs who are being feed too many (3 to 6 drops a day), G.I. stasis is an inevitable problem that requires veterinary intervention.

Not Only Do They Not Need It, It's Dangerous

A Perfect Example Of How Manufacturers Don't Have Critters' Best Interests In Mind

On the list of "things we wish manufacturers and pet stores would stop peddling to guinea pig owners," we put these exercise balls in the #1 position. We want manufacturers to remove pictures of and text references to guinea pigs from the product packaging and the product pages on their Web sites. We want pet supply retailers to stop putting these products under the "guinea pigs" category in their online catalogs and store shelves.

As long as they continue to do so, they perpetuate the myth that these balls are safe, appropriate, and acceptable toys for guinea pigs.

Originally created for ferrets, hamsters, mice, gerbils, and rats -- animals with different body types than guinea pigs -- the marketing of these "exercise balls" was expanded at some point to include guinea pigs...even though their bodies aren't built for them.

There's a variety of models, from balls that enclose animals (like the one shown here) to balls that have three open holes cut into them. They bear names like "krawler," "run-about ball," and "roll-about ball."

These balls are unsuitable -- and, in fact, dangerous -- for guinea pigs. In the balls with open cutouts, guinea pigs have had injured legs or feet as a result of being put in these things. In the balls that completely enclose the guinea pig inside, the guinea pig is absolutely terrified by the environment.

We know folks want to keep their guinea pigs entertained and engaged. And that's good. But rather than invest in these balls, we suggest other toys -- tunnels, paper bags, Chubes, and fleece sacks -- to let your guinea pigs tunnel, hide, run mazes, and play hide-n-seek. Your investment in these objects will last much longer and will give your guinea pigs hours of fun in a safe environment.


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