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Guinea Pig Care
- Guinea pigs get a rough deal in life, but we are determined that we will do well by the piggies that come to us. Most people want to give a good home to their guineas but unfortunately most of the commercially available cages, hutches and runs are simply not fit for purpose, being far too small, and it can be hard for people to know what they do need. It is lovely to watch a happy guinea pig dashing about, simply enjoying moving. They don’t play with things but they do play, lots if they have the room. They run in circles and do little leaps into the air, generally known in the guinea pig world as ‘popcorning’. When you see them do it you will understand why. They also like to just amble about, nose to the ground snuffling about looking for stray bits of food. This is a natural behaviour which gives the guinea pig great satisfaction, particularly when they find a few tasty bits and pieces.
- There are a number of ways to give guineas the space they need without spending huge amounts of money. They can live very happily on a shed floor with a small hutch or adapted box just as a warm hidey hole, or they can live indoors in a cage built from storage cubes or in a large dog crate which can be bought inexpensively from ebay and adapted to have several layers. These are also very handy to use as tables (at least if you can resist the temptation to stack them). If you aren’t too fastidious they also can live very happily on the floor indoors leaving most of their mess in their hidey holes and on strategically placed towels and trays. The messiest thing is the hay as it does seem to get everywhere – but then a tidier person than me might manage to keep it under better control 😉
- Guinea pigs must be indoors or at least in a shed for the winter. Our climate is too damp for them. This is one reason they are so prone to skin problems. Keeping them in a shed year round is a good option, with a run for the grass for the warmer weather. A shed floor provides a nice amount of space and makes interacting with your guinea pigs much easier than if they are in a hutch. Where children are concerned there is always the risk of them letting the piggie escape when fishing them out of a hutch. In a shed this is much less likely. Also the ease with which the children can interact with them will help hold their attention for longer. Children all too quickly lose interest in small creatures.
- If you do opt for a hutch it needs to be large, at least 5ft by 2ft, but bigger is better. You will also need a run of least 4ft square. We used to reccommend that the run be attached but as the summers have been so wet recently we have decided that a larger hutch and a movable run is the better option. Wire on the run needs to be weld mesh that will not come unravelled rather than chicken wire that will give way once one strand is broken as it is only twisted together. Lids need to fasten securely. Guinea pigs should only be out in a run set on grass when someone is at home as predators can gain access to them by digging.
- As with rabbits, the bigger accommodation you can offer, the better. Guinea pigs will use as much space as you can give them. They move surprisingly fast and will happily make use of an enormous space. They just need a small warm space to snuggle up in a nice bundle of hay at night. The guineas who live in Sowcester, our guinea pig village, love wandering about from house to house. Free range in the house is a wonderful option and we know of several lucky guinea pigs that live the free life. They are not as destructive as rabbits, and can not climb and get to things they shouldn’t in the same way. They tend to lurk in dark corners so you can strategically place trays of hay or towels to catch the mess. You do need to be careful when you open doors though, and cables should be protected. Sadly letting guinea pigs loose in the garden is not a good idea. They are too vulnerable to too many predators. Cats in particular get everywhere and are impossible to keep out. They also should not be on the ground when it is wet or cold.
- Guinea pigs need constant access to clean fresh hay or grass as this should comprise the bulk of their diet. They do not much like plastic packaged pet shop hay, so a bale of meadow hay suitable for horses should be obtained and stored in a dry place to provide a constant supply. When this is purchased it should be free of dust and smell sweet not musty. Hay should also be used as bedding, but make sure to add a large fresh handful daily as they will not want to eat it once it is soiled. In addition to hay small quantities of pellets rather than mix, should be offered daily. We recommend Wagg Optimum Guinea Pig Pellets. Fresh vegetables should also be fed daily, with the occasional piece of fruit. Cucumber is a huge favourite, and celery is very good for urinary health. Tomatos, peppers, spring greens, carrots, swedes, fennel, melon, banana, apple as well as picked grass and foraged leaves such as dandelion or sow thistle are all welcomed by these voracious creatures. A guinea pig will eat a pile of grass larger than their own body. It is their absolute favourite thing, and it is free! But build the quantity up gradually as it may give them the runs if they are unused to it. Lettuce should not be on the menu.
- Their living area should be cleaned at least twice a week, ensuring that all wet material and droppings are removed. A paint scrapper is very good for removing material from corners and getting up dried on mess. Wooden surfaces should be allowed to dry or at least air. Plastic surfaces can be sprayed with a suitable animal safe cleanser and wiped down. Indoors suitable bedding is newspaper covered in a generous layer of hay; outdoors chopped barley straw can be used as an underlayer for absorbency (Shavings should not be used as they produce harmful fumes which can damage the liver). Plenty of hay should be put in the sleeping areas both for eating and for warmth, this should be topped up daily. Hay should be shaken out so it is is loose and airy but there should be plenty of it. It should fill any bedroom or box it is put in right up to the top. The piggies will burrow into it and eat their way through it. They will do this very quickly. Do not underestimate how much they will need. Buying small bags will not suffice. Used bedding can be composted to produce organic material for the garden.
- Regular checks on the guinea pigs’ health need to be made as they are complicated little creatures and can go downhill very fast. Everyday you should watch how they behave. Once you know their usual habits and how they react to being fed any change can alert you to problems At least once a week animals should be picked up and given a health check of their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bottom, general body tone and weight. Claws need to be trimmed approximately every 2 months.
- Guinea pigs also need to be bathed at least every two months to prevent skin problems to which they are very prone. This should be a shower rather than a proper bath, with the guinea pig held securely throughout to prevent them panicking and hurting themselves. First wet the piggy all over under the tap or shower head, keeping only the nose dry. Then apply a stripe of shampoo (we recommend Gorgeous Guineas shampoo) all down the back and rub into a lather. Some of the lather should be used to clean the pig’s ears which are prone to crusting. Male guinea pigs need to have their genitals popped out and cleaned as they get a build up of calcium deposits trapped in the sheath which can lead to infection. The shampoo should stay on according to directions and then be thoroughly rinsed off. The guinea pig should then be thoroughly dried with a hair drier. Surprisingly this is their favourite part of the prcedure.