Guinea Pigs or 'cavies' are mammals originally bred for food in South America with the name 'pig' probably from the fact they taste like pork. They are very popular pets that live around 4 - 7 years; are very uninclined to bite; are active throughout the day and enjoy company and being handled. Although they can seem a bit nervous this usually passes once they have been lifted up and become accustomed to their owners. They make a great sound and chatter among themselves constantly - studies have even shown that domestic guinea pigs make an extra sound showing affection which their wild cousins don't have.
They are very social creatures which in the wild, live in large colonies in grassy areas but as pets they should be housed in a hutch type enclosure either indoors or out.
If they are kept outdoors they must be protected from very bad weather, especially the dampness. Their hutch should be raised off the ground to keep any dampness at a minimum. The hutch should always have an enclosed end where the guinea pigs can retreat and sleep and an open wire meshed end where they can see what's going on and eat their food. In winter time the hutch must be moved inside or even into a garage or shed.
The indoor hutches are usually plastic based with wire or perspex lids which are very easily cleaned.
The hutch must be cleaned regularly, at least once a week, using a recommended disinfectant such as ‘Avisafe' to keep any problems of disease or infection down.
Many guinea pigs are kept as house pets and an indoor hutch is easily cleaned and disinfected.
There are three main types of guinea pigs kept as pets and they come in a variety of different colours, both self coloured and multi coloured:-
English which are the most common and are smooth short haired varieties
Abyssinian which have rougher coats with rosetted areas where the hair grows in all different directions and
Peruvian which are very long haired and require daily grooming are not really advisable for young children as their coat requires such a lot of work. ......most Guinea Pigs enjoy being groomed and a soft bristle brush is ideal for this.
If keeping more than one guinea pig they should be kept in single sex pairs, small groups or even one male to 3 or 4 females. If kept in a mixed group breeding will no doubt occur but this can be very rewarding and interesting and the female guinea pigs will synchronise their litters when kept together. The female guinea pig is pregnant for around 63 days and the young are born fully developed with their eyes open, eating, moving about and just like miniature versions of their parents - one important thing to know here is that female guinea pigs can be sexually mature from around 3 weeks old but if you decide to breed them start them around 12 weeks or so. A word of warning though, a female guinea pig should not be allowed to have a first litter after she is over a year old as the pubic bones fuse making delivery of the babies impossible. If bred before a year old they can continue to breed well after 1 year old.
Guinea Pigs like their food and should be given commercial food daily along with a plentiful amount of fresh hay. Hay is very important as it helps to keep their teeth in good condition and at the correct length. This should be supplied daily in plentiful amounts as the constant gnawing on the hay helps trim their teeth.
Their teeth grow continually and must not be allowed to get too long as it can cause major health problems. A daily supply of hay keeps these teeth down in the most natural way. They will also eat plenty of fresh vegetables, carrots, turnip, cabbage etc and benefit from the vitamins in these.
Another interesting ‘tooth’ fact is that all rodents except guinea pigs have off white teeth, even yellowish or even brown in colour due to the pigment. Guinea pigs however, have smart white teeth.
Guinea Pigs, like humans, cannot manufacture their own vitamin C and therefore have an absolute daily requirement of this. They require 10mg of vitamin C for each kg of body weight every day and this should be increased to 30mg/kg when they are
pregnant. The best way to make sure they have enough vitamin C is to use soluble 1000mg tablets (designed for us) and put a small piece of a tablet in their drinking water every day. The guinea pig food that you buy has an added vitamin C supplement. This is only guaranteed to be present for 12 weeks from manufacture so it isn't really worth depending on it still being present unless you know the date of its manufacture !!
Don't worry about them getting too much vitamin C as they will pass any not needed out with their urine.
Giving your guinea pigs daily vitamin C will stop around 98% of health problems that might occur from ever arising.
It is VERY VERY important.
Guinea Pigs are often housed with rabbits and although this often works very well for some the guinea pigs are often bullied.
If you decide this is what you want to do always make sure the guinea pigs have a place within the hutch to get away from the rabbit if bullying occurs. A drainpipe or something similar is ideal - just a bolt hole for the guinea pig if the rabbit gets rough!!
One other things, you may at sometime notice your guinea pig eating its own droppings. Do not ever worry about this as it is perfectly normal and infact all rodents (and rabbits) do it daily, usually early in the day. It is called coprophagy.
They eat the jelly type dropping produced first to make sure they get all the extra minerals and vitamins from it, especially the B vitamins and the healthy gut bacteria they need.
They normally eat these straight from their bottom so you might not ever see it happening. They then later produce a harder pelleted dropping which you are used to seeing in their cage. Its a bit like recycling !!!!
Guinea pigs are excellent pets and enjoy lots of cuddles and time spent with them. They are fairly hardy, robust creatures that don’t need any routine vet help.
Fur’n’Feathers can give you lots of advise, so please do not hesitate to contact us where we will do our best to help you.
Above all enjoy your guinea pig.
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