Complete guide on how to take care of your new pet guinea pig

guinea pig enrichment guide 3

If you’re looking for an in-depth guide on how to take care of your new furry little guinea pig friend, this is it! There’s everything from tips on handling them and grooming them to making sure their habitat is clean and providing enrichment for their lives.

Guinea pig care basics:  feed fresh hay, vegetables and clean water every day. Provide soft bedding in a large cage with chew toys, tunnels and a house to hide in. Regularly trim claws and clip teeth.

Our first guinea pig had such soft, ginger fur and a little pink nose. He was born without ears, we loved him so much, his name was Dumbo. He had wiggly whiskers and he always got really excited when we gave him carrots or apples.

Normal Guinea Pig Behaviour & Handling

Cavia porcellus or cavies for short, are known to be one of the most social rodents in the world; they live together, groom each other as well as share nesting space.  

Guinea pig behaviour can be quite different depending on the individual animal’s personality type as well as what they have learnt during their life.

Some guinea pigs are shyer and will hide when they see a human approaching, while others may be inquisitive about their surroundings or other animals in the household (especially if it is another guinea pig).

Guinea pigs are very social animals and enjoy interacting with humans as well as other guineas pig pets in the household as well their environment.  They will often greet you with excited squeaks when they see or hear you approach. They’ll pop their heads up to look at what is going on around them, especially if you are bringing their food!

Guinea pigs should always be kept in pairs where possible. Siblings live together the best and two girls or two boys (boars) will live happily together. Boys can be neutered and live with a sister piggy.

Guinea pig behaviour is often characterised as “fearless” because of how docile they are. They will often come right up to you and explore your hands, arms or clothing without hesitation.

Guinea pigs are nocturnal animals so they will sleep during the day but come out at night to play. They are most active at dusk and dawn, so be sure to provide them with a safe space for playing during these hours.

Guinea pigs should not have access outside of their cage because they can escape easily or get into trouble when exploring the house independently. They may chew up the furniture and electrical cords which pose a danger to them.

Guinea pigs can also learn to enjoy being handled by humans, but they can become stressed if you handle them too much or you interfere with their bodies’ natural rhythms (sleeping/eating) by disturbing them to pick them up.

guinea pig enrichment
Guinea Pigs can learn to be handled by their owners.

How to Teach Your Guinea Pig to be Handled

Guinea pigs can also have different reactions to being handled by humans depending on how often you handle them. If your guinea pig is not used to being handled, you should start by handling it for just a few minutes at first and gradually increase the time as they get more comfortable with this new experience. You can also try feeding them treats while holding or gently petting their head so that eventually touching becomes less of an issue.

Children under the age of six should not handle guinea pigs because they may accidentally hurt them while playing with their small, fragile bodies and guinea pigs can also bite.

Understanding The Sounds Your Guinea Pigs make

Guinea pigs have their own language of sounds to communicate with each other. They can make a variety of squeaks, chirps and squeals to express their feelings or needs, like their eagerness for food and water.

Guinea pigs also have an alarm call that they will use when sensing danger in the environment around them – this is usually just one loud scream-like sound and trust me, you won’t mistake it for anything else.

  • Chattering is a sign of happiness and contentment. They will often make the chattering noise when they are exploring new objects or places in their environment, such as your hand!  This can also be an indication that you have food nearby – guinea pigs love to eat fresh vegetables like carrots & celery.
  • Rumblestrutting is when your guinea pig will make a low, rumbling sound with their stomach. This is a very low sound. It often goes hand in hand with a guinea pig shaking its butt and moving around slowly.
  • Wheeking : this noise sounds like the word “eke” or it can also resemble someone sneezing – guinea pigs will often do wheeking when exploring new objects in your environment.

Habitat Maintenance: How To Keep Your Guinea Pig’s Cage Clean

A guinea pig’s cage should be cleaned at least once a week. You can use paper towels, newspaper or bedding to line the bottom of your pet’s habitat so it is easily removed.

You should also remove any soiled hay or food and replace it with fresh items, to keep your guinea pig healthy.

What cleaning products to use to clean cage

It is important to use a cleaning product that will not be harmful for your guinea pig. You can clean the cage with water and dish soap, or you could also purchase products specifically designed as cleaners made just for animals from pet stores.

What Is The Best Bedding For Guinea Pigs?

The best bedding for guinea pigs is clean dry hay, straw or we love brown shredded paper. Clean wood shavings or sawdust are also suitable. Any lining used should be dust-free. 

If you use hay this also provides your pet with a natural, healthy diet and acts as an excellent insulator against drafts in the wintertime. Do not use cedar wood shavings as bedding for your pet because the oils from this type are toxic to guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig Grooming, Nail Care and Teeth Trimming

Guinea pigs do not need to be bathed, but they need to be brushed once a week to keep their coat in tip-top condition and remove faeces, urine, knots, and other debris from their fur.

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Short-coated guinea pig breeds, such as the Himalayan or Dutch Rex do not need to be brushed more than once a week. Long-haired guinea pigs such as Peruvians or Abyssinians should be brushed several times a week to prevent knots and tangles in their long hair.

You will want a brush with bristles that are softer than what you would use on other pets. Guinea pigs have very fine hair so they need a narrow toothed comb. You can use a soft toothbrush and some warm water, or you can use special guinea pig grooming products that are available at most pet stores.

Guinea pigs also need their nails trimmed. Your guinea pigs nails may wear down naturally depending on their enclosure but you should check them once a week for damage and if they are overgrown.

You can trim nails by using a nail clipper or scissors and trimming just the tips of your guinea pig’s claws to prevent them from getting caught on things in its environment, which could lead to pain and further injury.  You may want some styptic powder (available on amazon here)  to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut too far.

If you’re doing the clipping yourself, don’t put your guinea pig upon its back. Instead, keep it on its front to avoid injuries or hurting them when performing a nail trimming.  You can wrap your guinea pig like a burrito and just leave their feet out. Tuck them on your lap. You now have both hands free to trim nails.

Guinea pigs may also need their teeth clipped, which can be done with a guillotine-style nail clipper or scissors. Teeth only require trimming once every month to prevent overgrowth that could lead them to be unable to eat properly due to tooth pain. If your guinea pig has enough hay and chew toys they will not need their teeth clipping.

You should also check your animal’s teeth regularly for signs of dental disease (such as redness) which may require veterinary care if left untreated.

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Guinea Pig cosied up in a towel for clipping

Signs of a Healthy Guinea Pig

It is a good idea to be able to recognise the signs of a healthy guinea pig.

A happy, alert animal with no discharge from its eyes or nose is generally considered an indication that it’s in good health and not suffering any major illness such as pneumonia (which can be fatal). A well-fed piggy who moves about freely without showing obvious pain when handled is also a good indicator of physical and mental health status.

  • Clear eyes, nose and ears.  No discharge or crusting around the eye area; no redness in ear canals (unless there has been an injury).
  • A healthy guinea pig will have a shiny coat with smooth fur that is not matted down by urine or faeces on their belly region as well.
  • Your guinea pig will have a good appetite and should be eating well.  If the animal is not interested in food, this could indicate that it’s sick or has an underlying health problem such as diabetes (which can also lead to death).   If you are unsure about whether your pet may need veterinary care for any reason then don’t hesitate to talk to your vet.
  • Your guinea pig should have regular bowel movements and urinate normally.  If they are not going to the toilet regularly, this could indicate that there is a problem and you should contact yout vet for advice.

Symptoms of an Unhappy Guinea Pig

As well as recognising signs of health, you should keep an eye out for any symptoms that might indicate your guinea pig is not happy.

  • Reduced appetite or difficulty eating
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling
  • Drinking more water than usual
  • A change in the frequency and/or consistency of poop

If the animal has a hunched posture, it may be feeling stressed or unhappy and this can lead to other health problems such as hair loss (alopecia).  

A piggy who spends most of its time hiding in corners is not a happy piggy and could be sufferin with an illness or injury.

If your guinea pig is not eating, this could be a sign of illness or stress and you should take it to the vet as soon possible for diagnosis (and treatment).  It may also indicate that there’s something wrong with its habitat – if so then make sure any changes you made are noted so you can discuss them with your vet. 

Common Health Issues for guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are generally hardy animals, but they can suffer from a number of common health issues.

Some condition are more serious than others and you should always consult your vet if in doubt about any symptoms that may indicate an illness or injury.

  • Diabetes  – this is a common illness in guinea pigs and can be fatal if not treated quickly, so always consult your vet for diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Respiratory infections like pneumonia –  Pneuomia often occurs when the animal has been exposed to cold temperatures or drafts.
  • Dental problems –  such as tooth abscesses which could lead to tooth loss or dental disease.
  • Skin conditions such as mange or fur mites which can be treated by creams from your vet.
  • Urinary tract infection –  which can lead them kidney failure if not treated promptly with antibiotics; and dental problems.

Veterinary Care Requirements for Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs don’t need vaccinations like a dog, but it’s good animal husbandry to take your piggy for a checkup once a year. 

If you have a guinea pig that is sick or injured, they will need to be taken in for veterinary care immediately.

What to Feed Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs need 80% of their diet to consiste of hay, with 10% fresh vegetables and 10% specially formulated pellets. 

Do not feed your guineas other foods! This can lead to serious health problems for them including diarrhoea or even death if they consume too much of the wrong food type at once (e g: chocolate). 

Guinea pig diet is very important so make sure you are feeding a healthy and balanced diet to your piggy friend.

Make hay available to your guinea pigs constantly

Hay is a very important part of your guinea pigs diet, so make sure you provide them with plenty. You can buy suitable hay at any pet store and we like to put ours in a hayfeeder to keep it off the ground!  It’s best to give hay in the morning and evening as they are most active during these times.

Feed your Guinea Pigs These Fresh Vegetables Daily

Guinea pigs need fresh vegetables every day, so make sure you provide them with a variety of veggies.  You can offer your guineas carrots, leafy greens and broccoli for example. 

  • Asparagus
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots and carrot tops (as a rare treat – they are high in sugar)
  • Cauliflower leaves and stalks
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Coriander
  • Courgette
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion (only small amounts – it can make them go to the toilet more often)
  • Dill
  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Radish
  • Red cabbage
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Rocket
  • Salad peppers
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Tomato
  • Watercress
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(List source: PDSA)

Guinea pigs also love apples, but they should not be given too many because apples are high in sugar content which is bad if consumed excessively and could lead to diabetes.

Not all fruit and veg is safe for your guinea pigs. Don’t feed potatoes, tomato leaves or rhubarb to your pigs.

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Guinea Pig Daily Feast

Provide Plenty of Fresh Water for Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs need to drink a lot of water, so make sure you provide them with fresh and clean drinking sources. Keep your guinea pigs water bottle clean and change the water daily.

It is best to use bottles for water purpose as guinea pigs will soil bowls; bottles need to be kept scrupulously clean so invest in a bottle brush.

Vitamin C and its Importance for Guinea Pigs

Vitamin C is important for guinea pigs because it helps with the absorption of iron.  Guinea pigs need a high vitamin C diet, so make sure you feed them plenty of fresh carrots and other veggies from the list above.

You can provide your pet with a vitamin supplement in their water or food, but make sure you do not overdo it. Too much vitamin C will cause diarrhoea and other stomach problems so be careful when giving supplements to them and consult your vet if you are concerned.

Exercise and enrichment needs for guinea pigs

Guinea pigs need exercise and enrichment to stay healthy. They are very active animals, so they will enjoy games like hide-and-seek ( or should that be squeak!), running through tunnels and other suitable toys in their habitat.

A healthy guinea pig will be very active and playful, so it is important to provide them with a variety of toys in their habitat that they can play on or explore at any time.

They need to be let out of their cage for at least two hours a day to run around and enjoy life. If you don’t have a run for them, supervise them in a safe room indoors with the doors shut and all cables and dangerous objects removed.

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Is it Expensive to Keep and Care for a Guinea Pig?

It can be expensive to keep and care for guinea pigs. The most common expense is the cost of food, which will vary depending on what you feed your pet (pellets or hay).  You’ll need fresh good quality hay every day and lots of it which can mount up in price.

A 4.54KG (10LB) sack of Orchard Hay, 2.27KG (5LB) Guinea Pig Pellets and 178L Brown Paper Bedding costs £68 and will last for a month for one guinea pig.

You’ll also need to buy fresh vegetables and fruit for your guinea pig,  so if you can, grow your own veg in pots and planters.

The other cost is the initial purchase of a cage and a run which will vary depending on what you want in terms size but can be anything from £50 – £200+.

The cost of bedding is another thing to consider as this will need replacing every day or so depending on the type you buy (we use shredded paper).  

Bedding can be bought in bulk for a cheaper price than buying it from pet stores but make sure it’s soft otherwise it may contain sharp spikes which could injure your guinea pig.

You’ll also need to buy a couple of water bottles and food bowls, which will cost around £20 for both items together. We love the Haypigs Circus food bowl as it’s bright and colourful.

The next biggest expenses are vet visits for general health and if your piggy gets sick and needs medical care; these costs could range from £50 – £200+.

Vet bills for keeping guinea pigs can be significant depending on the size and number of piggies you own. Costs for annual checkups, treatment when they get sick from something like mites to worms etc., as well as any ongoing medication can soon mount up if you’re on a budget.

Toys and treats are also a cost to consider. Toys, tunnels and treats for your guinea pig can be found in pet stores, online or at the local market but these will add up over time so it’s worth considering how much you want/need before purchasing anything extra as this is an ongoing expense. We like making our own toys for guinea pigs to play with from things like toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and paper bags. 

Guinea Pig Care FAQs

How do you know whether you’re allergic to guinea pigs?

To find out whether you are potentially allergic to a guinea pig, you can try to spend a few hours in the same room as one. If your skin starts itching or if any other symptoms occur after this time period then it is likely that guineas are not for you. Guinea pigs have fur and dander which could cause an allergic reaction.

Is a guinea pig an easy pet to take care of?

Although a guinea pig is not the easiest pet to take care of, but it is much easier than a dog or cat. Guinea pigs do require daily attention and time from their owners but they are very low maintenance in comparison.

Can you cuddle with a guinea pig?

Guinea pigs are not as affectionate and cuddly like a cat or dog. They do enjoy being petted but they will usually only stay still for about five minutes before wanting to explore again.

How much does guinea pig insurance cost?

Guinea Pig insurance costs around £15 a month for an Essential policy with Exotic Direct. This is for one Guinea Pig covered for up to £2,000 of vet fees.

What is the lifespan of a guinea pig?

On average the lifespan of a guinea pig is four to eight years in captivity. Their lifespan is affected by factors that include breeding, healthcare, diet, exercise and habitat.

What noises does a guinea pig make?

Common sounds guinea pigs make to communicate include: chutting, wheeking, rumblestrutting and chattering. Each sound has a different meaning and needs to be interpreted in context in order to understand what the guinea pig is signalling.

Do guinea pigs bite?

As a general rule, guinea pigs do not bite. Stress, pain, mites or needing the toilet may trigger a guinea pig to nip their owner.

Guinea Pigs are a Perfect Pet

Guinea pigs are often overlooked when people think about what type of pet to buy. This is unfortunate because they have many great qualities that make them the perfect pets.

They do well with minimal upkeep, and their food is a lot cheaper than a dog or cat’s diet. They can also be trained to do tricks which makes them more interactive for both you and your kids.

Lastly, they’re super cute! So if you’ve been thinking about getting a new furry friend in your life but haven’t found one yet, then you should consider adopting a guinea pig today.

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