Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, are stocky short legged mammals that belong to the family of rodents ‘caviidae’. They are small furry animals with tiny ears and no tail. First native to South America, history of guinea pigs as pets dates back as early as 1,400 when Inca Indians kept them as pets. After the Spaniards introduced them to Europe at around 1,555 they got popular as lap pets. Over time they were distributed throughout the world and thus different breeds evolved. Teddy, Silkies, Peruvian, Abbyssinian are some of the popular guinea pig breeds that are kept as pets today.
Guinea pigs make ideal pets for any responsible pet owners. They are great pets for children as they are very sociable and gentle animals who very rarely bite. They are low cost, low maintenance pets and are very easy to handle. They are friendly and have great personality. They grunt and gurgle when happy and also show affection with head butts and nudges. With the life span of 6-8 years, guinea pigs would be great companions for a long time.
Choosing the right guinea pigs as pets is very important. Local pet stores and breeders is a good place to find healthy guinea pigs. Before you get one, look at the way they are housed and raised. Lots of guinea pigs crammed in a single cage, dirty and smelly cages are some of the noticeable signs of neglect. Guinea pigs living under those conditions may carry various bacteria and parasites.
Female guinea pigs make better pets than males. Females (sows) are smaller, less active and produce fewer odors than males (boars). Sows can get pregnant at an early age of 2 months so if you want to get a male and a female but do not want to breed them, consider neutering the male. Neutering the males is considerably cheaper than spaying the females.
Housing guinea pigs as pets:
A guinea pig requires space, minimum of 5 square feet each. However, you know bigger is always better when we talk about living space for pets. It is not good to have wire bottoms in guinea pigs houses or cages as their feet might get sore or get stuck hurting the animal.
Cages that have removable bottom will work out great as they are easier to clean. Timothy hay, straw, aspen shavings as well as other commercial alternatives can be used as bedding while keeping guinea pigs as pets. Make sure to change the bedding at least twice a week to eliminate odor and bacterial infections. You may have to clean more often depending on how many pigs you got.
They are vegetarians and their staple diet is hay. Timothy hay is the most nutritious one. Various fruits, vegetables and greens like romaine lettuce, kale, collard, spinach etc are also essential for them to be healthy. Commercial food like pellets for guinea pigs also works real good as they have proper balance of vitamins and minerals. They should be given fresh water daily. Water bottle with a sipper spout, which attaches to the side of the cage, works best for them. For more on their feeding needs, check out the recent article on Pet Guinea Pigs Care: Feeding.
If not provided with enough Vitamin C guinea pigs will get scurvy. That is why you need to buy some easily digestible Vitamin C tablets from your local pet store. If you feed your pet pigs pellets rich in Vitamin C as well as greens vegetables and fruits, they will require fewer amounts of Vitamin C tablets. But it is always best to be safe than sorry. And you don’t have to worry about overdosing them in Vitamin C as the excess is easily excreted out.
Guinea pigs easily suffer from diseases related to immune system. That is why sufficient daily nutrition along with Vitamin C is essential to counter these diseases. Kennel cough and pneumonia is also a common problem among them. Coughing and wheezing excessively is a sign of respiratory disease whereas nasal discharge and diarrhea are signs of viruses.
Parasitic infections are also very common among guinea pigs. Scratching and hair loss are the signs of parasitic infection. Lice are one of the major parasites in guinea pigs whereas fleas and ticks are very rare unless they come around an external source like cats, dogs or cattle. Pet stores do sell shampoos to prevent these parasitic infections.
Guinea pigs teeth continuously grow and grow. In order to maintain the length, they need to constantly nibble and chew. In the wild they are always nibbling and chewing but as pets, they might not have things to chew on all the time. This can lead to them chewing on anything they can find around them even the non edible stuffs. You don’t want this to happen as they could destroy your furniture, shoes and so on. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is by keeping a bone or a block of hardwood in its housing area.
Their nails should be regularly clipped as they grow pretty quick as well. Use special clippers you can buy at a pet shop for this purpose or you can take it to the vet if you can afford it. You might also want to groom your guineas at least once a week to get rid of dirt and prevent matting. Long haired pigs like the Abyssinian, Peruvian, Silkie need to be brushed more often. Stiff, strong brushes work best to easily get rid of dirt and debris out of the hair.
All in all, they are great as pets and they do not really require excessive care. However, they do thrive on a daily routine and a trip to a vet once in a while may be worthwhile to keep guinea pigs healthy.
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