Grahams Road Veterinary Clinic 01324 623163

Guinea Pigs

Looking after you guinea pig

Guinea Pigs

Looking after you guinea pig

Quick Guinea Pig Facts

  • Guinea pigs must have vitamin C added to their diet.
  • Their average life span as a pet is 5 to 7 years.
  • Guinea pigs (also known as cavies) are intelligent, friendly animals that make excellent pets.
  • The males (boars) are usually larger than the females (sows).
  • The best environmental temperature range is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (humidity 40 to 70 percent). Breeding age and ability to conceive is 3 to 4 months for the male, and 3 to 7 months for females. If never bred before, NEVER breed after 7 months of age.

Natural History

The scientific name for guinea pig is "Cavia porcellus" and this explains their other common name of "cavies". Guinea pigs come from the Andes region of Central and South America.

The Andean Indians of Peru domesticated guinea pigs and used them both for food and as sacrificial offerings to the Incan gods. Guinea pigs arrived in Europe in the 18th Century and through selective breeding an array of hair colours and hair types have developed. The most common breeds are:

  • English - both short and straight haired.
  • Peruvian - long straight hair parted down the back.
  • Abyssinian - coarse hair with rosettes or whorls.

Choosing a Guinea Pig

The best way to buy a guinea pig is from a reputable breeder or a good pet shop. The guinea pig should be at least 6 weeks old. Choose one that is active, friendly and looks healthy.

Guinea pigs are very sociable and they need company of their own kind. It's best to keep a pair or small group of the same sex. Neutered males and females may get along and often a harem system works well with one male kept with several females. Ideally guinea pigs should not be kept with rabbits because they require different nutrition and may get bullied.

Guinea pigs do not groom each other but tend to interact by standing close together and making noises. These noises are quite recognisable and are an important part of guinea pig communication (see below).

Keeping your Guinea Pig Healthy

Seven Things To Do:

  1. Be sure your guinea pig always has fresh water.
  2. Make sure your guinea pig is getting enough Vitamin C - feed Exel guinea pig pellets and fresh fruit/veg.
  3. Keep cages clean, dry and well ventilated.
  4. Keep the temperature stable and avoid direct sunlight and radiators.
  5. Give your guinea pig plenty of exercise and keep it stimulated.
  6. Keep him stress free and with somewhere that he can be quiet and hide.
  7. Take your pet to the vet at the first indication that something is wrong and ideally every year for a check up for teeth, claws, skin and body weight.

Guinea Pig Homes

Unless your home is quiet guinea pigs are best kept outside because they have very sensitive hearing. They need a large wooden or wire hutch that is weatherproof and predator-proof, with an open day area and enclosed sleeping area. Position the hutch in a sheltered place away from winds and direct sunlight - guinea pigs are susceptible to chills and heat stroke. Use wheat straw, dust free shavings or shredded paper and clean out the hutch regularly. Guinea pigs are not very clean and will produce an amazing amount of faeces for such little animals.

Good ventilation is vital so solid sided cages are less favourable. If this type of cage is used, the bedding should be completely changed twice a week to prevent high ammonia levels from collecting in the cage. The ammonia levels can lead to 'stress,' and irritated nostrils, eyes and lungs. If left unattended, these symptoms can become severe and even life-threatening.

The flooring of the cage may be either solid or wire. Foot and leg injuries (including broken bones and pododermatitis) are more likely with wire flooring. If a solid floor is used, an abundant amount of bedding that is clean, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace should be provided. The bedding should be completely removed and replaced frequently. Good examples include recycled paper materials, pellets and shredded paper. Non-scented wood shavings are also acceptable. Avoid cedar chips and other wood shavings that have oils.

Hide Box and Cage Furniture

Cavies seek 'visual security' and need places to hide and feel secure. An upside down cardboard or wooden box with a cut-out door work well. If the boxes get soiled or chewed on, they are easily replaced.

Although they do not climb well, they still like to walk up ramps and climb onto low shelves. They also enjoy rooting and burrowing in hay or straw.


Vitamins are Vital!

Guinea pigs require a constant source of vitamin C. Like us they cannot manufacture this themselves and so must have it provided in the diet. Without enough vitamin C guinea pigs will show signs of illness within a couple of weeks. Young guinea pigs lacking in the vitamin will grow slowly and move reluctantly because of pain in their joints. In adults, a deficiency will increase the likelihood of skin or respiratory disease, it will also slow the healing of skin wounds.

The easiest way to ensure that your guinea pigs have enough vitamin C is to feed a pelleted food such as Exel - this is available from the practice and good pet stores. Most guinea pigs mixes do not contact enough fibre or vitamin C. Grass and green vegetables such as kale or cabbage should also be made available each day if possible as these contain vitamin C. Sometimes a guinea pig will require extra vitamin C and this can be given on a piece of apple or in the water. A guinea pig requires about 50mg of vitamin C per day.

Fibre is important!

Guinea pigs must never be without a constant source of high quality hay which should be non dusty. This hay is vital for a healthy digestive system and without it they may actually "barber" each other, chewing their companions' fur as a source of fibre. It is best to use hay rather than straw for their bedding as they will burrow and sharp sticks of straw are more likely to cause damage to the eye.

The common problems that guinea pigs suffer from are itchy skin, diarrhoea, eye infections and teeth problems. We would recommend a regular health check at the practice to keep an eye on your guinea pig's health.

Cavy Chat

  • Cooing - a soft sound to reassure other guinea pigs that everything is ok or to show enjoyment when being stroked.
  • Squeak - a high pitched noise can be a sign of fright, pain or excitement such as as feeding times.
  • Chattering - Stay Away! This is a warning to other guinea pigs to keep their distance.
  • Gurgling - a sign of contentment and a happy guinea pig!

Exercise And Making Friends With Your Guinea Pig

Most Guinea Pigs are friendly little animals which rarely scratch or bite. They can become very tame as long as they are handled correctly. To pick one up, slide your hand across its shoulders with your thumb tucked behind its shoulder and fingers rapped around it's chest. Support the hindquarters with your other hand.

Having fun with your guinea pig means encouraging its favourite pastimes - eating, exploration, and exercise. If you watch your guinea pig's natural behaviour and preferences, you can come up with new toys and activities that will enrich his life and enhance your experience as a pet owner.

Offering a little apple or orange with the peel still on it will be greatly appreciated by your guinea pig - just be careful to avoid those sharp incisor teeth and wash your hands before you eat the rest!

Adding new play objects and rearranging the cage can be fun for both of you. Think of the basic guinea pig enclosure, equipped with soft bedding, water bottle and food dishes, as only a starting point. Keeping in mind that your guinea pig needs ample floor space to run around, you can add cage extras like rocks, bricks, clay flowerpots and fruit tree branches to his cage. Four-inch diameter PVC pipes are also a big hit. A guinea pig's eyes are situated on the sides of his head instead of resting close together in front like human eyes. This means that guinea pigs may be bad at judging distances or heights. It is best not to allow your guinea pig to climb more than 10 inches off the ground as it may have problems getting down safely. A fall can mean broken bones or internal injuries that could prove fatal for your pet. Likewise always make sure you are holding your guinea pig securely when carrying it.

Enjoy watching your guinea pig explore. He's wearing down his toenails and exercising while he investigates the new setup. Some guinea pigs like bird toys with mirrors or balls with bells inside of them. Just make sure that all objects you put in the cage can withstand a little chewing.

Rodent wheels are not suited to guinea pigs.

A large outdoor run made of netting on a timber frame will allow then to graze in safety. If you let them indoors watch out for dangerous things that they could chew such as electric cables. Guinea pigs will also chew furniture if allowed. Make sure that they are safe from and cats or dogs that may try to hurt them.


The most important aspect of guinea pig breeding is that the females MUST be bred between 4 and 7 months of age. If breeding occurs after 7 months then serious and often fatal (to both female and young) problems associated with delivery occur. The pelvis of the female fuses at an early age, which decreases the size of the birth canal. The young are born very large and will not be able to pass through the canal of an older guinea pig and delivery of the young will be impossible without a caesarean section. If they are bred early, the sow's pelvis is able to expand under the influence of certain hormones and she will rarely have complications with delivery.

The young are well developed at birth. They are born with their eyes open, fully furred and they should be standing within an hour of delivery. The pups are also able to eat solid food and drink from a bowl within hours to just three days after birth, but it is recommended to allow them to suckle for three weeks.

Male guinea pigs (boars) will show sexual behaviour as early as 3 to 4 weeks, but are unable to produce viable sperm until 11 to 17 weeks of age. Males should be at least 4 months old before breeding.

Please contact us for further guidance.

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