The Do’s and Don’ts of Owning a Guinea Pig

I went over the basic guinea pig essentials but there are some things you should avoid that aren’t obvious. From toys to bedding, there are a lot of different things to consider before adopting your little piggy. Below you will find the different categories of do’s and don’ts to keep your guinea pigs happy and healthy.

Bedding Do’s

Do research into what types of bedding are right for your lifestyle, safe for your guinea pigs, and within your budget to maintain. Only you know what is best for you and your future guinea pigs. Some options would be paper, fleece, or wood shavings. Each type of bedding has their purpose, which I detailed previously. If you’re on a very tight budget, using old t-shirts or towels is also an alternative. Like fleece, going on this budget route would also require daily cleaning. It’s also becoming more popular to use “noodle bath mats” or chenille bath mats. You can find these at TJ Maxx for as cheap as $7 a piece. You treat it similar to fleece but, because they’re smaller than fleece pads, you can easily just shake the poop off of them and put them back and wash them once a week.

Bedding Don’ts

My girl, Linda, ripping into an orange slice.

While there are a lot of safe bedding options, there are also unsafe bedding options. For example, cedar needs to be avoided at all cost. Cedar has a natural smell that can damage your guinea pig’s respiratory system and/or could cause an allergic reaction. The oils in cedar has also been known to lead to liver damage as well. Straw is absolutely not safe for guinea pigs. It does nothing for their urine, both in absorbency and smell, and can cause splinters.

Some people are also known to use corncob, which can mold and guinea pigs typically consume it which causes intestinal blockages. Some also use cat litter, which has chemicals in it that are dangerous for them. There’s also the chance that they may try to eat the cat litter and that can cause many issues. Plus, it’s just uncomfortable for them.

If you chose to go with paper, avoid paper bedding with added smells. I’ve seen a few at pet stores that have an added lavender scent for “calming” effects. These types of beddings can cause serious upper respiratory infections and it is not worth the risk. This goes for hamsters as well.

Food Do’s

Pellets, hay, and veggies will be your guinea pig’s best friend. Specifically, their diet should consist of at least 80% hay, 15% pellets, and 5% veggies. Fruits are sugary so be sure not to feed them too much. Guinea pigs, like humans, cannot produce their own vitamin c so giving them food with vitamin c is best. My personal recommendation for food would be Oxbow brand pellets and hay as they’re full of what guinea pigs need in their diets.

Food Don’ts

My guinea pig, Mocha, watching TV with me.

Guinea pigs are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. They do not have the ability to digest meat or dairy (like cheese and yogurt). They also cannot eat certain types of veggies. Iceberg lettuce gives them diarrhea. Cabbage, beans, and cauliflower gives them gas and they do not have a way to expel extra gas. Avocado and nuts are high in fat and most guinea pigs struggle with weight. Onions, leeks, chives, and shallots leads to blood disorders. Garlic is poisonous for guinea pigs. Rhubarb and plants high in oxalic acids cause kidney stones.

Like dogs, guinea pigs can also not have chocolate of any kind as well as candy. Tomato leaves and tomato stalks are also extremely toxic, despite tomatoes being fine for them. Most seeds are a choking hazard and are high in fats. Some seeds, such as apple seeds, even contain arsenic that can be fatal for guinea pigs. The other thing to keep in mind is their vitamin c.

Most pet stores sell vitamin c drops to put in their water to drink. Do not use this. You cannot regulate how much vitamin c your guinea pigs are getting and vitamin c breaks down in water, leaving behind zero nutrition and makes the water taste bad. Vitamin c drops can actually cause guinea pigs to not drink at all and become dehydrated. Look into vitamin c supplements or give them fruits/veggies that have vitamin c in them.

Toy Do’s

Guinea pigs need to constantly grind their teeth down, so they need things to chew on constantly. Wood and grass toys are best because they are safe and natural toys. Some toys just sit on the floor of the cage while others can hang from the sides or top of the cage. Toys will be trial and error because each guinea pig has their preference. Guinea pigs also need places to hide so igloos, huts, hammocks, and more will work well for them.

Toy Don’ts

Guinea pigs need to chew constantly, so keep that in mind before you put something in their cage that you shouldn’t. Plastic toys will be chewed on and they will swallow the plastic. They are indigestible and will harm your guinea pigs greatly. Dyes, paints, and varnishes that are not human food-grade are also something to look out for, as these contain a lot of chemicals. Anything with glues should be avoided such as the glues on toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls. With Covid-19, it’s been discovered that many boxes from Amazon have been sprayed with disinfectants so during the pandemic, these are also unsafe to give your pigs.

New Guinea Pig Do’s

Linda after a bath.

When you get your first guinea pig, please remember that they are prey animals. Your guinea pig will be scared and overwhelmed from new humans and new surroundings. What you should do when you get a guinea pig is put it in its cage (which you have hopefully set up before adopting) and let it adjust. It could take a few hours or even days but don’t rush them. The personality of guinea pigs varies greatly based on their breed. Cuy’s like my Mocha may take longer than others since they’re naturally shy. What you should do is get them comfortable with your hands. To do this, you should place your hands in the cage often to either clean or give food. Picking them up often at the beginning of your relationship with them can be prolong their ability to become comfortable. Ideally, you should take your new guinea pig to a vet as soon as possible for a checkup, especially if you’ve gotten your guinea pig from a pet store or you have another guinea pig at home. Call around and ask vets near you for prices and check reviews.

New Guinea Pig Don’ts

Again, don’t force your guinea pig out when they aren’t ready yet. Don’t overwhelm your guinea pig with too much rearranging or holding or touching. You’ll have many years to bond to your guinea pig, let them have a while to get used to their new space. Don’t place them somewhere that’s hotter than 80 degrees Fahrenheit but also don’t point a a fan at them or place them directly under an air vent. Don’t let your guinea pig share a space with other animals such as rabbits or ferrets. Keep guinea pigs with other guinea pigs. When you do get to a point where your guinea pig is ready to be held, you need to support their feet and abdomens. They will wiggle if they don’t feel stable and this can lead to you accidentally dropping them.

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