Basic Guinea Pig Care

There are some people that purchase a pet store guinea pig, get the small cages they have at the store, never get them a buddy, and pretty much ignore them after the first week or two. If you’re serious about getting a guinea pig of your own, there are a few key things to remember before purchasing one and some things to plan prior to starting your piggie search.

Cage

Cage size chart.

It’s no surprise that you need to get a cage and set it up before welcoming a new guinea pig into your family. Stores like Petco and PetSmart sell cages such as the WARE Small Animal Habitat which claims to be “perfect” for animals such as guinea pigs. This could not be farther from the truth. There are minimum cage requirements, which you can see from the chart. Cages that are too small can cause a lot of issues later on, mainly with their feet and weight. My previous post talks about how to go about building your own cage but if you just want a prebuilt one, two great cages are the Midwest Habitat and the AmazonBasics Cage.

Another thing to consider is where your cage is going. I made the mistake of putting my cage on the floor. The reason that this is a mistake is because, like I mentioned in other posts, guinea pigs are prey animals. Every time I get up from my desk, they run scared into corners. The best thing for guinea pigs is to be higher up so you don’t look as big and terrifying to them. Keep this in mind as you’re shopping for a cage and a surface to put the cage on that is sturdy enough for them to run around in.

Bedding

My Midwest guinea pig habitat.

There are lots of different types of bedding out on the market. Some just depend on your preference and some are just plain terrible. There’s paper bedding, which is the personal bane of my existence but many people swear by it. When I first got my Mocha, I used paper bedding while I waited for my actual bedding to come in the mail. Paper bedding is very soft and very absorbent but no matter how much the packaging promises that it’s dust free, it isn’t. This caused Mocha to sneeze very often and even had some discharge on her nose. Once I got rid of the paper bedding, everything cleared up.

There are multiple types of wood shaving options. Aspen is the most recommended wood bedding but it is also the most expensive. It’s extremely absorbent and does well at controlling the odor, but it can be as dusty as paper. There’s also pine, which is cheaper and very absorbent. The downside to pine is that is has natural oils which can cause respiratory problems. If you want to go with pine, it has to be kiln dried to avoid any illnesses. There’s also the possibility of mixing hay with another type of bedding, as guinea pigs eat hay.

Then there’s fleece. I, personally, swear by fleece. Guinea pigs like to burrow in it, keeps their feet dry, and is comfy for them. The downside is that you have to clean off the poop on the top of the fleece daily and you have to wash it fairly often. You can either choose to buy premade fleece or you can make your own fleece bedding. Of course, there are also a few types of bedding that actually need to be avoided but that’s okay considering that there are many options out there.

As I’ve progressed from 2 guinea pigs to 6, I’ve ended up using a mixture of beddings. I use 75% fleece and 25% aspen. The cages are separated by kitchen and lounging. The kitchen is the most messy place for pigs. They eat, drink, poop, and pee there. Before I switched to 75% and 25%, I had to change the fleece every 3 days from how soiled their eating sections had gotten. Now, I just simply change the small area of aspen every 3 days and it saves my fleece. Plus, it’s cut down on smell a ton.

Food

List of bad food for pigs.

Guinea pigs are herbivores, meaning they eat plants, so it’s no surprise that their diets consist mostly of hay. However, there are specifics to how much guinea pigs should get of what. For starters, you’ll need guinea pig pellets. My personal favorite are the ones from Oxbow. It’s high quality food that essentially gives your guinea pig everything it needs. Guinea pigs only need 1/8 cup of pellets per day. Pellets have 18 to 20 percent of crude protein, which guinea pigs need but only in moderation.

Guinea pigs also require an unlimited supply of timothy hay. Guinea pigs, like humans, cannot create their own vitamin c so they need a source of vitamin c. Do not put the vitamin c drops in their water. It leaves a bad taste in the water which can cause dehydration and you can’t control how much vitamin c they’re actually getting. Guinea pigs also need an unlimited supply of clean water and need vegetables regularly. All in all, their diets should be 80% hay, 15% pellets, and 5% vegetables. Remember that not all vegetables are safe for them!

The provided chart shows what is bad for guinea pigs and why, so avoid feeding your pigs these items. There’s also lettuce, which has no nutritional value and should hardly, if ever, be offered. Sugary fruits should be fed at maximum once a week and acidic fruits should be fed just as sparingly. As for vitamin c, you have three common options. The first is vitamin c tablets from Oxbow. I have used these for a long time and my pigs love them. They get 1 each in the mornings so that their body can absorb and digest them throughout the day. The second option is vitamin c Childlife. When I can’t afford the Oxbow tablets, I use this. I have two bottles on standby when needed and use a small syringe to offer it to my pigs. I usually have no issues and they love it. The third option is offering them bell peppers. Red bell peppers are the highest in vitamin c while green have the lowest amount.

List of Materials Needed

Before getting your guinea pig, it’s a good idea to make a list of what you’ll need and the cost of everything so you can plan. I’ve gone ahead and shared my own list when I was in the planning process. I also included in my personal list how much money I wanted to set aside for emergency vet visits in order to be prepared if something happened, so that may also be something to keep in mind in your own list.

  • Cage (at least 7.5 square feet for one guinea pig)
  • Bedding (if you go with fleece, add distilled white vinegar and small dustpan/ hand vacuum to your list)
  • Water bottle (I’ve heard Choco Nose bottles leak the least)
  • Pellet bowl
  • Place for guinea pig to hide (Igloo, hut, cardboard box , etc)
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo (guinea pigs should only be bathed every 3 months maximum. Guinea pigs don’t necessarily need baths but rather bum baths for their grease gland, located on their tail bones)
  • Toy(s)
  • Pellets
  • Hay (Do not purchase a hay holder/ rack. Guinea pigs have a natural instinct to bury themselves in hay, play in it, etc. Hay holders prevent this and guinea pigs have been known to get stuck trying to get into them and dying. Plus, hay holders require guinea pigs to tilt their heads upwards and this can cause hay poke, which requires a vet visit)
  • Source of vitamin c
  • Emergency money to set aside (trust me, vet visits will happen)

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