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Guinea Pig

Male – Boar
Female – Sow
Sexual Maturity – Male : 60-70 days, Female :30-40 days
Oestrus – every two weeks for approximately 24 hours
Gestation – 60-70 days
Litter Size – 3-8
Young – born furred and fully functional
Life Expectancy – 4-8 years

The History of Guinea Pigs

The scientific name for guinea pig is Cavia Porcellus, meaning pig-like cavy. They belong to the rodent family. The original colour is golden agouti. They do not originate from Guinea as we would suppose but come from South America. Their native home is the mountains and grasslands of Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The Inca’s bred them for consumption and for offering as sacrifices to their Gods. There is some dispute as to when they first arrived in Europe, some reports tell of the Spaniards bringing them home with them at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Others believe that English seamen brought them to Europe late that century. By the beginning of the eighteenth century they were being kept as exotic pets by the wealthy.

The name Guinea is thought to have derived from the monitory unit the Guinea as it is believed that was the price of the first guinea pigs to reach the pet market, this was a lot of money in those days. Pig, is thought to have been used because the animals were seen to be rooting through the undergrowth for food just like the farmyard pig.
Today there are many guinea pigs kept as pets worldwide. They are said to be the most popular pet of all the rodents.

Guinea pigs as Pets

Guinea pigs (or Cavies as they are also known) make wonderful pets. They are best kept in pairs as one guinea pig gets very lonely. They are very vocal animals and need to have a companion to talk to. It is best to have two sisters or two brothers IF they are not neutered, however you can pair male and female together if they are neutered and we believe this is the perfect pairing. Talk to your Vet about neutering. DO NOT under any circumstances house a rabbit and guinea pig together. They will get along when they are babies but when the rabbit reaches sexual maturity it will almost certainly molest the guinea pig, resulting in injury and even death. Another factor to remember is that rabbits and guinea pigs need different feed mixes, some rabbit foods contain anti-coccidiostats that can do severe damage to a guinea pigs internal organs.

The gestation period for a guinea pig is approximately 67-72 days. The piglets are born fully furred and functional and within a couple of hours will be nibbling on vegetables. Guinea pig males (boars) are sexually mature at only 4 weeks of age, females (sows) at 6 weeks. If you do have a litter make sure you separate the girls from the boys at 4 weeks or the boys will mate with mother.

The life span of a guinea pig is approximately 7 years, you should bear this in mind when making your purchase. An adult guinea pig can grow to a maximum of 30cm and can weigh from 700grms to 875grms. Guinea pigs have a higher temperature than humans therefore they can feel very warm to the touch, temperatures of 103F are not uncommon. They have 4 claws on the front feet and 3 on the back but 4 on the back is also often seen.

Guinea pigs have teeth that grow constantly giving them the correct diet will help to keep them in shape. If the right diet is not provided the incisors will become
overgrown and will eventually stop them from eating, this is called malloclusion. Your Vet will be able to cut the teeth back in the short term but the teeth will need doing about every 6 weeks. If the teeth are cut regularly the teeth become brittle and will fracture leading to mouth abscesses which are very difficult to clear up. However they can be surgically removed by your Vet. Guinea pigs can manage perfectly well without them, they pick up the food with their tongue and use the back teeth to chew, but they will not be able to form a bite so vegetables will have to be chopped into small pieces. Malloclusion can also be hereditary due to bad breeding practices.

There are many different breeds of guinea pig, long haired. short haired. wire haired (Rex) or satin, and many different colours. But the majority that come into rescue centres are cross breeds. If you choose a long haired variety you must be aware that it will need grooming everyday throughout it’s life or it will become badly matted.
When making your purchase here are some things to look out for;

The animal is alert, energetic and moves freely. Avoid animals that sit huddled at the back. The eyes are dry and bright. The ears are clean and dry without any discharge or dirt. The rear is clean and dry, not soiled or wet. The top teeth fit together snugly over the bottom teeth to form a bite. If possible ask to see the parents so that you have an idea what the animal will look like when it is grown. Check all the above applies to the parents as well. If there is a problem with the parents you may well have problems with the young. Only purchase an animal that you are completely happy with.
Taking your Guinea Pigs Home

When you first get your guinea pigs home put them into their hutch and leave them alone to get used to their new home. Do not handle them for the first few days as they will be very frightened. After the first few days begin to offer them food from your hand, they will be cautious at first but they will soon come to you. When you feel that they are beginning to trust you you can then lift them out of the cage. Put one hand under the tummy and scoop the rear up with your other hand. Place them on your chest with their feet flat against you. Hold them firmly but not too tight as they are very fragile. It is advisable for children to be sat on the floor when handling their pet so if the animal is dropped it does not have so far to fall and is less likely to be injured. Always be quiet and calm when handling them as they will try to leap from your hold if they are frightened. Talk gently to reassure them they will soon respond to you by chattering back.

Housing

When you have chosen your guinea pigs you will need to consider their living quarters. They will need a clean, dry, secure hutch. The very minimum requirements for your pets is 90cmx45cmx45cm, but the bigger the better. Two storey hutches are available that have a ramp up to the second floor this provides exercise and added interest. The positioning should be carefully considered too, it should be placed out of bright sunlight and away from draughts. If the hutch is placed in draughts your pets can get a cold or eye infections, if it is in direct sunlight they can get heatstroke which can be fatal. The golden rule to remember is that guinea pigs do not like the extreme weather conditions either hot or cold. Some people bring the hutch into a shed or garage over winter out of the cold. if you bring yours into a garage be aware that if the garage is in use for a car exhaust fumes can kill them. A shed is a much better alternative. In very hot weather move your hutch into the shade.

Some people prefer to keep their pets indoors, there are plastic indoor cages that are made especially for this, with a deep plastic bottom and a wire frame that lifts off. If you are planning to keep your guinea pigs in this way always provide them with a box that they can hide in when they are frightened, a guinea pig will get very stressed if it has nowhere to hide.

Whether your guinea pigs are indoors or outdoors they will need an outdoor run which can be placed out on the grass for exercise and so that they can graze. There are many types of runs for sale you must decide which is the most convenient for your needs. Please remember a run is exactly as it says a place the guinea pigs can run so do ensure that you buy a big one. Always use a covered run to keep your pets safe from predators like the family cat or next doors dogs. Unlike rabbits guinea pigs do not dig holes in the lawn. DO NOT put the run on a lawn that has been treated with weed killer or fertiliser as this can be fatal, also do not put the run where the family dog urinates as disease can be spread in this way.

Bedding

There are several different materials that can be used. Bedding serves 2 purposes, one to soak up urine and two to provide warmth. The most commonly used bedding being a layer of newspaper on the floor of the hutch with a 3-4cm layer of wood shavings and a layer of hay on top. The idea behind the newspaper is that all the soiled bedding can be lifted out in one. Straw should not be used as it is to coarse and can damage the animals eyes. If you are to buy wood shavings from a local timber yard be certain that it has not been treated with any chemicals. The hutch should be cleaned out every 3 days and thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected once a month

Toys

Unlike rabbits guinea pigs do not play with toys. What they do like are places to hide and tunnels to run through. Cardboard boxes are ideal as they can be disposed of when they become soiled. Cut a door way on all 4 sides of the box and watch your guinea pigs play. Plastic pipes that are used for drainage are excellent for the animals to run through, if you have any houses being built near you ask the workmen for any off cuts. One way to amuse your guinea pigs is to thread a carrot or a bit of baked crust on a string and hang it from the cage, remember guinea pigs don’t climb so don’t hang it too high.

It is also necessary to provide your pets with a branch to chew to help wear down his teeth, a branch from an apple or willow tree is ideal. A mineral block can be suspended from the wire cage front to provide any minerals that are deficient in their diet.

Feeding

Your guinea pigs diet should be made up of dried (commercial) feed, fresh greens and fresh hay. They should receive daily amounts of all three. Fresh water should be available at all times. Water bottles that are attached to the wire cage front are best as water bowls are easily tipped over. Never use a water bowl if you have baby guinea pigs as they can climb in and drown. Water bottles including the spouts should be cleaned with a bottle brush to prevent the build up of algae that leaves a green film on the inside, and is harmful to your pets digestive system. Bottles and tops can be sterilised from time to time in a baby bottle sterilising fluid.

To maintain healthy guinea pigs they will need a diet high in vitamin C. If you choose a good quality dried feed like Gerty Guinea Pig by Supreme it will have vitamin C already in it. If you chose a rabbit and guinea pig feed it will say somewhere on the bag in very small writing that if fed to a guinea pig vitamin C should be added to the drinking water. This is so easily overlooked resulting in a poorly guinea pig. So do take time to chose your feed carefully and always read the package. We have always used Gerty Guinea Pig by Supreme Petfoods and can highly recommend it. Do not buy large quantities of feed at any one time unless you are sure that you can use it within 3 months. Vitamin C deteriorates the longer it is kept, always look at the use by date.

Hay is the most beneficial of all the dried foods. It is important that your guinea pigs have access to fresh hay at all times. The best way of providing this is a small hay rack attached to the front of the cage to keep it from being soiled. Hay helps to wear down the teeth and provides necessary fibre to the diet. Other dried foods that can be safely fed, in moderation as treats are broken dog biscuits, peanuts, sunflower seeds, breakfast cereals, crackers and bread that has been baked hard in the oven. All feeds should be fed in a heavy based bowl that will not tip over. Feeding bowls need to be washed regularly as guinea pigs often sit in their bowl and foul it.

‘Readi Grass’ by Spillers speciality Feeds Ltd. or ‘Just Grass’ by Burgess Animal Feeds are dried natural grass that can be fed to your guinea pig to add variety and fibre to the diet. Guinea pigs love it.

There are many fresh foods that can be fed but always make sure the greens are fresh and clean, not withered, mouldy or have been sprayed with chemicals. I suggest that you invest in, or borrow from the library a good wild plant book. It is very rewarding to feed wild plants as the guinea pigs love them. There are lots of fresh foods that can be fed from the kitchen too, again make sure they are fresh and clean. Do not feed fruit and vegetables that you would consider are not fit for human consumption. Here are a few ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ plants, but If In Doubt Leave It Out.

Safe Plants

Broccoli, beetroot (not the leaves), carrots and the tops, parsnips, swedes, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower and the leaves, banana and the skins, celery and the tops, chinese leaves, cucumber, parsley, peas and pods, spinach, watercress, apples, pears, melons, agrimony, avens, chickweed, clover, coltsfoot, comfrey, dandelion, goatsbeard, groundsel, goosegrass, hawkweed, mallow, meadowsweet, nipplewort, plantains, shepherds purse, sow thistles, trefoils, vetches, yarrow, and lettuce

Unsafe Plants

Any plant that is grown from a bulb, all evergreen trees and shrubs, anenome, bracken, bryony, buttercup, celandine, charlock, convulvus, deadly nightshade, dogs/herb mercury, foxglove, hellebore, hemlock, henbane, horsestail, ivy, laburnum, lily of the valley, mayweed, milkweed, monkshood, meadow saffron, wild and bearded parsley, poppy, potato, privet, ragwort, rhodedendron, rhubarb, scarlet pimpernel, snowberry, spurges, toadflax, travellors joy, yew and most docks. Certain docks can be fed but it is so difficult to tell them apart it is best not to feed them at all. Remember If In Doubt Leave It Out.

General Healthcare

Set aside time each week to spend some quality time with your guinea pigs to give them a good check over. Check all the points listed earlier in this fact sheet. If you are unhappy or worried about anything take them along to the Vets for a thorough check over. Remember the earlier the diagnosis the better the chances of a full recovery. A happy healthy guinea pig is a joy to have.

Suggested Reading

THE PROPER CARE OF GUINEA PIGS by Peter Gurney
T.F.H. Publications, Inc. ISBN 0- 86622-195-6

PIGGY POTIONS by Peter Gurney (natural remedies for your guinea pigs)
Kingdom Books ISBN 1-85279-004-0

WHAT IS MY GUINEA PIG by Peter Gurney
T.F.H. Publications ISBN 1852790342

RABBIT NUTRITION by Virginia Richardson M.R.C.V.S. (applies to guinea pigs as well)
Coney Publications ISBN 1-898015-03-1

GREEN FOODS FOR RABBITS AND CAVIES by F. R. Bell

DISEASES OF DOMESTIC GUINEA PIGS by V. C. G. Richardson
Blackwell Science ISBN 0-632-03301-0

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