I’ve owned lots of different animals before, but guinea pigs hold a very special place in my heart. They have huge personalities and can be just as interactive as a cat or dog. Like any animal though, they require a certain level of care and dedication. I think there is still a common misconception that guinea pigs and other rodents are great pets for young children. And while any pet can make a family more whole and teach valuable lessons of responsibility and care for children, I would argue that rodents perhaps are not the animal’s we should be used to teach young kids these lessons.
Now, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I have done everything 100% perfect with all of my pets, particularly before I was well educated in their care. Often, families are very busy and don’t take the time to research a pet before bringing it into the home. It is our job to educate our clients to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their pets.
Guinea pigs are some of the most high maintenance pets I have ever owned. They are completely worth it to me, however, it is so important that potential owners understand exactly what is involved in owning a guinea pig.
I could talk all day about guinea pig care, but I’m going to break this down into two sections:
- Dietary and housing requirements
- Daily care
DIETARY & HOUSING REQUIREMENTS:
For a long time, guinea pigs have been traditionally housed outside in little wooden hutches. There are many reasons why this is not widely accepted anymore, including exposure to predators and pests, exposure to heat and cold, and lack of interaction with humans simply because they are outside.
Guinea pigs are very sensitive to heat and cold, so indoor enclosures are much more preferable. C&C cages are gaining popularity and having owned guinea pigs both outdoors in hutches as well as indoors, I can say that they are much happier inside. Hutches tend to be very small and not very easy to clean as the timber is absorbent. While guinea pigs are small, they require a lot of space (at least 70 square centimetres per pig).
The bonus of indoor housing is that you tend to create a better relationship with them as you’re always nearby. Guinea pigs should also be housed with at least one other friend. They are very social creatures, and housing alone can lead to boredom and depression.
Within their enclosure, guinea pigs should have access to hiding areas, somewhere soft and sheltered to sleep, and a space to eat.
In terms of diet, they require a daily supply of vitamin C. The easiest way to provide this is with a piece of capsicum every day. Their diet should also be low in calcium (yep, lots of veggies actually contain a lot of calcium!) to prevent bladder stones from forming – a pretty common ailment for GP’s. They should also only be given small amounts of fruit per week as the sugars can wreak havoc on their health. So simply providing fruit and veggie scraps doesn’t meet all of their dietary requirements.
Every morning and evening I clean and feed the guinea pigs. It probably takes 20-30 minutes every day to do the job properly.
Guinea pigs will go to the toilet anywhere and everywhere, so maintaining cleanliness is a big job. However, it is one that will help you avoid visits to the vet. Guinea pigs are prone to urinary tract infections as they are so low to the ground, so keeping their space clean will prevent this.
While having a nice big enclosure is great, they will get bored very easily if there is no stimulation or enrichment. Providing enrichment is another part of the daily routine – another blog on this to come.
This is really just scratching the surface but these are some of the basics I like to present to customers thinking about becoming guinea pig owners. They make such wonderful pets and if cared for properly and handled appropriately, they will be very interactive and trusting.
Guinea pigs are intelligent, entertaining and provide so much love for such a small creature. I highly recommend guinea pigs as a pet, but they are no different to any other animal in that prospective owners must do their research before deciding to make a new addition to the family!
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