Level of Care
Guinea pigs are not solitary animals. They must live as a pair at minimum, although larger colonies can be kept. Neutered males can live together or with females, but intact males will often fight, particularly if kept with a female.
Guinea pigs are typically easy to handle. They are social and curious and, if properly socialized, will approach the hands of their owners to be picked up from their cage. Pick up a guinea pig using two hands, with one supporting their rump and the other scooped under their front half.
Timid or nervous pigs may try to jump or run when picked up, but they rarely bite. If a guinea pig is dropped they are most likely to fall face-first. If that happens, inspect their mouth for broken teeth and seek help from your veterinarian if necessary.
Guinea pigs are prey animals and highly sensitive to sounds, lights, and smells. Quiet, peaceful areas of the house like a bedroom or home office work well for housing their enclosure. Bedrooms are not ideal choices as guinea pigs are nocturnal. Never place their enclosure in an area that receives direct sunlight, experiences large temperature changes throughout the day, or is immediately in front of an air conditioner or heating vent.
Guinea pigs make fantastic pets for both adults and children. Their larger and bulkier size compared to other rodents can make handling easier and safer for smaller children. Guinea pigs can also be very affectionate.
Other Pets Guinea Pigs Can Live With
Guinea pigs prefer to live and interact only with other guinea pigs because they are being sensitive prey animals. Other docile pets can be around if the guinea pigs tolerate it. Guinea pig enclosures are often open-topped. If choosing this setup, it is imperative to keep dogs and cats away.
Family Friendliness Level
Guinea pigs are some of the most family friendly pets you could choose. They will give an adorable “wheeking” sound when they’re excited to see you. Young children can be pet and interact with them in their enclosure, while older children can take them out and handle them. Anyone in the household of any age can enjoy living with them. Even babies will enjoy the sounds and movements of their pigs.
A typical guinea pig enclosure will have a solid floor base and wire sides and, if present, a top. Guinea pigs have sensitive airways so good ventilation is a must. While wire floors can be used, they are not recommended as this creates higher chances of various traumas and infections to the feet. A guinea pig enclosure should be approximately:
100 square inches of floor area per adult guinea pig
Wire sides for topless cages need to be at least 10 inches high
Bars spaced about one inch apart
The solid floor of your guinea pig enclosure needs to have bedding or liners.
For pigs that aren’t litterbox trained, you can choose from the following beddings:
Processed ground corn cob
Bedding materials to avoid include:
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Any particularly dusty bedding
For pigs that are litter trained (and they can be!) you can use cloth cage liners across the floor. Replaced these during regular cleaning, and use corner litter boxes with either processed ground corn cob or commercial pellets. DO NOT use cat litter for a guinea pig litter box.
Guinea pig food can be placed in either bowls hanging from the wire sides of their enclosures or a heavy ceramic bowl with low sides they can’t tip over. Hay makes up a large portion of their diet. Provide enrichment that supports their foraging behaviors by placing hay into foraging boxes or toys. You can also stuff tissue boxes (with all plastic removed), as well as toilet paper rolls.
Water can be offered to guinea pigs through either sipper bottles hung from the wire sides of their enclosure or heavy ceramic bowls with low sides, like their food bowls.
Guinea pig enclosures leave a lot of room for creativity. You can purchase cage kits and also design spaces for them that include tunnels, ramps, hide boxes, and more.
Guinea pigs are herbivores with specialized incisors that must constantly be worn down as they eat. To this end, about 80% of a guinea pig’s diet is made of grasses/hays, and food must be available at all times. Almost any grass hay is safe to offer. The only hay to avoid is alfalfa, as regular consumption can lead to health complications.
Guinea pigs also need fresh fruits and vegetables. Offer about quarter to a half cup of torn/chopped/shredded fresh fruits and veggies per guinea pig.
Commercially produced guinea pig pellets are available and can be offered in limited quantities. When offering pellets, make sure they are formulated with extra vitamin C, are based on grass/hay, and are not expired. Vitamin C level drop drastically in pellets more than 3 months beyond their production date. Feel free to offer pellets mixed in with their hay in their foraging toys/boxes rather than a bowl.
A guinea pig’s water must always be fresh and clean and readily available. Water offered in a bowl should be changed daily or whenever dirty. Sipper bottles need to be cleaned before refilling and inspected for any damage, such as a stuck ball or a leaking tip.
Guinea pigs may be offered treats sparingly. Fruit or veggie based treats that are a good source of vitamin C are recommended.
Guinea pigs don’t produce their own vitamin C and can become sick with scurvy if not provided enough in their diet. Vitamin C supplement treats can be given daily. Additionally, you can assess the vitamin C content of common fruits and vegetables.
Foods to Avoid
Avoid the following foods for your guinea pig:
High-starch foods such as peas, beans, corn, nuts, cakes, cookies, cereal, grains, etc.
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Grasses/hays should always be available to your guinea pigs. You can offer their portion of fresh fruits and veggies at any point in the day. Remove any leftover fruit and veggies after a couple hours to avoid spoilage. Pellets can be offered at the beginning of the day for them to graze on as desired.
Guinea pigs have low grooming needs. They should be checked daily for fecal matter or anything else stuck on their feet or bellies and spot-cleaned as necessary. Long-haired guinea pigs require a quick brush, but otherwise they do a good job of keeping themselves cleaned.
Guinea pigs should be allowed time to explore outside their enclosures for at least one hour every day.
Beddings or liners should be replaced at least weekly, up to daily as needed. It is important that the schedule allows for cleanings before any moistness or smells have accumulated. Some of the most common health issues in guinea pigs are respiratory illnesses and foot infections. Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily, as should litterboxes.
Clean surfaces of the enclosure with a pet friendly all-purpose cleaner or dilute vinegar. Soak any toys in dilute vinegar and replace once dried.
Guinea pigs are natural foragers. Encourage exercise of both mind and body by providing foraging boxes and toys. Guinea pigs can be trained to use a litterbox, which significantly lowers the cleaning effort required to keep them healthy. They can also learn their names and be trained to come to you when you call.
Guinea pigs should be seen once annually by a veterinarian who has experience with the species for a general wellness exam.
Signs of a healthy guinea pig include:
Shiny hair coats with no bald patches
Formed fecal droppings that are yellow brown to dark brown and never soft
Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:
Squinting eyes or discharge from the eyes
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Squeaking in pain
Unable to urinate, defecate, move, eat, or drink
Penis won’t retract
Redness or sores on the feet
Common illnesses of guinea pigs are:
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Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency)
Guinea Pig FAQs
Are guinea pigs easy to care for?
Guinea pigs are some of the easiest small pets to care for. They have relatively inexpensive enclosure needs, simple dietary needs, and are easy to handle.
Do guinea pigs need to be held every day?
Yes, it is recommended to hold your guinea pig every day. They have nervous dispositions, and the best way to maintain low stress handling is to pick them up daily.
Do guinea pigs like to be cuddled?
Yes! Guinea pigs prefer to cuddle with other guinea pigs for warmth and health benefits. With people, they typically prefer cuddling on a surface rather than being held for prolonged periods.
Featured Image: iStock.com/alkir
Maria Zayas, DVM
Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...
Kept together, they form a 'pecking order' and some animals become more dominant than others. Good combinations for guinea pigs include a neutered male and one or more females, two females or neutered brothers (if they've been reared together).Will my guinea pig be OK if the other one dies? ›
If one of your guinea pigs sadly dies, leaving a single guinea pig left alone then yes, your remaining guinea pig will be very lonely and needs a companion. If you have more than two guinea pigs and one dies, then it's not absolutely necessary to get another, but if you want to buy or adopt more then go right ahead.Can I get 1 guinea pig or do you needs to get 2? ›
Do guinea pigs need to be in pairs? Guinea pigs thrive in the company of other guinea pigs and the best combination is a pair of guinea pigs, but they don't necessarily need to be in pairs. If you have a group of three or more that live happily together, that's great!How much care does a guinea pig need? ›
Guinea pigs need time out of their cage every day. Whether this time is spent stretching their legs and exploring new environments or cuddling in your lap, daily interaction and attention are essential for a guinea pig's well-being. Guinea pigs need to be groomed regularly.