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How to care for your pet guinea pig

As small mammal veterinarians we provide primary and emergency care for your pet guinea pig including:

  • Annual exams with nutrition and husbandry consultation
  • Primary care appointments
  • Nail trims
  • Routine and emergency dental exams and filings

To make an appointment, please call our Main Hospital Phone: 352-392-2235. We are available for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, please call: 352-392-2235.

Below are our general recommendations for basic care of your pet guinea pig.

Diet

Guinea pigs are strict herbivores. Quality commercial guinea pig pellets should be fed daily. Most guinea pigs will not overeat (usually eat about 1/8 cup per day) but the amount of pellets may need to be restricted if a guinea pig becomes obese. Choose a good quality pellet designed for guinea pigs. Commercial pellets should have 20% crude protein and 16% fiber. This can be identified on the side of the bag or box. Avoid products with added nuts, corn, fruit, seeds, or crunchy/colored bits.

Hay is a diet staple, and a fresh supply should be available at all times. Grass hays such as timothy or orchard grass are best for adult guinea pigs. Alfalfa is richer and higher in calcium and is a good supplement for young growing guinea pigs, as well as pregnant or nursing guinea pigs.  It is not, however, recommended for adult guinea pigs since it can predispose them to bladder stones.

A variety of fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens) and some fruits should be offered daily. They should be limited to no more than 20% of the diet by weight. Leafy greens should make up the bulk of the vegetable supplementation, and fruits and other vegetables can be offered in small quantities as a treat. Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value. Good choices include: arugula, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, green and red bell peppers. Carrots, apple, apricots, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes can also be fed in small quantities as treats.

Guinea pigs have sensitive intestinal tracts. A sudden alteration in diet (including food brand) may result in serious GI upset and loss of appetite. Simple sugars and starches are particularly dangerous to feed.

Vitamin C is an essential part of a guinea pig’s diet as they are unable to manufacture their own. Without enough vitamin C, guinea pigs can become severely ill. The amount of vitamin C required varies around 10-30 mg/day. Offer your guinea pig vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C. Supplements in tablet or liquid form can be purchased from any local pet store. Good quality pelleted diets will contain vitamin C. The vitamin C will, however, deteriorate over time. It is important to read the expiration date on the label; usually this is from the day of milling. Most pelleted diets must be used within 90 days of milling. Storing the diet in the freezer will reduce the rate of breakdown, but it is important the pellets do not become moist. Vitamin C breaks down very rapidly in water, especially if exposed to sunlight.

Housing

Guinea pigs cages should be at least 18 inches high, 24 inches wide and three to six feet long with a solid floor (wire floors are irritating and can lead to foot or limb problems). Be sure to place the cage in an area free from drafts, chills, direct sunlight, extreme heat and sudden temperature changes. Be sure that the walls are high enough to prevent escape, and that no predators (mainly other household pets) can reach into it.

You will also need to provide at least two inches of bedding. Bedding should be nontoxic, nonabrasive and inedible, as well as dust free and absorbent. Also, make sure no sharp objects are mixed in it. Do not use cat litter, corn cob, or clay, cedar, and/or pine substrates. The bedding should be easy to form into nests and tunnels. Soiled bedding should be changed every other day. Once a week, the cage should be thoroughly cleaned with a solution of half water half vinegar. Be sure the cage is rinsed well and completely dry before adding fresh bedding again.

Guinea pigs appreciate hiding boxes for sleep or to retreat to if startled.

Enrichment

Aside from daily handling, guinea pigs benefit from a place to run, escape tunnels (wide PVC pipes) ladders or plywood boxes (to climb on). Indoor playpens are also a great way of offering your pet a place to roam outside of his/her cage. It is also very important to make sure pet guinea pigs are under direct supervision when not in their enclosure, because they can chew on dangerous items (such as electric cords, toxic house plants and other foreign materials.)

Brushing

Regular brushing will help keep your guinea pigs coat in good condition. Small brushes or metal combs can be purchased at any pet store. Brushing provides a good opportunity to check for problems such as lice or sores on the skin. The amount of time you spend brushing your pet will depend on hair length or shedding.

Bathing

Unless your guinea pig has become soiled or has a skin condition, bathing is often unnecessary and an added stress to your pet.

Nail/teeth trimming

All guinea pigs will require regular nail trimmings, preferably at least monthly. Guinea pigs also have “open rooted” teeth. This means their teeth grow constantly. Provide your guinea pig with toys and items to chew to avoid overgrown teeth. Routine visits to your veterinarian can help identify overgrowth and resolution through trimming.

Health

Most guinea pig health problems are a result of nutrition, digestive, dental issues, or obesity. Regular veterinarian visits are an important part of keeping your pet happy and healthy.