by Elizabeth Pilla
Let’s discuss Guinea Pigs as pets and their proper care. First and foremost I would like to stress that Guinea Pigs are most definitely NOT “starter” pets. Any pet, no matter how small or short lived is a commitment, a lifelong commitment to that animal to give it the best possible life you can. That means proper nutrition, housing, care and time. They are not something to give your child for “practice”.
If you can not dedicate at least 2 hours a day to caring for and spending time with your guinea pigs for the next 5-7 years then DO NOT get one. Guinea pigs are extremely social animals and need social interaction on a daily basis. They will learn their names, will recognize you and your voice, will become accustomed to your routine and you can even teach them tricks. I have personally taught one of my pigs to do 4 tricks. If you’re so inclined, do a quick search on youtube and you will find people who have taught their piggies many more tricks than that.
Guinea Pigs are reasonably intelligent and talkative, they will quickly learn the sound of an opening refrigerator and will call out with a loud “Wheek” in anticipation of a snack. My two girls also know the sound of the treat jar being opened and will rush to the side of the cage to eagerly gobble up their “pig-snack” and, yes, they also know that word.
Guinea pigs need a large area to call home and there are NO pet store cages that are of an acceptable size. A single pig needs at least a 2’x3’ cage, that’s 6 square feet. Keeping in mind that they are herd animals and do best in pairs or groups for optimum mental and emotional health, and the cage size goes up. A minimum of 2 square feet of space should be added for each additional pig beyond the first. At this rate you can see how their cage can begin to take up quite the large area. They need room to wander, stretch out their little legs and things to explore like tunnels as well as places to hide. They are not climbers so their cages should be low, flat and limited to one or 2 levels. Tall, multi-level cages to save floor space are not suitable and they can actually get hurt when falling from a height. There are several types of cages on the market that are an acceptable size.
A Midwest cage can run around $40 on Amazon. I personally have 2 Midwest cages connected side by side to make a 4’x4’ cage for my 2 females. I also made a balcony which adds another 2 sqf. and provides a hideout beneath. My girls also have access to a piggie playpen which they get to run around in and explore several times a week. The other cage option is known as a C&C cage, they are customizable and can get expensive depending on the options you chose but a basic model runs around $90. It doesn’t take much know-how to build a cage of your own out of a few boards or even closet shelving cut to size.
Keep in mind that a cage does not need a top or cover because pigs are generally not climbers or jumpers although if you have other pets a top maybe to desired to keep other pets out rather than containing those within. If building your own cage, minimum cage height of at least 14” is generally adequate to contain your pigs although I know of one particular pig (I’m talking about you Angus!) who’s a bit of a jumper and precautions needed to be taken. When using shelving as opposed to a solid siding be sure that the openings between grids is no more than 1.5” but precautions should be taken with babies and young pigs until fully grown. Aquariums are simply not a suitable habitat for a guinea pig!!
Guinea Pigs are prey animals, their only reason for existence other than to be loved on by humans, is to be food for larger animals. This means that they are simply not “built to last”, they’re fragile creatures and need to be handled with care. Their spines are exceptionally delicate, and should be picked up in a way that supports their spine. Pigs should NEVER be put in one of those exercise balls as it bends the spine at an awkward angle. Because they’re prey animals, being picked up is not high on their list of favorite things to do. Some get over this relatively early on as they realize you’re not a bird of prey swooping down to gobble them up!! Others, like my little flibbertigibbet Bandit, never get over the act of being picked up.
I still have to corner her and she fusses and squeals like she’s being murdered for about 5 second, then she’s in my arms and it’s like, “Oh, it’s just the hooman-slave come to give me snuggles”. Guinea pigs can see almost 360 degrees around them which allows them to keep an eye out for predators, however they have very poor depth perception and should never be left unattended on a bed, chair or anything which they could take a tumble from as they have no way of telling just how high up they are, it could be 3 inches or 3 feet. They love nothing better than to sit on your lap, shoulder or curled up in your arms and to be petted. Head scratches and ear rubs are blissful for a pig, you will often see your pigs nibbling, pulling on or licking each others ears so your pigs will appreciate the same from you although I draw the line at actually licking.
In part three we will cover nutrition and diet.