The Alfreton Park Guide to Guinea Pig Care
Hutches or indoor cages can never be too big, but should be at least 4 feet by 2 feet. The base of the hutch/cage should be solid rather than wired as wired bases can damage their sensitive feet.
Guinea pigs are very sensitive to extremes in temperature, but tolerate cool better than heat. The hutch/ cage should not be kept in direct sunlight and somewhere that is sheltered from the elements. Indoor guinea pigs should be housed away from radiators or fires.
Guinea pigs are a prey animal which means they are often timid and nervous in open spaces. By providing plenty of hiding places such as cardboard boxes or tubes, your guinea pig will feel safer and more confident in their surroundings.
Guinea pigs are very sociable animals and are always happiest in pairs or small groups. Wherever possible they should be housed with a companion.
Did you know?
Since 2008, In Switzerland it is actually illegal to keep a guinea pig on their own as they are sociable animals. They have a rent-a-guinea pig service which allows owners to loan a guinea pig to live with their single guinea pig when its companion passes away!
Getting your guinea pig’s diet right will help your guinea pig avoid the most common diseases in guinea pigs: tooth problems, urinary problems and gut stasis.
The most important part of the diet…Hay and Grass: Guinea pigs bodies have evolved to eat a diet of rough grass and weeds. Feeding lots of hay and grass keeps guinea pigs healthy.
In addition to hay and grass, a guinea pigs diet can be supplemented with fruit and vegetables. Care should be taken not to feed fruits that are too acidic as these can cause mouth and lip sores.
Commercial dried food for guinea pigs should only to fed in small amounts and muesli style food should be avoided as they can encourage selective feeding which often results in dental problems.
Vitamin C: Guinea pigs cannot produce there own vitamin C and therefore require it supplemented into their diet. Feeding a commercial pelleted guinea pig food, a constant fresh supply of fruit and veg, alongside hay and grass should mean they do not need further vitamin C supplements adding to their diet, but sometimes in times of ill health or pregnancy they can be added.
Care should also be taken not to feed vegetables high in calcium as these can cause the formation of bladder stones – find bladder stone information later on in this booklet.
We recommend that all male guinea pigs are routinely neutered. This can be done from 4 months of age.
We do not recommend routinely neutering female guinea pigs (unless there is ovarian uterine disease) as the surgery is more invasive than castration. However we do carry out this surgery when indicated – see cystic ovaries later on in the booklet – and use a special technique to reduce any complications as well as a tailored anaesthetic protocol to ensure our guinea pig patients are well taken care of.
(Ask our veterinary surgeons or nurses for more details.)
Benefits of neutering male guinea pigs include:
· Preventing unwanted pregnancies if housed with females
· May help reduce fighting between male cage mates.
· Reduces the occurrence of impacted faeces building up in the rectum of older males.
Did you know?
Baby guinea pigs are called pups and are born fully furred with their eyes open and ready to run! They can even eat hard food along with their mother’s milk.
Common Health Problems
Guinea pigs can hide illness or injury very well and because they are a prey animal they try to carry on as normal until they cannot hide their illness.
Unfortunately this is often the point when they are brought into the vets and it can sometimes mean with that even with our best efforts it can be hard to make them well again.
The following are common reasons we see guinea pigs at the vets and the signs to look out for with each condition so hopefully you can pick up on these conditions before they become too advanced.
This is the number one health problem we see guinea pigs at our practice. It can affect both male and female guinea pigs of any age. Guinea pigs naturally produce alkaline urine with high calcium content. This makes them susceptible to developing bladder stones which have to be surgically removed. Female guinea pigs can sometimes pass bladder stones but for males they can get them obstructed in their urethra which is potentially fatal.
Guinea pigs also frequently suffer from cystitis which causes pain and the need to urinate frequently. It is often a sterile condition which means antibiotics are not necessary and can be managed with pain relief and drugs to help settle the bladder lining.
Signs to look out for:
· Blood in urine
· Pain on urination (squeaking as they pass urine)
· Straining to urinate
Gut "Stasis”… my guinea pig has stopped eating!
A problem unique to guinea pigs and rabbits, where stress or pain causes them to stop eating and the gut to stop its normal movements. It is dangerous and painful and can prove fatal. If your guinea pig doesn’t eat or poo for over 8 hours this is an emergency.
Gut stasis is an emergency, they need to be seen ASAP!
Ovarian Cysts – females only!
75% of female guinea pigs will develop cysts on their ovaries at some point in their life. These cysts can cause a hormonal related signs like fighting with cage mates, mounting and blood in their urine. If the cysts get very large they can cause abdominal pain and gut stasis.
Surgery is the only effective way of treating cystic ovaries in guinea pigs and we are one of only a handful of practices in the UK offering a minimally invasive approach with this surgery and a specially tailored anaesthetic protocol to ensure our guinea pig patients are well taken care of.
Signs to look out for:
· Hair loss on both sides of their bodies
· An enlarged rounded abdomen
· Abdominal pain
· Blood in urine
· Gut Stasis
· Behavioural changes
If you have any questions please speak with one of the staff members who will be able to direct your queries to the appropriate person.
Lumps found around the head area of a guinea pig are often abscesses. They can be triggered by dental disease, which is usually related to a poor diet. Abscesses in guinea pigs are harder to treat than in dogs or cats, and need strong antibiotics. Sometimes they require surgery to remove the abscess.
Respiratory Disease: is common in guinea pigs due their design; small chests and big bellies! They are prone to respiratory tract infections and pneumonia. In a healthy guinea pig you don’t often ‘see’ them breathing as it is very fast and causes little movement. If they have an infection you may see nasal discharge or hear a rattling popping noise as they breathe as well.
If your guinea pig makes obvious breathing movement or shows signs of struggling to breathe then they should be seen by a vet immediately.
Dental problems are very common and are often associated to feeding a poor diet. Guinea pigs have two types of teeth, incisors at the front and molars at the back of the mouth. Either can become overgrown
Overgrown incisors:Overgrown molars:
·If the incisors are overgrown, we can burr them whilst the guinea pig is conscious.
·Molar overgrowth is very painful: sharp spikes can form causing painful ulcers on their tongue and cheeks. Sometimes the lower molars ‘bridge’ over the tongue making it impossible for them to eat. Guinea pigs will overgrown molars require a general anaesthetic to correct them.
Signs to look out for:
· Lack of appetite, favouring softer food.
· Weight loss
· Drooling – wetness on chins and front legs.
· Sloping of the incisor teeth.
Sebaceous cysts are lumps found on the body of a guinea pig and often filled with a thick material; like toothpaste! Sometimes they burst and the contents can be squeezed out but there is a risk of them becoming infected and may require surgical removal.
Guinea pigs can suffer with both mites and lice. Signs include hair loss, dandruff within the coat, scabs on the skin and itchiness. In some cases the itchiness can be so extreme the guinea pig may give the impression it is having a seizure.
Mites and lice are easily treated with either a skin application or an injection. An appointment should be made with a vet in this instance
Our three golden rules for a happy, healthy Guinea Pig:
· Correct diet: Feed hay, hay and more hay! Provide access to grass and feed plants and fresh vegetables.
· Neutering: Allows male guinea pigs to live with female guinea pigs without the pitter patter of tiny feet and will often make two males live more harmoniously together.
· Companionship: Keep guinea pigs in pairs or small groups to keep them happy!
Guinea Pig Safe Food:
Remember! Hay should form 80% of your guinea pigs diet:
Safe vegetables and herbs:
Safe, but don’t feed too much!
Chinese leaf (Pak Choi)
Alfalfa (very high in calcium)
Carrot (high in sugar; carrot tops high in calcium.)
Cucumber (watery; too much may cause diarrhoea)
Parsnip (High in sugar)
Sweetcorn (High in sugar)
Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower (High in iodine)
Safe Fruits; treat only as high in sugar!
Strawberries, raspberries, melon, pear, mango, peach, plum, apple, blueberries, banana, pineapple, plums, blackberries, cherries.
Feed as wide a variety as possible to make your guinea pig more happy and healthy!