Guinea Pig Selection


Guinea pigs are wonderful sweet pets, and are appropriate for most ages. Their gentle nature makes them an excellent classroom or first pet. They rarely bite or struggle when raised and handled properly. They are bred for a variety of different colors and hair coats, which make selection fun! To top it all off, they are inexpensive to buy and maintain.

Guinea pigs are easy to care for properly. They require daily food and water changes, and a clean dry house. Their diet should include a variety of fresh vegetables, pellets, and lots of timothy and grass hay. Guinea pigs love to eat and eat often! Litter changes must be done whenever the litter is wet and soiled. They have relatively few health problems, and are easy to monitor.

The life span of a guinea pig occasionally surprises people, as they typically live between 4- 7 years. They can be kept singly or with other guinea pigs (single sex groups are easiest, of course). Guinea pigs learn early who feeds them and where the food comes from, and respond quickly to their people. Guinea pigs are not really pigs, but actually get their name from their squeals (which sounds almost like a real pig). They usually only squeal when the refrigerator door opens, or when a plastic bag is rustled, since they know they will soon be getting a treat!

Selection of a Guinea pig

There are several different breeds of guinea pigs. The most common breeds are the Abyssinian, English, American, or Peruvian. The Abyssinian has rough textured hair, often with many whorls that change direction. The English and American breeds have straight, soft hair. Peruvian guinea pigs are known for their long, straight hair and are often show animals. These breeds may be bred together for many combinations of color patterns and hair texture and length. Most guinea pigs are similar in nature, so most of the preferences for breed will be aesthetic.


Male or female guinea pigs make equally good pets. Although they are sociable animals, many people keep only one guinea pig. Unless you are planning on breeding your guinea pigs, you should have not have a pair. The exception to this is when the male is neutered. Female guinea pigs do well together. Occasionally, male guinea pigs may fight, especially if a new male is introduced. Signs of serious fighting include hair pulling, excessive chasing and screaming, and bite wounds (especially on ears).


It is best to select a young guinea pig. The breeder or pet store should be able to give you an approximate or, even better, exact age of the guinea pigs. Do a thorough examination of the guinea pig you have selected. It should have a nice thick coat, with no areas of hair loss or scabs. It should be bright and alert, and hopefully curious about you. When frightened, guinea pigs tend to either stand still or run frantically around in hopes of escaping. Approach them slowly for best results. Check to make sure there is no sign of feces, diarrhea or urine on the abdomen of the guinea pig. Make sure to check the bottom of its feet for signs of redness or wounds. The footpads should be equally firm and fleshy. Guinea pigs only have 3 toes on the back feet! They have 4 on the front feet.

Guinea Pig Housing

Guinea pigs should be housed in enclosures that are fairly large. You should provide approximately 100- 180 square inches of floor room for each adult guinea pig. The walls of the enclosure should be at least 10 inches tall. Guinea pigs may jump when startled.   Usually the tops of enclosures are left open, this provides good air flow. Beware of letting the cat or dog or other predators nearby! The flooring should be plastic if possible. It is easy to clean and won't rust or become too gnawed on by the pigs. Wire mesh flooring is tempting since the feces and urine will go through, but should be avoided. Guinea pigs are stout little creatures and their feet tend to become injured through catching in the grates or through pressure, which can lead to serious and even life- threatening problems. Wood should not be used for guinea pig enclosures since they tend to chew on it and it is difficult to clean.

Bedding is an important part of the environment. It provides important padding for the guinea pig and will soak up urine. Guinea pigs love to eat and drink, and to play with their water bottles and bowls, therefore producing lots of feces and urine and a big mess! Bedding should be clean, not have much dust, and nontoxic just in case the guinea pigs eat it. Suitable bedding includes newspaper, newspaper that has been shredded, some wood shavings (generally not cedar), and the recycled paper products (if the pigs won't eat them).

The cage should be cleaned entirely at least once weekly. Since guinea pigs like to hide, cardboard boxes may be provided for their enjoyment. These will likely get chewed on, but are easily replaced.


Whereas owners of pets  have ready access to quality pelleted, commercial pets feed, owners of small rodents must obtain feed from the array of colorful boxes of food and supplements at the pet store. Included among these feed may be seed mixtures, seeds mixed with vitamin and mineral pellets (often ignored by the pet), hay cubes, pelleted complete diets, salt blocks, pieces of chewable wood, and a variety of treat foods that lure the unsuspecting buyer because those treats resemble the snack foods preferred by pet


Of most pet rodent feeds available, only the pelleted, complete diets (with at least 16 percent quality protein) have use as primary diets. The standard pelleted, complete diets may be fed to the Old World rodents: hamsters, gerbils, mice, and rats. The recommended diet for these pet rodents, therefore, is a reasonably fresh pellet incorporating essential nutrients, containing at least 16 percent crude protein, with the box labeled "meets NRC requirements" or a similar message.  Conventional (natural ingredient) pet animal diets produced by reputable companies usually contain adequate balanced nutritional components, but even those diets can be altered by damp, heat, oxidation, and vermin contamination. Owner-compounded diets, on the other hand, are more likely than are commercial products to lack certain trace nutrients, to be unbalanced, or to be contaminated with bacteria or mold.

Pelleting involves heat, moisture, binder, hot-air dry, and compression in a shaped mold. This form usually is well received (at least by rodents old enough to gnaw the hard pellets), and little is wasted. Powders and meals are wasted: the dust can collect around mouths and in noses and predispose a pet to medical problems. Water is best provided in bottles with, preferably, metal sipper tubes. Hamsters may gnaw or break plastic or glass tubes. Having fresh water available is critical, as many pet rodents presented as "sick" are in fact dehydrated.

Supplementation of standard feed with fruit, vegetables, hay, and preferred feed is done often with pet rodents, but the balanced diet should not be diluted by more than 10 percent except in older animals, in which case dilution to perhaps 25 percent with fiber may retard obesity.



Guinea Pig Nutrition

Guinea pigs have very sensitive gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. They also tend to be a biton the stubborn side in terms of trying new foods. All diet changes for your guinea pig should be introduced gradually, so as not to upset their sensitive systems. Also, guinea pigs have a special requirement to ensure a complete diet. Like humans, they cannot product their own vitamin C (or ascorbic acid). This must be supplemented to them in their diet. This is typically done by supplementing their vitamin C consumption through a variety of food choices.

The best way to introduce new foods to your guinea pig is to start when they are young! Offer a variety of hays and vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables, green and red peppers, oranges, and carrots). Apples are also a favorite for treating your guinea pig. Pellets are also a staple of most pet guinea pig diets. Try using different brands, to expose them to new foods early. This will help in case you need to use a different pellet brand in an emergency.  Guinea pigs are built to eat a large variety of grasses and vegetation, and are strictly vegetarians. They have a number of bacteria in their GI tracts which helps them to convert all that fiber into energy. As pets, they should be fed a high fiber diet, with a few modifications. Guinea pigs should be given free choice amounts of a good quality hay. If your guinea pig is not used to eating hay, it should be offered very small amounts to start, and gradually, over a period of several months, worked up to having hay available at all times. The best hay to use is a grass hay, especially timothy hay. Other local grass hays are also good to offer. Alfalfa hay is another hay which guinea pigs tend to love to eat. It has a higher protein content than most of the grass hays and is OK to use in limited amounts.

Pellets are also an important component of your guinea pig's diet. The pelleted diet should be fortified with vitamin C. You should only buy quantities that will last your guinea pig about 3 months, since the vitamin C will leach out of the pellets in approximately that amount of time. Pellets should contain approximately 18- 20% protein and at least 10- 16% fiber. Limiting pellet availability may help in maintaining the guinea pig at a good weight. I further recommend that all guinea pigs be supplemented with vitamin C through vegetables or fruit sources. Each guinea pig should eat a quarter of an orange a day. Other good sources of vitamin C include green and red bell peppers, parsley, dark leafy greens, kale, tomatoes, cabbage, beet greens, and even broccoli and kiwi fruit! Vitamin C can also be offered in their water source at the concentration of 1 gram per liter of water. It must be changed daily.


Most guinea pigs use the sipper water bottles. The large ones are best for guinea pigs. They often like to spit out food into the water bottle and play with it. Therefore, you should have several water bottles so that you can keep these clean. Water bowls are also acceptable for guinea pigs. They tend to like to tip these over if possible, so get heavy weight ones. Bowls, both food and water, must be cleaned often, as many pigs will defecate on or near them and contaminate their food and water in the process.


Excerpted from Essentials of Pet Rodents: A Guide for Practitioners by, Moosakoshani

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