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July 5, 2011

Something to Wheek About: Cavy Care 101

Follow these tips to give your guinea pig the best possible care

All Animals magazine

  • Michelle Riley/The HSUS.

by Ruthanne Johnson

• Finding the Perfect Piggies  Adopt from a local animal shelter or rescue. Guinea pigs at pet stores may come from breeding mills or backyard breeders and may be pregnant or sick, says Cavy Spirit’s Teresa Murphy. “And frequently, their behavior is a bit crazy because they have been through so much.” An experienced shelter employee or rescuer can correctly identify the animals’ gender and provide advice about personalities, medical needs, caging, diet, small mammal veterinarians, and any post-adoption issues.

 • Cavy Cliques  Guinea pigs need companions of their own kind but can be selective about their friends. Washington, D.C.–based Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue hosts adoption meets, a kind of “speed dating” for guinea pigs, says volunteer Steve Conard. “Ninety-five percent of the time … from the second they get home, they get along perfectly.” Spaying and neutering prevents reproduction and can lessen the risk of cancer and other health problems; the spay surgery is complicated and should be performed only by a cavy-savvy veterinarian.

• Posh Pad  Cages sold in pet stores are simply too small—each guinea pig pair needs a minimum of 7.5 square feet measured at the base—and wire bottoms can cause foot and leg injuries. Frustrated by the shortcomings of commercial cages, Murphy designed the popular Cubes & Coroplast (C&C) habitats. You can purchase one through most rescue groups or make your own (see guineapigcages.com for details); for safety, cube grids should be 9x9 and not the more commonly sold 8x8. Place the cage in a safe area with a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees, away from strong heat sources or drafts.

• This Little Piggy Stayed Home  Cages should be interesting and comfortable, as guinea pigs spend most of their lives there. Use paper-based bedding, aspen shavings, or fleece and towels; avoid toxic cedar and pine, unless the latter is kiln-dried. Guinea pigs should never have exercise wheels, but smooth-surfaced ramps, tunnels, and a variety of toys will keep them entertained and active. To ensure a healthy habitat, perform daily spot cleanings, and scrub the cage and change all bedding once a week.

• At the Trough  Adult guinea pigs need constant access to fresh timothy and/or orchard hay, which provide fiber and help wear down their continually growing teeth. For vitamin C, give each pig 1 cup of veggies and 1⁄8 cup of vitamin C–fortified pellets per day; avoid pellets with colored pieces. (Fruits and some vegetables should only be fed sparingly to prevent obesity, tooth decay, and stomach upset.) Use ceramic food dishes instead of plastic, and provide at least two 32-ounce water bottles (the type with a ball bearing in the spout) with fresh water daily.

• In the Pink  Typical of prey animals, guinea pigs are “masters at hiding their illnesses,” says Conard. Take them to the vet at least once a year, and be attentive to changes in appearance and behavior. To keep on top of his pigs’ health, Conard weighs them weekly. “As soon as they get ill, they can easily drop 10 percent of their body weight in a week,” he says. Proper housing, food, fresh water, and daily floor time will also go a long way to preventing health problems.

• Lap Piggies  Building a trust bond with your cavy “takes a lot of practice and patience and going slowly,” says Murphy. Pick them up gently and support their chest and hindquarters, rather than scooping them up around the middle. Improper handling can result in serious injuries, so always supervise children around your guinea pigs.

Watch a video about cavy care »

Learn more about proper feeding »

Read more from the current issue of All Animals» 

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