They’re from South America rather than New Guinea, and despite the fact that their name in English, German, French, Polish, Dutch and many more refers to the word ‘pig’, they’re anything but, so the name ‘guinea pigs’ is quite the misnomer. Also referred to as cavies, these adorable critters make wonderful pets. They’re affectionate, intelligent and sociable animals and very fond of human company once they get used to it.
There are 16 species of guinea pigs, of which the American shorthair and the Abyssinian varieties are quite popular here. It is advisable to get a variety which suits the climate you live in. Obviously, Delhi summers, say, are going to be very hard for a shaggy haired variety to get used to, even if it stays indoors most of the time, unless you’re okay with shortening it’s hair for the summer months.
Guineas need roomy cages, especially if you’re planning on keeping them caged most of the time. They love company, so keep them where your family spends most of it’s time, so people interact with them all day. A solo guinea might sound convenient, but as mentioned before, they’re extremely social and need company. Recognize the phrase ‘multiplying like bunnies’? Well it could very well apply to guinea pigs too, and if you keep a male and a female together, you’ll soon have more guineas than you could possibly manage. Keeping two of the same litter is convenient, and since they’re already used to each other, it minimizes risk of aggression towards each other, especially with males.
Be careful when introducing your guineas to other pets. Keep them in their cages till the other animals get used to them and know to not hurt them. Pet stores may often appear clean, and yet maintain very shady hygiene standards when it comes to their pets. So if you already have another guinea pig, quarantine the new guy for a period of two weeks to avoid passing on any communicable diseases from the them to the old one.
They need a lot of water to keep hydrated, so try and get one of those cages that come attached with an upside down feeder bottle that they can drink from at will. If you can’t, then you can always get a bottle and attach it yourself. The cages should be lined with soft materials like hay or grass. The lining performs the dual function of keeping the ground soft for them to walk upon and absorbing all their waste. Guineas that aren’t provide soft lining for their feet become susceptible to painful foot ulcers. Extra supply of hay, for them to chew upon, should be available to them all day. Lack of hay can cause misalignment of teeth and intestinal problems. Cleaning their cages and replacing the hay is very important in order to keep your pet healthy and happy. Change their water daily and give the entire cage a good cleaning once in a while, using mild, non-toxic and non-scented cleaning agents.
Guinea pigs like to keep themselves well groomed, so brush them every day, especially if the have long manes. Keep their toenails clipped so they can’t snag and hurt them.
In the wild, rodents gnaw and sharpen their two front teeth , the incisors, to a sharp edge so that they can use them to gnaw through husks and seed shells, and even as weapons in some cases. Domesticated rodents like guineas however, don’t get to use them as often. The problem with that is that the teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, whether the use them or not, so their cages need to be supplied with chunks of wood or some such material so they can gnaw on them. Hay also helps to this effect, by giving them something to chew upon.
It is recommended that guineas be fed a balanced mix of store bought pellets and fresh green veggies. Pellets contain an ideal balance of all the nutrients your cavy needs. However, an excess can easily and rapidly cause your pet to become obese. Since these pellets are designed by the pet food companies to cater especially to the needs of the animal specified, you can’t make do with rabbit pellets for your guinea or vice versa.
A healthy mix of about one cup’s worth of green a day should be enough for a pig. Guineas are grazers and tend to eat throughout the day, so space out the veggies in several small meals. Also, they like variety, so try not to repeat meals or they might refuse to est them eventually. Too much of leafy vegetables can leave them constipated, and some, like spinach, are downright bad for them.
I may be repeating myself, but i can’t emphasize it enough. Guineas LOVE company. Bring them out of their cages and let them out to play under your supervision. Bring out cardboard tubes, piles of newspaper or small cloth, anything that can’t hurt them, and let them have explore it and have fun.
If you’re too busy to give them at least an hour of play time with you, or if they’re going to be left all alone for long periods of time, then they’re not for you. Keep looking, and you’ll find an animal that suits you better.