Guinea pigs have specific needs compared to other small pets such as rabbits, hamsters, rats or gerbils. If you are thinking of getting a guinea pig, it's important to make sure you know a bit about what this involves so you can decide if they are the right pets for you.
Guinea pigs need large cages and many of the cages you’ll see that are sold for guinea pigs in pet shops and online aren’t large enough. The minimum cage size for 2 guinea pigs is 120 x 60cm or 47 x 24 inches.
Get a pair of guinea pigs!
Guinea pigs are social animals and can become lonely and depressed on their own so you should look at having a pair of guinea pigs. An interesting fact is that it‘s actually illegal in Switzerland to have a single guinea pig.
Guinea pigs need daily care so if you are a very busy person you’ll have to consider whether you have enough time in your schedule.
Even if you’re getting guinea pigs for a child, most children (and definitely young ones) won’t be able to do all the tasks on their own and often get bored of the more mundane jobs after a while so parents need to be prepared to take on these tasks.
You’ll need to trim your guinea pig’s nails every 2-4 weeks. This can be a tricky job depending on how wriggly your guinea pig is but if you find it too challenging you can pay for a vet or guinea pig groomer to do this for you.
Long haired guinea pigs need grooming including bathing whereas short-haired guinea pigs are much lower maintenance so if you don’t want too much work, opt for short haired guinea pigs.
Family breaks and holidays
Guinea pigs are not the type of pet that can be left for a weekend while you go away. They need someone there every day that can feed them and take care of daily tasks. We put our guinea pigs into boarding when we go on holiday because we can relax and know they’ll be well cared for.
Alternatively you might be able to find a family member or friend who is willing and able to take care of them.
Guinea pigs need feeding 3 types of food daily. They need special guinea pig pellets, a cup of fresh vegetables that are safe for guinea pigs and constant hay.
It’s really important that they have access to hay at all times or they can get serious problems with their digestion or teeth.
Guinea pigs make noise
Guinea pigs can be noisy. They make loud wheeking sounds when they are hungry or think food is on the way and they make other sounds for other reasons too, not to mention the noise they make zooming round the cage! This is an important point to remember if you’re planning on putting guinea pigs in a bedroom as they can be very active at night time.
Are you allergic?
Many people don’t realise they are allergic to guinea pigs until they get them. It’s worth checking this out by visiting a rescue centre or pet shop and holding a guinea pig or two before you make your decision to see if you have an allergic reaction.
There are also hay allergies to consider. There is no alternative to hay for guinea pigs - they need it in their cage all the time to munch on so make sure you’re not allergic to hay before getting your guinea pigs.
4-8 years plus commitment
Guinea pigs live on average for between 4-8 years and can even live up to 10 years. You should see this as a long term commitment as rescue centres are full of guinea pigs that get taken in when their owners don’t want them anymore.
Constantly growing teeth
A guinea pig’s teeth are constantly growing. If they stop eating for any reason or don’t have constant access to hay, they can overgrow and cause serious, sometimes fatal conditions so it’s important to check them regularly.
Consider what other pets you have before getting guinea pigs. Some dogs don’t have the right temperament to be in the same house as guinea pigs and can pose a danger. If you do have pets, you’ll need to make sure your cage has a secure top and the cage is raised off the floor so they don’t come face to face with a pet as this can be very scary for them.
They need toys
Guinea pigs are very intelligent animals and need stimulation to prevent boredom. There are toys you can buy especially for guinea pigs including tunnels, balls and chews that help keep them entertained and happy.
Some “guinea pig toys” are dangerous
Not everything pet stores or online stores sell for guinea pigs are safe for them. Guinea pigs should not be harnessed, use hamster wheels or the metal hay ball feeders. There are also other items that are dangerous or unsuitable. Take a look at some of these toys and accessories here....
They like the same temperature as us
Guinea pigs like the same temperatures as we do. If it is too hot or cold for you then it is too hot or cold for your guinea pig. For this reason, housing guinea pigs outside can be dangerous. However, under the right conditions it is possible.
No direct sunlight (heatstroke)
Guinea pigs must not be in direct sunlight as they can easily get heatstroke. Heatstroke can happen quickly and may easily kill them. Always make sure your guinea pigs are housed in a shaded area.
Once you’ve got your guinea pig and the cage etc, the costs don’t end there. You will need to buy pellets, hay, fresh veg, renew their toys and allow for any vet care they may require. If money is tight for you, a pet that requires less ongoing costs would be better.
Vet care and pet insurance
Vet care can be expensive so it’s worth considering small pet insurance. This can be quite costly and you could alternatively self-insure which means setting up a bank account for your guinea pigs and saving a set amount each month so if they need veterinary treatment, you have the funds available.
Pet stores have often been known to make mistakes regarding gender when it comes to guinea pigs. If you think you have 2 females but one ends up being a male you will undoubtedly end up with more baby guinea pigs. It can escalate from there as they breed fast. Then it can get out of control. Always get a second opinion on the gender and check out our next and very important final point on how to avoid this happening.
Where to get your guinea pigs
We always recommend you get your guinea pigs from a rescue centre and not a pet shop (unless you get them from the adoption section). If you get your guinea pigs from a rescue centre you are more likely to get the gender they specify as they have more experience with these pets.
There are many guinea pigs in rescue centres and many will never be found a forever home as there are simply not enough people willing to take them on. Please please support the rescue centres and avoid the pet shops so we can try and break this cycle.