Small Mammals

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Guinea Pig Care

Guinea pigs make wonderful pets for families and normally live for between 5-10 years. There are four common breeds that we encounter, which are:

  • The Shorthair (English) – short haired coat
  • Peruvian – very long silky coat
  • Silky – medium length silky coat
  • Abyssinian – short, wiry coat with whorls/rosettes of hair.

Housing

Guinea pigs can be housed within escape-proof enclosures made of glass, strong plastic, stainless steel or wire. Wood and less durable plastic should ideally be avoided as they will often be destroyed by gnawing. At least one side of the enclosure should be left open to provide adequate ventilation and no sharp edges should be exposed. It is important that the guinea pig has enough space to move around and exercise comfortably.

Solid flooring tends to be better than wire meshing. Although wire mesh flooring is easier to maintain and provides a cleaner environment, it is a common source of problems. We often see feet injuries (due to abrasion) and occasionally broken bones as a result of wire flooring.

The bedding material used should be clean, dust-free, non-toxic and absorbent. Commonly used bedding includes shredded newspaper, commercial pellets, ground corn cob and wood shavings. Some bedding materials, especially dusty ones, can predispose to respiratory infections.

Being a prey species, guinea pigs feel most relaxed and comfortable in a quiet area that is away from direct sunlight. Ensure their environmental temperature is not too warm especially during the humid summer months as they are prone to heat stroke. Shade and good ventilation, together with air conditioning and cool misting with water can help to prevent overheating.

Guinea pigs are nocturnal and therefore, tend to be most active at night. They can be housed individually or in groups. Occasionally, dominant or entire (not desexed) guinea pigs may fight. Guinea pigs should not be housed with rabbits, who tend to bully them.

Handling

Guinea pigs tend to be fairly inquisitive and friendly animals. They therefore are quite easy to handle. They can be lifted by one palm of the hand scooping their body whilst the other hand supports their body from above. They can be restrained by scruffing their loose skin over their neck with your thumb and index finger, while the base of the tail is held between the fourth and fifth fingers. They like to struggle so it is important to have a firm grip with both hands to prevent a serious fall!

Breeding

If females are to be bred, it should happen between 4-7 months of age. Breeding after this can lead to fatal problems during the delivery of the babies. The reason is that the pelvis of the female guinea pig fuses from a young age and leads to narrow birth canal which can cause problems during labour. Males should be at least 4 months of age before being used for breeding. Guinea pigs have long gestation periods (pregnancies) of around 63-70 days. Sows (female guinea pigs) bred after 7 months of age will normally need a caesarean section, which we are happy to perform at Acorn Veterinary Hospital.

If you do not plan to breed from your guinea pig, we strongly recommend de-sexing your guinea pig at a young age to prevent certain behavioural and medical problems often encountered later in life.

Health

Commonly encountered problems are:

  • Skin disease – most commonly mites and lice, which can cause itchiness and scabs. These may come from the bedding or feed e.g. hay.
  • Teeth problems – overgrown or poorly aligned teeth can lead to inappetance (and weight loss), pain, infections and drooling.
  • Overgrown nails – from inadequate exercise which may need clipping
  • Scurvy – vitamin C deficiency which can lead to painful bones and teeth, inappetance and bleeding.
  • Pneumonia – by bacteria or viruses which may cause breathing difficulties, discharges from the eyes or nose and even sudden death.
  • Middle or inner ear infections – which can cause head tilting, incoordination, rolling or circling.
  • Heat stroke – especially overweight or those with thick fur. Inadequate shade, ventilation, overcrowding and high humidity/temperatures can lead to this fatal condition. They may appear collapsed, panting, convulsing or weak.

 

If you encounter any of the above or other symptoms of disease, you should contact us as quickly as possible as often guinea pigs can be very sick even when showing very mild signs of disease!