Guinea pigs (GPs) are rodents, closely related to chinchillas and porcupines. Unlike rabbits which are lagomorphs. They are also known as cavies. They originated in South America.
Lifespan: 5-6 years.
Puberty: Males – 3 months
Females – 2 months Gestation (pregnancy length): 59-72 days (average 68) Litter size: 1-13 but 2-4 is usual
No breeding season – can breed any time of the year. Females need to be bred before 7 months of age (if they are to be bred at all). Birthing problems will likely occur if the first litter is to be born after this age.
Weaning age: 3 weeks
They are intelligent, quiet animals that are also sensitive and can become panicked if startled by abrupt and loud noises. They will usually flee in the face of danger rather than bite or scratch.
GPs are rather social animals and prefer to be housed in pairs or trios. They can socialize with other animals such as rabbits but ideally should be housed separately as some respiratory infections can be introduced by carrier rabbits.
- GPs are herbivores (vegetarians) that digest their food in their large intestines like rabbits, chinchillas and horses They have relatively small stomachs compared with the size of their caecum (blind pouch of the large intestine). Gastrointestinal problems are common in GPs if the diet is not right.
- Fibre is a very important part of a GPs diet.
- Fibre helps maintain the correct balance of good “bugs” in the intestine and keeps the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) moving.
- GPs are “nibblers” when it comes to They feed continuously, not in set meal times like carnivores (cats) or omnivores (dogs, people).
- Good quality hay should be fed free Grass is another very good fibre source. Green leafy vegetables are also important (except Iceberg lettuce which tends to have a lower fibre content and is mostly water). Generally try to feed at least ½ to 1 cup per kg bodyweight per day of these vegies or unlimited grass.
- Examples include dandelions (NOT buttercups which are toxic), turnip tops, carrot tops, beet greens, parsley, bok choy, lettuce mixes – red, green etc, mint, silverbeet, basil.
- Pellets should be specifically designed for Feed about 1/8 cup per kg per day for maintenance for a fully grown GP (4-8 months of age). Need to have a fibre content of at least 16% and protein approximately 18-20%. They are too high in calories and not high enough in fibre when fed in large amounts or as a large part of the diet.
- OK to feed small amounts of fibrous fruit and other “treat” items each day unless the GP is on a This includes apple, carrot, pear, peach, plum, strawberries, blueberries, mango, papaya, pineapple. Maximum of 1 tablespoon per 2kg per day.
- NO bananas or grapes (too high in sugar) or cereals, grain, bread, biscuits, crackers, peas, corn or The fibre levels are too low and sugar/starch levels are high. Avoid avocados, daffodils, rhubarb, onions, mushrooms, lilies, rhododendrons, azaleas, ragwort.
- Supply plenty of fresh water (at least 100mL per kg per day is a normal amount of water intake). Sipper bottles are easier to keep clean and full.
- Unlike other animals, guinea pigs are not able to synthesize vitamin C on their own; therefore, a dietary source of vitamin C must be provided. Commercial pellets specially formulated for guinea pigs contain vitamin C, but the level may be affected by storage conditions or time. Daily vitamin C supplementation may be provided through ¼-½ cup cabbage or kale or a 50 mg vitamin C tablet. Orange capsicum, brussel sprouts and other leafy greens are good sources of vitamin C.
In general, bigger is better. Hutches should:
- Be constructed of durable materials that are not easily destroyed by the weather or your GP and are easy to clean Treated timber should not be used where it may be eaten by your GP.
- Be about 30cm high.
- At least 60cm long by 30cm wide per GP
- GPs cannot jump so they can be housed in an open top enclosure if no other animals (cats or dogs) have access to
- Have a solid floor Wire is harsh on the feet. If on the ground the hutch can be open on the bottom as GPs are not diggers like rabbits (so long as there are no gaps for escape and dogs can not dig in!).
- Have water sipper bottles ideally and food bowls cleaned frequently as GPs often use them as toilets.
- Have an enclosed den/sleeping area, raised off the This floor should be covered with a thick layer of bedding such as shredded paper, hay or straw or wood shavings. Cedar and pine can be irritant to the respiratory system so Aspen shavings are best.
- Be cleaned out a least once or twice a Urine and faeces should not be allowed to accumulate under the hutch as flies will be attracted.
- Be easily moved if on grass.
- Be kept in a sheltered area that is not in direct GPs are very sensitive to heat stroke if temperatures are more than 27 degrees. Protect from rain and wind too. However there should be good ventilation.
- The enclosure should offer some access to sunlight within an optimal room temperature range of 13-21 degrees.
- Providing a variety of GP safe toys will encourage exercise and decrease stress.
- The best toys are also cheap and easy to come Dried pine cones, old phone books, hard plastic baby chew toys, empty toilet or paper towel rolls and untreated cardboard boxes are all good. Vegetables can be hidden to allow foraging behaviour which also provides mental stimulation.
- Early handling is a must. Try to handle your GP’s frequently.
- Native branches, untreated wood or specific commercial wooden chew blocks should be provided for This helps to prevent dental disease as does hay.
- Play pens or supervised outside or inside time are helpful for exercise.
GENERAL MAINTENANCE AND HEALTH CARE
- Groom as required to help removal of loose Trim nails as required. Check bottom is clean of faeces. Droppings should be firm and oval shaped.
- Perform a quick thorough examination every day or Check eyes, nose, ears as well as the mouth and teeth. Check the skin for small parasites (fleas, lice, mites) and scale, scabs or wounds. Revolution for small cats and kittens can be used to treat mite infections.
- Remember that GPs often do not show signs of illness until they are often already very If any signs of lethargy, poor appetite or more specific problems such as weepy eyes, diarrhoea , sneezing or itchy skin are noticed, do not hesitate to contact the vet.
- Good diet and husbandry will help to prevent a large number of problems.
- An annual vet check is recommended to check teeth and assess other body organs for signs of disease.
- De-sexing is not usually necessary.