Grover is an Abyssinian breed of guinea pig

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The Guinea Pig Basics

Guinea pigs are, in my opinion, the greatest pet in the known universe. They are gentle, adorable, whimsical, and rarely bite. Guinea pigs come in all different colors, breeds, and fur-lengths, from the American Shorthair to the long and lusty-haired Peruvian. And while guinea pigs do not require the same level of maintenance as say, dogs (no midnight walks and not nearly as many baths), it’s important to know that guinea pigs do require regular maintenance and attention. So unless you are prepared to make the commitment necessary for caring for one of these animals, I strongly advise another pet selection (consider going with a Chia Pet, perhaps). So what do you need to know before adopting a guinea pig?

Get him a hidey-house. Guinea pigs are prey animals. As nature’s Snickers bars, they are perpetually fearful of being eaten. In order to lessen your piggy’s fear and offer him comfort, he absolutely must have a house in his cage to hide in. It can be a cardboard box with a hole cut out if you can’t do anything else, but he must have a hidey-house. Note, he will eventually eat the cardboard box, but that’s ok too.

He needs fresh guinea pig pellets. The bag must say for guinea pigs (rabbit or other rodent food does not offer the Vitamin C a pig needs).

He must have access to unlimited supply of Timothy hay. Timothy hay is the mainstay of a guinea pig’s diet, it accounts for 80% of what he eats, so can never be without it.

Get him a water bottle and change the water frequently.

He needs a large enough cage. Guinea pigs love to run, jump, and play, and they must have ample space for this. The typical pet store cage marketed for guinea pigs is abysmally small. At the very least get him the cage marketed for rabbits, but if you really want to do right by your pig, construct a cage yourself out of cubes and coroplast. There are many websites that step-by-step tutorials on how to construct one. I recommend at least 7 square feet of  space for one pig, and an extra 3 square feet for any additional pig. Bigger is always better. 

Line the cage with bedding. You can buy pet store shavings, but I find this messy and expensive. The best choice I’ve found is to line the cage floor with towels and put a layer of fleece on top. The fleece stays dry while the towels absorb the urine. Then when it’s time to clean the cage, just pick up the lining, dump out the poop, and machine wash the fleece. I always keep extra bedding on hand for when it’s washing. Note, they cannot have pine shavings. Pine can be deadly to a pig.

Give him blocks or sticks of wood. Like beavers, guinea pigs teeth never stop growing, so they need something to chew on to keep their teeth filed down.

Keep him at room temperature. Unless you live amid the tradewinds of St. Thomas where it’s always a perfect 78 degrees, keep your pig inside. They cannot handle temperatures dipping below the mid 60’s or above the low 80’s.

Give him plenty of attention. If you want your guinea pig to love and not fear you, you must take him out and spend time with him daily. Be gentle and speak quietly to him. It may take months for him to warm up to you, but don’t give up. They really do want your affection, even if they appear apprehensive.

Trim his nails. Every few weeks, a guinea pig needs his nails clipped. If you neglect this, the nail can grow into the foot pad causing pain and infection. Clip the nail at an angle and be careful not to cut to the quick. He’s going to hate this, so distract him with his favorite veggie while you perform the procedure. It helps to have a second person to hold him as you do the clipping.

Give him fresh vegetables daily. Romaine lettuce, carrots, bell peppers, parsley, kale - all of these veggies have the guinea pig seal of approval. The higher in vitamin C, the better. Be careful with dishing out fruits. Pigs can certainly have a little bit of apple, orange, or strawberry here and there, but too much fruit can be unhealthy for your pig.

Weigh him. Adult guinea pigs should maintain a steady weight, and any sudden weight loss or gain is an indicator of a problem. Weekly weigh-ins are recommended, and if you notice a weight-changing trend, get him to the vet.

Find an exotic pet veterinarian in your area. Many vets specialize in dogs and cats and therefore are not as knowledgeable about guinea pigs’ specific needs. Call around or get referrals from other guinea pig owners.

Consider getting him a friend. Guinea pigs are herd animals and even with daily attention from you, he gets lonely. Think about finding him a piggy companion either of the same sex or one that has been neutered.

Look for rescues. Before buying that pet store or breeder guinea pig, check your local shelter, rescue center, want ads, or Craigslist for guinea pigs in need of homes. There are many unwanted or neglected guinea pigs in need of someone to love them.

Buster is an American Shorthaired Ridgeback guinea pig.

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