Frequently Asked Questions

Questions Commonly Asked by New Cavy Keepers

 

Adapted to New Zealand conditions from the Guinea Pig FAQ by Emily Rocke

QUESTION: 1. Why would I want a pet cavy?
As far as small pets go, guinea pigs are among the easiest to care for, and also rate high on the cuddliness scale. You will need to feed them and check their water daily, and change their bedding about once or twice a week -- somewhat less when they are small. Also, if they are confined to a cage, they need to be allowed to run around a larger area for exercise daily.

Cavies (guinea pigs) are ideal for (responsible, gentle) children because they tend to be sweet-tempered, pettable, and relatively easy to catch if they escape from your child's hand If, however, you want a sweet, lovable pet who will sit on your lap to be petted for hours (well, minutes, anyway), a guinea pig may be the pet for you.

When you have had your pet guinea pig for some time you may want to do more with it. One option is to bring it along and enter it in one of NZCCI'S shows. Then again you may decide that one of the many pedigree varieties attracts you. Showing purebred cavies is fun and not difficult. You don't have to be a big time breeder with lots of different cavies. You can buy a Show Standard cavy from most studs in the club and show just one or two animals. An added bonus is that cavies kept as pets often show really well because they are often larger and tamer than cavies kept in larger herds by serious breeders - so why not give it a go?

QUESTION: 2 What should I feed my guinea pig?
A guinea pig's main diet should consist of dried meadow hay supplemented by pellets or crushed oats and fresh vegetables. If meadow hay is not feasible, a legume hay such as clover may be substituted. Whichever hay you use should be available at all times. Use ONLY the plain kind of guinea pig/rabbit pellets or oats (without nuts and dried fruits, which are high in fat and not good for your guinea pig). If you are concerned about your guinea pig becoming obese you should probably limit pellets to a small amount per day

They should also get a cup or two of fresh vegetables daily---aim for ones with high vitamin C, which guinea pigs need to keep healthy. Avoid iceberg lettuce (the pale lettuce that comes in heads ), since it has next to no nutritional value Other than that, most fresh vegetables and fruits that are safe for humans are safe for guinea pigs.

A list of some vegetables with high vitamin C content is below. Keep in mind that guinea pigs need about 10 mg of vitamin C per day (20 mg for pregnant sows), so if you aren't giving them the
appropriate amount of the high-C foods below on a daily basis, you will need to give vitamin C supplements. Crushed chewable C vitamins dissolved in the water works well for this.

The following chart shows the vitamin C content in milligrams (mg) of 1 cup portions of selected foods.Thanks to Dr. Susan Brown from America OnLine's "Ask A Vet".

Turnip Greens 260 mg
Mustard Greens 252 mg
Dandelion Greens 200 mg
Kale 192 mg
Brussels Sprouts 173 mg
Parsley 140 mg
Silver Beet Greens 100 mg
Broccoli Leaf* 120 mg
Cauliflower 100 mg
Strawberries 100 mg
Broccoli Florets 87 mg
Spinach 60 mg
Raspberries 60 mg
Orange 50 mg
Cabbage (all leaves and Chinese cabbage also) 50 mg

*Broccoli stem has 0 mg of vitamin C

(Noticethat oranges have less vitamin C than dark leafy greens!....stay with the greens for these little guys)

QUESTION: 3 What sort of housing should I obtain?
Any kind of cage with a solid bottom is okay. As for size, a rule of thumb is a minimum of two square feet per guinea pig. If they are not allowed to run around for exercise on a more or less daily basis, they will need more space to be happy and healthy.

The main thing to remember about housing cavies is that these little animals need to keep dry. Damp conditions combined with cold soon bring on illnesses such as pneumonia and this results in an early death. Cavies can cope with cold conditions as long as they remain dry and have plenty of bedding material to snuggle into.

The usual materials for building your own cages are wood (at least 1.5 cms thick) and galvanised wire mesh (13mm). The wire mesh can be either the hexagonal "chicken wire" or welded "rabbit" wire. The "rabbit" wire is safer for an outdoor cage as it is more dog proof. Dogs are a major cause of early death for pet guinea pigs kept outside. If you garden is un-fenced you should probably forget about a lawn run and opt for either a hutch, well off the ground, or cages in a shed or garage

QUESTION: 4. What should I use for bedding?
In New Zealand the usual bedding is several thick layers of newspaper topped off with a thick layer of hay or straw. sometimes UNTREATED wood shavings or sawdust are used. Shredded paper can be used but need to be changed daily as it becomes dirty very quickly. If bedding other than hay is used remember it will still be necessary to FEED hay to your guinea pigs.

QUESTION: 5. Will multiple guinea pigs get along together?
Yes. Guinea pigs are sociable creatures, and are usually all the happier for company, lthough they may ignore their humans more as a result. If you don't have a lot of time to spend with your guinea pig, or are gone for much of the day, your guinea pig may be a lot happier if you get him or her a friend. Same-sex groups, of either sex, usually get along fine if given sufficient room, although females seem to be slightly more reliable in this respect than males. Males should be allright if kept together from a young age and not introduced to sows.

QUESTION: 6. What should I know about breeding?
First of all, it's a good idea not to try to breed a guinea pig until you have found some responsible people who would like one of the offspring as a pet. Pet stores often treat small animals very irresponsibly, and you don't want to bring guinea pigs into the world that aren't wanted or will be mistreated.

That in mind, there are a few guidelines. A female should not be bred until she weighs 500 g, or is 4-5 months old. Also, no older female should ever have a first litter. Somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12 months, if she is childless, her hip bones will fuse such that she can not give birth naturally, and a later pregnancy may require a caesarian section. Therefore, if you plan to breed your female, or if you do not plan to spay her and the situation is such that she may become pregnant later on, you should probably see that she has at least one litter between the ages of 5 and 9 months. The gestation period (time between conception and giving birth) for guinea pigs is approximately 60-70 days. Guinea pigs do not normally require assistance in giving birth. The young are usually in no danger from either parent, although you may want to remove the male right away, since the female is able to conceive again within the hour after giving birth. Litters can have between 1 and 8 little ones, but typically have two to four. The males of the litter should be separated from the mother and their sisters directly after weaning, since they are sexually mature at about 10 weeks of age. The babies will probably be weaned by the time they are about 3 weeks old.

It is important to handle the babies soon and often, to socialize them to humans. Guinea pigs form their social bonds shortly after birth, sometimes within a matter of hours, so human contact is very important during this time to ensure that they establish strong bonds to people.

Many people are under the impression that handling baby animals too soon will cause the mother to reject them, but this isn't true for guinea pigs. Lots of love and gentle handling and petting from the start will make the babies grow up more friendly, and less afraid of humans.

QUESTION: 7. Can guinea pigs be neutered?
Guinea pigs of both sexes can be neutered, and in some cases should be. There is some evidence that neutering a female can reduce incidence of uterine cancer. Also, if you have an older female that may not have had a litter yet, she may be spayed for her safety. There are no known health reasons to neuter a male guinea pig.

QUESTION: 8. My guinea pig has symptoms. Is this serious?
First of all, if there's any doubt about the nature of the disease, take your guinea pig to a veterinarian right away! Sometimes a simple medical procedure can clear up a problem that would otherwise be fatal. That said, here are some common symptoms with what illnesses they may indicate.

Scratching/Bare Patches:
As with sneezing, some scratching is completely normal. Guinea pigs spend most of their time grooming themselves. However, if the places being scratched are becoming raw or sore, or losing their hair, the scratching is probably excessive. Your guinea pig may have some kind of parasite, such as mites, or fungus, such as ringworm.

Bare patches of skin are commonly caused by fungi and can be treated with a suitable anti fungal dip. Many cavy owners use Selsun Gold as the first line of defence. Ask your veterinarian if there is a bad problem.

If bare patches are causing a lot of irritation, with scratches or weeping skin the problem is more serious and may be caused by mites which burrow under the skin. These can also be controlled by special dips or by drenching with Ivomec. Again it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

Sneezing:
Some sneezing is completely normal, just as with humans. However, if your guinea pig is sneezing all the time, or is sneezing a lot in combination with other symptoms, he or she may have a bacterial infection or other illness (see next).

Sniffling, wheezing, constant sneezing, runny nose:
Your guinea pig probably has a bacterial infection or other illness. Separate him (or her) from any other guinea pigs you might have immediately so they don't catch the disease. If it doesn't clear up on its own in a day or two, take him to a vet because he may need to be given antibiotics before he will get better. Make sure your vet never prescribes Amoxicillin, because it's deadly to guinea pigs and some vets don't realize this. If the vet prescribes any sort of antibiotic, you should give the guinea pig a supplement of lactobacillus acidophilus (you can find this in health food stores) or live culture yoghurt, so that the antibiotic doesn't kill the good bacteria in the stomach that enable digestion. Also, make sure he has plenty of water and that he is kept at a constant comfortable temperature, neither too warm nor too cold.

Blood in urine:
This is a symptom that could indicate any of a number of diseases, some of which are extremely serious. Take him/her to a good vet right away!

Diarrhea:
If you have recently fed your guinea pig a new type of vegetable, or an unusually large quantity of fresh vegetables, that may be the cause. Try not feeding that new vegetable (or not feeding so many vegetables) for a day or so to see if the problem clears up. Whether or not his/her vegetable consumption has changed, if a day or two passes and your guinea pig still has diarrhea, take him or her to a vet right away! It doesn't take long for a small animal to dehydrate and die, so diarrhea is a very serious problem.

Trouble walking (stiff joints or stumbling):
This could indicate a vitamin C deficiency. Give plenty of the high vitamin C vegetables listed in the feeding section (even if you have to go out to the supermarket and buy them) and see a vet right away. Your guinea pig may need to get a C shot.

QUESTION: 9. Do I need to trim my guinea pig's toenails? How?
Yes, you will probably need to trim your guinea pig's toenails, unless he or she does a lot of running around on bricks or concrete or other rough surfaces that will keep the nails short. Once the nails start getting long there is nothing but you clipping them to remedy the situation; the nails will eventually either curl back into the pad of the foot, crippling the guinea pig, or else break off and sometimes cause bleeding and infections in the process.

You can clip the nails at home yourself or, if you feel insecure about it, you can ask a breeder at your local Cavy Show. You can use either a normal human nail clipper or the clippers with curved blades they sell in pet stores for trimming cat nails.

The easiest way to do this is to have a friend help you, so that one of you can hold the guinea pig while the other trims the nails. The thing you have to be careful of is not to cut the quick, which is the pink part in guinea pigs with white nails. Just like in humans, the pink part shows how far the flesh of the toe extends, and the white part has no nerves.

If your guinea pig has dark nails, you may need to use a brighter light source to see the quick, which should be slightly darker than the end of he nail. If you still can't see where the quick is, just cut the nails often and a little bit at a time and you should be fine. If you do accidentally cut the quick a little and it starts bleeding, dab a bit of Savlon on the spot to help prevent infections. Hold him or her until the bleeding stops so that the site stays clean and the cut is given a chance to heal over somewhat

QUESTION: 10. My guinea pig runs away from me. What can I do?
It's normal for a guinea pig to be afraid of you at first, and some guinea pigs, depending on personality, are always a little shy. However, with patience and love, you can almost always make good friends with a guinea pig. The younger they are when you start, the easier it will be to gain their trust.The thing to remember is that you are very large and frightening to a guinea pig. Also, being picked up is very scary, since guinea pigs aren't really climbing or jumping sorts of animals ---they're used to having four feet solidly on the ground.

It's much easier if you start when they're little. The best way to pick one up is to place one hand under the belly and lift, then as soon as they are off the ground, place another hand under the hind legs so he (or she) feels secure and supported.

Put him in your lap---maybe on a towel so you don't have to worry about "accidents"---and pet him to your heart's content. Some guinea pigs also like being held standing against the chest, with the nose pointing up towards your face, or cradled in your arms at chest level. Try different positions, and you should be able to tell which one(s) your guinea pig likes by how restless he is. This is a good time to give fresh vegetable treats, so he feels positively about the experience! As soon as he begins to squeak or become restless, let him down. Besides the fact that he'll become enthusiastic faster if he isn't imprisoned on your lap, it also may be a sign that he's about to pee.

Some guinea pigs never feel comfortable being picked up, especially if they aren't handled a lot when they're little. This doesn't mean that you can't have a good relationship with your pet, though, just that you have to relate to him (or her) where he's more comfortable, namely on the ground. The best time to do this is during play time, when he's let out to run around the room (this should happen every day, so they get enough exercise). Lie down on the floor, so you aren't so tall and frightening, and offer a piece of vegetable to your guinea pig.While he's eating it, reach forward slowly to pet him. If he runs away, let him finish his vegetable and try again later.

It may take patience, but eventually the shyest of guinea pigs should sit still for you to pet him, and even come over to be petted. The more time you spend on the floor with him, the faster he'll get used to you. Also, the less you chase him around to pick him up the less afraid of you he'll be, so if your guinea pig lives in a cage, try to set up some sort of ramp so that they can get back into their cage on their own. If you put fresh vegetables in there, or just rattle around their pellets a little, I guarantee they'll go back into their cage without more forceful urging.

Remember, the more time you spend with your guinea pigs, the
faster they'll become friendly with you