Owning and caring for a guinea pig can be very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and a long-term commitment in terms of care and finances. If you own or are responsible for a guinea pig, even on a temporary basis, you are required under the Animal Welfare Act to care for them properly.
How the animals came to be called "pigs" is not clear. They are built somewhat like pigs, with large heads relative to their bodies, stout necks, and rounded rumps with no tail of any consequence; some of the sounds they emit are very similar to those made by pigs, and they also spend a large amount of time eating. They can survive for long periods in small quarters, like a 'pig pen', and were thus easily transported on ships to Europe.
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Guinea pigs are prey animals whose survival instinct is to mask pain and signs of illness, and many times health problems may not be apparent until a condition is severe or in its advanced stages. Treatment of disease is made more difficult by the extreme sensitivity guinea pigs have to most antibiotics, including penicillin, which kill off the intestinal flora and quickly bring on episodes of diarrhea and in some cases, death.
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Cavies should not use exercise wheels. Ever. Exercise wheels result in damaged backs, injured feet, and generally unhealthy Guinea pigs. Ignore the picture of the lovely wheel on the cavy cages.
Foreign bodies, especially small pieces of hay or straw, can become lodged in the eyes of guinea pigs, resulting in excessive blinking, tearing, and in some cases an opaque film over the eye due to corneal ulcer. Hay or straw dust can also cause sneezing. While it is normal for guinea pigs to sneeze periodically, frequent sneezing may be a symptom of pneumonia, especially in response to atmospheric changes. Pneumonia may also be accompanied by torticollis and can be fatal.
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The domestic guinea pig plays an important role in the folk culture of many Indigenous South American groups, especially as a food source, but also in folk medicine and in community religious ceremonies. Since the 1960s, efforts have been made to increase consumption of the animal outside South America.
Guinea pigs are cute and cuddly pets, and can be the perfect for younger children. Make sure your Guinea pig has all it needs with the great range of products from Pets at Home, including bedding, treats, secure cages and toys to keep them entertained.
Guinea pigs are tail-less rodents that are native to the west coast of South America and since the mid-1800’s, laboratories have used them for research. The correct name for guinea pigs is Cavy, pronounced “kay-vee”.
Guinea pigs are small, sociable, ‘chatty’ rodents. There are different breeds and varieties of guinea pigs, with a wide variety of colour and coat lengths.
Biological experimentation on guinea pigs has been carried out since the 17th century. The animals were frequently used as model organisms in the 19th and 20th centuries, resulting in the epithet "guinea pig" for a test subject, but have since been largely replaced by other rodents such as mice and rats. They are still used in research, primarily as models for human medical conditions such as juvenile diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy, and pregnancy complications.
Male and female guinea pigs do not differ in external appearance apart from general size. The position of the anus is very close to the genitals in both sexes. Female genitals are distinguished by a Y-shaped configuration formed from a vulvar flap, while the male genitals may look similar, with the penis and anus forming a like shape, the penis will protrude if pressure is applied to the surrounding hair. The male's testes may also be visible externally from scrotal swelling.
Cavies are messy. Be prepared for them to foul their food and water dishes. A water bottle hung on the side of the enclosure is a good back-up for the water bowl.
Health & Illness Keeping your pet healthy and common illnesses and injuries.
Guinea pigs are traditionally thought of as good first pets for children, but it should always be an adult that takes responsibility to ensure they are properly handled and cared for.
Cage & Habitat All about creating the perfect home for your guinea pig.
Similar to the inherited genetic diseases of other breeds of animal (such as hip dysplasia in canines), a number of genetic abnormalities of guinea pigs have been reported. Most commonly, the roan coloration of Abyssinian guinea pigs is associated with congenital eye disorders and problems with the digestive system. Other genetic disorders include "waltzing disease" (deafness coupled with a tendency to run in circles), palsy, and tremor conditions.
Read our expert reviewed pet care information to find out more about the needs of guinea pigs: Environment, Diet, Behaviour, Company and Health and welfare.
Common ailments in domestic guinea pigs include respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency, typically characterized by sluggishness), abscesses due to infection (often in the neck, due to hay embedded in the throat, or from external scratches), and infections by lice, mites, or fungus.
Also, they cannot jump more than a couple inches into the air. Make sure they are not in danger of falling off the edges of tables, beds, stairways, or other hazards.
Nevertheless, as a food source, guinea pigs are generally considered taboo in other countries in America and Europe. In reality television, guinea pig meat has been consumed as an exotic dish by such Western celebrity chefs as Andrew Zimmern (for his show Bizarre Foods), Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations, and Jeff Corwin in his show Extreme Cuisine.
Types of Guinea Pigs The most common types of guinea pigs available as pets.
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They originate from the grasslands and lower slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Why not view our full Guinea pig factfile (PDF 44KB).
Guide Care Sheet A list of supplies needed to have a happy and healthy cavy.
Breeding & Babies Breeding, mating, sexing of cavies and the care of babies.
Instead, provide a clear bit of floor for the Guinea pigs to just run around. You might even consider a play pen or an empty plastic wading pool. Some people have even started teaching their Guinea pigs to jump over very short toy horse oxers.
Guinea Pigs as Pets Guinea pigs are cuddly, comical, and clever. They make wonderful pets for children and can be very social animals. The animals do better in pairs as they prefer company, so unless you have a lot of time to devote to your pet getting at least two is often a good idea. They are not expensive to own and the biggest expense is the initial setting up of housing. Guinea pigs are hardy pets so veterinarian expenses are minimal.
Guinea pigs are large for rodents, weighing between 700 and 1,200 g (1.5 and 2.6 lb), and measuring between 20 and 25 cm (8 and 10 in) in length. They typically live an average of four to five years, but may live as long as eight years. According to the 2006 Guinness World Records, the longest living guinea pig survived 14 years, 10.5 months.
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Guinea pig sight is not as good as that of a human, but they have a wider angle of vision (about 340°) and see in partial color (dichromacy). They have well-developed senses of hearing, smell, and touch. Vocalization is the primary means of communication between members of the species. These are the most common sounds made by the guinea pig:
You can also download our booklet: How to take care of your guinea pigs (PDF 1.38MB)
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Fresh grass hay must be available at all times, and good Timothy-grass-based Guinea pig pellets ought to be the main part of your pet’s meals. Why Timothy specifically? Your other choice is usually alfalfa, which is much too high in calcium. Fresh vegetables such as carrots, broccoli leaves, and radish greens will round out the diet. Vitamin C supplements are a wise precaution, because the vitamin C in the pellets loses its potency quickly. Simply sprinkle the powder over the veggies.
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Guinea pigs also practice alloparental care, in which a female may adopt the pup or pups of another. This might take place if the original parents die or are for some reason separated from them. This behavior is common, and is seen in many other animal species such as the elephant.
Guinea pigs, also known as “cavies,” are rotund rodents from South America. They are affectionate and gentle, and well-suited for households with children. However, as true herbivores that are very low on the food chain, they should be kept away from dogs, cats, ferrets, and rats.
Toxemia of pregnancy is common and kills many pregnant females. Signs of toxemia include anorexia, lack of energy, excessive salivation, a sweet or fruity breath odor due to ketones, and seizures in advanced cases. Pregnancy toxemia appears to be most common in hot climates. Other serious complications of pregnancy can include a prolapsed uterus, hypocalcaemia, and mastitis.