Guinea pigs are timid and gentle and will rarely bite or scratch. They make ideal first pets for young children as long as they are supervised to ensure they do not become frightened. They move more slowly than some of the other small rodents such as hamsters and gerbils and are therefore easier to handle.

There is a wide range of guinea pigs with a variety of coat types ranging from the very short smooth coated to a longhaired Peruvian. A short haired guinea pig would be more suited to very young children as the coat needs very little care.

Providing your guinea pig is kept clean and healthy the approx life span is 4-6 years.

Unlike hamsters and most other rodents, guinea pigs are able to see in colour.

Handling Your Pet

Your new Guinea pig might be very nervous when you first get him home. This is due to the change of environment. The best way to deal with this is to talk to him and at first handle him as little as possible, as over handling at this stage causes stress, which could be fatal. When your guinea pig is used to his new home, you should begin to introduce your hand into the hutch/cage just for short periods of time each day. Talk to him gently as you pick him up. Hold your guinea pig firmly, but not too tightly around his neck and support his back end. Holding him firmly will make him feel secure, and he will soon learn to trust you and will then allow you to handle him.

Housing your Pet

The housing should be large enough to allow for growth of your guinea pig, and to allow him to move around comfortably. A hutch with a separate sleeping compartment is ideal housing for a guinea pig, especially if he is going to be kept outside. The base of the hutch or cage should be covered with a layer of wood shavings to absorb all waste. The hutch should then be placed out of draughts and direct sunlight, and if the hutch is kept outside it should be secure against predators.
If you decide to keep your guinea pig indoors, specialist cages that help to limit mess are available.

The hutch should be cleaned daily, and should be disinfected at least once a week with a suitable animal disinfectant. A run should also be provided for your new pet to allow them to have plenty of exercise and fresh air, always ensure that part of the run is covered to protect from the sun.

Companionship

Female guinea pigs require companionship and are far better to be kept in pairs or groups. Unfortunately males can become very territorial so unless they are brothers who have never been separated they are likely to fight when they reach maturity at approximately 6 months old.

Feeding your Pet

Guinea pig food should be given fresh each day in a ceramic or plastic bowl.
Vitamin C is a very important addition to a guinea pigs diet, as they cannot produce this themselves. Your guinea pig should be fed a quality guinea pig food with added vitamin C as well as plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Good quality hay is also really important as roughage; poor quality hay can cause diarrhoea. Fresh water must be readily available in a drinking bottle.

Health

A secure run will provide your guinea pig with plenty of exercise on warmer days and placing it on to an untreated lawn will provide plenty of opportunity for your guinea pig to graze. Take care that your guinea pig is not able to eat garden plants though as many are toxic. If your run is outside ensure that an area is shaded from the sun at all times and that your guinea pig has access to fresh water as guinea pigs are susceptible to heatstroke. Provide boxes and plant pots to hide in and make sure that other domestic pets are not able to get too close.

If your guinea pig lives indoors, he will appreciate a playpen; this will help you to protect your furniture and any electric cables from being gnawed! Provide plenty of hay, as this is ideal for burrowing and also some cardboard boxes for hiding in.

Common Illnesses

Mites:
These are very common in guinea pigs; the tiny mites burrow into the skin and can cause considerable pain and irritation. Mites can be treated by sprays or shampoos, or even by injection. Symptoms include scratching, baldness and raw patches and a scurfy appearance to the coat.

Vitamin c deficiency:
Guinea pigs must have vitamin C added to their diets, as they are unable to produce it themselves. If they do not receive the required amount they will become deficient and this can be fatal. Symptoms are: loss of weight and body condition and painful or swollen joints. The disease can be treated by daily doses of vitamin C drops, however should be prevented in the first place by providing a plentiful supply of green vegetables in the diet.

Respiratory infection:
Pneumonia is the commonest cause of death in guinea pigs. It can cause sudden death in severe cases or more frequently, it results in difficulty in breathing, discharge from the nose and eyes and sneezing. Response to treatment is often disappointing as guinea pigs are very sensitive to antibiotics and many are toxic to them.

Heatstroke:
Guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke and must be kept out of direct sunlight. Always ensure access to fresh water and adequate ventilation around the hutch.

Symptoms of heatstroke include: lethargy, heavy breathing, and loss of consciousness or convulsions. If you suspect heatstroke, provide first aid by cooling the guinea pig in tepid water and seek immediate veterinary advice.

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