Guinea Pigs at a Glance
A guinea pigs' lifespan is 5-7 years although it’s not uncommon for some to live longer
Guinea pigs are herd animals; they are healthier and happier with a (same sex) friend
Guinea Pigs are monophyodont which means their teeth constantly grow. They need an unlimited supply of hay to keep them from overgrowing
They are the only mammal, other than humans, that cannot manufacture their own vitamin C. They require a supplement in addition to veggies containing vitamin C
They communicate by wheeking, burring, chattering & chirping
An average adult male weight 2-2.5 lbs
An average adult female weighs 1.5-2 lbs
Guinea pigs are cavies, a group of rodents native to South America with the largest cavy being a Capybara
They are strict herbivores. 80% of their diet is made up of hay. Hay is the most essential part of their diet. Foods containing dairy or other animal products should never be fed
Let's Talk About Diet
Guinea pigs should be free fed and have unlimited access to timothy or orchard hay 24/7. We tell adopters that
if they have given hay and the piggies have eaten all of it or nearly all of it, then you haven't given
enough. Unlimited hay should look like a small mountain. Additionally using a large hay bag or a small cat litter box and keeping full at all times will ensure that your piggies never run out.
Not feeding hay 24/7 will lead to a number of health issues, including overgrown teeth, GI stasis, diarrhea,
anorexia and heart disease. Hay cubes or blocks are not a substitution for long strand loose hay. We are big fans of buying hay in bulk. You can purchase 25-50 lb boxes online of Oxbow or SPS hay, or try your local feed store and purchase by the flake or bale. This can save guinea pig owners a lot of money.
In addition to unlimited hay, guinea pigs should have about 1/8 of a cup of high quality plain timothy based pellets.
Brands we can recommend are Oxbow Essentials Cavy Cuisine Adult Guinea Pig Food, Oxbow Garden Select,
Oxbow Organic Bounty, Sherwood Small Pet, Timothy pellet, KleenMamas and Small Pet Select
Never feed pellets containing seeds, nuts or other colored bits. While those colorful "guinea pig" foods
may look good to us, they are extremely unhealthy for guinea pigs.
*All of our adoptable guinea pigs are currently eating Oxbow Essentials.
Guinea pigs also need about a cup to a cup and a half of green leafy veggies each day. Check out our Veggie Guide for a more detailed list of recommended veggies. With this list you can learn how to build your piggies daily salads.
We recommend giving a vitamin C supplement to ensure piggies are getting the needed 25-50mg per day
We like the Oxbow vitamin C cookies as well as the Childlife liquid vitamin C. Lack of vitamin C can lead to life threatening scurvy.
Never feed yogurt drops, salt and mineral licks, seeds, nuts, or treats and foods containing any of those.
Sample Pig Schedule
Refresh & Refill pellets, hay and water *remember, hay should be available at ALL times
Provide Vitamin C supplement
Provide 1 - 1 1/2 cup of fresh veggies (healthy & toxic veggies list here) You can break this up and feed half veggies in morning and half in evening if you like.
Spot clean habitat
Give floor time, lap time and lots of love
Check weight & visual overall health inspection
Thoroughly clean cage, water bottles (including spout with q-tip), food dishes
Gently clean ears
Guinea Pig Supply Checklist
See our Links & Resources page for trusted suppliers
o Cage / Habitat: Minimum 10.5 sq. feet for boars and 8 sq. feet for sows. C&C & Kavee Cages are the best choice as they provide a little more space (above the minimum). The midwest guinea pig habitat is also a good choice for 2 sows as it provides the minimum of 8sq feet. We also like that you can add onto the midwest with a second one making for a nice piggy palace. Never house piggies in aquariums, multi level rodent cages or rabbit hutches **Please note that most of our pairs do require 10.5 sq feet of space (aka a 2x4 grid c&c or kavee cage) So this means that the midwest cage will be too small for most of our pairs.
o Cage Bedding: Fleece with an absorbent layer underneath, Kiln Dried Pine, Aspen Shavings, Carefresh (No cedar, cat litter or newspaper) Guinea Dad makes a great cage liner.
o Water Bottle or Bowl: if using a bottle, at least one 16-oz bottle for 2 pigs. (2 for 2 pigs is great)
o Food Dish: Heavy-duty crock type preferred (2 for 2 pigs is great)
o Huts & Hideouts: 2 Medium sized wooden or plastic (can use a cardboard box). Snuggle Sacks, Cuddle Cups & Caves, Soft Fleece Houses, Tunnels & Hammocks
o Pellets: High-quality plain timothy-based pellets only, no seeds, nuts or colored bits. Babies under 6 months and pregnant or nursing mamas need an alfalfa based pellet. Brands we highly recommend are Oxbow Essentials Cavy Cuisine Adult Guinea Pig Food, Oxbow Garden Select, Sherwood Small Pet, Timothy pellet, KleenMamas and Small Pet Select. * Please note that our adoptable guinea pigs are currently eating Oxbow essentials.
o Hay: Timothy, Orchard or Blends (also provide Alfalfa for pigs under 6 months)
o Vitamin C Supplement: Oxbow “Cookies”, Vit. C Tablets or Liquid (50 mg) We like the childlife liquid vitamin C
o Toys, Chews & Treats: Hay/Twig Balls, Hay Squares & Blocks, Hay Filled Paper Bags, Pea Flakes, Timothy Biscuits
o Carrier: Sturdy Plastic with locks for small pet. Cat carriers with a top load work great for piggies.
o Nail Clippers & Cornstarch: To trim nails & stop bleeding for accidentally cut quicks
o Q Tips & Coconut Oil: For Boar cleanings
o Scale: Digital Kitchen Scale with notebook to record weight
o Pet Friendly Cleaner: Jackson Galaxy Stain & Odor Remover, White Vinegar, Nature's Miracle Cage Cleaner
Guinea Pig Ailments & Symptoms
Guinea Pigs are prey animals so they will hide illness. This is why it's so important to monitor their weight weekly and spend time with them every day so you can recognize anything out of the ordinary. A guinea pig's health can deteriorate very quickly and by the time problems become apparent, illnesses may be life-threatening. Guinea pigs very seldom get over an illness without help.
Prompt, competent veterinary care is crucial. Find a guinea pig-knowledgeable exotics vet soon after adopting so you know whom to contact in an emergency. Visit our Guinea Pig Vet List to find a qualified exotic veterinarian near you.
Bladder Stones / UTI: Blood in Urine, Unable to Urinate, Weight Loss, Straining and Crying While Pooping
Bloat: Swollen Abdomen, Not Pooping
Ear Infection: Head Tilt, Loss of Balance
Giardia / GI Stasis: Soft or Runny Poop - Stop All Veggies for 24 hours, Seek Vet Care
Mites / Mange Mites / Fungal Infection: Hair loss, Red Flaky Skin, Excessive Scratching
Refusal to Eat or Drink (Contact Vet Immediately Begin Hand Feeding): URI, Teeth Issues, Pain
Upper Respiratory infection: Lethargy, Hunched Posture, Refusal to Eat or Drink, Crusty Eyes, Sneezing, Wheezing, Rough or Puffed Up Coat, Labored Breathing, Dull Eyes
Ovarian Cysts and Reproductive Issues in Females: Changes in Behavior Such as Constant Chasing and Mounting Cage Mates, Crusty Nipples, Hair Loss Along Sides, Bleeding from Vaginal Area
When to See a Vet
Weight Loss: a change in weight of 50 grams gained or lost at weekly weigh-in indicates an underlying health concern
Not Eating: Guinea Pigs must eat constantly to keep their GI tract moving. If pig has stopped eating you must syringe feed with critical care every 4 hours
Wheezing or labored breathing - Crusty eyes or nose
Sitting hunched in a corner
Bleeding from any opening - Blood in urine, squeaking while or difficulty urinating
Severe diarrhea or Bloated: Tummy should be soft & pliable, not inflated or hard
Head Tilt or Drooling, any other sever injury
Problems Defecating: If your pig isn’t pooping, see a vet asap
Hair Loss: more than just shedding can be serious
Any behavior unusual for your pig, such as facing a corner, turning down their favorite veggies, refusing any food can be an indication your guinea pig is seriously ill. Seek veterinary care immediately
Are Guinea Pigs the Right Companion Animal for You?
The Financial Commitment
$200 for adoption donation, cage, bedding, accessories, food $30 to $50 per month for bedding, hay, pellets, veggies
$80 to $200 for simple vet visits plus meds
$300 to $2000 for complex visits & surgeries (like bladder stones)
The Time Commitment
It’s a common misconception that the smaller the pet, the less work they will be (we’re not sure why) Guinea Pigs need very specialized care and they are time consuming.
They live approximately 8 years and require:
Feeding - twice a day, fresh veggies and hay, pellet and water refilling
Cage spot cleaning - (about 30 min) with full cleaning once a week (one to two hours with laundry if using fleece)
Attention - lap time & floor time. Guinea pigs are social animals; they get depressed with little interaction.
Working with Temperament and Behavior Changes:
Are you willing to work with your guinea pig and allow time for them to acclimate and open up at their own pace? It can take a few months for a guinea pig to settle into a new home as the sights, sounds, and smells are all new to them. As small prey animals, they have very few defenses, they don’t usually bite but may if they are handled improperly, are scared or think your fingers are food.
You Must Be the Primary Caretaker for Life
Adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment. Children have short attention spans and their interests and schedules (school, sports) change over time. If your child loses interest are you willing to continue to care for the animals that you have committed to when you adopted them? Terminal illness would be a suitable reason to rehome a pet. A move or getting busy with school sports is not. We want to stress that pet adoption is a serious commitment, it’s not for everyone and it’s ok if it’s not for you, but be realistic about it before you take in a pet. If a lifetime commitment is not for you or you aren’t sure, consider becoming a guinea pig foster volunteer first.
Getting to Know Your New Guinea Pig Companions
When you first get your guinea pigs home, do not be surprised if they need some time to adjust to their new surroundings. They will probably be skittish and may hide and or run when you enter the room. It’s ok to start holding them and interacting gently with them, but be patient. Don’t forget, they’re prey animals and this means it’s natural for them to want to hide to protect themselves. With lots of love and patience, you’ll win over their trust. Guinea pigs are pretty good at learning when veggie time is too and before long they’ll be wheeking at the sound of your refrigerator opening!
In homes with small children (11 and under), we recommend parents pick up the guinea pigs and hand them to the child while the child is seated. Allowing a small child to walk around holding a scared and squirming piggy can lead to a dropped piggy.
Check out the following tips for bonding with your piggies:
Talk to them softly through the cage so they can get used to your voice. Try to greet them at eye level so they will be less afraid of how big you are compared to them.
Use a soft voice and slow movements. Guinea pigs are easily startled so try and keep noise to a minimum in the beginning.
Try and set a routine and it usually works best when food is involved! Bring them a Vitamin C cookie in the morning or a sprig of Cilantro, try coaxing them out with food and eventually they will look forward to it and come and snatch it from your hand.
You can start introducing lap time slowly. Most pigs do not like being picked up, but once you figure out your technique, it should get easier. Make lap time calm and safe for them. Offer some of their favorite treats or sprigs of hay so they learn to associate lap time with positive things.
Wrap them in a towel or blanket for lap time and bring snacks! Try a forage mix as well. Many piggies love the forage mixes and will come and eat it out of your hand.
It may take three to four months for them to start coming out of their shell. Look for signs of a happy pig like wheeking, popcorning, coming up to greet you and running laps around their cage.
In Summary: A Few Things Your Pig Insists You Know
FEED ME HAY, I MUST ALWAYS HAVE UNLIMITED HAY!!
Hay makes up between 80% of my diet and helps keep my GI tract healthy. It also keeps my teeth from overgrowing. Make sure I have a constant supply of fresh timothy, orchard or blended hay. If I’m under 6 months old, feed me alfalfa too.
NO CEDAR BEDDING!!
Cedar releases aromatic oils that injure my lungs. Pine is a problem too if it isn’t kiln dried. Aspen or Carefresh are good choices. Towels topped with a fleece blanket are great for me and the environment too, toss them in the wash weekly for a zero waste option.
I LOVE TASTY GREEN VEGGIES!
Give me at least a cup of veggies every day. Green and red leaf lettuces are very good for me! I need vitamin C to stay healthy.
NO VITAMIN DROPS IN MY WATER!
Vitamin C drops make my water taste bad and the vitamin C starts fading away as soon as it hits the water. Give me fresh veggies so I get my vitamin C naturally and supplement with a liquid or chewable vitamin C supplement or a delicious Oxbow Vitamin C “cookie”.
I WANT A FRIEND, BUT NOT JUST ANY FRIEND!
I’m a herd animal so having a friend is important to my health & well being. So many of us need homes, please adopt a friend to keep me company. I won't bond with every pig though, so go through a rescue to make sure I get a good match! If I don't want to share my cage, getting me a grid mate is a great option!
GIVE ME A BIG CAGE!!
I need at least 8 - 10 square feet of space. This gives me plenty of room to exercise and helps keep the peace between my cage mate and me. C&C cages are ideal, light and bright with great ventilation.
I LOVE TO RUN AROUND!
I might be timid at first, but if you take me in a safe place, I’ll be popcorning for joy!! I need at least an hour of floor time 5x per week but preferably more.
I NEED A SPECIAL VET!!
Not every vet can treat exotics, you'll need to find a special small animal exotic vet to treat me. I hide illness so don't wait until it's too late to choose a suitable veterinarian for me.
I DON’T WANT TO HAVE BABIES!!
Please don’t house me with an intact mate! Pregnancies are very risky for guineas and with so many pigs in the shelters who need a great home, we do not want to bring babies into the world. Female pigs can get pregnant as early as 3 1⁄2 weeks of age (and also immediately after giving birth!), and male pigs can father litters at 3 1⁄2 weeks old! Separating pups at 3 weeks of age is critical in preventing unwanted pregnancies. A vet (or your local rescue) can help you determine gender.
Do not consider spaying/neutering a pig to pair with a friend of the opposite sex. Spay/neuter surgeries for pigs are high risk, they often result in death and should only be considered under life-threatening circumstances, as diagnosed by a qualified cavy vet.