New Guinea Pigs

Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Now the hard part is done (how hard is it deciding on the colour?), here’s some simple husbandry tips to help you along the road of a dedicated guinea pig parent.

What should I be feeding my guinea pig?
Your guinea pig should be fed a diet primarily made up of fresh vegetables and grass hay with a small amount of good quality pellets.

1. Pellets:
Most of the commercial guinea pig pellets on the market were originally designed for laboratory animals and are thus actually detrimental to your small friend’s health. These pellets often contain corn, oats, other grains and seeds that no self-respecting wild guinea pig would even consider eating! Also, these pellets are high in fat (often as much as 5%), starch and energy, predisposing your guinea pig to tummy upsets, ill-health and obesity. Feeding your guinea pig these pellets is like you or I pigging out on fast food every meal everyday. If we don’t do it to ourselves, why do it to our guinea pig small friends?

A good quality pellet should contain at least 15% or greater fibre with less than 3% fat (ideally less that 2.5%).  Pellets should never be freely available to your guinea pigs. A rough rule of thumb is about 1/8 cup of pellets per adult guinea pig with unlimited access to grass hay and fresh greens daily.

2. Grass Hay:
Grass hay makes up the bulk of your guinea pigs’ diet in the wild and should be available in unlimited amounts.  Grass hay is instrumental in guinea pig health by providing fibre, protein, minerals and vitamins.  Fibre promotes bowel movements and makes your piglet feel fuller for longer. Grass hay also promotes the growth of good bacteria in your small friend’s intestines to aid in digestion. In addition, it encourages chewing which allows your guinea pig to wear down their teeth.

Grass hay may also be known as meadow or timothy hay. A good place to source your grass hay is from stock feed stores. Avoid legume hays such as lucerne (alfalfa) and clover. Legume hays are too rich in calories, calcium and protein and can lead to obesity and tummy upsets.

3. Fresh Greens:
Your guinea pig needs a daily supply of leafy greens and other vegetables to stay healthy. Veggies provide important micronutrients and act as a source of palatable water. Feed at least three different vegetables to your piglet each day to maximise the amount of nutrients received and to minimise pickiness.  Some good vegetables to feed are: Chinese greens, spinach, cabbage, capsicums, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower and broccoli leaves. Avoid iceberg and cos lettuces as they are mostly water and have little nutritional value. Always wash your veggies before giving them to your guinea pig.

Guinea pigs, like humans, cannot make their own vitamin C and need an external source of vitamin C everyday. Most commercial pellets claim to have pre-added vitamin C. However, the vitamin C component in these commercial pellets is often not stabilised and go off when the pellets are stored for long periods. Therefore your pellets may start off containing appropriate levels of vitamin C but a month down the track contain no vitamin C at all. Hence it is extremely important that you provide your guinea pig with an external source of vitamin C in the form of fresh vegetables daily. Some good sources of vitamin C are: fresh leafy greens, tomatoes and cabbages.

Guinea pigs with a vitamin C deficiency get a nasty disease called scurvy which can cause bleeding, depression, swollen joints, poor bone development and death if not treated.

4. The Big ‘No-Nos’ 
Any food that is rich in starch and fat is a big ‘no-no’ for your guinea pig, when fed in large enough amounts, these foods cause tummy upsets and predispose your piglet to disease and obesity.

Some ‘no-no’ foods include beans, bread, peas, cereals, oats, corn, nuts, seeds, wheat, grains, dried fruits (such as raisins or apricots), sugar or molasses. Unfortunately, many of these foods are fed to guinea pigs by well-meaning owners as treats or as part of the commercial guinea pig mix but they are unsafe for your guinea pig to consume.

5. Treats
Small amounts of fruits may be given once or twice a week as special treats. You must remember fruits are strictly treat foods and should not be offered daily as they are not part of your piglets’ natural diet.

6. Water
Fresh water should be available to your piglet at all times. You may find a sipper bottle is handier and less mess than a water bowl.

By following the guidelines set out above you can offer your guinea pig a diverse range of food that will keep them mentally stimulated and happy.

Do I need to vaccinate my guinea pig?
No. There is no vaccination for guinea pigs.  However, it is recommended that you bring your guinea pig to Small Friends Veterinary Hospital for an annual health check as you would for any treasured member of your furry family. For more information on annual health checks please see our Annual Health Check Information Page.

Where should my guinea pig sleep?
The ideal guinea pig hutch should be as large as possible but the minimum space requirement for a single guinea pig is 0.5 m X 1.0 m. Your hutch should protect your guinea pig from the extremes of weather and be well-ventilated. It should have at least one retreat or bedroom area and have at least one hidey-hole per guinea pig (i.e. if you have three guinea pigs, provide at least three hidey holes). It is important your hutch has solid flooring (i.e no wire floors!) to protect their feet and should have sufficient hay/straw as bedding. The design of your hutch should be such so it is easily cleaned. Guinea pigs are messy animals so it is best to clean out your hutch everyday to maintain good hygiene.

Does my guinea pig need time outside its hutch?
Plenty of exercise and play makes for a healthy and happy small friend. Offering your guinea pig daily playtime outside its hutch can be fun for them. You may consider letting your piglet roam free in a fenced off part of your garden or cordon off an area in your backyard with play pens. Play time allows your piglet to stretch their legs, munch on grass, explore their environment, relax in the sunshine and generally appreciate the wide open space!

Can I toilet train my guinea pig?
Sorry guys! Guinea pigs are messy by nature and will not eliminate at a specific toilet area. As a matter of fact, they will often poop and pee in their own hay and food and water bowl. As such, it is a good idea to have a hay bag and a water sipper bottle to keep the mess to a minimum.

I would like to breed from my guinea pig how soon can I do this?
Timing of breeding is very important for guinea pigs. A sow’s (female guinea pig) pelvic bones fuse at an early age and narrow a sow’s birth canal. If she is bred later than seven months of age, she is very likely to have difficulty during delivery and the results are often fatal for both mother and babies. If you are planning to breed from your guinea pig, you need to first mate your sow between four and seven months of age – if she is to be bred at all. Boars (male guinea pigs) should be at least four months old before they are allowed to mate.

As always, to avoid unwanted pregnancies we recommend desexing your small friend. For more information on desexing please see our Desexing Information Page.

Is it cruel to keep a single guinea pig? Does my piglet need a friend?
Yes, make sure your piglet has a friend. Guinea pigs are social animals in the wild and live in large family groups. They love interacting with other guinea pigs and do not do well by themselves.  We recommend keeping at least two or more guinea pigs (preferably of the same sex to prevent unwanted pregnancies) so your piglets can play together, making their life much more entertaining.

Do my guinea pigs need toys?
It is great if you can provide your piglets with an enriching environment. Toys for your guinea pigs do not need to be flash to be good. They can be as simple as cardboard boxes with various exit holes cut into them, plastic PVC pipes as tunnels and flavoured wooden chews and vitamin bricks.

If you have any other queries about raising your new guinea pig, our staff at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital will be able to assist you. Please call Small Friends Veterinary Hospital on 02 6262 2233.