For many Australians, guinea pigs are their first pet – the first little ball of fluff we learn to care for and love as part of our families. While guinea pigs are popular with parents as a ‘lower maintenance’ pet than a cat or dog, they still require the right environment, care, and food to make sure they’re healthy and happy.
Guinea pigs are natural herbivores, who would spend their time foraging and grazing in small herds in the wild. Their teeth are continuously growing, so they need plenty of roughage to chew; this wears down their teeth and helps prevent serious dental problems.
For your guinea pigs to be happy and healthy, they need plenty of the following in their diets:
- A constant supply of grass and/or grass hay (such as Timothy, Oaten, Barley, or grassy hay). The hay that you fEed should be available 24 hours a day and of good quality, and dry and sweet smelling.
- Fresh leafy green vegetables & herbs should be fed daily. Some examples of these include bok choy/other Asian greens, dark leafed lettuce varieties, dandelion greens, and herbs such as borage and marigold. Other foods that are good to fed guinea pigs a few times a week include broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, silverbeet, and fruits such as apples (no seeds), and mango.
- A dietary source of Vitamin C because (like humans), guinea pigs cannot synthesize Vitamin C from other food substances. Their daily diet should contain Vitamin C rich foods such as fresh leafy green veggies and capsicums. Foods like carrots, kiwifruit, berries, and pineapple are also great as a source of Vitamin C but only should only be fed a few times a week, not every day as these foods have a high sugar content.
Make sure that you source grass, herbs and vegetables that have not been sprayed by any chemicals. Lawnmower clippings should never be fed to your guinea pig.
High quality commercial ‘Guinea Pig’ pellets (minimum 16% fibre content) may be offered in small quantities, but these should not form the main part of the diet.
Guinea pigs must have access to clean fresh water at all times.
It’s important to also know what not to feed guinea pigs, as there are plenty of items that might seem harmless but can in fact cause significant health issues. Make sure you do not feed your guinea pigs the following foods (this is not an exhaustive list): grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, buttercups, garden shrubs, lilies, nightshade, oak, avocado, onions, potato, beans, beetroot, mushrooms, daffodils, foxglove, rhubarb leaves or human foods such as bread, biscuits, sweets, chocolate or pasta.
Guinea pigs are very social animals, and are happiest when kept with other guinea pigs. Ideally, your guinea pigs should be desexed, but if not you should keep same sex groups OF at least two females or two males to avoid unwanted breeding. Guinea pigs should not be kept with rabbits.
It is important to provide your guinea pigs with an environment that is interesting, varied and safe. Guinea pigs are prey animals and so they need places to hide where they will feel safe; for example, you can use cardboard boxes, custom made igloos, wooden boxes, and tunnels made from PVC piping.
Guinea pigs should have as large an enclosure as possible, with comfortable, warm, and dry areas where they can rest and hide. Suitable bedding includes hay, fleece fabric, and shredded paper. Sawdust or wood shavings should be avoided. Make sure to clean out the hutch regularly and dispose of any waste.
Guinea pigs also need exercise and mental stimulation; to provide this you should:
- Give your guinea pigs enough space to run about and play.
- Provide them with foraging opportunities.
- Make a varied environment with different levels and areas for your guinea pigs to explore.
- Provide your guinea pigs with toys such as balls and small stuffed toys. Guinea pigs should also be given chewing items to help entertain them and wear down their teeth, for example, cardboard boxes and safe wooden branches.
- Ideally provide your guinea pigs with access to a safe outdoor area and give them the opportunity to graze on grass.
Guinea pigs should be acclimatised to handling when they are young. Make sure that you handle them carefully, securely, and gently.
Grooming your guinea pigs will keep their coats healthy, and is especially important for long-haired guinea pigs. You should also regularly check the length of their toenails and have your vet clip them if needed.
Guinea pigs are good at hiding illness and pain. Get to know your guinea pigs’ behaviour; if they are behaving abnormally this may be a sign that something is wrong. If this is the case, please talk to your vet promptly.
If they have everything they need guinea pigs make wonderful pets!
Check out our Knowledgebase article for a more in-depth look at exactly what guinea pigs need to be happy and healthy!