Guinea Pig Beginners Guide

Are you new to guinea pigs? Awesome! Welcome to the world of guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are relatively popular pets across the world, but education about their proper care has been very lacking. This beginner’s guide is a great place to start your research before you bring your new pets home!

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Guinea Pig Basics

Guinea pigs are fun little creatures that can have big personalities. They have become more popular as pets in recent years and caretakers have started learning a lot more about their needs and requirements. 

Guinea pigs are social animals that do better in pairs or more. When considering having guinea pigs, take into consideration that you will need to get at least two. Multiple female guinea pigs or multiple females with a neutered male pig make great groups. There is a common myth that two boy guinea pigs cannot live together. This is often not the case – any guinea pigs pairing will completely depend on the personalities of the individual guinea pigs. 

Since they are prey animals, guinea pigs are generally skittish and take some taming. They don’t usually like being picked up and will run and hide when they get nervous. Many guinea pigs will become tame and allow petting and handling by their owners, but not all. Some guinea pigs will just never allow themselves to be touched while in their cage. 

Guinea pigs live an average of 5-7 years but can live as long as 8 or 9 years. They are usually more active during the daytime, but they don’t sleep a lot in general. You may find your pet taking naps or relaxing throughout the day, but they won’t also keep you up all night.

Guinea pigs can make very rewarding pets if you put in the time and effort to care for them. They have become more common as pets for kids, but keep in mind they are very sensitive animals that do require quite a bit of care. They should be the parent’s pet that the child is allowed to interact with and learn about.

One of the best places to get your pet guinea pigs is from an animal shelter or rescue. Guinea pigs are abandoned pretty frequently – my local humane society usually has two or three at any point. One of the benefits of adopting is you usually can find an already bonded pair! 

Guinea pig rescues have become more and more common in the past few years, so check your area to see if there is one nearby where you can go visit the pigs and find an awesome pair or group that needs a new forever home!

Responsible Pet Ownership

Taking on a pet is a big responsibility. You are now fully in charge of the life of another living creature. Your new pets depend on you to make sure they are healthy, happy, and live a full life. 

Before getting guinea pigs, evaluate whether you are going to be happy to see to their care multiple times a day, every single day. Guinea pigs live an average of 5-7 years. Are you prepared to provide top-notch care to your pet for that long? Pets should only be rehomed as a last resort, not because you got tired of them.

Part of being a responsible pet owner is understanding that vet visits can and will happen. I have taken my guinea pigs to the vet on multiple occasions for checkups and for health problems. You need to plan ahead and have a plan in place for when your pet will need medical care — where will the money come from, and what vet will you take them to? Finding an exotic vet that sees guinea pigs can be tricky. Make sure you have this lined up before a medical emergency happens.

Check out this guinea pig vet savings tracker!

Guinea pigs have a range of adorable behaviors that communicate different things to each other and to their human caretakers. The most important thing to remember about your guinea pig’s behavior is that they are prey animals and behave like prey animals. This means they can be very skittish and take some taming.

Guinea Pig Behavior

Guinea pigs do better kept in pairs or groups. Usually, in these groups there is a dominance order between the piggies. There is one dominant pig and the rest of the group will fall in line. It is completely normal behavior and you will usually see some regular dominance shows to keep the order in line.

Wheeking – you may be surprised at how loud guinea pigs can be! Wheeking is a shrill squeaking sound that guinea pigs will do when they want food or attention – usually food. Sometimes they will also do it when alarmed – like when being picked up.

Chattering – this is a warning behavior guinea pigs will do when arguing with other pigs or when they’re alarmed by their human’s behavior. They chatter by rubbing their teeth together quickly. This behavior is usually seen when initially bonding pigs together. Some pigs will also do it when their human is attempting to pick them up.

Rumble Strutting – this is the funny name for a guinea pig’s show of dominance. They will make a rumbling sound while rocking their bum back and forth from foot to foot. This is a completely normal dominance behavior pigs will do at each other to establish order.

Popcorning – guinea pigs will run around and jump and kick in the air when they are particularly excited or content. I see this most often right after cage cleans or during floor time.

Chirping – this is a very rare sound piggies will make, and no one really knows the reason! It is usually high pitched and piggies may look like they are in a trance if they hear another pig chirping. Some piggies never do it and some do it all the time.

Sleeping – guinea pigs do not often sleep soundly with their eyes closed like you would expect. They often sleep with their eyes slightly or fully open. If you find your pig sleeping soundly with their eyes closed, they are a very content little piggy.

Head raising – sometimes you will see guinea pigs raising their heads while another pig either sniffs their chin or also raises their head. This is dominant behavior. Usually, the pig with the highest head wins out.

If your pigs are constantly lunging at or chasing each other, or one pig is not getting as much to eat or drink as the other pigs, you may need to consider separating your piggies. If any blood is drawn between your pets then they need to be separated immediately. Usually, guinea pigs do better in pairs, but you don’t want to keep them in a group at the expense and stress of one of the animals.

Guinea Pig Housing

Over the last few years, guinea pig owners have recognized that these animals need much more space than pet store cages offer. Here are the best cage options that will provide your pets with enough space to live a happy and healthy life.

C & C Cage – These are some of the most popular options for today’s guinea pig owner. They can be built relatively cheaply from materials you can get at the hardware store. These cages are built using wire shelving grids that snap together. The base of the cage is made from coroplast – corrugated plastic sheets you can get from Home Depot or Lowe’s. These cages are popular because it is very easy to provide your pet with enough space and they provide tons of customization options, including second levels and ramps. You can also buy these cage premade here!

Midwest Guinea Pig Habitat – this is one of the few pet store cages that is an appropriate size for guinea pigs. Two piggies can be house comfortably in this cage. Plus, they can be joined together and have some accessories to make them easier to clean. This can be a good option if you aren’t able to build your own DIY or C&C Cage. Shop this cage here!

DIY Cage – There are tons of different ways you can create a customized cage for your pet. Melamine wood and plexiglass can be put together to create a fantastic clean and modern-looking cage.

Safe Bedding for Guinea Pigs

You also will need to consider what type of bedding you want to provide for your pet.

Fleece has become very popular but must be maintained correctly. It requires an absorbant layer to go under the fleece and must be spot cleaned daily. Fleece can also be expensive to initially purchase, however, you don’t have to keep buying it – you can pop it in the washing machine and reuse it many times. Fleece liners and beds can be found on Etsy and Amazon, along with many other independent shops!

Check out this article on how to use fleece for guinea pigs!

Paper-based bedding is another good option. Small Pet Select has excellent paper-based bedding options that provide a comfortable living surface for your pets. You likely won’t have to spot clean as often with this type of bedding. The only downside to this bedding is you have to continually repurchase it, and in a large cage, it can take quite a bit of bedding to cover the floor.

Group of competing guinea pigs in eating spot. Shot in World of Birds park, Cape Town, South Africa.

Basic Guinea Pig Nutrition

Good nutrition is very important and one of the easiest ways to help keep your pets healthy. The diet of most guinea pigs consists of hay, fresh veggies, and pellets.

Hay is the most important part of a guinea pig’s diet. They need to have unlimited access to hay at all times. It should make up 80% of your pet’s diet. The most common types of hay for pets are timothy, orchard grass, and bluegrass. Alfalfa hay can be fed to babies under 6 months of age, but it has too high of calcium to be regularly fed to adult piggies. Providing a hay rack that is always full is the easiest way to provide hay with the least amount of mess.

Read More >> What to Feed a Guinea Pig

Most guinea pigs also get fed veggies every day. Some of the most common veggies are green or red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, bell peppers (any color), radiccio, and cherry tomatoes. These veggies make for a well-rounded diet that provides the vitamin C piggies need.

Some pigs do not need veggies for medical reasons. If your pet regularly gets bloated from veggies or has other reactions to different vegetables, make sure you work with your vet to figure out the best diet for your pets. Some guinea pigs just don’t handle veggies well and do not get fed any. This will depend on your individual pet and their health needs.

Healthy pellets are the final part of a guinea pig’s diet. For adult pigs, pellets should generally be timothy-based and provide the correct vitamin C content and nutrients for your pet. Most pet store mixes are not the best quality for your pet. Our favorite pellets are Oxbow Garden Select Adult Guinea Pig Pellets.

Vitamin C has been mentioned several times – this is because guinea pigs are not able to produce their own and must get it through a healthy diet. Veggies and pellets are the easiest way to provide your pet with vitamin C, but there are also options to provide supplements. Sherwood Vitamin C tablets and Oxbow Vitamin C tablets are good options. Stay away from the pet store drops that go in water! These can cause your pet to drink less water because of the flavor, and they really aren’t very effective.

How to Groom a Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs generally do not require much grooming because they take care of most of it themselves. They do require regular nail clipping to keep their nails from becoming overgrown. This can easily be done yourself, or you can take your pets to the vet to have this done. Check out this video for some nail clipping!

Your guinea pigs may also require occasional baths. Most guinea pigs will never require a full-body bath. However, some piggies that are long-haired or particularly messy may need bum baths every so often. Make sure you have guinea pig-safe shampoo and have experience handling your pigs before trying baths.

If you have long-haired piggies, you may have to give them occasional hair trims. The easiest way to do this is with a comb and a pair of grooming scissors. Have someone hold the pig for you and use the comb as a barrier between the pig and the scissors. Just snip off the long ends so the pig will stay cleaner. I have to do this with my long-haired pig every few weeks.

Daily Guinea Pig Care

Any pet requires daily care and attention, but guinea pigs do require a bit more than a dog or cat. Here’s an example of my daily schedule with my pets. You can also check out this video of our daily pet routine!

Breakfast around 6:30 am

  • give pellets
  • refill hay rack
  • check water

Lunchtime – they get a veggie snack

Dinnertime around 5:00 pm –

  • veggies for dinner
  • check hay rack
  • check water

After dinner around 6:00 pm –

  • spot clean cages
  • spend some time interacting with the piggies

Bedtime around 10:00 pm – 

  • check hay rack
  • check water
  • say goodnight and sometimes give bedtime snacks

My cages and pet room also get cleaned once a week in addition to the daily spot cleans (check out the video here!). This keeps things from getting out of control over time. At least once a week, all the bedding in your pet’s cage should be removed and replaced with fresh. Depending on the number of pets you have and how messy they are, you may have to clean cages more often! Guinea pigs generally do not smell if they are spot cleaned and the cage is cleaned regularly.

Your pet also needs to have weekly health checks done to ensure they are not hiding any illnesses from you! These are quick easy checks but are an important part of having guinea pigs as pets. During a health check, you want to look at your pet’s eyes, ears, nose, teeth, skin, fur, feet, bum area, and weigh your pet. Keeping a log of your health checks and weights is important to catch any changes over time that could signal that there’s an issue with your pet.

Guinea pigs are fun little creatures that can have big personalities. They have become more popular as pets in recent years and caretakers have started learning a lot more about their needs and requirements.

Read More About Guinea Pig Care: