Loving Family Pets      Guinea Pigs
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Cavy Care: Guinea Pigs Make Great Starter Pets

Compared to a dog, a guinea pig, also called a cavy, is a fairly easy pet to own. Guinea pigs don't need to go on long walks every day or be taken to obedience school. The owner of a guinea pig can leave his or her pet alone for several hours a day and not have to worry about the animal needing bathroom breaks. Guinea pigs are cute and easy to handle making them a good first pet for children.
On the other hand, guinea pigs are not maintenance-free pets. They are social creatures who need a lot of love and attention, along with quality care. Guinea pigs need fresh food and water daily, their bedding will need to be changed at least once a week (more if you have two guinea pigs together), they need interaction with their humans. You will also have to consider other pets you already own. Dogs and cats are predators and guinea pigs are prey animals. Large dogs, in particular may pose the biggest threat to a guinea pig since they may be able to reach the cage and knock it over. 

Kids and Guinea Pigs

Children and guinea pigs can be great friends. Responsible children will even be able to take a large role in caring for the guinea pig. Although a parent should never expect the child to take sole responsibility for the care of the pet guinea pig, delegating guinea pig chores is one way to let everyone in the family participate in the pet's life. Set reasonable goals for your child, depending on his or her maturity. A younger child may help out by offering the guinea pig a treat every day, while an older child can be expected to feed the guinea pig and check her water supply daily. 
In addition  to helping care for the guinea pig, children can have fun with these pets. Your child can help construct toys for the guinea pig out of toilet paper tubes, paper bags, empty tissue boxes and other safe objects. let your child use his or her imagination. Another fun guinea pig activity is simple observation. I know that my kids love to just sit and watch the guinea pig eat. A happy guinea pig will run and kick up his or her rear and race around in circles. They also enjoy pushing or throwing their toys. 

Selecting a Pet Guinea Pig: One Guinea Pig or Two?

In nature guinea pigs are social animals. In the wild they live in small social groups. Because of this you should be prepared to give your guinea pig attention each day. If you think that your schedule will prevent this then getting two guinea pigs is a good idea. Most guinea pigs enjoy the company of other guinea pigs. Some things to consider before getting two guinea pig, male guinea pigs will have the most difficult time getting along. When they mature each will have a tendency to become territorial and they may fight. Two females usually get along. You still need to be careful, however. Since guinea pigs are social animals they will have a social hierarchy when adults. If you happen to end up with two dominant females they may fight. It would be best if you got the guinea pigs when they are young so that they will form a bond as they grow. I have always kept two female guinea pigs together without issue until this year. They are classroom pets and when I lost one I bought the other a cage mate. They got along great for the first several months.During the summer they went to separate homes and when put back together had some very nasty fights. They are now separated and we are working at slowing reacquainting them. A process that takes time and patience. A male and female guinea pig will get along but you will end up having baby guinea pigs. While their litters are small, and very cute, it really isn't fair to bring more guinea pigs into the world when there are so many needing a home. I also noticed that having babies seemed to considerable shorten the lifespan of the cavie.
Guinea pigs can be purchased at most large pet stores. You will need to handle the guinea pig to see if it will tolerate it well, especially if you are getting a pet for a young child. Guinea pigs are not aggressive by nature and rarely bite. They do, however nibble and I've found that some tend to nibble more than others. Before checking at a pet store you may also try your local animal shelter. I have adopted guinea pigs from shelters in the past. 

Guinea Pig Supplies

The first thing you will need for your new pet is a cage. When looking at guinea pig cages, you need to find one that will allow enough room for movement and play. I think that the size of the cage depends on how much time outside of the cage you will allow your cavie. If you know that you will not have a lot of time you should get a large cage so that your guinea pig can run and jump and get exercise. Guinea pigs like having some sort of shelter so it has a place where it can hide. A plastic or wooden structure inside the cage is always a good idea. Makes sure you get a shelter or box with opening large enough for your guinea pig when it is full grown. You will also need to have some sort of absorbent bedding at the bottom of your guinea pig cage. Cedar or pine shaving are not recommended since both can cause respiratory problems in your guinea pig. Aspen or paper bedding is preferred. You can get paper bedding in colors which make it fun for kids. You will also need a small animal water bottle. It's important that they get fresh water each day. Many stores sell small animal starter kits that will include all of these supplies.

Feeding Your Guinea Pig

The way you feed your guinea pig can mean the difference between a healthy, long-lived pet and and sickly, unhappy animal. Guinea pigs are herbivores, which means that they eat only plants. By nature, they are browsers, animals who spend considerable amounts of time foraging for and eating plants. Because plant material is difficult to break down the digestive tract of the guinea pig is uniquely constructed. It's important that you feed the guinea pig a diet that closely resembles one that they would get in the wild. That means no treats of human crackers, cookies, or cereal. Giving your guinea pig these things could results in diarrhea, disease, or obesity. All conditions that can make your guinea pig very ill and could result in an untimely death of your little friend. Here are some feeding tips:
  • Wash your guinea pig's food dish frequently to prevent bacteria buildup.
  • Feed your animal pellets formulated especially for guinea pigs. Rabbits pellets will not have the necessary vitamins guinea pigs need for good health. 
  • Offer a variety of fresh greens daily. This includes lettuce, carrot tops, broccoli, or spinach.  My guinea pigs also really love parsley which is a great source of Vitamin C. Guinea pigs need a supplement of Vitamin C for good health. Remove any uneaten greens at the end of the day so they won't spoil in the cage.
  • Stick to a regular feeding schedule for your guinea pig. Once in the morning and once in the evening is ideal.
  • make sure your guinea pig has access to fresh hay. 
  • Keep a water bottle filled with fresh water at all times. Check it frequently, especially in the summer, to make sure there is an ample supply.
  • You can offer your guinea pig small amounts of fruit such as apple, oranges, or pears. Guinea pigs also really love carrots. All of these are high in sugar so should be given only occasionally as treat. A good time for treats is when you are spending time with your guinea pig. Treats will help condition your pet to be comfortable with you.

Guinea Pig Grooming

Grooming is a great way to spend quality time with your guinea pig. Guinea pigs like to be clean and will spend time each day grooming themselves. If your guinea pig is a long hair breed you will need to groom it every day to avoid tangles and matted fur. Guinea pigs have tender skin so removing matted fur is quite uncomfortable for them. You should get a brush designed for guinea pigs. Other animal brushes may be too stiff and uncomfortable for their skin. 
You will also need a small animal nail clipper for clipping your guinea pig's claws. If the claws are allowed to over grow they will curve under and cause damage to the soft pads on the guinea pig's feet. Be very careful when trimming the claws to make sure that you do not cut above the blood line in the nail. Doing this is painful and it can bleed for quite awhile. If this does happen, hold the guinea pig gently and apply some pressure to the foot. There is a product called Kwik-Stop that you can get at pet stores that when applied will stop the bleeding. It is best if you have someone help you when it's time to do nail trimming since your guinea pig will probably squirm a bit during this necessary procedure. 
Guinea pigs are fun and cuddly creature and make wonderful pets but, as you can see, like all pets require a commitment to their care and well being. There are a variety of breeds from short haired to angora. Over the 20 years I've kept guinea pigs as pets I've found them to be fun and interesting pets.  


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