Are Guinea Pigs Good Pets ?
Guinea Pigs are very popular pets with families, and are often the first pet that young children are given BUT are they good pets ?
YES - because they are quite easy to keep, relatively cheap to look after and have interesting habits which inquisitive and interested people can learn from . When they are well behaved they are cute, furry and cuddly to handle .
Wild Guinea Pigs are still found in South America and Europe
The three main breeds of Guinea Pig kept in the UK are :
There are a wide number of colour variants including:
HOW LONG DO GUINEA PIGS LIVE ?
Guinea Pigs live for an average of 4-8 years. According to the Guinness Book of Records (1997) the longest living Guinea Pig survived for 15 years.
How are Guinea Pigs Kept ?
Should Guinea Pigs be kept in groups or single ?
Guinea Pigs are social animals usually mix well with other animals - even members of other species such as rabbits. However, some authorities and authors do not advise keeping guinea pigs with rabbits, because there have been reports of guinea pigs being injured (and even killed) by rabbits, which have a powerful kick. On the other hand, many Guinea Pigs are kept in isolation and do not seem to mind a solitary life-style. It is usual to separate pregnant females from others to reduce stress and protect the young until they are weaned. Mixing sexes together of course increases the number of offspring produced !
Guinea Pigs have excellent teeth for gnawing and they can easily chew their way out of cardboard or wooden accommodation. Nevertheless, commercially available housing usually consists of a hutch made of wooden construction with wire mesh runs.
A Guinea Pig will be happy in it's home if it :
Guinea Pigs will usually use one area of their home as a toilet - but sometimes that can be a large area of the floor. Because they are rodents - if you don't clean them out regularly their home will develop an unpleasant, pungent musty smell…which the Guinea Pig will happily live with - but you, your family or your friends may not !
Absorbent material (paper, sawdust) can be used on the floor of the home to soak up urine - BUT this does not mean that the mess can be left on the floor for a long time. Guinea Pigs s should be cleaned out every few days otherwise they may urinate and pass droppings in their nest area - which can lead to contamination of food stores and so create a health risk. Mastitis is often seen in guinea pigs kept in dirty conditions.
Bedding materials should be provided (cellulose wadding, hay, straw, shredded paper or woodchips) for the guinea pig to construct it's nest with. Nylon fibre wool and cotton wool should be avoided as bedding materials because they have been associated with obstruction of the intestine and injury to toes and limbs if the fibres wrap tightly around them cutting off the blood supply.
Guinea Pigs are not very active creatures but they do like to lie in the sun and run around an exercise area. They are deceptively fast for a small creature - especially if they are frightened and you must be careful to restrict them to a confined area if you are trying to pick them up - or they might escape.
Guinea Pigs can tolerate a wide range of environmental temperature but it is recommended that they be kept at a temperature of between 12o-20o C and temperatures in excess of 27oC can lead to heatstroke - especially in obese or pregnant individuals. In reality most Guinea Pigs are kept at the ambient temperature of general household gardens or garages in the UK and they do very well without the need to maintain a constant environmental temperature. However, when Guinea Pigs are kept in countries where they could be subjected to extremes of hot or cold temperatures, control of environmental temperature may be needed.
In countries where extremes of humidity occur some environmental control may be needed.
Guinea Pigs will eat almost any cereal grain or plant material BUT do not attempt to make your own ration. It is highly unlikely that you will provide a complete and balanced diet with all the nutrients that the Guinea Pig needs in the correct proportions. Feed a proprietary pelleted food which has been manufactured by a reputable company. Don't be afraid to ASK the manufacturers for confirmation that the food you wish to give has been put through rigorous feeding trials with hamsters to ensure that it is satisfactory for long term feeding.
Many experts recommend supplementing prepared Guinea Pig foods with vegetable greens and Vitamin C. Guinea Pigs have a dietary requirement for Vitamin C and should get at least 10mg/kg body weight per day, and up to 30mg/kg during pregnancy.
Remove uneaten fresh foods from the run/hutch after 4-6 hours.
Don't change a Guinea Pigs ration suddenly or feed too many green plants otherwise diarrhoea can result.
Being cavies, Guinea Pigs teeth grow continuously. The front teeth (incisors) should meet squarely at the front of the mouth. NEVER buy a Guinea Pig if it's teeth do not meet perfectly because they will overgrow frequently, can cause injury to the lips, gums or roof of the mouth, and prevent your Guinea Pig from eating properly. In such cases the teeth can be clipped short regularly but there is always a danger that they might split leading to root infection.
Guinea Pigs are gnawing animals so some material (e.g. wood) should be supplied to help keep their teeth worn down.
Fresh, clean, still human quality drinking water should be available at all times. Guinea Pigs readily accept gravity-fed nipple-feed water bottles or will drink from flat bowls. Unfortunately they often defaecate in floor level bowls , so elevated water supplies are preferred. Avoid using water dispensers that are easy to spill. Water bottles or bowls should be thoroughly cleaned every 3-4 weeks or more frequently if they develop a film of green slime on the surface. This is most likely to occur if they are exposed to bright sunlight.
Pigs are usually placid though they can get very frightened by sudden movements
or loud noises, in which case they can be difficult to catch Guinea pigs should
be picked up by placing one hand over the shoulders and the other under the hind
legs but they do not like rough
handling, being squeezed or being swung about. Contrary to popular belief a
Guinea Pigs eyes will not "pop out" when handled properly
Guinea Pigs are very easy to breed. Youngsters are sexually active from as early as 4-6 weeks (females - are called sows) and 9-10 weeks of age (males - are called boars) but mating should be delayed until females are 12 weeks of age. Females come into oestrus (commonly called being "on heat") and are receptive to males every 15-17 days. Oestrus itself only lasts for about 8 hours. "On heat" females are easy to recognise because they arch their backs and hold their rear end in the air. The vagina is usually closed off with a membrane except during oestrus when they initially develop a clear mucous discharge from the vulva. Following mating, a plug of material forms in the vagina and this dries and falls off a few days later.
Sexing can be very difficult if you haven't got one of each sex available to compare. Basically if you examine the undersurface females have an anus near the tail base, and the vaginal opening lies a short distance in front of it. In the male the penis can be exposed by retracting the foreskin with the fingers.
Guinea Pigs are pregnant (called the gestation period) for 59-72 days and they usually have a litter of 1-6 young. Body weight can increase greatly - sometimes females double their weight - and this needs to be differentiated from pregnancy. Pregnant females should be separated from other animals until weaning.
24-48 hours after giving birth the female will come into oestrus again.
Guinea Pigs are covered with hair at birth and are born with their eyes open. They start to eat solid food in the environment within the first day of life and the young can be weaned at 21 days of age - which means that they should be totally separated from their mother.
Injury to young Guinea Pigs is common if they are not kept separate until weaning.
If a mother rejects her offspring or dies during a difficult birth (which can occur if there are complications) hand rearing by feeding a mixture of diluted cow's milk and commercial pellets can be successful. Alternatively they can be fostered by other lactating sows.
Being derived from wild animals Guinea Pigs tend to be able to mask the fact that they are ill until they are so debilitated that they can no longer behave normally. As a result diseases are often quite advanced by the time an owner presents their Guinea Pig to a veterinarian and this is one of the reasons why treatment may be unsuccessful.
NOTE TO OWNERS Take you Guinea Pig to your veterinarian as soon as you notice it is ill. The earlier therapy is started the better is the chance of successful treatment.
Many diseases are commonly recognised in Guinea Pigs - follow the links to specific diseases for more information
Cancers are more common in older animals and can either be local or can spread to other parts of the body. Benign cancers (e.g.fatty lumps or lipomas) rarely spread and generally carry a good prognosis if they can be removed completely by surgery. Malignant forms of cancer (e.g. lymphosarcoma) are more difficult to treat and can be fatal if they spread to vital organ systems.
There are a variety of infectious agents that may be involved, and sometimes more than one organism is present at the same time :
Respiratory infections are often associated with poor housing conditions, poor nutrition (vitamin C deficiency) and overcrowding. Even if treatment helps an individual recover from the disease it may carry the organisms for a long time, and so act as a reservoir of infection for other guinea pigs.
Many therapeutic agents are TOXIC to Guinea Pigs so care is needed in choosing the most appropriate treatment. The following is a list of agents that have been recommended - and those that are TOXIC.
Atropine - 50 micrograms/kg body weight subcutaneously.
Naloxone - 0.01 - 0.1 mg/kg body weight intraperitoneal or intravenous. (used to reverse Fentanyl/fluanisone/midazolam combination anaesthesia)
Isofluorane - safe
Methoxyfluorane - safe
Halothane - overdosage can occur - needs careful monitoring
Ether - too irritant and hazardous
Ketamine - 100mg/kg body weight intraperitoneal. Poor analgesia.
Ketamine/ xylazine combination - 30-40mg/kg (ketamine) and 5mg/kg xylazine intraperitoneal
Alphaxalone/alphadolone combination - 40mg/kg body weight intraperitoneal
Fentanyl/fluanisone and midazolam combination*. 4-8ml/kg body weight intraperitoneal
Pentobarbitone - not recommended due respiratory depression
(* Mixture of 2 parts sterile water, one part Hypnorm (Janssen) and one part Hypnovel (5mg/ml) -Roche)
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