Am I Doing Something Wrong With My Guinea Pigs? (Most Common Mistakes Guinea Pigs’ Owners Make)

No matter you are a new guinea pigs’ owner or a well-experienced one, everybody can make a mistake. Of course, new guinea pigs’ owners have a lot to learn and may face many challenges but the point is that we all love our pets and we really want to provide the best care.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to make a mistake having the best intentions on our mind. So let’s check what would be the most common mistakes guinea pigs’ owners make so you can learn them and avoid consequences they might bring.

Get A Guinea Pig From A Pet Shop

This is not a good idea. It’s the most convenient way though as when you decide to buy something, you go to the store and buy it. But let’s make one thing very clear – guinea pigs are not a product, they are not dolls, nor they are made for your amusement, they are living creatures.

In a pet shop, not only guinea pigs are sold, but many other pets. You might run into the person that knows something about guinea pigs but most likely that person will be a kind seller that wants to sell their ”goods”.

So before you go shopping, do research. As an inexperienced guinea pig owner, you might have tons of questions so it’s better to have a reliable person who can give you the answers you need.

Another issue with pet shops is that they don’t pay too much attention to guinea pigs’ gender so girls may end up in the same cage with boys. As a result, you might end up with a pregnant female guinea pig that you have just bought.

The problem with genders may occur even if the girl is not pregnant but you are buying two guinea pigs and choose two lovely girls but after you settle them in your house, it turns you have a nice pair of guinea pigs and they soon will become parents.

Wow! It seems that one of your ”girls” is a boy and your seller in a pet shop misjudged the sex of the guinea pigs you have bought.

It’s always a better idea to go to the guinea pigs’ rescue center. The people that work there are real enthusiasts, they really love guinea pigs, know a lot about them, they can give you plenty of useful information about care, nutrition, living space and other things your guinea pigs need.

Guinea pigs rescue centers don’t have such a commercial mission as pet shops. Their main goal is to successfully rehome their guinea pigs and they won’t try to persuade you to buy things you don’t need.

Guinea Pig Housing Mistakes

Too Small Cage / Habitat

This is a very common mistake, especially if you haven’t done the research and you decided to buy the guinea pigs and things you need for your pet in a pet shop.

Every cage you can find in any pet shop is way too small for your guinea pig. Don’t throw your money on it.

You might be asking yourself, if those cages in pet shops are too small, why they are sold there? Well, as we have already said, pet shops are commercial places.

If you are new to guinea pigs and your kids would like to get them, you enter the pet shop and see a huge 8 or 10 square feet cage for guinea pigs, what would you think? Most probably you would ask your children to pick some other pet that requires less space.

Pet shops just want to sell pets so will not frighten you with large space demanding cages, as many people would give up shopping. They are not interested in the best care for animals, they don’t really care about animals well being, they are just interested in profit.

I need to mention though that those cages found in pet shops are perfect for traveling ( if you need to transport your guinea pig somewhere or you are going to the vet etc).

Also, they have been useful if you need to isolate one guinea pig from the others for whatever reason ( some illness or after surgery )

The minimum size for a pair or trio of guinea pigs is 8-10 sq feet. The best option for a cage is C&C ( stands for cubes and coroplast ).

The cubes are grids that are multipurpose but are perfect to make a nice habitat for your guinea pigs and the coroplast is the sturdy plastic bottom of the cage that is easy to clean and very safe for your pets.

Bear always on your mind that guinea pigs need a large horizontal space. They like to run, to popcorn and if they cannot do that they soon become very bored and depressed.

If you force them to live in a small space where they cannot really do anything, they start sleeping a lot, chewing the cage bars which is an obvious sign that they are not happy with their living conditions.

Besides cage, they need a floor time or out of the cage time to play with you but never think that a small cage can be compensated for a long floor time.

First of all, guinea pigs like their cages, they feel secure there, and being prey animals they like to spend most of their time in their safe zone.

On the other hand, don’t think that a large cage is all the space they need. They need to have floor time as well. The key is in the balance between these two.

Guinea pigs have different personalities. Some of them will run from wall to wall and will be thrilled with floor time but some of them will be afraid of open space and as soon as you let them out of the cage, they will try to find somewhere to hide.

But don’t worry, you will get to know your guinea pigs very soon and will learn what they like and what they don’t precisely enjoy.

Your Guinea Pigs Live in Poorly Ventilated and Wire Flooring Cage

Guinea pigs must be placed in a room with good airflow. In case that room doesn’t have windows, it needs to have some kind of ventilation system.

Although guinea pigs are quite clean animals, poorly ventilated rooms will cause the cage to smell. So if you thought that an aquarium is a good idea, forget about it!

But as much as your guinea pigs need a cage with wire-grid walls ( as it’s good for air circulation ) they cannot live in the cage for wire bottom.

They have very small and sensitive feet that could easily get stuck and hurt in such a flooring so make sure you place your guinea pigs in a nice, plastic flooring cage.

You Keep Your Guinea Pigs in Warm Environment

Guinea pigs don’t handle low nor high temperatures well. But they can cope better with cold. A warm environment poses a big threat to them. They are prone to heatstroke.

When you are cold they are cold as well. But when it comes to heat, it’s a bit different. They are hot before you are as their body temperature is slightly higher than human’s.

Bottom line- the temperature range in the room where the cage is placed should be between 65 and 75 F . Anything about 80 F can lead to heatstroke.

You Don’t Clean The Cage As Often As It Should Be

Guinea pigs are self-cleaning animals and bathing them should never be a part of their regular grooming routine but the whole room where you put the guinea pigs’ cage could be quite smelly if you don’t clean the cage on regular basis.

You need to perform a detailed cage cleaning ( and everything that’s in it) once a week. It’s recommended to make a spot cleaning every day. That means to scoop the poop and heavily soiled bedding and remove it from the cage.

For detailed cleaning on weekly basis, you don’t need more than 15-20 min. You can use plain water and white vinegar solution ( ratio 1:1). Don’t forget to wash all other items you have in the cage such as ceramic food bowl, water bottle, plastic toys, plastic hideouts, etc.

You Don’t Use The Right Bedding

The type of bedding is a matter of your choice but some bedding are better than others.

For example, paper-based bedding could be quite expensive but still cause a bad smell.

Many people use wood shaving as bedding which is OK but just bear in mind that you shouldn’t be using pine, cedar, or sawdust bedding.

Also, pay close attention to what is written on the label – it should be dust-free, as guinea pigs are prone to respiratory diseases.

A great number of guinea pigs’ owners are using fleece bedding rather than wood shavings. Their experience says that wood shavings are not the best option as small bits of wood can be inhaled by your pets and cause respiratory problems.

Also, they think that a cage with fleece bedding is easier to maintain and keep clean. It seems that fleece bedding is less expensive than any other type of bedding as you can wash it and use it many, many times. It’s considered as an eco-friendly option.

The choice between wood shavings and fleece bedding is yours, you can try both and decide what is better for you and your pets.

Guinea Pigs – Socialization, Handling, Behavior, Taming Mistakes

You Keep Only One Guinea Pig

This is a very common issue. The very first thing you need to know about guinea pigs is that they are social creatures. They hate to live alone. They need interaction with humans as well but you cannot replace another guinea pig that your pet needs.

In some countries such as Switzerland, it’s illegal to keep only one guinea pig, you simply cannot buy one animal but only a pair or more guinea pigs.

Many people know that guinea pigs need to live in a herd or at least to have one single guinea pig friend but buy one animal and after he/she settles in they decide to buy another one.

This is a common mistake. They think that two animals are harder to control than just one.

First of all, it’s will be much easier for one guinea pig to get used to unfamiliar space and sounds if she/he has another guinea pig companion at his/her side.

If one guinea pig starts to live in one space and after some time you bring another guinea pig, the old one may act territorial. So you would need to carefully introduce the new guinea pig to the old one and all of that you can avoid if you buy two guinea pigs at once.

It is recommended to keep the same-sex guinea pigs or in case you have a male that is neutered then you can put him in the same cage with a female.

If you cannot decide between boys and girls, I heard from the people in LA guinea pigs rescue center that boys should be kept in pairs and girls should be trio for the best atmosphere in the cage.

In nature, one male is living with a bunch of females so girls are doing good together. When it comes to males, they can get along well but occasional fights may occur.

If you notice that your guinea pigs are about to start a fight ( butt shaking, teeth chattering ) you should intervene.

If your males are fighting already don’t try to separate them with bare hands. You should wrap your hands with something or use a dustpan or something like that.

Guinea pigs are not prone to biting but if your hand happens to be in the middle of the fight, it can be bitten which may cause a bad infection, better to avoid it.

You should always pay close attention to your guinea pigs. They can solve many mutual misunderstandings with you. If they just chase one another, if they are being pretty vocal, even scratch each other on some occasions, it’s completely normal behavior, you don’t need to separate them.

In case you notice that one of your guinea pigs is losing weight, hiding all the time or if you spot a bite marks especially in his back or neck area than you should react and separate that guinea pig from the other(s) as it’s obvious that he has been bullied.

You Keep Another Pet in The Same Habitat With Your Guinea Pig

This is not so common but people do sometimes. Rabbits are labeled as a good match with guinea pigs. They are both prey animals, similar in size, herbivores, social creatures but one thing you should know. There is no better friend for a rabbit than another rabbit. The same goes for guinea pigs.

Rabbits can be aggressive and unlike guinea pigs have very strong back legs and they can easily hurt your Cavy. Rabbits won’t understand the guinea pig’s way of communications, they have their own.

Rabbits can also carry the dangerous bacteria called Bordetella Bronchiseptica. They can be perfectly healthy but still, transmit this bacteria to guinea pigs and harm them. So it’s better not to mix guinea pigs and rabbits.

Also if you have any other pets such as hamsters, gerbils, rats, cats, dogs… they shouldn’t share the habitat with guinea pigs.

Even if you have another pet, it shouldn’t be in the same room where the cage with guinea pigs are especially if you have some predator pet such as a cat or dog.

You Expect To Tame Your Guinea Pigs In Couple of Days

This is simply not possible. Guinea pigs are prey animals and you won’t be able to tame them in a couple of days as they don’t trust you.

They see you like some giant creature with big scary hands coming toward them. The best way to tame your guinea pigs is to handle them with special attention, to be very gentle, to gain their trust step by step.

If you follow the routine ( they like fixed schedules and routine) and they associate you with food ( as you are the one who is giving them the food) then they will start trusting you.

Even then, the tiny part of their mind will still think that you will eat them someday but in general they will relax when being around you.

You Are Playing Harsh With Your Guinea Pigs, Chase Them and Trying To Grab Them

As you have already found out by now, guinea pigs are prey animals so very timid critters. Cannot play harsh with them.

If you think that you could chase them as they chase one another, don’t do it. You are much bigger than their guinea pig friends and if you chase them, they will be very distressed and frightened, this has nothing to do with play and amusement.

Guinea pigs don’t like to be picked up. According to their instincts, only predators are picking them up and when that happens they know that they are gone. So guinea pigs don’t like to be picked up but like to be held, especially if you hold them near your body.

You can try with some nice treat, offer it to your guinea pig and while he is busy nibbling the tasty leaf, pick him up. It is just super important to place your hands below his legs, to support them, as soon as you pick him up. If his legs are supported by your hand, it would be less stressful.

Even if you handle your piggies gently, your kids may treat them differently. Teach them how to handle guinea pigs properly especially not to squeeze them or drop them.

Guinea pigs have very fragile bones including the spine so mishandling can cause serious injuries and possible death of your pet.

You Bathe Your Guinea Pigs Regularly

This is not advisable. Guinea pigs are self-grooming critters and they don’t need a bath unless they get really dirty.

If they have some health issues such as diarrhea they might need a butt bath but in that case, do wash only their rear end and not the whole body. If the scent glands become greasy, smelly and messy ( especially in males), perform the butt bath again.

If you notice that their hair ( especially in long-haired guinea pigs) has been soiled and matted you can bathe your furry friend or try to solve the issue with a wet cloth and wipe.

If you need to do the butt bath, take a plastic shoebox and place it in your sink. This kind of box has a flat bottom and not the round one like your sink has. Round bottom is not secure for your guinea pigs as it can be slippery.

The bottom line, guinea pigs shouldn’t be bathed on regular basis, this is not part of their normal grooming routine, it’s more like an exception.

You Put Diapers On Your Guinea Pig

Never do that! Some people use diapers especially during floor time, to avoid their guinea pigs ruin their precious carpet or furniture.

There are so many ways to keep your floor clean and not to use diapers. Diapers are very bad for cavies. They restrict their moving, they are uncomfortable.

Diapers are not natural to guinea pigs. They keep pee and poop attached to their butts which is very unpleasant for cavies.

If you put diapers, your pet’s butt is clogged. As you know guinea pigs produce two types of poop, one of them they need to eat and digest again in order to use the nutrients.

If you keep the poop in the diapers, you are making your pet unable to eat the poop he/she needs. Not to mention other illnesses that can occur such as urinary infections.

Your Dress Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are not toys. Although the clothes for guinea pigs can look cute, never put it on your pet. It’s simply not necessary and it’s very uncomfortable for cavies.

Guinea pigs are not meant to wear jackets and dresses. Same as diapers, the clothing restricts their movement, can cause a variety of infections and irritations.

Toys From A Pet Shop

This is not necessarily a big mistake but you can spend a fortune on toys that are not really suitable for guinea pigs ( although they are sold as if they were ). On the other hand, you can unintentionally buy very dangerous toys that could hurt your pets.

You will be able to realize with time what kind of toys are not safe for piggies, which ones are a waste of money, and others which are OK but they simply not necessary.

For example guinea pigs like tubes and tunnels very much. They can be made of plastic or fabric, they will enjoy them anyway. They also like different types of houses, ”castles”, hideouts but bear in mind that any hideout should have two doors. Many houses from the pet shop have only one. Your guinea pigs need two entrances/exits if one exit is blocked with other guinea pigs.

The best you can do is to use a plain cardboard box ( no ink nor tapes) to make a perfect house/hiding spot for your guinea pig. It’s cheap, your piggies will love it, it’s safe and as a bonus, they can nibble their own house. You just need a box, a pair of scissors and a couple of minutes.

Also, cute plastic castles from a pet shop ( they look like they are made of sand ) are not practical at all. Apart from the fact that they have only one entrance /exit, they have very poor ventilation.

If you have one of these, don’t forget to change it the place from time to time, as if this hideout stands on the very same place all the time, the bedding below becomes heavily soiled.

Another thing you might buy for your guinea pig and he doesn’t need it or even worse, it can be dangerous is hay ball feeder. The completely unnecessary item that is pretty dangerous.

First of all, these hay ball feeders are very small, the amount of hay in them won’t cover your piggies’ daily needs. Second of all, these balls represent hazards as guinea pigs can get their heads or even the whole body stuck in them. Your Cavies can get seriously injured or even die.

A hamster ball or wheel is another item you should never buy for your guinea pigs. These toys are not designed for piggies. Guinea pigs have a very fragile spine, and if your guinea pig starts to run on the wheel he can literally break his spine and die.

Walk Your Guinea Pig on a Harness

You should never use a harness for your guinea pig. Piggies should move around free, they are not meant to walk around with you.

Some people use harness as they want to walk around the block with their guinea pig. First of all, piggies shouldn’t go for a walk at all. They are afraid of open space, they feel the best in their cages.

Even if you let them out in your backyard, you should put the playpen and some hideouts. You never leave your piggies unsupervised when they are out. Many predators are just waiting for you to leave. Those can be hawks, cats, dogs, snakes or even spiders.

So harness is something totally unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Same as with clothes or diapers, your piggies will feel very uncomfortable with harness on. Their delicate spine could be easily hurt or they could end up suffocated. Leave the harness for dogs, they are not designed for guinea pigs.

You Don’t Take Your Guinea Pig To The Vet Regularly?

Guinea pigs don’t need to be vaccinated but still, it is advisable to take your piggies to the vet at least once a year.

The major problem that exists in all prey animals including guinea pigs is that these animals hide very successfully that they are ill.

When you notice obvious symptoms it can be too late.

What you can do, besides that to take them to the vet once a year, is to interact with them on daily basis. Learn how they breathe, how they behave, get to know them, their characters, level of energy, eating /sleeping habits.

If you know all this stuff, you will spot some changes. Maybe you will notice some crinkling sound when you hold your piggy. It’s clear that your pet has some breathing/respiratory issues. Or you might notice a wet nose or crusty eyes.

When you cuddle your pet, look for lumps or bites, or scratches. React if you see that your piggy is not eating as usual or he sleeps more than usual or he is being lethargic…

The point is to discover what’s wrong with your pet before the first obvious signs appear. Prey animals try to hide that they are weak, ill as predators are always looking for an easy target.

Diet /Nutrition Mistakes

A balanced and quality diet for guinea pigs contains unlimited hay + limited amount of dry food ( pellets), some safe vegetables, and fruits as an occasional treat.

Hay – hay is an irreplaceable part of guinea pig’s everyday diet. It has to be high quality and without any mold or dust. The second and third cuts are the best for piggies.

Timothy hay is recommended for adult piggies while babies need to take alfalfa hay which is rich in calcium.

Hay should always be placed off the ground in a hay rack. There two reasons for that. First of all, if the hay is on the ground it will become soiled and piggies won’t be interested in eating it.

The second reason is that piggies need to stretch a bit to reach the hay which is good for their bodies.

Vegetables – the leafy, green vegetables are the best for piggies but there are some exceptions. For example, spinach is not good due to high calcium content.

Cabbage or Broccoli are also not recommended as they can cause gas. The problem with guinea pigs is that they don’t have the ability to pass gases in the same way humans do. So if they eat that kind of food, they can end up with intestinal blockage ( bloat ) which can be fatal.

Iceberg lettuce won’t kill them but it has very nutrients and a lot of water so it can lead to diarrhea in guinea pigs.

If you notice that your guinea pig has soft stool ( it should be hard and dry ), it means that your pet eats veggies too much so cut it back

Fruits – with fruits you have to be careful as they contain too much acid and sugar, so give your piggy a piece of fruit occasionally as a special treat.

Vitamin C – guinea pigs are not able to produce vitamin C by themselves ( same as humans) so they need to take it through the food or as a supplement.

When you buy pellets (dry food) pay special attention to the label, it should be fortified with vitamin C. Also leafy greens and vegetables are a great source of vitamin C (salad pepper, parsley, kale)

If you decide on a supplement, never put it in the water as you cannot be sure how much water your piggy drinks. Plus the water may taste different and your pets might drink less than usual.

If your piggy is sick, stressed, eats less than usual consider giving vitamin C as a supplement. The best would be to take a liquid one with a syringe. There is a debate on the internet on how much vitamin C your guinea pig needs daily but the majority agrees on 10-30mg per day.

Of course, it’s always recommended to ask your vet for the exact dosage your piggy needs.

Hopefully this article helped with all doubts and potential mistakes you should avoid when it comes to guinea pigs as pet.

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