Guinea Pigs – All you Need to Know Before you Get One!

Guinea pigs are also known as ”Cavy” are great small pets that have a lovely personality, very gentle, active, and great explorers. But first, to clear something they are not pigs, they are rodents and they do not come from Guinea, they come from South America : )

Guinea pigs are very popular as family pets due to their nature and the fact they rarely bite not even if they are stressed. They need spacious habitat but they like to play and explore outside the habitat too. Vitamin C is important in its diet and plenty of hay. Daily interaction and care are required to keep them healthy and happy.

So if this so far seems like you would keep one as a pet but want to know more, just keep reading.


The average size of an adult Guinea Pig is approximately 10 inches and they weigh 2-3 pounds.

They have rectangular plumped bodies with small ears, cute little eyes, small triangular mouth, and the tail is not visible.

There are 13 different breeds that are recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association and most common are American and Peruvian. Breeds are recognized by different coat /hair color, coat texture and color patterns.

Guinea Pigs Are a Long-Term Commitment

Guinea pig’s lifespan is 5 – 7 years if cared for properly. That is a long life span comparing to other small pets (for example hamsters have a life span of 2- 3 years) so that is why they say that Cavy’s are long term commitment. And they do require your attention daily, feeding, grooming and petting so ask your self are you up for it.

Guinea Pigs Are Social Herd Animals

Guinea pigs in wild live within a group of 5 to 10 members so your pet will be happiest if it has at least one companion. To avoid unwanted babies keep the same-sex pairs and best would be if they are introduced at young ages.

You can pair even adult guinea pigs but there is a chance they will not get along well, as it is with humans maybe their personality is not matching. Keeping a pair will help them with reducing stress and improving life quality.

Interesting thing i have read that in Switzerland it is illegal to have just one guinea pig and that shows you how important it is for Cavy to have company.

Guinea Pigs are Prey Animals

As prey animals, they are always on alert so any new smell or sudden sound will make them go into survival mode. That also includes any new person entering the room or even their owner can be perceived as a threat. In their eyes, human looks like enormous predator so don’t take it personally they just have to get to know you and you have to gain their trust.

Guinea pig’s reaction to any threat is to freeze (not moving a muscle) and it can last from a couple of seconds up to 30 minutes and after that, they run to a safe, hiding place. This is the reason why they need a safe place like the nest box, we mentioned before.

When it comes to new play toys or any new object in their environment they approach it with caution. Even when they meet new guinea pigs for the first time they tent to approach by stretching their body and inspecting it with their whiskers. The stretched body allows them to swiftly pull back away from the threat.

The downside of being a prey animal is that they will not show signs that they are ill or in pain. This way in the wild they are not attracting predators as a weak pray but as pets, this is not helpful at all because the owner can not see the signs and take them to the vet.

This is why you have to know how to properly take care of your pet and to learn to read indicators that something is wrong with them. One of the good ways is regular weighing. It is important because they are very small animals and any illness can progress pretty fast so you have to react on time.

Handling Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs have to be handled gently, for example when you want to pick them up you should do it with both hands. One should be under their chest and second should secure their bottom.

They are usually scared because we are pretty big in their eyes and especially if you are new to them. Your grip has to be firm but without too much pressure on their body that way you make them feel safe and without any discomfort. This is something to be practiced and you will get a hang of it.

You can expect that sometimes they can empty their small bladder so try not to react and avoid making loud noises that will make them nervous or scare.

Make sure your hands are washed before and after you handle your Cavy. This will prevent transferring bacteria or viruses. Washing off any scent especially food from your hands will prevent being nipped by your pet that can mistake your hand with food (if they smell that way).

Handling by children has to be supervised at all times. Supervision is also important when your cavy is (interacting)playing with other pets.

Habitat / Cage Has to be Spacious

Most of the cages that you can by on the market are not big enough for a guinea pig, especially for a pair that you will most likely have. Their home-ground should have a spacious firm surface because they like to play and exercise a lot.

So the bigger habitat you can provide for your pet the better. Making a cage by yourself is a great alternative to a cage that you can buy online. It is not that hard and you can make proper size habitat that your pet will enjoy.

Humane Society of the United States recommend that guinea pig housing should be :

One guinea pig: 7.5 square feet cage (minimum), but more is better; generally 30″ x 36″ is a good size.
Two guinea pigs: 7.5 square feet (minimum), but 10.5 square feet is preferred; generally 30″ x 50″ is a good size.

The cage pan should be deep enough to keep the bedding inside so make sure it is 4 to 6 inches high. The important structure that guinea pigs need in their cage is a nest box where they can feel safe and sleep peacefully.

Positioning Habitat

Besides the size of the habitat, positioning it is very important. Avoid direct sunlight and away from strong heat sources like fireplaces or heating vents.

Also, avoid drafty places, make sure that air temperature does not have sudden changes and not exceed 80 °F because they can overheat. The ideal temperature is approximately 65-75 °F.

All in all, if the temperature is good for you it is good for them but if you feel too hot, you should cool down the room.

Cleaning Habitat

Cavy’s habitat should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week, but during the week you should remove wet spots and change the bedding every couple of days.

For thorough cleaning, remove the pet from the cage and you can use a 3% bleach solution cleaning. Cage has to be rinsed and dried before you return your pet back.


Guinea pigs do not have specific toilet spots so they do it everywhere at any time therefore bedding should be able to absorb, but not to be harmful to the animal. Bedding should cover at least half of the cage/habitat.

For bedding, you can use fleece, high-quality paper bedding, hay, cloth and hardwood shavings. Just be careful with hardwood shavings, in recent years cedar-based products were found to be harmful, especially to guinea pigs. Bedding has to be changed regularly ( twice a week) to keep it clean.

More on bedding you can find in our article.

Guinea Pigs Prefers Fresh Food

The main fixture of any healthy pet guinea pig’s diet as herbivores should be fresh hay and hay pellets. Timothy hay is considered to be best for guinea pigs. Hay is important because it is a great source of fibers that is important for keeping you cavies healthy. Hay should be available all the time for your pet because they need it for their digestion.

Avoid treats with sugar and pellet “mixes” (with seeds, peanuts) that can cause gastrointestinal problems. Also, make sure that pellets you buy are made of 100% hay.

Besides hay and hay pellets you have to include fresh fruit and vegetables in their daily diet. A proper portion of fresh vegetables is approximately a cup per guinea per day. For example, tomatoes and green pepper are great daily choices. Carrots and sweet potatoes should be limited to once a week.

When it comes to fruit due to its high level of sugar you should treat them on a weekly base, 1-2 tablespoons for every 2 pounds of their weight. Kiwi strawberries and apples are a great choice for a healthy diet.

There is also some vegetable that can cause gas such as broccoli florets and cabbage, spinach can be toxic if they et toom much. Fruit with too much sugar is bananas and raisins so there is a lot to know about proper diet and know what vegetables and fruit is good and which to avoid.

Chocolate caffeine and alcohol are a big NO do not feed this to your pet because it can cause serious medical conditions.

So to provide healthy diet for your Cavy i suggest to read our article


When it comes to the water you have to provide fresh chlorine-free and filtered water that has to be changed daily and available at all times. As a water source, you can use a bowl or a water bottle. The bowl is cheap and easy to install but they can knock it over or the water can get contaminated.

The better alternative is a water bottle for cavies that hangs on the cage bars. You can buy online and be sure that water stays clean for your pet. Just make sure it is positioned above bedding to prevent them from accidentally defecate in it.

Vitamin C is Very Important in Guinea Pigs Diet

Guinea pigs are not able to produce their own vitamin C (same as with humans) so that is why they have to have their fruit and vegetables in their diest. The deficiency of this vitamin will make them ill and can cause a condition called Scurvy.

Most of the pellet food has added vitamin C but it can degrade over time. So to make sure they have a sufficient amount of vitamin in their diet you have to give your Cavy vitamin C supplements that are safe for your pet and there is a lot of options on the market.

On average guinea pigs need 30 to 50 mg of Vitamin C daily through their diet to stay healthy. Your job is to make sure that they take enough of it each day to keep them healthy.

Guinea pig Teeth Never Stop Growing

Guinea pigs teeth are open rooted in other words they never stop growing. Well balanced diet plays an important roll in keeping their teeth at proper length.

You can also give them proper toys to nibble and chew and that will help with maintaining their teeth at the right size. If they become too long they will experience pain and most likely stop eating and start losing weight so you will have to visit a vet for help.

They Communicate a Lot (vocally)

Guinea pigs make different sounds that include high-pitched or soft purring, squealing and teeth chattering, depending on the emotion they want to express.

Wheeking sound is usually connected with food, either when they want to eat or they are expecting to get fed. They also use this sound to get your attention as well.

Teeth chattering is the sound you will hear when they are angry and they use this way of communicating with other guinea pigs (something like ”stay away from me”)

”Popcorning” is associated usually with younger cavies, they show their excitement by hopping up and down.

Even though they will not cause trouble by weakening up the neighbors they can surprise you with a loud noise for example to wake you up from an afternoon nap from time to time.

Daily Care and Hygiene

They require regular grooming, for short-haired guinea pigs once a week is enough but for the long-haired, they have to be brushed daily by soft-backed brush. Trimming their hair is needed when it grows too long and starts dragging on the ground.

When it comes to bathing they rarely need one especially if they are brushed regularly. In case they get lice you will have to give them a bath with shampoo that is safe (designed) for guinea pigs. If it is your first time bathing a guinea pig, ask an experienced friend for help or consult a vet to guide you through the steps.

For cleaning (wiping )parts of their body, you can use washcloth just a bit damped or baby wipes without any scent.

Do not be surprised that your Cavy’s teeth are yellow, it is normal and do not require brushing.

Their nails should be clipped monthly and be sure to inform your self about the proper way to clip them.

Guinea Pigs are Active Animals

Guinea pigs are very active animals that can be active most of the day (up to 20 hours) and they rest(sleep) for just a few hours. They like to explore their surroundings and they can memorize pathways that take them to food sources pretty well.

They do not dig comparing to other small pets like hamsters, they prefer to use a natural shelter or even use other animal’s burrows. Even though very active they are not able to climb well so do not make to demanding obstacle course for them (if you plan to make one : ))

Guine pigs are Corporagic Animals

Corporagic animals eat their own poop. This is because they have a specific digestive system that passes the food trough their stomach making droppings called caecotrophs that they eat.

This process is called caecotrophy and in short, it is a process that allows animals to extract as much as possible from the food they eat. Even though it seems yucky for us, it is completely normal for guinea pigs.

Health of Guinea Pigs

Generally, they are healthy animals if taken care of, but they can get ill. The most common health issues are Diarrhea, Malocclusion (Owegrown teeth, Scurvy (caused by vitamin c deficiency), Ringworm (skin infection), Mites/lice (external parasites), respiratory infections and tumors.

To know if there is something wrong with your Cavy, you have to know your pet and observe any change in behavior.

When they are healthy they are active, walking normally, socializing, eating and drinking normally. Fur should look healthy, eyes clear and when they communicate they squeak.

In case you notice that they are losing weight, having diarrhea, losing too much hair, sneezing, crusty eyes, drooling or lethargic behavior it is time to consult the vet

These are just some of the symptoms that should signal you that something is wrong and if you want to know more details about guinea pigs disease please read my article Guinea pigs common disease symptoms and how to prevent it.

Guinea Pigs & Children

Guinea Pigs are very gentle animals and they require proper handling so children can play with them but have to be thought the right way to handle and must be supervised when playing with their pet.

When it comes to younger children that did not develop fine motor skills it can be challenging. They can squeeze the guinea pig too much or accidentally drop it and cause an injury.

So make sure that child is able to keep the pet securely in their hands without too much pressure, if you think that maybe they are not able to do so, it is better to leave it to the elders.

Also, bear in mind that children are usually not ready to take care of the pet by themselves so make sure you supervise it daily and the parent should be in charge to keep the pet healthy.

Check if You are Allergic

Before you bring your new pet home make sure that none of your family members (including you) are allergic to guinea pigs or even hay.

The easiest way to check if you are allergic is to visit the friend that has guinea pig or even animal shelter to check if you develop any allergic reaction.

In case you suspect that any family member has allergies make sure you do further testing to rule out allergies to guinea pigs. This will help you avoid the unpleasant situation or even being forced to give your Cavy for adoption.

Guinea Pigs are Often Available at Shelters

You have decided that guinea pig is the right pet for you so before you go to the pet store and buy one you should consider adopting one. Check local rescue or shelter for guinea pigs and you can provide some Cavy a new home and in a way saving their life.

If you do not to want look for shelter/rescue online you can ask a local vet to recommend you where and how to adopt a guinea pig. He can also advise you how to quickly exam the animal before you take it home, to be sure that they do not have any illnesses.

Find Experience Vet

Make sure you find a vet that is experienced with guinea pigs. You should have one before you need it urgently because with small animal illness can take over pretty fast so it is important that your pet is treated on time.

Final toughts

Guinea pigs are fun animals that will make your day great. They require daily care but when you get a hang of it becomes routine that you will enjoy. Make sure you are ready to have guinea pigs because they will stay with you for many years and they need you to care for them properly.I hope i helped introduce this great pet to you and that you will enjoy having one (or more)…

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