I have recently visited my cousin Lisa and she told me that her kids were asking her to buy them a guinea pig. She knows that I am a big fan of guinea pigs and that I also had several piggies in my life so she asked me if that was a good idea.
Guinea pigs might be great pets for the kids. Are they really going to be good pets or not, depends on several factors: child’s age, parents’ willingness to accept the commitment, the whole family eagerness to put additional effort, energy, and time into providing good care for piggies.
Guinea pigs are a rather long-term commitment. Although many people say that they are low-maintenance pets, there is still work to be done around them. Kids are not capable to do all that work on their own. It’s very important to teach children how to handle guinea pigs to avoid any accidental injuries.
At What Age Should A Child Get A Guinea Pig?
Your kid’s age plays an important role in whether the guinea pig will be a great pet for your little one or not. Let’s check what you can expect from the relationship kid-guinea pig if we focus on the kid’s age.
Toddlers ( 1-3 years old) and Guinea Pigs
A small kid 1-3 years old most probably won’t ask for any pet. But let’s pretend you have an older one who will.
Guinea pigs are not good for toddlers. Maybe it’s better to say that toddlers are not good for piggies. Very young children can hurt piggies in many ways so it’s better to keep them away from cavies.
If you have a child of this age, make sure piggies are placed in a secure cage while your kid is around. It would be best if you have a large wire cage with a plastic bottom ( bear in mind that minimum cage size is 8-10 sq feet for one or two piggies) with an attached lid and doors that can be closed.
Even if the cage is properly closed and your kid cannot reach the guinea pig, he/she can still give /put or pour some toxic substance to your piggies, while you are not watching. This depends on the child, of course, and how much is he/she interested in guinea pigs.
It’s better to make sure, your small child cannot reach the cage at all. That can be solved if you put a cage on some table or other piece of furniture which will prevent the child from reaching the cage and piggies inside.
As the last resort, you can place the guinea pigs’ cage in a separate room to which your child doesn’t have access. Use this only if you really have to because the piggies are not happy if they are dislocated. They like to interact with the family and to be in a more lively area of the house.
So as you can see guinea pigs are not great pets for toddlers so unless you already had piggies when your little one was born, don’t buy any until your kid is a bit older.
Preschoolers ( 3-5 years old) and Guinea Pigs
In this period, you might get a request from your kid to get a pet. Maybe some of their friends have guinea pigs or your child is asking for a pet and you think that guinea pig would be a great first-time pet for your little one.
According to ASPCA guinea pigs could be perfect pets for preschoolers. Guinea pigs are affectionate, not likely to bite, don’t scratch. So the kids are safe with guinea pigs, will not end hurt. But what about guinea pigs, are they safe with preschoolers? Well, not exactly.
Guinea pigs are prey animals and naturally scared of everything. Some time needs to pass in order to gain their trust. Do you really think that preschoolers have that kind of patience? I don’t think so.
As prey animals, cavies don’t like to be chased, grabbed, or picked up. If you are really keen that your 4-year old has a guinea pig, teach him that.
He shouldn’t be yelling or screaming around piggies, chasing is not a good game, and grabbing or handling the piggy roughly could end up as a disaster.
Guinea pig could try to escape from your kid’s hands and fall to the floor. This can be pretty dangerous for a cavy, as he has very fragile bones, especially the spine.
For this age, it’s recommended first to teach your child how to touch the guinea pig properly. Don’t forget that every ( but literally every ) interaction between your kid and his pet must be closely supervised.
Instructing your child on time about how to handle piggy safely, sets a good base for proper care in years to come and decrease the chance of guinea pig getting accidentally injured.
Don’t let the preschooler hold the guinea pig. Encourage him just to touch it very gently and not to make sudden movements and to speak in soft tones around his pet.
You should also teach your kid that a big part of having a pet is providing proper care and not just playing with it.
Show you kid what do you need to do every day or occasionally for your guinea pig ( preparing the food, feeding, cage cleaning, grooming..) Involve your little one and give him some chores you think he can handle.
Maybe he can pick the veggies with you in the supermarket. That way he will learn what’s food is safe for your pet. He can also help in adding the fresh hay to the hay rack. If you have long-haired piggy, your kid can brush its coat while piggy is sitting on your lap.
Your preschooler is definitely not capable to take care of a guinea pig on his own. You are the one who will be doing everything and your kid might help you with some tasks but don’t expect too much.
Grade schoolers (5-12 years old) and Guinea Pigs
The kids of this age are more confident and independent comparing to preschoolers. Their fine motor skills are much more refined although there is a big difference between children at the age of 6 in comparison with 12 year-old kids.
However, this age group is more capable to take care of and properly handle guinea pigs.
The same as younger kids, you need to teach them how to touch them, how to behave around them.
Explain to them why the guinea pigs are so afraid of everything, why they don’t like to be picked up ( as in nature only predators are picking them up from the ground), and how to pick them up without causing too much stress ( to use some treat as a bribe)
You can allow your Gradeschooler to hold a guinea pig but still, every interaction must be closely supervised by you. Discourage your kid to hold his pet high up in the air- this is a very terrifying experience for a cavy.
Teach your kids that guinea pigs are not stuffed animals but living beings so they need to be treated as such. This is a rather tough lesson but they need to learn it. Kids sometimes like to play with their pets as they were dolls. They can try to dress up the guinea pig or to play a doctor with it.
Share more chores with your kid. Ask him/her to wash the veggies for piggies or to clean to poop with broom and dustpan. Teach him how much hay to put every day and what is feeding schedule for piggies. If you perform the butt bath, let your kid help you.
Teens ( 13-18 years old ) and Guinea Pigs
Teens are totally different story. They are capable to take care of piggies but how successful they will do this depends on your teen.
They should have learned many things about the responsibility so far and if you help them at first by teaching them everything they need to know about piggies, they can do a great job.
You still need to be involved a bit, at least in grooming ( nail trimming can be tricky, although professionals can take care of that, as well as hair cutting ).
Teach your teen how to check the piggy’s shape and health on weekly basis and how to recognize if something is wrong with his/her pet.
Guinea pigs are not likely to show the signs of illness as they hide their weakness as long as they can but precisely because of this, it’s super important to explain to your teen how the healthy piggy should look like ( bright eyes, dry nose, no eye, nor nose discharge, no lumps, bumps or scratches on the skin/coat).
Instruct your teen to track the eating /drinking habits of his guinea pig and to alarm you if any changes occur. The level of energy is also very important so if your teen notices that piggy is rather lethargic that could be the sign that you should rush to the vet.
Where To Buy A Guinea Pig For Your Child?
First of all, note that you shouldn’t get only one guinea pig but at least two. Piggies are social creatures, they need a friend of the same species they can ”talk” to.
Don’t try to keep one guinea pig, even if you are certain that your kid is going to spend a great deal of time playing with it.
Another thing – if you are positive that you want to fulfill the wish of your child and bring piggies to your home, don’t go to the pet store. A better option is to adopt a pair from a local rescue center. There are a bunch of reasons for that.
- There are so many piggies out there that need a home, don’t encourage further production by buying the guinea pig from the pet store.
- Pet store workers usually know very little about piggies and won’t give you much useful information which you certainly will get from enthusiasts who work or volunteer at the shelter
- Every guinea pig has its own personality. People from shelters know their piggies very well and can help you find a matching pair that would be perfect for your family. They will tell you anyway but pick the same-sex pairs, either two girls or two boys. Two girls will fight less than two boys. If you insist on boy and girl, make sure male is neutered.
- If you adopt piggies from the shelter, you are getting already bonded pair but if you buy two piggies from a pet store, it’s a big question if they know each other at all, so you need to go through the bonding process at your home.
- Many guinea pigs from the pet store can come to your home either ill ( almost 65% of them sneezing which is a red flag ), injured, or pregnant ( pet stores don’t care about gender, they are placing females and males together). That will not happen if you adopt piggies from the shelter.
- In pet stores they will try to sell you everything for guinea pigs: cage, food, toys, treats… most of that stuff are useless. Cages that are sold in shops are rather too small, treats are full of sugar and preservatives.
- Most of the toys are simply unnecessary and made to be appealing to your child and not to your pet. In the shelter, you will get information about what’s food is the best, what size of cage you need, how to make hiding spots, and toys on your own. Some of these you can do with your child and make a great family time and fun out of it.
Potential Problems in Kids-Guinea Pigs Relations
Your Kid Might Be Allergic To Guinea Pigs
If your kid is prone to allergies you might hesitate to bring any pet to your home. Although it doesn’t mean that your kid will develop some allergic reactions to guinea pigs, you are still not sure what to do.
It’s far better to check if your kid is allergic before you bring piggy to your home. If you realize afterward that might lead to re-homing the animal which is not a pleasant thing to do.
Another advantage of adopting piggies from the shelter is that you can go there, explain your doubts and they can give you a sample of fur or food or hay ( as your kid could be allergic to all these things ) in order to make allergy testing.
If you notice that any person sneezes or coughs around guinea pigs, he/she might be allergic. Other signs of an allergy are itchy eyes, being out of breath, and rash.
Guinea Pigs Are Vocal Which Can Disturb Your Kid
Guinea pigs are pretty vocal animals and can be very loud, especially when it comes to food.
Piggies are not sleeping the whole night and might be very active from 3 till dawn so if the cage is placed near your kids room, his/her sleep might be very disturbed.
Constant squeaking is the sign that they need something but still, they can communicate with each other and be very loud. If you have a grade-schooler or a teen that is learning for exams, this noise could be very annoying.
Guinea Pigs Are ( Not ) Low Maintenance Pets
Are guinea pigs low maintenance pets? Well, it depends on how much time do you have? How much energy do you have? This issue doesn’t really have much to do with the kids-piggies relation, it’s more about you and your willingness to accept another commitment that requires your time and effort.
Guinea pigs are considered as low maintenance pets as you don’t need to walk them outside as you need to do with dogs, they are self-groomers so you don’t have to bathe them on regular basis but still, there is some work to be done around them.
- Guinea pigs cannot ( or very rarely ) be potty trained so it will be poop everywhere. As they are eating all the time ( especially hay ), there will be a lot of poop everywhere. The good thing is that piggies’ poop is rather hard and dry without a strong smell. You ( or your kid) needs to scoop the poop at least once per day
- Guinea pigs need an unlimited amount of hay. That means that you( or your kid) will be adding fresh hay to the hay rack at least one or even more times a day ( depends on how many piggies you have and how big the hay rack is). This also means that hay will be all around the cage and the smell of it will be in the room. Some people, including kids, consider this smell as bad.
- If you choose to have fleece bedding and not wood shavings in order to keep the cage more tidy and clean, you will have a lot of piggy laundry. Many people put towels to cover fleece and then change those towels on daily basis and do the fleece change once per week. All these towels and fleece including some stuffed toys, snuggling blankets and fabric tunnels will pile up the laundry. Don’t forget to clean the washing machine after piggy laundry, as they are going to be hairs, hay, or other stuff.
- You need to perform a thorough weekly cage cleaning. Guinea pigs don’t like to live in a dirty environment and poo cage maintenance will cause the bad smell to spread all over the house.
- Although guinea pigs are self-cleaning animals they still need your help with grooming. If you have long-haired piggy the grooming requires more time and effort. Coat brushing on a daily basis and hair cut once a month or two. Nail trimming is a tricky task that should be performed at least once a month. Butt bath is something that you do when it’s needed ( when its rear end is soiled or greasy due to the scent glands increased activity). A whole-body bath is rare in guinea pigs.
- Guinea pigs need a lot of space. You cannot place them in one of those small cages that are sold in pet shops. They are ground animals, so you cannot place them in some tall cages and expect to climb as hamsters do for example. They need at least 8-10 sq feet large cage if you have one or two guinea pigs. For more guinea pigs, you need more space of course.
Guinea pigs can be good pets for kids but you have to be there all the time.
Animals are always a great addition to any family but make sure you do your job responsibly teaching your kids how to handle piggies properly.
Guinea pigs are sweet and affectionate pets, they are sociable and friendly creatures that pose no threat to your kids. Try to provide, together with your kids, good care, lovely, and safe home to these furry pals. They will appreciate that.