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Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs are popular and easy to care for pets.  They can be tamed and become quite affectionate, and are capable of learning a few simple tricks.

People have kept Guinea Pigs for about 7000 years. This is longer than most domestic animals have been kept by people. With their short generation time, we have kept and bred them for perhaps 20,000 generations. Guinea Pigs as we know them are no longer a wild animal. They have some of the instincts of a wild animal, but not all. With gentle treatment they will get used to you and learn to recognize you as an individual and be apparently pleased when you are there.

The scientific name of the Guinea Pig is Cavia porcellus, and they are often called cavies.

Sleep

The Guinea Pig is sometimes referred to as the restless cavy, and some owners have never seen their pet asleep.  They do sleep, but they sleep in short bursts, and wake up very easily. 

Origin

Guinea Pigs come from several countries in Andes Mountains of South America. They do not come from Guinea which is in Africa. Here are a few of their wild relatives.

Life Span

Guinea Pigs usually live about 5 to 7 years although the record is just over 14 years.

Sexing

If you very gently press the animal’s belly in the right place, its penis will protrude if it’s a male.  This has to be done very gently, and you will need a breeder or other knowledgeable person to show you how to do it, otherwise you could injure the Guinea Pig.

This is one way to tell the sex of Guinea Pigs, but if possible avoid it because it could hurt or frighten the Guinea Pig. It is better to learn to recognise the difference in appearance between the males and females without making the penis protrude.

This is not the only way of sexing Guinea Pigs.  My sister can tell by looking at the animal’s nipples.   She never made a mistake although I am not confident using this method myself, preferring to use the presence or absence of a penis.

Washing Guinea Pigs

They are good swimmers, but Guinea Pigs do not seem to like water. They can be washed, but you need to stay with them when you wash them because they can drown. If you use a shampoo, either use one recommended specifically for Guinea Pigs, or one for Cats. Some Dog shampoos are unsuitable for Guinea Pigs and other animals that lick themselves.Don't use Human shampoo for animals unless you really know what you're doing. Our shampoos have all sorts of chemicals added.

Companions

Guinea Pigs normally live in groups, often called a herd. Keeping a single Guinea Pig is not something I recommend. Two females can be kept together and rarely give any trouble. Two males can be kept together as long as they have been together from birth and there are no females around. If you introduce two males to each other they will often fight.

A male and a female can be kept together, but if you do this you will get babies. You can also keep a desexed male with one or more females.

Diet

Guinea Pigs are herbivores so they do not eat meat. The natural food of Guinea Pigs is green vegetation; mainly grass and other low growing plants as well as fruit when they can get it. For more details, see the page, Feeding Guinea Pigs.

In all cases, Guinea Pigs need have access to clean water.

Hutches

 The usual place for keeping a Guinea Pig is a hutch.  This will need to be a reasonable size.  I suggest at least 30 inches (75 cm) long and 18 inches (45 cm) wide.  Most hutches will have a solid floor.
A variation on this, used successfully in both Australia and England, is to have a hutch open at the bottom and move the hutch around on the lawn.  This way, the Guinea Pigs will eat the grass, both providing them with fresh food and keeping part of the lawn mowed and fertilised.  In England, the Guinea Pigs need to be moved to warmer accommodation in the winter.
Shade should be provided.

Predators

  Guinea Pigs are not very good at defending themselves and are vulnerable to many predators, both wild and domestic.   Dogs kill Guinea Pigs.   Dogs are highly intelligent animals and can be trained to not attack Guinea Pigs, but your pet would still be at risk from other dogs.


Cats can easily kill Guinea Pigs and I have known this to happen, but I have also known many cases where people have kept Cats and Guinea Pigs together in total harmony.

Rabbits are not a predator of Guinea Pigs, but a large Rabbit could easily injure one so care needs to be taken. Plenty of people keep Guinea Pigs and small Rabbits together without trouble.


Wild predators, including Rats, will kill Guinea Pigs, especially babies. So your pet will need to be protected from many types of animal.

Guinea Pigs outside are also at risk from large predatory birds like Owls, Hawks, Piping Shrikes, Crows and Eagles. If they have plenty of cover, they will usually be able to avoid airborne predators.

Tails

Most animals have tails.  Try to list the ones without tails.  It won't be a long list, but the Guinea Pig will be on it. People say that you should not pick up a Guinea Pig by its tail. This is not because its eyes will drop out, but because there's no tail.

Our First Guinea Pigs

I got my first Guinea Pig when I was 7. Snow White was an albino smooth haired female. At the same time, my brother, Richard who was 9, got an albino short haired male which we called Snowball. We referred to our Guinea Pig family as Snowdonia.

Snow White and Snowball had three babies in their first litter. 3 is the most common number of babies for a Guinea Pig to have, although over the years, Snow White’s litters varied between 1 and 5. I have known other mother Guinea Pigs to have up to 7, but with the larger numbers, the babies tend to be weaker.

Two of the first three babies were called Snowflake and Snowdrop. We rapidity ran out of ‘snow’ names for Snow White’s later litters. We sold the babies locally.

After a couple of years my younger brother Robert wanted a coloured female Guinea Pig. Our father went and bought him a nice looking two coloured Guinea Pig that the man in the pet shop had assured my father was a female. Robert was going to call it Wilhelmina.

As soon as Dad brought it home I checked; Wilhelmina was a male. So he had to be William. If you put two unfamiliar males together they will fight, so William had to have a separate hutch.

I kept and sometimes bred Guinea Pigs for most of the next 60 years. Some of the pictures on the pages linked to this one were from my sister Kathy who worked in Cambridge University vet school in England, helping to teach vets and vet nurses. One of the pictures is by my daughter Kathy who was at the University of Tasmania.





Below are links to more pages of information about Guinea Pigs
Breeding Guinea Pigs

Choosing Guinea Pigs

Diet

        Guinea Pig Foods

       Poisonous Garden Plants

Origin and Wild Relatives

Guinea Pig Varieties

Guinea Pig in Space

Guinea Pig Health

       Zoonoses


Heat and Cold

Cold

When I first kept Guinea Pigs, we were living in the north midlands of England where the winter temperature dropped to about minus 10 degrees C (14 degrees F). In the winter we would keep our Guinea Pigs inside where it was warmer. Now I live in the Adelaide Hills in Australia where the winter temperatures are about 10 degrees C warmer. Our Guinea Pigs seem to have no problem with this as long as they have a warm hutch with dry bedding to retreat to.

Heat

In England, when I lived there the summer temperatures rarely went above about 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) and our Guinea Pigs had no trouble as long as they were in shade. The climate of England has changed a bit now and rather higher temperatures are occurring.

In Australia, in the cooler area I live in, the summer temperatures get a little above 40 degrees C (104 degrees F). Guinea Pigs can take high temperatures better than Rabbits, but on hot days we put a frozen two litre plastic container of water in with them. The hutch must be in shade.

When they are loose in a garden they seem to be able to find a cool place.


Releasing Guinea Pigs

It is illegal in most countries to release any domestic animal into the wild. It is also a totally irresponsible thing to do. Guinea Pigs are not well adapted to survive in the wild, and are likely to be killed by predators. If they did survive, they could become pests.

There are plenty of people in warm climates who keep their Guinea Pigs in a secure back garden.  In many cases this has worked, including several instances where they are kept with cats.  But they are at risk if the neighbour’s dog or cat gets in.

Speed
Guinea Pigs can run at about 9 kilometres an hour. This is much slower than most people and many other animals can run. Guinea Pigs are extremely good at dodging and catching an escapee is not easy. They are quite a lot harder to catch than Rabbits


Guinea Pig Bites

Viciousness

I have never known or even heard of, a Guinea Pig biting a person through viciousness. Their wild ancestors were prey animals, not predators, and Guinea Pigs are not vicious to people.

Nervousness

I have never experienced a Guinea Pig biting through fear or nervousness, but other people have suggested that they sometimes will. I do not know of any specific instance of it happening so it is likely to be rare, but it is possible that it has occurred.

Accident

I've been bitten by a Guinea Pig that was eating food from my fingers, so care is needed when hand feeding them.

Bites

Guinea Pigs are rodents and have sharp and fairly strong teeth. Any animal bite should be taken seriously. Wash the cut immediately under clean running water, and then see a doctor.

Guinea Pig Senses


Eyesight

Guinea Pigs have reasonably good vision, but cannot see as well as most people. They can see in colour and can see two primary colours as well as thousands of shades and combinations of these colours. Most people can see in three primary colours as well as tens of thousands of shades and combinations, although some people can only see two of the primary colours and the shades and combinations.

Guinea Pig eyes are on the sides of their faces so they can see better beside, above and behind them without turning their head than we can. They can also see above them well and are alert to things like predatory birds high up.

Guinea Pig eyes do not work together as our eyes do.

Hearing

Guinea Pigs have good hearing and can hear much higher pitched sounds than most people, as well as slightly lower pitched ones. Human children can hear high pitched sounds much better than older people and can hear sounds in the range from 64 to 20,000 hertz (cycles per second).

Guinea Pigs can hear sounds from 54 to 50,000 hertz. This is a slightly wider range than a Dog can hear, but not quite as wide as a Cat’s hearing range.

Smell

Guinea Pigs have a better sense of smell than we do, but not as good as a Dog.

Taste

Guinea Pigs have a better sense of taste than we do and like us, have their own preferences in food.

Touch

Guinea Pigs have whiskers which they use in the same way as a Cat uses its whiskers. These help it move around in the dark. You should not cut the whiskers off a Guinea Pig or a Cat.







Guinea Pigs have been used on quite a few postage stamps.