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Guinea Pigs as Pets and
Space Travellers

The Guinea Pig is a popular pet.  It has been kept by Humans for about 7000 years. This is longer than most of the animals kept by man.

The scientific name of the Guinea Pig is Cavia porcellus, and they are often called cavies; it is sometimes referred to as the restless cavy.  Many Guinea Pig owners have never seen their pet asleep.  They do sleep, but tend to sleep in short bursts, and they wake up easily.  Guinea Pigs can live for about 7 years.

The species, Cavia porcellus, does not appear to exist in the wild.  It may have been developed in captivity from one of the related wild species like Cavia aperea, Cavia fulgida, or Cavia tschudii.

Choosing your Pet

The best place to buy a Guinea Pig is from a breeder.  The breeder should be able to tell you about caring for your pet.  Once my father bought a Guinea Pig; my brother wanted a coloured female.  My father relied on the pet shop man for advice.  He assured my father that the nicely coloured Guinea Pig was a female. 

As soon as he got it home, I pointed out that if you gently pressed the animal’s belly, its penis protruded. 

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

A breeder is less likely to make a mistake like this than an inexpert person in a pet shop.

Space Travel

Guinea Pigs are not famous for their space journeys, but they beat Humans into space by 34 days.  The first space traveling Guinea Pig went into space on March the 9th 1961; the first Human went into space on April the 12th 1961. Oddly, while Major Yuri Gagarin

received a well deserved promotion and was decorated with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his achievement, there is no record of similar honours for the first Guinea Pig in space.

Housing

The usual way of keeping a Guinea Pig is in 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.  You can place newspaper on the floor with straw bedding on this.  The newspaper makes cleaning easier.

A variation on this which I have 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.

Food

Guinea Pigs are herbivores and do not eat meat. The natural food of Guinea Pigs is green vegetation; mainly grass and other low growing plants.  It can be said that if a plant is green and not poisonous, it is suitable for Guinea Pigs.  Of course, common sense should also be applied.

Anything that is known to be poisonous to either Humans or to other animals should be avoided.

Although Chocolate and Avocados are both good Human food, do not give them to animals.   Rhubarb is also best avoided. 

Alcoholic drinks may be safe for Humans, but do not give them to your Guinea Pig.  This also applies to the high caffeine, high sugar energy drinks widely available nowadays.

Avoid bulbs or the leaves and flowers of bulb plants.

Most animals can make their own Vitamin C.  Guinea Pigs, Humans and Apes cannot.  Therefore, your Guinea Pig, Gorilla and Chimp need fresh food, just as you do.  Fresh really does mean fresh.  For example, lettuce loses most of its vitamin C within hours of harvest. Fresh grass or weeds are often a convenient food with plenty of vitamin C. 

Of course, many people want a standby food. As long as your Guinea Pig is getting plenty of fresh green food, rabbit pellets can be used in moderation.  Your pet will also enjoy the occasional carrot or apple.   There are many types of mixed foods suitable and are generally better for your Guinea Pig than Rabbit pellets. Avoid foods like laying pellets which contain meat meal.  Although you might get away with a little bit, your Guinea Pig’s liver is not well adapted to remove the waste products produced from meat.

Water

Your Guinea Pig should have clean, fresh water all the time.

Tails

Most animals have tails.  Try to list the ones without tails.  It will not be a long list, but the Guinea Pig will be on it. I presume that it is just a coincidence that Humans, Guinea Pigs and Apes all cannot make their own vitamin C and also do not have tails.

 
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 certainly known this to happen, but I have also known several 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.

Wild predators will certainly kill Guinea Pigs. This includes Rats. So your pet will need to be protected from many types of animal.

Releasing Guinea Pigs

It is illegal in Australia to release any domestic animal into the wild. This probably applies in most countries. While Rabbits have become a major pest in Australia, Guinea Pigs have not, despite being in Australia for many years and, no doubt escaping occasionally.  They are not well adapted to survive in the wild.

However, there are plenty of people who have released their Guinea Pigs into 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 gets in.

Companions

Guinea Pigs are social animals and prefer to be in a group.  Two females are often the preferred combination.  Two males can be kept together if there have been together from a young age, and there are no females in the area.  If you simply buy two males and put them together, they will usually fight. If a male and a female are kept together, you will soon have more Guinea Pigs.

Although a rabbit can potentially injure the smaller Guinea Pig, I have kept Guinea Pigs with a very small Rabbit.  This Rabbit was only about the same size as the Guinea Pigs.
My sister has a Rabbit named Oliver.  He lives in perfect harmony with a family of Guinea Pigs.
 
Oliver and the guinea-pigs - Jeté is the black and white one, and the four new ones are Arabesque, the mother, and her three daughters Pirouette, Piqué and Glissé. Ballerina guinea-pigs - already the best of friends.
 
Breeding Guinea Pigs

Before you breed

This is a very easily bred animal.  In my experience all that is necessary to get Guinea Pig babies is to have a male and one or more females together.  Before you even contemplate this, consider what will happen next.  What will you do with the babies?  Do you want to keep them?  If you are going to keep them, can you look after them?

If you intend to sell them to your local pet shops, make sure that they are going to be willing to buy them.  They may have their own suppliers.  Also, if you sell them to the shop and find that they are charging four times what they paid for them, do not go and accuse them of profiteering.  Shop owners have all sorts of costs which you may not be aware of. 

Although some pet shops last for a long time, there is also a steady turnover of new pet businesses that start with high expectations and close within two years.  Sometimes the shop owner has lost so much money that he loses his house as well. The person you are accusing of profiteering may be in serious financial trouble because he is not making a profit, despite what it looks like.

Breeding

If you have thought about breeding seriously, then you will want to select the prospective parents.   Females become capable of conceiving at as young as 4 weeks old.  I do not recommend allowing this to happen, but do not leave it too late.  A female Guinea Pig that has never given birth can become incapable of giving birth, although she is still capable of getting pregnant.  This can happen at as young as 6 months old.  If a female is over 6 months old and has never had babies, it is very dangerous to allow her to get pregnant.  I suggest that a female for breeding should start at about 10 weeks old.

The gestation period is about 65 days. This is much longer than the gestation period of rats.  Males do not tend to be dangerous to their young, but the female normally comes into season straight after giving birth, so if you do not want another litter straight away, the male needs to be separated before the birth. 

Although a female Guinea Pig can have up to five litters a year, this sounds like very hard work, and she deserves more rest than this.  The males can also become sexually mature at about 4 weeks old.  Avoid brother/sister mating and other closely related combinations.

The Babies
Baby Guinea Pigs are called Pups.  The pups are born with full fur and their eyes open.   They are able to start eating solid food almost immediately although their mother’s milk is important.
 
Steve Challis









I breed Guinea Pigs myself and we frequently have some for sale in Betta Trading, usually at $8 each.