All pet owners have a legal responsibility to meet their pets’ welfare needs, which includes providing a suitable diet, environment, companionship and ensuring they are kept healthy and are able to perform normal behaviours. If you’re thinking about having guinea pigs as pets, learn as much as you can about how to care for them beforehand. You should take your lifestyle and household into account, as well as their likely lifespan when deciding whether you can offer them a good home. This leaflet explains guinea pigs’ basic needs so you can decide if they’re right for you...
Guinea pigs can make rewarding pets for adults or children with careful supervision from a responsible adult. Remember that with any pets for children, an adult is always legally responsible for ensuring the animal is cared for properly. Guinea pigs are inquisitive and intelligent animals, and they can become friendly if gently handled from a young age. They can live for five to six years, though some may live longer.
Guinea pigs are social animals so they’re usually happiest when living with at least one other compatible guinea pig. A good combination is a neutered male with one or more females, or a pair or group of females. A pair of littermate brothers can sometimes live together successfully if they have been brought up together. Ask a vet about introducing new guinea pigs to each other and neutering.
Guinea pigs can also enjoy human company, so provide them with rewarding interactions with you every day.
Guinea pigs should not live with rabbits because guinea pigs and rabbits have different diets and communicate in different ways. Rabbits can bully or injure guinea pigs, and can pass diseases on to them.
Guinea pigs, whether kept indoors or outdoors, need a home consisting of a large shelter and exercise area, which should be strong and secure, draught-free, well-ventilated and receive natural light.
The shelter is somewhere for your guinea pigs to rest, hide and feel safe. This area needs enough space for your guinea pigs to rest together, stretch out when lying down and spend time apart if they wish. It must be raised off the ground slightly to keep the floor dry and improve ventilation. Cover the base of the shelter with a thick layer of newspaper, paper-based litter or dust-free woodflakes, and fill the bedroom areas with plenty of hay.
A large exercise run connected to their shelter, filled with tubes, tunnels and boxes, will allow your guinea pigs to walk, run around, hide and explore. It’s important to provide plenty of hiding places they can use to avoid their companions if they want to, or they may become stressed and bully each other. They should be allowed to access their exercise area from their shelter at all times.
Never put your guinea pigs in a used garage as the exhaust fumes from your vehicle can be very dangerous.
Their whole home can go straight onto the grass to allow your guinea pigs to graze. If kept outside, your guinea pigs’ accommodation needs to be weatherproof. An insulated, weatherproof cover provides extra protection from wind and rain. Guinea pigs should be brought indoors or into an unused garage or shed over winter; however, they will still need free access to a secure exercise area. If guinea pigs cannot be brought indoors, provide extra bedding to help them keep warm.
Alternatively, you can keep your guinea pigs indoors. You’ll need to give them a large indoor shelter with free access to a secure exercise area. This could be a large guinea pig playpen or a guinea pig-proofed room (where electrical wiring is covered, poisonous houseplants are removed and anything you don’t want chewed is covered or removed). Place their home in a quiet area of the house away from radiators and other pets. Ideally provide access to a secure outside exercise area in fine weather or provide daily opportunities to graze on grass grown in trays.
Guinea pigs need a balanced diet which is high in fibre. Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C so their diet must provide this too.
Hay and Grass
Hay and grass should form the majority of your guinea pigs’ diet. Good quality, fresh, dust-free hay must always be available for your guinea pigs to eat. Hay maintains healthy digestion and helps to wear guinea pigs’ teeth down, preventing them from growing too long or misaligned and becoming painful.
Never give your guinea pigs any lawn mower clippings as these can make them very ill.
Specialist, vitamin C enriched guinea pig foods should be fed in small, measured amounts daily in addition to hay to ensure your guinea pigs get all the vitamins and minerals they need. We recommend feeding nuggets,as guinea pigs often choose to eat only certain bits of muesli mixes, so they miss out on certain nutrients leading to dietary deficiencies, weight gain and other health problems. We feed our guinea pigs Pets at Home nuggets and recommend that you continue to do so when you take your new pets home. Sudden changes to the diet should be avoided as this can cause digestive upsets. If you do wish to change your guinea pigs’ diet at any time, introduce the new food slowly over period of about 10 days, phasing out the old food completely.
Fresh, leafy greens such as broccoli and kale, or herbs and fresh dandelion leaves should be given to your guinea pigs daily but remember to introduce new foods gradually to avoid digestive upsets. Fruits such as apples, and root vegetables like carrots are high in sugar, so only give them in very small amounts as occasional treats.
Never give your guinea pigs any frozen foods as these can make them very ill.
Guinea pigs need fresh water daily in heavy-based bowls or bottles. Check your guinea pigs’ water supply at least twice a day and make sure it does not freeze in winter. A bottle snug is ideal for your guinea pigs’ water bottles – it’ll help to keep the bottles cool and algae free in the summer and help to prevent them from freezing in the winter.
If left with nothing to do when you’re not around, your guinea pigs will get bored. Providing wooden or willow toys will give them something to chew on which helps to wear their teeth down. Scattering or hiding their food around their home or in activity feeders will encourage your guinea pigs to show natural foraging behaviour. Give your guinea pigs items to tunnel in, such as pipes and deep areas of hay. Also provide plenty of hiding places (at least one for each guinea pig), such as wooden shelters, boxes, tunnels and tubes to encourage your pets to explore, hide from things that scare them and escape their companions if they want to.
Your new guinea pigs are likely to be nervous when you take them home so you shouldn’t handle them initially. During the first few days, simply talk quietly to them. Encourage them to approach you by offering healthy treats. You can then start to gently stroke them and when they become more comfortable and confident with this, gradually get them used to being picked up. Using both hands, place one hand under your guinea pig’s chest and use your other hand to support his/her back and rear. Guinea pigs do not generally enjoy being picked up and held - they are prey animals, so associate being picked up with being being caught by a predator. They’ll prefer to interact with you on their own terms at ground level.
Remove soiled bedding from your guinea pigs’ home and replace it with fresh bedding daily. Clean the entire home thoroughly with a pet-safe disinfectant once a week. Cleaning can be stressful for guinea pigs as it removes their own familiar scents. Save some old but dry bedding to place in their newly cleaned home to ensure some familiar scent remains.
Guinea pigs’ teeth grow constantly so it’s important to provide them with plenty of hay, grass and wooden toys to wear their teeth down. Check your guinea pigs’ teeth at least once a week and take them to a vet if you are concerned.
A vitamin C deficiency can make your guinea pigs very sick so it is essential that this vitamin is provided in their diet. Give a fresh portion of vitamin C enriched food and fresh, leafy greens daily.
Regularly grooming your guinea pigs can also help to highlight health problems early. Groom long-haired breeds daily to keep their coats in good condition. Short-haired guinea pigs can be groomed weekly. Your guinea pigs’ nails will need checking weekly and clipping when necessary – ask your vet to show you how to do this.
Check your guinea pigs daily and take them to your vet for a thorough health check at least once a year. See your vet immediately if any of your guinea pigs are showing signs of pain, illness or injury e.g. loss of appetite, runny eyes or nose, flystrike, diarrhoea, dry or irritated skin, hair loss or changes in behaviour.
Travelling can be stressful and can make your guinea pigs ill. Transport your guinea pigs together (if they live with each other and are friends) in a secure plastic carrier. Put familiar smelling items in the carrier and their new home to help your guinea pigs feel at ease.
One of the most stressful times for small animals is when they move house. Small pets can carry diseases that can be triggered when moving. Always make sure that new pets are allowed to settle in for a few days before interacting with them so that they are rested and feel secure in their new home.
If your new pets show any signs of being unwell after purchase, please contact the store and we may arrange for them to see our vet.
All pets can carry diseases, some of which can pass to people. Always clean your hands after handling, feeding your pets, or cleaning their home and equipment and ensure children do the same. Always supervise children to ensure they do not put the pets (or objects that pets have been in contact with) near their mouths. It is best to avoid kissing your pets.
For more information on caring for guinea pigs visit: www.rspca.org.uk/guineapigs
Ringworm is a fungal infection which can affect guinea pigs causing scaly skin and scabs, usually around the nose and ears. It is also found in a range of animals including cats, horses and farm animals. Plenty of vitamin C helps to boost the immune system, which may help to prevent this. Give your guinea pigs lots of dark green leafy vegetables like cabbage and broccoli and keep their home clean. Ringworm can also pass to people so wash your hands thoroughly after handling guinea pigs. In people it looks like a round, red area of skin and advice on treatment can be obtained from a doctor or pharmacist.
Respiratory problems can occur in guinea pigs, shown by persistent sneezing and discharge from their eyes or conjunctivitis. Providing your guinea pigs with the correct bedding and draught-free accommodation can help prevent this.
- Large indoor/outdoor housing
- Ceramic food bowl, food-dispensing ball or puzzle feeder
- Water bottles or heavy-based water bowls
- Safe wood flakes or other suitable absorbent bedding/litter
- Dust-free hay
- Pets at Home guinea pig nuggets
- Leafy greens
- Hiding places (wooden houses, boxes, tunnels, tubes)
- Items to chew (gnawing sticks, willow toys, wooden blocks)
- Bottle brush
- Pet-safe disinfectant
- Nail clippers
- Book on guinea pigs