I love Guinea Pigs, I think they are fabulous little creatures, friendly, full of character and very easy to keep. I recently did some work for a vets based at the back of a large pet store and one of the highlights of my day was walking past the Guinea Pigs and watching them all running about!
Guinea Pigs make great pets but are particularly good for children. They are easy to handle and calm when held, in contrast to rabbits, who although very cute to look at, can cause nasty scratches if they wriggle in your arms. They are easy to tame and rarely bite, unlike hamsters, who can nip if they are disturbed and are not used to being handled. Guinea Pigs are also great pets to do things for; make them a little house from an up-turned shoebox and they will be straight in there; pop in a couple of toilet rolls and they will get to work shredding them immediately, another reason why I think they are so good for children, who will be delighted their efforts are well received.
Guinea Pigs are very sociable creatures and will soon learn to ‘talk’ to you when you appear with their dinner! They should be kept with at least one other of their own kind and watching them play is a great distraction. However, although Guinea Pigs and Rabbits are often kept together, it is not an ideal pairing. Not only are their dietary requirements different but rabbits can often bully the Pigs and sometimes cause nasty bites. Also, rabbits can carry a bacteria which doesn’t affect them but can cause flu like symptoms in guinea pigs.
Guinea Pigs are easy, and cheap, to keep and, as long as they are looked after well, tend to be relatively healthy. They should be fed a diet consisting of a majority of good quality hay, a small amount of pelleted Guinea Pig food and a daily amount of fresh vegetables. These, and the Guinea Pig food, are particularly important as, like humans, they cannot make Vitamin C in their bodies. They cope equally well outdoors or indoors but they should always have enough room to have a good run about and be provided with different toys to keep their interest. They should be handled and played with everyday as they thrive on human contact and interaction.
I don’t see many Pigs in my consultations (much to my disappointment!), particularly not for the number of them there are out there. The biggest issues they have are fur mites, which can make them very itchy, or dental problems. It is difficult to prevent the mites and some pigs are very sensitive to them (it is quite common to see two together where one is badly affected and the other is fine). However, they are easily treated with medications and anti-mite spot-ons (just like the kind used for cats and dogs) from your vet and these spot-on products can be used to ward off infestations, which can be a good idea for those Pigs who are vulnerable. The majority of dental problems are caused by over-grown teeth; Guinea Pig’s teeth grow continually and can develop nasty spikes if they are not fed correctly. A Pigs diet should consist of at least 80% hay, the tough woody stems help to keep the teeth ground down and the correct shape.
So, if you are looking for a new pet who will be a great companion without being too much trouble, who will be less wriggly than a Rabbit, more handle-able than a Hamster and less giddy than a Gerbil, why not try a Guinea pig?!
Cat is the resident vet at Pet Street