Beginners Guide to Guinea Pig Essentials

I’ve had lots of requests lately from new guinea pig owners asking what items they need to have a happy, healthy guinea pig. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about guinea pigs that can be misleading. I’ve put together a Beginners Guide to Guinea pig Essentials as a reference point for all guinea pig owners – old and new!

If you’d rather skip straight to the buying part then simply click on our essentials shopping list!

Guinea pig housing

Wild cavy

The first of our guinea pig essentials is housing. Guinea pigs need somewhere to call their own! There are a wide variety of cages and hutches to choose from. However, not all guinea pig housing is the correct size. Quite frequently cages and hutches being marketed for guinea pigs are far too small.

The RSPCA states the minimum size cage for a 2 adult guinea pigs is 120cm x 60cm x 45cm. Ideally aim for as large as you can. Small cages need to be balanced out with larger play areas for exercising.

Before buying their new home (or upgrading an existing one) decide where you would like your guinea pigs to live. Guinea pigs can live indoors or outdoors. It’s a really important choice to make. It depends on a variety of factors such as where you live, where you bought the guinea pigs and even your personality!

Essentials for your outdoor guinea pigs

Choosing a hutch

male-or-female-pigs

Guinea pigs originate from the Andes in South America where wild cavies roam freely on hills and small mountains. Guinea pigs love to graze on grass and leaves so are more than happy living outside.

Extra care is needed when guinea pigs are kept outside since they are prey animals. Foxes, cats and even owls are all guinea pig predators. Buying a suitable hutch to keep your guinea pigs safe is key.

Quality is key so ensure you buy the best you can afford. Aim for as large a hutch as you can as guinea pigs require lots of space for running around and exercising. Ensure the hutch is rodent proof as rats are attracted by bedding and droppings. It also stops your guinea pigs escaping!

Ideally, aim for a hutch that has legs to keep it off the ground. Hutches that have direct contact with the ground get cold and damp. Colds and chills are fatal for guinea pigs so keeping their sleeping area off the ground is essential.

A common issue with outside hutches and runs is that foxes are able to dig underneath wire floor designs and get inside! Always ensure you quality check any hutches and runs you buy to ensure there are no sharp corners or dangerously exposed wire. This will stop you and your guinea pigs from getting hurt.

Choosing a run

guinea pig body language

Guinea pigs might be small but they need lots of space! Typical happy guinea pig behavior involves running around, foraging, and generally exploring everything. Additional space in the form of a run for your outside guinea pig is essential.

Guinea pigs are natural grazers so having a run with no flooring is perfect. Stay away from wire floors on hutches and runs as they are very dangerous. They frequently cause foot injuries that can be fatal to guinea pigs.

Choose a run that has a lid or roof on. This stops cats jumping down and scaring your guinea pigs. Ensure you also add some hiding places to your guinea pigs run. This gives them places to sleep and hide when needed.

Cleaning your guinea pigs hutch

Guinea pig hutches need cleaning out roughly twice a week. Simply take out and throw away all their bedding and any old food that’s in there. Next, take out and clean food bowls and water bottles also. Once the hutch is empty, Wash down the hutch using a specially designed cleaning product. After the hutch is dry, add in fresh bedding, food and water.

Outside Guinea Pig Essentials

Essentials for your indoor guinea pigs

Choosing a cage

guinea pig hay

Typically guinea pig cages that are sold by pet shops are far too small. It’s best to buy the biggest cage you can afford. It may be tempting to buy multi-story cages in order to maximise space. Remember that elderly guinea pigs won’t be able to climb steep ramps or steps. The best guinea pig cages are ones that can be customised to fit your space.

Equally important is deciding where the cage will go. When guinea pigs are purchased as pets for children, it can be tempting to put the cage in their room. Remember guinea pigs are active for 20 hours a day! Furthermore, whilst they sleep for 4 hours, this isn’t all at once! Guinea pigs are nappers and only take short naps throughout the day and night.

Their room needs to be quiet but also visited frequently. Guinea pigs are social animals and love learning and listening to the sound of your voice. A sitting room or dining room is an ideal place for them as they are central enough to be involved, but further away enough not to disrupt sleep.

If you have other pets in the house then it’s important to safeguard your guinea pigs. Ensure they have plenty of hiding places and their cage is safe and secure from predators.

Choosing a playpen

Chocolate exploring

Most guinea pig owners are completely unaware of how much exercise a guinea pig really needs! Wild cavies are constantly active and their domestic relatives, guinea pigs are no different. Guinea pigs need daily interactions, social time as well as plenty of exercise.

Indoor guinea pigs can meet their activity levels buy either going in an outside run or an indoor playpen. Usually, indoor guinea pigs are kept inside due to it being unsafe or impractical for them to go outside.

A clear, secure area is required for guinea pig indoor playtime. There also needs to be a mix of hiding places and things for them to do. There are a variety of options where your guinea pig can enjoy indoor play.

We have used a spare room and just let the guinea pigs “go wild”. Since moving house this is no longer possible for our new guinea pigs. If you are able to spare dedicated space for the playpen then purchasing a sturdy one that remains stationary is a great option. If you’re stuck for dedicated space then a one is more space-friendly.

To learn more about guinea pig indoor play, see our guide to indoor play.

Inside Guinea Pig Essentials

Cleaning your guinea pigs cage

Indoor guinea pig cages are fine to be cleaned twice a week, similarly to outdoor hutches. I prefer to clean ours three times a week due to being able to see the cage and the mess inside! Guinea pigs are clean animals, however, they aren’t truly able to be littered trained.

Guinea pig droppings rarely smell but their urine is rather potent! My guinea pigs perform most of their toilet duties whilst in their bedding hay so I place this into litter trays. This makes it so much easier to clean and replace the hay daily.

To clean your guinea pigs cage simply remove bedding and hiding holes/toys, sweep and wipe down with pet safe disinfectant. Once dry replace with fresh bedding and things for them to play with.

Bedding

guinea pig resting

Whether your guinea pigs are inside or outside, bedding is essential. It helps keep them warm, occupied and comfortable. Avoid sawdust as it is too dusty (even though many pet shops use it). Never use straw as it is too sharp and a guinea pig can lose an eye and get seriously hurt.

Hay is always best for sleeping on (also chewing, playing, hiding and rolling in!) so its cost-effective to buy cheaper hay for bedding. Buy more expensive hay to place in hay trays and racks for eating.

The main living quarters bedding can consist of shredded paper or fleece blankets. We have bought shredded paper, made our own and used fleece blankets in the past. They all work equally well so it’s all down to personal choice. Your piggies may have an opinion too!

Our current guinea pigs love their blankets in winter so they can snuggle down and get cosy. Summer is better suited for shredded paper for my piggies since its light and airy.

Temperature Control

Whether your guinea pigs live indoor or outdoor, it’s still important to protect them from intense heat and severe cold. Guinea pigs are very sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures and ideally like temperatures of between 18 – 23 degrees.

An overheated guinea pig can suffer from heatstroke which can be potentially fatal whilst a freezing guinea pig can get pneumonia and die. Striking the right balance is easy once you know-how.

Guinea Pig Essentials for summer

Guinea Pig Essentials for Winter

We have two great articles on How to keep your guinea pig cool in summer and How to keep your guinea pig warm in winter to find out more.

Feeding essentials for your guinea pig

Guinea pigs eat three times a day and that is without treats! New owners are always surprised at how much guinea pigs eat.

A guinea pigs diet mainly consists of hay, water, grass, dried pellets, and vegetables. Guinea pigs are unable to synthesis vitamin C so they have to consume it daily in order to stay healthy and happy. We have an entire article dedicated to what guinea pigs eat but the basic essentials are covered below:

Hay

nose touching

Guinea pigs adore hay! They play in it, sleep in it, eat it, and hide in it. Unfortunately, not all hay is suitable in the guinea pig world. Dust-free, grass-based hay is the absolute best for your guinea pig to eat. Guinea pigs require fresh hay daily. It’s a must-have for their digestion plus it wears down there ever-growing teeth too.

Grass hay can be costly so the most cost-effective way is to provide grass hay, for eating by placing it in hay trays and racks. A cheaper but still guinea pig hay can be used for bedding since guinea pigs defecate in it. A guinea pig will not eat soiled hay so its vital you provide hay racks to keep their eating hay clean.

Grass

guinea pig eyes

Grass is another type of food that guinea pigs can eat in unlimited supply! Guinea pigs happily spend all day eating grass! For outdoor guinea pigs ensure that there run is moved frequently so they have access to fresh grass. However, check that there are no dangerous weeds or flowers inside the runs new placement.

Indoor guinea pigs shouldn’t miss out on grass just because they are inside! We keep an area of our lawn uncut that we cut with scissors to bring in.

Never feed guinea pigs grass clippings from the lawnmower. Whilst it may look the same, it is dangerous since it has been mulched whilst cutting.

Dried pellets

guinea pig nutrition requirements

Guinea pigs should never be fed pellets intended for rabbits since they have different nutritional needs. Guinea pig pellets usually contain added vitamin C. Don’t be tempted by bright, colourful pellets, these are usually loaded with sugar and other nasties that your guinea pigs don’t need. Our guinea pigs adore their pellets especially since they have added mint!

Vegetables

can-guinea-pigs-eat-carrot

Vegetables are an important part of your guinea pigs diet. They provide a variety of vitamins and minerals that your guinea pigs need to be happy and healthy.

Not all vegetables are suitable for Guinea pigs to consume and some are even poisonous such as potatoes. Check out our feeding section to learn all about guinea pig nutrition.

Many new guinea pig owners are confused when choosing the feeding bowl and water bottle/bowel. The bowl needs to be sturdy, tip-proof and chip-free. Deciding if your guinea pig required a bowl or bottle for water can be a personal choice.

All our guinea pigs have used water bottles except for the two we currently have now. The pet shop they were kept in, used water bowls and our Guinea pigs never could figure out how a bottle worked when we got them home!

If you opt for a water bottle, opt for a non-drip glass bottle. Glass bottles are easier to clean plus there is no risk of plastics contaminating the water. An interesting fact about guinea pigs: They wouldn’t drink dirty water even if their life literally depended upon it. Ensure your guinea pig receives fresh water at least once a day.

Treats

what can i feed my guinea pigs

Who doesn’t love spoiling their guinea pigs! Fruit makes an excellent treat for your guinea pigs. It is high in sugar though so don’t feed safe fruits more than once or twice a week. If your unsure what fruits your guinea pig can eat, check out our list of safe fruits and vegetables.

Most pet stores also sell dried guinea pig treats. Stay away from brightly coloured snacks and pellets. These are usually high in sugar and are actually harmful for your guinea pig.

We prefer to opt for more natural treats such as pea flakes as a little treat for our guinea pigs. They especially enjoy them after bath time!

Guinea pig Feeding Essentials

We have created this handy free printable guinea pig food guide that’s great to stick on your fridge! Simply click to download.

The Happy Guinea Pig at a glance feeding guide

Boredom Breakers for your guinea pig

What is a guinea pig photograph describing a guinea pig

Guinea pigs love to have fun! Not only are they curious but they are also really clever! Research has shown that guinea pigs are excellent problem solvers. Hide their favourite treat in their cage and watch for yourself.

Guinea pigs who get bored suffer from lots of health complications including depression. There are lots of simple ways to keep your guinea pig entertained daily.

Tunnels and hiding places

guinea-pig-tubes

Hiding and guinea pigs go hand in hand. Being prey animals, it’s a guinea pigs natural instinct to hide. This should be indulged at every opportunity. Not only is it good for their health but they love to explore each new place you put in their cage or hutch.

The best types of tunnels are plastic expandable ones since they can be adapted to fit in any space. Plus they are really durable. Our guinea pigs often chew holes in their plastic tunnels but they still last a long time. Thick cardboard tunnels are also excellent. They provide a hiding place plus are great for wearing down teeth.

Fluffy plush beds and soft fabric tunnels are perfect for sleeping piggies. Guinea pigs have really sensitive tummies! They love something soft underneath them especially when napping.

Toys

Adding a different toy into your guinea pigs cage is a great way to indulge their curious nature. Crumpled up newspapers, empty toilets rolls and carboard boxes are all great, inexpensive guinea pig toys.

Wooden chew toys, look great in the cage along with being a fun way to keep your guinea pig entertained.

Make food fun

guinea pig weight guide

Edible huts are wonderful for guinea pigs. They provide an opportunity to wear down teeth, aid digestion and they are fun to hide in! Ensure you choose ones that are made from natural ingredients such as hay.

Hay racks are essential in order to keep your guinea pigs hay clean, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun! Choose brightly coloured ones, challenging ones and even ones that rotate.

Hiding treats in treat balls, or just around your guinea pigs cage is another inexpensive way to keep your piggies entertained! We usually hide fruit once a week in their playpen.

Guinea Pig Bordem Breaker Essentials

Grooming Essentials for your guinea pig

how to brush a guinea pig

Guinea pigs are very clean animals and can often be seen cleaning themselves. If you have close guinea pig cage mates, then they will even help each other out. Guinea pigs often nibble bits of dirt or grime they find on their fur in order to keep themselves clean.

Even though guinea pigs are great at grooming themselves, they still require our assistance. Hay, food and even faeces can stick to guinea pigs fur (especially long-haired pigs) and require brushing in order to get it out.

Purchasing a simple brush set for small animals is the most basic item of grooming there is. Ensure it has a soft brush and wide tooth comb to get all those tangles out. If you’re new to guinea pig grooming, check out our guide to learn how to get started.

If you have a long-haired guinea pig, then it’s not unusual for them to need a little fur cut. This helps keep them cool in summer, plus it stops their fur from picking up debris from brushing across the ground. Ball scissors are perfect for this. Since they don’t have a pointed tip, it stops any accidents from happening if your guinea pig suddenly moves unexpectantly.

Bathing your guinea pig

how to bath a guinea pig

Chances are your guinea pig won’t need a bath regularly. Its usually only needed if they have mites or are particularly dirty. Although wild cavies are naturally very good swimmers, it’s common for most domestic guinea pigs to dislike getting wet.

Ensure you use a specially designed shampoo and have lots of fresh towels. Having their favourite treats at hand as a reward is a great technique for helping them keep calm.

Preparation is key when bathing a guinea pig so ensure you have fleece blanket, fresh towels and shampoo all to hand. Never leave your guinea pig alone in the water! Washing your guinea pig in the sink or a tub with a towel in the bottom makes the process much easier.

To learn more about bathing your guinea pig, check out our grooming section.

Nail Care

guinea pig claw care

Guinea pigs claws grow constantly! In the wild, cavies claws are naturally worn down by the hard surfaces they encounter. Their domesticated cousins need special care for their claws. Long untreated nails can cause foot infections and serious injury to eyes.

Most vets are able to trim your guinea pigs claws for a fee. They require cutting every 6-8 weeks. It’s pretty easy to trim them yourself though and you’ll only need a few items.

The basics needed are a fleece blanket for wrapping your guinea pig up and to stop them squirming. Some nail clippers or scissors to cut down the nail and also some styptic powder in case you cut the quick.

The quick is similar to our cuticles and it will bleed if it’s cut into. Applying some styptic powder will stop and slow the bleeding quickly. Read our how to cut a guinea pigs nails guide for more information.

Guinea Pig Grooming Essentials

Healthcare Essentials

A health check should be performed regularly on all your guinea pigs to ensure they are happy and healthy. The weekly checkup doesn’t take long and is a great way of spending more time with your guinea pigs. We have a full guide on how to give your guinea pig a health check so be sure to become familiar with it.

Runny noses, scratches, and bare patches of fur are all signs something is wrong. Guinea pigs can actually be pretty hardy as long as they have a clean home, lots of socialization, the right food, and some toys. If you spot something is wrong, take your guinea pig to the vet straight away.

The key to a happy and healthy guinea pig

This article contains everything you need to care for your guinea pigs. From feeding, housing, bedding and entertainment your guinea pig can live a happy, healthy and long life.

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