It’s a very exciting time when you head out to chose a new guinea pig, whether it’s for first or fifth! There is lots of conflicting information on how to pick a guinea pig, so we’ve written this article to help you chose the best piggie in town! Follow our helpful tips to ensure you chose a healthy, happy guinea pig:
Knowing what to look for
No matter where you are purchasing your guinea pig from, it’s important to ensure you pick a healthy and well cared for pet.
The guinea pig should be slim, slender and lean. It shouldn’t have bones sticking out or be carrying extra weight.
Watch how it walks! It should balance its weight equally on all four paws and walk easily without pain. Take notice of any limping or leg damage. The leg bone should be straight and free from bleeding or swelling.
The coat should be free of lumps, bumps and mattered fur. It should be shiny and silky with no bald patches. The guinea pig should look well-groomed and clean with no soiling or red skin near its bottom. Any debris near the backside of a guinea pig can be a sign of tummy issues such as diarrhoea or poor hygiene of the place you’re buying your pet from.
Have a good look at the guinea pigs face, its eyes should be shiny and bright with no discharge or crusting. The eyes should be open and alert. Check over the guinea pigs nose as it shouldn’t have any discharge or soreness around it. Both the ears and eyes should be clean and dry.
Ask to hold the guinea pig that you are considering buying. The guinea pig should make a quick run for it before being picked up by the storekeeper. This is a good sign and gives you a good chance to observe its breathing. It should be quiet and regular.
Lastly, whilst holding the guinea pig ask to feed it a treat. This is an excellent way of being able to check its teeth. The mouth area should be dry, free from scratches and any dribbling.
Male or female?
It’s completely up to you whether you chose a male (boar) or female (sow) guinea pig. They both make excellent pets however be sure to buy the same gender. Guinea pigs will breed as soon as they are able to and won’t stop even if it’s unhealthy or dangerous to do so.
Boars are more territorial towards each other than females. They occasionally mark their territory which gives off an unpleasant fishy type odour. Removing this scent can often create a hierarchy battle but once a definite boss has been established, the scent can be removed.
Male guinea pigs will continue to mark their territory throughout their lives by dragging their little bottoms across the cage! It’s adorable to watch and perfectly normal. It does mean they need their bottoms checked more often as they may pick up debris. Whilst this task isn’t the most pleasant, it can easily be part of your grooming routine and takes just a few minutes.
Boars also have what is known as boar glue (ejaculation) which is a hard and sticky subsistence. It commonly gets on the cage and even on their fur which must be cleaned (usually cut off fur) regularly as it has an unpleasant odour to it. Purchasing specially designed fur scissors make this job fast and effective.
Boars are also described as cheeky and much more energetic than sows making them very entertaining! The boys also appear to love lap time much more than girls and I’ve known a few to fall asleep on friends laps whilst getting patted.
Females (sows) live together happily and seem to have no issue with being introduced to each other even if living together for the first time. Sows are even more likely to continue to get along well into adulthood as well.
Additionally Sows generally smell a little better than boars since they don’t feel the need to continuously mark their territory the way boars do but they still need cleaning out regularly. Sows will still have hierarchy battles but they tend to be less severe and cool off quicker than boars. However, sows are known to squirt urine at each other during times of battle and even at their owners!
Whether you choose boars or sows they will have their own personalities and be inquisitive, cuddly and a great friend to have.
Is long hair or short hair best?
There are several different types of guinea pig breeds that fall under the categories long-haired and short-haired. It’s important to know them when you come to pick a guinea pig.
Short-haired guinea pigs are easier to look after since they require minimal grooming (we groom our short-haired piggie a few times a week) and they are less likely to require a bath unless they get exceptionally dirty.
Long-haired guinea pigs need more care with daily grooming and frequent baths. Our long-haired guinea pig usually has a bath once a month unless she gets very dirty but her fur needs combing daily. She also needs the fur around her rear checking to ensure it is free from poo and urine.
Whether you choose short or long-haired guinea pigs they both still need their nails clipping (check out how here) and to be checked over regularly to ensure they are healthy and happy. We have a complete guide to grooming guinea pigs.
Spend some time watching the behaviour before you pick a guinea pig. Watch how they move and explore. They should be bright, playful and never slow or sluggish. They will startle easily and run to hide which is a good sign as that’s part of their basic instincts.
Healthy guinea pigs are alert and active, able to move around comfortably with no signs of injury or lameness.
Observe how the guinea pig reacts and interacts with other guinea pigs, watch for any signs of aggressive or acute fear. Watch how it responds to people, especially you. It should be skittish but relatively calm and settled.
It should be somewhat used to being handled and petted. Keep a watch over its personality as whilst there share similar characteristics, they all have their own unique and wonderful personality. Is it playful, mischievous or shy?
It can take several months (or even years) to interpret guinea pig behaviour once they are settled at home with you. We have a whole section dedicated to learning to understand your guinea pig.
The Living Conditions
This point is usually overlooked, but we’ve visited some pet shops where they have multiple guinea pigs all crammed in a too small space which results in aggression and injury.
Ask what hay they are using and which dried food they are eating. Some pet shops give their guinea pigs special pellets designed for young guinea pigs so it’s always worth checking. Even simple things like buying the same hiding hole that they are currently using will help them settle in faster.
There is no such thing as a stupid question
The place you buy your guinea pig from should be able to provide you with answers to each and every one of your questions. They can also inform you of the guinea pigs age (they shouldn’t be under 6 weeks old), their favourite treats and their medical history.
Enjoy this wonderfully exciting time and remember to have fun. I’d love for you to share your guinea pig purchasing journeys! Comment below.