Bringing home a new pet can be exciting and scary at the same time! We’ve all been there. I remember bring home our little piggy bundles and just watching them in their new home hoping they would be ok. One of the best places to start, be it before or after bringing your guinea pigs home is getting to know them from head to tail!
Our guinea pig friends have been kept as companions in household since the 16th Century when they were introduced by European traders.
Although domestic guinea pigs have a reduced brain size then their wild relatives, they are still just as smart if not smarter! A study in the journal of Animal Cognition suggests that although they do have a reduction in brain size over their bolder and more aggressive wild cousins they may actually be quicker learners! In the study, three tests were carried out to see the differences between the domesticated guinea pig and the wild cavies.
Boldness and aggression.
In the boldness test, Guinea pigs and wild cavies were observed whilst approaching an unfamiliar guinea pig and a strange object in the form of a yellow rubber duck. Cavies were quicker to approach the duck and adopted aggressive behaviours such as teeth chattering and curved body language when approaching the unfamiliar guinea pig. Whilst the guinea pigs were more timid and took longer to approach. In this case the wild cavies were deemed more bold and aggressive.
This test is when the guinea pigs excelled over their wild counterparts. Cucumber was placed inside plastic containters and the challenge was to see who figured it out the guinea pigs or cavies. The domesticated guinea pigs grasped this concept and figured out how to get the cumber much quicker than the wild cavies. Usually domestication of pets produces less intelligent animals and they experience cognitive decline, broadly speaking.
Furthermore, the average guinea pig can learn complex maze tasks using symbols as sign posts. They also have an excellent memory and can remember the times at which certain things happen such as feeding and cleaning out of cages! If your memory isn’t as good at feeding times as your guinea pig’s then try an automatic feeder!
You can also feed their skill for learning by creating a maze out of a vairety of carboard tubes or buy plastic tubes which are more hard wearing like this one that we use for our little piggies.
Guinea pigs are able to see predators coming at them from all directions thanks to their large eyes being on the sides of their heads. This also unfortunately means they cant see what is right in front of them which is often why they startle relatively easily. A normal guinea pigs eyes are both the same size,clear, bright and should protrude slightly. Guinea pigs usually keep their eyes open all the time even when sleeping! Only a small few close their eyes fully when they sleep.
An experiment was carried out by Horst Bielfeld in his book Guinea Pigs — A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual where he uses coloured food bowls to distinguish whether a guinea pig could see colours and it concluded that they can.
Additionally you will notice a milky liquid coming from your guinea pigs eyes. This is completely normal and is used to wash the face. Your guinea pig will leave this liquid to build up and then will use it to clean their face using their front paws several times a day.
Guinea pigs have excellent hearing to help them identify predators before they come into view. There ears are soft and folded over to protect the delicate tissue inside. They are prone to different types of ear aliments and the jury is still out over whether the owner should clean their ears for them as part of the grooming routine. We have never cleaned our guinea pigs ears and I regularly check them as part of their grooming routine and none of ours have ever suffered with ear conditions. If your unsure then speak to your local vets. The usual ear cleaning kit of water and cotton buds is also useful to have in on standby just incase they develop any ear aliments.
Its normal for the outer ear to sustain a little damage such as a slight rip or tear as unfortunately the hierarchy battle is ongoing for piggies. As long as they aren’t huge rips or infected / swollen / bleeding then its best to just monitor the situation.
A guinea pigs sense of smell is highly developed and is likened to in between a human and a dog. They are able to recognise companions and owners through scent. A guinea pigs nose is small and should be clean and dry. Guinea pigs sneeze frequently throughout the day but anything excessive is a cause for concern. Guinea pigs expel air from their nose and it creates a high pitched sound but is unmistakably a sneeze. Guinea pigs that begin to sneeze constantly may also just be allergic to their bedding. If you think this may be the case then slowly start to swap out each type of bedding you use to discover which one was creating the allergy. We have always used Timothy Hay without having any problems plus its great for wearing down teeth!
Guinea pig legs aren’t very strong and can break really easily. They also cant jump very high so don’t let them fall or jump from any height. Even though your piggy has little legs, they will do a fair bit of standing up on two feet to get a better view of outside their cage or even just to see whats happening. Ours are always standing on two legs when they know they are about to get fed! This stance also helps to lift them up so they can give their excellent sense of smell a chance to help discover whats going on. If your lucky you may also spot your little piggy running. jumping in the air and landing on all fours – they they will do it again. This amazing dance is called “popcorning” and shows that your piggy is perfectly content. This is more common in younger piggies so enjoy it whilst you can!
Feet and Claws
Most guinea pigs are born with four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. A guinea pigs claws grow constantly and in the wild this helps them climb the mountainsides and walk on hard or difficult ground. Guinea pigs kept as pets require their claws to be clipped regularly and you can do this by either taking them to a grooming center or buy purchasing some specially designed nail clippers. A young guinea pigs claws start out short, sharp and pointy and as the guinea pig ages they become thicker, more brittle and unfortunately grow for irregularly. This is why its important to decide on how your guinea pigs claws will be trimmed (either by you or a professional) and then stick to that routine.
A guinea pigs feet are soft on the underside and should be regularly examined as part of your grooming routine. Due to the soft underside of their feet, guinea pigs should be kept on a soft surface especially since they have no fur on the under sole of them either. Guinea pigs feet are prone to a condition called bumblefoot which is a bacterial infection of the feet. It is common in other rodents and even birds. Its is more likely to occur in domesticated animals due to housing conditions. They are caused due to poor living conditions such as not changing the bedding regularly or being kept in damp living conditions.There are several ways to prevent bunmblefoot such as by using specially designed guinea pig disinfectant when cleaning out the cage along with using good quality hay and bedding.
Whilst there is a lot of information here and it may seem overwhelming, caring for your guinea pigs becomes part of your daily routine and you get the best reward – a loving, kind and affectionate pet.