Bringing your guinea pig home for the first time

Once you’ve chosen your piggy (or piggies) you’ll be counting down the days until you can bring your new fury pals home! Its a very exciting time to welcome your new addition into your home but it can be very scary for guinea pigs to leave their known environment and adjust to a new place. This article will help ease the transition to help keep your piggy happy!

Make sure you have their home set up before you leave

via pixabay

The first and possibly most important thing is their home. Will they be living inside or outside? If they are going to be living outside then they will need a suitable hutch or if they are to be inside then they will need a good sized cage. The cage or hutch needs setting up before you leave to collect your new guinea pig(s). Ensure there is plenty of hay in the sleeping area and that hay racks are also full of fresh hay. The hay rack, clipped to the bars of the hutch or cage, ensures that this hay stays clean for eating. The bedding also needs to be put down ideally on top of sheets of newspaper. We have always used shredded paper in the main area of the cage/hutch for our guinea pigs. There are plenty of pre-shredded paper available to buy and we have been known to spend a good few hours shredding our own! Its very time consuming but as long as you have a good quality shredder, it can be similar to those you can buy. You do need plenty of paper though! Remember never to use sawdust as it can irritate them and get stuck in their eyes. We have seen several pet shops use sawdust simply because its easy to spot clean but please don’t use it as it can make your little piggies ill.

Your guinea pigs will also need some hidey holes since they will run for cover as soon as you put them in their new home. This helps them feel settled so is an important part of making your piggys feel comfortable. If you’ve done your homework you’ll already know what they are used to. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with some plastic ice cream tubs turned over with a hole cut out or even better a pigloo!

Ensure you have bought the dry food they are already eating or buy it when you collect them. Big changes to their diet can cause tummy upsets. After they have settled down you can change it to a different brand over a period of seven to ten days buy adding a little of the new food into their current one to help them get used to it. Remember guinea pigs are like humans and cant make their own vitamin C so choose a high quality dry mix like this one for them. Remember to get a solid bowl they can’t tip over as well as guinea pigs love to play. You will also need plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to feed them.  Include a water bottle or bowl for them as guinea pigs need constant access to fresh, clean water.

A guinea pigs teeth constantly grow so some form of chew sticks or edible huts make a great addition to their home, plus it gives them something to do since a guinea pig don’t like to be bored. Its also a good idea to put some things of interest in their home such a crumpled paper, specially designed balls and cardboard tubes / boxes. We also love this fun guinea pig treat maze! 

Pet Proof your house

Guinea pigs generally spend the majority of their time inside their cages or hutch however out of habitat play is important too so its important to have an easy to clean area inside your house for them to run around in along with providing places to hide. We love using this pen that’s perfect for our little piggies to run about in. If you choose to let them run around in a carpeted room then its important to ensure that all cables are covered as guinea pigs love chewing!  Also make sure to pick up anything off the floor that could be a potential choking hazard. 

If you have other pets ensure you keep them away from your guinea pigs cage and in another room. No matter how friendly your existing pets are the scent of them will frighten your new guinea pigs. Not so long ago pet stores were advocating keeping guinea pigs and rabbits stating that they made very good companions for one another. Please DO NOT keep guinea pigs and rabbits together, recent studies have shown that guinea pigs can easily be bullied by rabbits and can become injured by them. Rabbits also pass on disease to guinea pigs and guinea pigs and rabbits have different nutrition needs so they shouldn’t be kept together.

Bringing them home

Its important to be prepared to bring your guinea pigs home in a safe and suitable manner. The majority of people will be bringing their guinea pigs back to their new home in the car so its important to ensure you have a suitable pet carrier to bring them home in or to ensure that the place you are getting your pets from provide a suitable container (ours was a cardboard pet carrier filled with hay.) If you purchase a pet carrier then it should be big enough for your guinea pigs to turn around, stand up and lay down in.You should ensure you put some hay in there as well as a carrot or similar healthy treat to hep ease their travelling anxiety. If you are travelling long distances then it is advisable to also attach a water bottle to the pet carrier so a cardboard one would not be suitable for this since the cardboard would get wet and become soggy.

Another thing to be mindful of is the temperature of the car, ensure that it is not too hot or too cold remember that a guinea pigs ideal temperature is sixteen to twenty four degree. If you are putting more than one guinea pig in the same carrier ensure that they both have enough space and check on them frequently to ensure they are getting along together. Make sure that the guinea pig carrier is placed securely in your car and avoid putting the radio or music on since guinea pigs have very sensitive hearing and it may also startle them. 

What to expect

Usually the instant you put your guinea pigs in their new home they will run for the nearest place to hide! This is OK and is part of the guinea pigs nature to hide. Another normal part of their behaviour is to freeze and not to move. Both of these instinctive behaviours are perfectly normal for timid guinea pigs especially when placed in an unfamiliar place for the first time. We remember when we first bought our piggies home and they hide and didn’t appear to eat or drink for days. It turned out they just sneaked out to play when we were asleep until they were used to us and their new home. Guinea pigs will remain skittish for a good few days until you gain their trust. We recommend not handling them for the first few days and instead attempting to feed them treats through their cages/hutch instead. This means they will gradually trust you and associate you with them getting a treat which will help for future handling. Although you are not handling them and they are staying the cage for the first few days its important to check they are eating, drinking and passing droppings normally. 

Its important to remember that if you have rescue guinea pigs then they take longer to settle in than pet shop bought guinea pigs (according to the RSPCA.) 

We hope you enjoy bringing your guinea pigs home. Being patient with your them will provide a solid base for you to enjoy your new pets.

Know your guinea pig head to tail!

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.

Brain

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.

A wild cavy via zoochat.com

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.

Learning

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.

Eyes

One of our guinea pigs!

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.

Ears

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.

Nose

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!

Legs

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.