A complete guide to handling guinea pigs

We can all agree how difficult it can be to catch a cute little guinea pig in order to groom, stroke and move it. Guinea pigs are timid creatures and surprisingly fast runners! Since guinea pigs are prey animals they are more likely to run and hide than other pets, plus with most guinea pigs weighing no more than two to four pounds they are pretty speedy once they start to run!

It can be tempting to simply reach in and grab or pin your piggy in order to pick them up but this is very dangerous since they have delicate bones. If you fail to pick up your guinea pig correctly they could get seriously hurt plus it makes the whole experience for your furry little guinea pig friend rather terrifying.

How you should pick up a guinea pig

The correct way to pick up a guinea pig is to place one of your hands underneath its middle, around the stomach region. Ensure you approach your guinea pig from the front and are talking to them calmly throughout the picking up process.Then you support its back or hind legs with your other hand.

Guinea pigs do not like to have their feet left unsupported plus dangling legs can easily be injured due to being caught or bumped against other objects. Guinea pigs that are picked up correctly feel safe and happy. If you have an extra wriggly guinea pig, then its important to ensure you don’t squeeze your piggie around the tummy region.

Reluctant piggies that really don’t want to be picked up can be persuaded with some of their favorite food. Our guinea pig Orange is rather fast and defiant when it comes to being picked up and even she can’t resist some tasty spinach. Remember to always hold your guinea pig with two hands to ensure they are correctly supported and can’t attempt to wriggle free or jump as they will injure themselves.

Walking when holding a guinea pig

In a perfect world, everything we need for our guinea pigs would be located in close proximity to each other! Since these items aren’t, then its possible you will have to walk whilst carrying your guinea pig especially if they live outside and come indoors for lap time. In order to help your guinea pig feel safe and secure whilst your walking with them, pick them up as described above but instead of cradling them in your arms similar to how you would a baby, instead hold them upright against your body.

Still keep one hand under their legs and then other can be moved to their back. This ensures they don’t fall backwards plus its a great way to sneak a few extra strokes in! Ensure you walk slowly and avoid making any sudden movements. The majority of guinea pigs will happily snuggle into your body when held in this position and will feel safe and secure.  The upright position in which you carry your guinea pig whilst walking will often mimic the one your piggie climbs into during laptime!

Children and handling guinea pigs

Guinea pigs make excellent pets for children however its important to teach them how to hold the guinea pigs correctly to ensure the guinea pig and the child do not get injured. Very young children should not be tasked with picking up or walking with guinea pigs. The guinea pigs should instead be brought over to the child who should be sitting down comfortably on a comfy chair or coach. The guinea pig can then be placed safely on the child’s knee without any harm coming to the guinea pig or child. We always put a thick towel or blanket on our children’s knee so they don’t complain about feeling the claws through their clothes. Ensure you stay with the child and supervise the interactions to ensure they child isn’t being too rough. It can be rather difficult to teach a very young child about being gentle especially if they haven’t fully developed their cognitive skills.

How to deal with really reluctant guinea pigs

If you have a really reluctant guinea pig that just wont be caught don’t chase it around the cage. The majority of guinea pigs will have a quick dash for cover and then eventually slow down enough to be caught. If you have a guinea pig that is especially timid and stays in its hideout, then resist the urge to remove all the places it has to hide. Instead ensure you have a box or tunnel with a top and bottom and transport your guinea pig inside that. Simply place one hand either at each end or over the one opening with the other hand holding the bottom. Ensure your transportation container isn’t flimsy or will break under the weight of a guinea pig. You can then transport the guinea pig to either its hutch, cage or run. You can use this same technique for lap time. Just transport your guinea pig inside the container and place it on your lap and a treat a little further away. This will help encourage the little piggie to come out and play! Remember not to take it personally as well! Guinea pigs are timid and cautious by nature.

Handling pregnant guinea pigs

If one of your guinea pigs are pregnant then its important to avoid handling her. Lap time is pretty much out for a pregnant guinea pig since they are very prone to stress plus the added risk of injuring mummy and babies through holding. She should only be handled if you feel there is something wrong with her. Obviously you will need to move the mummy piggy in order to clean her bedding and the best way to do this is using the transportation method detailed above. The only difference is to ensure you have a very sturdy container for transporting. A shoes box or other sturdy structure works well for supporting the addition weight of the mummy and babies.

How long should lap time be

It is recommended that you hold your guinea pig for a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Ensure you have a blanket or towel on your lap or nearby since guinea pigs naturally need to go to the bathroom. Our guinea pigs always seem to need the bathroom after ten minutes. If your guinea pig leaves droppings or urine on you, be calm and clean it up without making sudden movements. Its fairly common for guinea pigs to leave droppings on you and less common for urine although it does happen! Its easy to tell when your guinea pig is ready to go back inside its cage since it will start getting restless, nibbling at clothes and make a whining sound.

When guinea pigs shouldn’t be handled.

We’ve already covered pregnancy (above)  as a time when guinea pigs shouldn’t be held above. Other circumstances when you shouldn’t hold your guinea pigs are if they are unwell or injured. Your vet will be able to advise when your able to start holding them again. Another time they shouldn’t be held is when they have just been born as they are too fragile.

Where to touch and not touch on guinea pigs

Every guinea pig is different however its common that most guinea pigs do not like their bottom or tummy to be touched! They all seem to love having their head in between their ears stroked. In fact this is a common technique used by vets to calm scared guinea pigs down. Several guinea pigs also like to have their neck rubbed, just under the chin.

Helping your guinea pigs settle in

There is no better feeling then when you’ve brought your new guinea pigs home for the first time! Whilst its really exciting for us humans it can be a really scary time for guinea pigs. Follow our helpful tips to ease their transition and help them settle in:

Putting them in their new home

Once you place your guinea pigs in their new home they will no doubt run for cover! Don’t take it personally though as guinea pigs are very timid and are used to predators. You should have already set their cage or hutch up with good quality hay, chosen their bedding and provided fresh water in a bowl or bottle. 

They should also have hay racks filled with fresh hay (or with grass which we fill ours with for our indoor guinea pigs) and have some food out. Its typical to think that your guinea pigs aren’t happy if they freeze or spend long periods of time hiding when they first arrive, this is normal guinea pig behaviour and it will take a few weeks or months for it to settle down. I remember when we brought our guinea pigs home and we didn’t think they had eaten or had any water for days since they just stayed in their hidey holes and didn’t come out.

They were actually being very clever piggies and sneaking out at night to eat, drink and have a good run about. Guinea pigs remain skittish for a while and even now our piggies run for cover when we first approach them as its their natural instinct. They pop their heads out the hidey hole and then start wheeking once they realise its only us! Whilst its normal for piggies to hide for the first few days or weeks do spend some time talking to them and checking that they are leaving pellets around just to ensure they are actually eating and drinking normally.

Let them be

Whilst its tempting to take your guinea pigs out of their cage to feed them, hold them or even give them a quick clean out – Don’t. These first few days are really important for allowing your guinea pigs to settle in and feel safe. Its tempting to rush this bit since all you want to do when you bring them home is hold and fuss them so its rather disappointing not being able to (especially if they are a pet for children.) Instead you can attempt to feed them treats through the bars of their cage / hutch and spend time with them talking.

I have some very fond memories of sitting on the wet grass talking to our last set of piggies whilst they were settling in. It’s acceptable to open the cage to replace and remove food but don’t be tempted to try and stroke them even if they are sticking their heads out of their safe haven. Any contact during the first few days is likely to set back the amount of time it takes them to get used to their new home and environment. I’m a bit of a neat freak so for our guinea pigs we purchased this guinea pig igloo so all the droppings are collected in the one place and then when they are out and about its much easier to clean.

Confidence and trust building

Whilst it seems like you don’t have too much interaction with your new guinea pigs in the first few days there is actually a lot you can do to build their little confidence so they feel safe and ready to venture out when your there. Talking to them is a really good way and especially effective when bringing them their meals. It helps them become familiar with the sound of your voice along with the sound of the food being prepared (if they are indoors when you are preparing it.) Make sure you are talking them in a quiet and gentle way so as not to frighten them. We always talk to ours during the settling in phase (as well as now!) and its a good idea to talk to them whilst offering a tasty treat like a carrot through the bars. Even if they don’t come out to accept the tasty treat they will get used to your voice and associate it and you with food. Food is a great confidence builder for guinea pigs! It wont be long until they “wheek” at you every time you open the fridge like ours do! Ours even “wheek” now when we come in from being outside as they expecting a treat.

It can be tempting to take away the guinea pigs hide away so as to “force” them to come out and play – NEVER DO THIS! It doesn’t help them feel more confident in fact it has the opposite effect and be very damaging.

The best to build trust with your piggie is through food! The way to a guinea pigs heart is definitely through its stomach! Start by feeding them through the bars and talking to them so they know you are there. Guinea pigs hate sudden movement since they cant see whats right in front of them thanks to having their eyes on either side of their head. It will take a lot of patience before they approach you to take some food but they may eventually eat out of your hand if you remain still. After this has been mastered you can attempt to move your hand slowly around their cage and eventually you can move their toys around (not any place that they are hiding in) just so they can get used to you. The last stage is gently stroking your piggy and hoping them don’t run away. This is a fairly long process and may take up to two weeks. Remember to always approach your guinea pigs from the side, never from above.

Lap  and play time

Once your guinea pig has settled in and is cautiously moving around their cage or hutch its time to approach lap time! You can read our full guide on it but we’ve broken the basics down here. Guinea pigs should have lap time / play every single day as its good for them to get out and about their cage, you get some quality time with them plus it helps bonding. Not to mention its great for sneaking a health check and grooming session in! Lap time is when your play, stroke, talk and spend some time with your guinea pig on your lap. Its a great idea to also feed them a little treat as well so that even the most timid / independent guinea pig will enjoy it. Play time is when your piggy can run free in a secure area that is easy for you to clean.  You can make a run using cardboard or buy one. There are lots of options to chose from such as this specially designed one or this one intended for puppies!  Play time involves putting toys in the playpen along with hidey holes and watching your little piggies run around and explore. If you have any other pets, make sure they are out of the room. The room used for play time should also be free of draughts. Its a lot of fun watching the piggies play and they often do the “popcorn” which is a special move guinea pig’s do when they are happy which involves running back and forth whilst jumping in the air.  

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.

Is it best to keep guinea pigs inside or outside?

This is a question we are often asked by those new to keeping guinea pigs. Keeping guinea pigs outside can make them vulnerable to predators whilst keeping guinea pigs inside can be tricky due to their sensitive hearing. We have learned through our experience that the best way to decide which one is right for your guinea pigs decides on a few factors:

Your home environment

Is your home a quiet, peaceful place or a busy hive of activity? Guinea pigs have very sensitive hearing so if you have a lot of noise in your house and no quiet room to keep them in, then its likely they will be happier outside in a large predator proof wooden hutch and run like this or this.

Guinea pigs don’t like sudden loud noises and can become startled easily. If you’re lucky enough to have a fairly peaceful house then your guinea pigs should be perfectly happy in a large cage inside. They still to be able to run about and explore so its worth investing in a suitable indoor cage.  Keep the cage away from electrical wires and cables as guinea pigs love to chew!

If you do keep your guinea pigs inside, don’t forget they are social creatures so they will love to be in a room that is quiet and also visited frequently. This is so they can get used to you and have some social interaction. Don’t ever put guinea pigs in a garage which is used as the car fumes can kill them.

Your outside environment

Our new home is located in the countryside and is frequently visited by foxes and other guinea pig predators so keeping our little piggys outside was an automatic no no. We gave them a try outside during the day the first summer we got them but they really didn’t seem to settle. You can tell if your guinea pig isn’t happy outside as they will stay inside their hidey holes and won’t really eat the grass. We tried our guinea pigs outside over two weeks and they seemed more startled and scared after they have been outside. If you have a private garden that is sealed off from your neighbors and away from the road then your guinea pigs can live outside safely.

An outside guinea pig eating grass

Ensure you buy the best quality and biggest hutch you can afford as guinea pigs need a lot of space so they can run around and explore. It needs to be rodent proof to stop not only them escaping but also other rodents such as rats from chewing their way into your little guinea pigs house. Ideally the guinea pigs sleeping areas should be away from direct contact with the ground. This avoids the guinea pigs getting cold and damp overnight. In our experience when the sleeping area is located on the ground it provides easier access for rats and other predators to gnaw their way into the hutch whilst the guinea pigs are sleeping. Another common issue we have found with outside cages and runs is that foxes are able to dig underneath some of the wire to the floor designs and get inside the hutch/run. When buying a new cage and run give it a quick check over and identify if there are any inside or outside sharp corners and work out how you will be able to cover them. This will ensure no one (piggy or you) gets hurt.

Their outside hutch and run needs to be placed over grass that doesn’t contain any of the plants that are harmful to them. Guinea pigs often eat harmful substances that can make them ill and die.  Similarly keep their hutch away from flowerbeds and herbicides/pesticides as these are poisonous also. Ideally chose a run or hutch that you can move easily so you can provide your guinea pigs with fresh grass several times a week – they make excellent lawn mowers!

Your memory


An odd point but a busy household can often forget about outside guinea pigs when your number one focus in the morning is getting the kids up and going out to work whilst also planning dinner and paying the bills. We’ve heard from friends of ours about people often forgetting about their dear little guinea pigs whilst rushing about with busy lives. If you think you are likely to forget about your little furry friends then bringing them inside to a quiet peaceful house may be the best solution to your guinea pigs problems. Once they are inside they get used to your routines and ours squeak very helpfully at meal times to give us a gentle nudge that they want some food.

Similarly if your family spend a large amount of time outdoors particularly over summer doing activities such as gardening or playing with the children then they guinea pigs are more likely to enjoy spending the majority of their time outside too. This way they will get the social interaction that they need from you whilst you’re also concentrating on your hobbies.

Where you bought them

A surprising factor but we have found it really does make the difference. Our latest piggies where purchased from Jolleys pet store and lived in a very calm and quiet cage with each other. Rather surprising for a pet store I know! The pet store was located fairly out the way of busy foot traffic and the staff were very knowledgeable and caring towards the piggies. This means that our guinea pigs are rather calm and wary of sounds. It’s the reason they just didn’t like being outside.

Your desire to be flexible

An interesting point is even if you do decide on having your guinea pigs outside, then its very plausible that you will be bringing them in when there are extreme fluctuations with the weather such as when it is very hot and very cold. You will either need an outside hutch that is fine for bringing in like this one or a separate cage to have inside when needed. I personally think having a separate dedicated indoor cage is really useful when you have to split them up due to fighting or if one is unwell.

If you have indoor piggies then a separate cage outside isn’t really needed. Whilst guinea pigs do need a lot of grass, you don’t have to have a dedicated outside run to accommodate this. We cut the law with scissors and bring the grass in for our piggies to eat!

Remember the temperature!

Whatever you chose remember that guinea pigs are very sensitive to hot and cold weather. They ideally like a temperatures of between 18 – 23 degrees Celsius. Any hotter than this and your guinea pig can get heatstroke but any colder and they may get a chill. Temperature control is much easier to do inside as there are already these controlling systems in place with central heating, heaters, fans and air conditioning. This doesn’t mean that guinea pigs aren’t happy outside, it just takes some extra work on your part to ensure they stay at a nice happy temperature.  Guinea pigs use blood flow to help to control their temperature. When they are cold, the blood flow to the skin is reduced to lock the heat in and when they are hot, this blood flow increases in an attempt to cool them down. Interestingly enough guinea pigs can not sweat as they don’t have any eccrine sweat glands on their body!

Remember even if you decide to keep your guinea pigs outdoors, if the temperature drops to below 15C they should be moved indoors until the temperature rises.m

How to choose your new guinea pig

Its a very exciting time when you head out to choose your new guinea pig – even if it isn’t your first! There is a lot of conflicting information out there so we have produced this guide to help you get the best out of your new best friends. There are a few things to look out for to ensure you choose healthy, happy piggies:

Physical attributes

Whether you are getting your guinea pig from a pet store, family friend or rescue centre its important to give them a quick check over to ensure they are healthy and well cared for. The guinea pig should be slim, slender and lean. It shouldn’t be too thin or fat. Ensure it is walking well and able to place its weight equally on all of its paws. Check when the guinea pig walks that it also uses all four of its paws and isn’t sluggish whilst moving about as guinea pigs are sprightly and often zoom about the place.  This ensures you aren’t buying a piggie with leg damage or broken bones. The guinea pig’s overall body condition should be free from lumps, bumps or swellings.

Its coat should look shiny and silky – No mattered fur or bare patches.  It should look well groomed and clean with no red patches on its skin. Whilst it may seem rather undignified, check around the guinea pigs rear ensuring there is no mattered fur, soling or red skin as this may be a sign of tummy issues such as diarrhea or poor hygiene of the pet store. Have a good look at the guinea pigs legs and feet, they shouldn’t be swollen or bleeding. The leg bone should be straight.

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.

A difficult one to check but well worth it is the length of the guinea pigs teeth. They should be well aligned and not long or protruding. The mouth area should be dry with no dribbling and scratch free. It’s great if you get the chance to feed the guinea pig a treat before you buy, then you can see how it eats and get a better look at its teeth.

Lastly listen to the guinea pigs breathing, it should be quiet and regular. Watch out for wheezing, panting or laboured breathing as these are signs of serious health conditions.

Male or Female

Whether you choose a male (boar) or female (sow) guinea pig, if they are going to share a cage then they need to be the same gender otherwise they will breed and wont stop, even when it is unhealthy or dangerous for them to do so! Whilst it is possible to neuter both male and female pets with the price costing around 50 it is generally considered the best option to keep them in same sex groupings to save them undertaking any necessary operations. The choice of male or female mainly comes down to personal preference although there are some slight difference between the two genders:

Boars (Males) – Male guinea pigs are best housed together if they have been previously housed together otherwise they are prone to fighting with each other until they either are unable to be housed together or have established hierarchy. Boars are known to occasionally scent mark their territory including their owners. Whilst the gesture is appreciated, unfortunately the smell turns into a strong fishy odour that requires regular cleaning of the cage (more so than usual) However once this scent has been removed, it can reintroduce the hierarchy battle since you’ve remove the scent and they are trying to establish who the boss is again. Once the boars have created a well established bond then this is less likely to happen. The way boars mark their territory is by dragging their little bottoms along their cage, whilst this is perfectly natural and healthy it does mean they have a tendency to collect a lot of other things in it such as poo, hay and fur. These items mainly stick to the boars bottoms however they also can get lodged inside the anus. Boars also tend to suffer with a serious foam of constipation called impaction when they get older if they aren’t clean regular. 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) that is a hard and sticky subsistence. It commonly gets on the cage and even on their own fur which must be cleaned (usually cut off fur) regularly as it has an unpleasant odour to it. 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 know a few to fall asleep on friends laps whilst getting patted.

Females (sows) – Females 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. 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 although 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.

Long or short hair

There are several different types of guinea pig breeds that fall under the categories long haired and short haired.  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 pigs 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 no poo or urine has dirtied it.

Whether you choose short or long haired guinea pigs they both still need their nails clipping and to be checked over regularly to ensure they are healthy and happy.

Behaviour

Spend some time watching the guinea pigs before you buy them, watch how they move and explore. They should be bright, playful and never slow or sluggish. They will startle easily and run for cover which is a good sign as that’s part of their basic instincts. They should be alert and active, they should be 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?

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. Identity if they have a water bowl or bottle as it will help prepare you for when you bring it home. Observe what hay they are using and which dried food they are eating. Even something as simple as buying the same hidey hole they are used to. Having this at home will bring them comfort when they are in unfamiliar surrounding for the first time.

Ask questions

The place you buy your guinea pig from should be able to provide you with how old the guinea pigs are (they shouldn’t be sold until they are over 6 weeks old), their favorite treats and their medical history.

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.

An introduction to Guinea Pigs

The guinea pig (or domestic guinea pig) is a member  of the rodent family, specifically the Cavildae family (Cavia genus). They are also knows as cavy or domestic cavy. They actually originate from the Andes in South America despite their common name suggesting they are from Guinea in Africa.

Spanish sailors travelling from South America in the 16th century brought guinea pigs to Europe and they were really expensive to purchase. This meant that only the wealthy could afford them. Thankfully guinea pigs are much more affordable now and can be purchased from a wide range of pet stores across the UK, Europe and the US.

Guinea pigs have been rising in popularity over the last decade thanks to their friendly and gentle nature making them the perfect pet for all ages. In some parts of the world there are organisations dedicated to the specialised breeding of specific breeds with varying coat colours and textures.

Below is some useful information about Guinea Pigs. Click on the links or use the menu at the top of this site to learn more.

Guinea Pig Facts

  • A full grown guinea pig weighs between 700 – 1,200g (1.5 – 2.6 llbs) and is typically 20 – 25cm in length
  • Guinea pigs typically live between 4-8 years. The oldest guinea pig was 14 years and 10.5 months old! Life span can be affected by their living conditions and nutrition.
  • All breeds are usually a similar size and the temperament is more or less the same between breeds. There are ten types of domesticated guinea pig breeds.
  • Guinea pig litters range from one to six babies. The young of a guinea pig are referred to as pups.  Newborn pups are well developed in relation to hair, teeth and claws. They are born with partial eyesight and are immediately mobile. They also begin to eat solid food immediately whilst also continuing to suckle.

Behaviour and sounds

Guinea pigs are timid creatures and when scared they freeze or run for cover. They are poor climbers but are able to jump small obstacles. Their strongest problem solving strategy is motion.

Guinea pigs jump when they are happy which is referred to as “popcorning.”

Guinea pigs are very chatty! They talk to each other all the time and once settled into their new home with you, will start talking to you too. They make a variety of sounds (whistling and purring) You can learn more about that on our communication section.

Nutrition

A guinea pigs main food is hay. They can also eat endless amounts of grass. Guinea pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C like humans so its important to incorporate it into their diet or to buy a good quality guinea pig dry mix that contains vitamins.

Home Comforts

Wilda cavies have been identified in the 20th century and are thought to have been domestic and have been reintroduced to the wild. Studies have shown they live on grassland in groups of several females (sow) and one male (boar) Their young also form part of this group. They take shelter in the abandoned nests and burrows of other animals although do not actively make these homes themselves.

Domestically guinea pigs live in cages and in smaller groups usually consisting of two sows or boars. Their cages are lined with various types of bedding such as hay, shredded paper or corn on the cob type material’s.

Social

Guinea pigs are social creatures and it is recommended that you purchase more than one guinea pig when buying. Previously it was believed that guinea pigs and rabbits cohabited well together however now this opinion has become divided with research suggesting rabbits tend to bully the smaller guinea pigs. Evidence shows that some larger animals (such as dogs and cats) can be trained to tolerate guinea pigs with some showing genuine affection towards them.

Grooming and handling

The amount of time spent on grooming your guinea pig is determined by the type of breed it is. Long haired guinea pigs need to be groomed daily whilst shorter breeds can be groomed weekly.

Guinea pigs should be handled correctly from a young age. This results in happy adult guinea pigs who are happy to be handled and carried. They also seldom bite or scratch. Well handled guinea pigs will often whistle with joy on the owners approach!

Health Issues

Guinea pigs suffer from common aliments such as vitamin C deficiency (Scurvy), abscesses due to infections, respiratory problems and diarrhea.