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.