Guinea pigs are not the kind of pet to get your kid to teach them responsibility. They require way more than you think.
First things first, they have very complicated diets, require supplements, a large living space, vet bills, they live in groups so a single pig will be unhappy, grooming, and exercise.
Guinea pigs are shy, timid creatures and require bonding. This could take weeks or even years to do. A small child will grab them and throw them around, they have very fragile bones and break easily. Bonding with a guinea pig starts with feeding snacks through the bars of the cage, then gentle pets and eventually holding. These sessions should be done slowly and should be done at the piggies pace, not yours. Many guinea pigs don’t like to be held, my piggy Goliath HATES to be held but will let me pet him and feed him through the bars all day. Gimli on the other hand loves to be held and demands to be picked up and cuddled under my chin while I watch TV or do homework. Every piggy is different.
Now for the diet, it's rather complicated. Hay and pellets should be fresh, pellets out of 100% timothy hay with no additives such as seeds nuts or fruit. Hay can be a mix but make sure it is good quality. Timothy hay is best but a mix of timothy, alfalfa and botanical hay can also be included in a Guinea Pig diet.
Now here is a thing most people don’t know about Guinea Pigs, they must eat one cup of dark lettuce a day and some small veggie or fruit snacks. Iceberg lettuce can cause diarrhea which can be deadly for a small pig. Greens such as romaine, red leaf, small amounts of swiss chard or spinach, kale and arugula are perfect.
Guinea pigs also require vitamin C, but what the pet store sells is not exactly what you should use. Water soluble drops are not a good idea because guinea pigs don't drink and entire bottle of water. What I do is buy a container of vitamin C powder and give them a tiny sprinkle of the powder on a small slice of cucumber as well as herbs that are high in vitamin C such as parsley. They get parsley once a week and LOVE it.
Guinea pigs require vet care just like a dog or a cat. A yearly vet checkup is important to make sure your piggy doesn’t have any issues and are growing properly. The vet will check their teeth to make sure they are chewing enough to grind down. Piggies should have plenty of wood chews and hay to help grind their teeth down. Their teeth never stop growing and if a piggy does not chew enough their teeth could grow too long, grow into the opposite gums, cause an infection and make it difficult for a piggy to eat.
Piggies are also prone to bladder stones and UTI’s as well as upper respiratory infections. This can be avoided by a proper diet which can be achieved by following these guidelines:
- Unlimited hay
- ¼ cup of timothy pellets per piggy per day
- 1 cup of dark green lettuce per day
- Small amount of snacks such as
- Tomatoes (twice a week)
- Cucumbers (three times a week)
- Carrots (every other day)
- Green bell peppers every day)
- Red/yellow/orange bell peppers (every other day)
- Parsley, basil, cilantro, dill (once a week)
- Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries (twice a week)
- Squash/ zucchini (every other week)
- Broccoli/cauliflower (every other week)
- Radicchio (every other day)
- Sweet potato (every other week)
- Cherries; no pit (every other week)
- Apples (once a week)
- Oranges (every other week)
Do not feed:
- Dairy; yogurt, milk
- Iceberg lettuce
When looking for a cage for your piggy a cage MUST be at least 7 sq. feet. Any smaller and a piggy can get depressed. Think about how you would feel stuffed into a tiny room where you can only take three steps. When having more than one piggy add 7 sq. feet per pig. I have two so my cage is 16 sq. feet.
Guinea pigs are pack animals. They need to be in pairs and if they aren’t a piggy can become depressed which could cause health issues and even result in death. Having a bonded pair is the best you can do for a pig. A cage should have soft bedding, I use fleece cage liners custom made with an absorbent layer in between. Here is a list of good bedding;
- Fleece liners with absorbent layer
- Towels with pee pads
- Cage bedding (pine shavings, paper)
A cage should have the fallowing accessories
- Hiding place; igloo, tunnel, covered bed
- Cuddle sack or cozy sack
- Heavy ceramic or tip proof food bowl; pellets and veggies
- Hay rack or hay bag
- Water bottle
- Chewies: wood made out of fruit wood, rice pops, or timothy has toys
Guinea pigs require little grooming, UNLESS you have a long-haired guinea pig in which their hair should be trimmed when it gets too long, and in the summer to help them keep cool. A bath once a month will keep them clean and using a baby wipe or wet rag will get food stains out of hair around their mouths and chins. Nail trimming one a month will make it easier for them to walk and easier for you to hold them. Brush your piggy once a week with a soft bristle brush and use a wire bristle brush every two weeks to help with matting or to remove shedding hair.
Guinea pigs should have some floor exploration time as well as outdoor time in the warmer months. This keeps them active and gives them a change of scenery, but NEVER leave your piggies outside unattended EVER. They are prey animals and have no form of defense.
At the end of the day, a guinea pig is not the proper pet for your young child. They require a lot of work and care. To teach your kid responsibility get them a gold fish, give them chores, but don’t get them a pet that requires daily cage cleanings and a specific diet and vet bills.