The guinea pig or “cavy” first originated in South America where they were used as a source of food by the Inca people. In today’s times however, guinea pigs share a home with humans as cute, squeaky and loving companions.
There are three main breeds of guinea pigs:
- English or common (short, straight hair)
- Abyssinian (hair with rosettes/whorls)
- Peruvian (long, straight hair)
Male guinea pigs are called boars; females are called sows. The average lifespan of a guinea pig is 5-6 years. Guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at 3-4 months of age and are ready to mate. Therefore if you are thinking of getting more than one guinea pig, keep to same sex groups (surgical sterilization is an alternative).
Guinea pigs are herbivores. A healthy diet for guinea pigs consists of hay, pellets and a variety of fresh vegetables. Alfalfa hay is high in Calcium and may be fed to guinea pigs up to 4 months of age. Once guinea pigs reach sexual maturity however, they should be switched over to Timothy hay long term. Offer guinea pigs as much hay as they will eat! Cavies should be fed a commercial, high fiber pellet with added vitamin C. Guinea pigs should be offered a variety of vegetables, especially leafy greens. Some good options include spinach, kale, cilantro, parsley and green peppers.
Vitamin C-Very Important!
Guinea pigs, like humans, are unable to produce their own Vitamin C and therefore it must be supplemented through the diet. Guinea pigs will get vitamin C intake from commercial pellets with added Vitamin C. However, Vitamin C breaks down quickly and therefore pellets must be used up or replaced within 90 days of the manufacture date. If deemed necessary by a veterinarian, vitamin C tablets may be supplemented into the diet as well. Vitamin C plays a large role in the health of skin, joints and gingiva and inadequate amounts could lead to serious disease.
A cage for a guinea pig should be no less than 18” x 24” (45x60cm) and 10” (25cm) in height but the bigger the cage the better! Wire mesh cages should be avoided. Hardwood shavings (aspen), shredded paper products or corn cob bedding may be used at the bottom of the cage. A heavy ceramic bowl is ideal for food and a sipper bottle should be used for water. Guinea pigs love shelters, such as an igloo, to feel safe in. Although they are cute, guinea pigs are messy little pets that should be changed frequently!
Remember, just like cats and dogs, guinea pigs need an annual examination by a veterinarian to ensure they are in good health!
Written By: Melanie Hargot