Suzanne promotes guinea pig culture as they are great pets, especially for children.
How to Take Care of a Guinea Pig for Beginners
Guinea pigs are hands-down the best pets for children, and it's easy to learn cavy care. They are cuddly, cute, easy to keep and breed, and they live for approximately 4–7 years. They smell nice, and their minuscule droppings mean that caring and cleaning are kept to a minimum.
If you’re a parent looking for a suitable pet for kids aged 5–12, guinea pigs are ideal for children to learn about pet care—keeping one is not expensive, and they like to interact constantly with their keepers, by making sweet noises and responding with delight to treats and petting. This article will help you learn how to take care of your cavy, from selecting the right animal to housing and feeding it.
Choosing a Cavy
Guinea pigs come in many varieties from different parts of the world. Some have smooth, short hair, like the English or Bolivian breeds, and some have really long hair, like Peruvian pigs. Rough-haired breeds can be quite cute and are easy to care for. Children like the fluffy bits on the rough-haired cavies.
Tortoiseshell guinea pigs have black, brown and white coloured hair on their bodies, while Golden and Cinnamon Agoutis are a warm pepper grey, reminiscent of their wild cavy cousins. One-coloured cavies are called Selfs, as in Self Blacks, Self Whites and Self Chocolates.
It doesn’t matter which colour you choose as they are all adorable, but what does matter is how long the hair is. Long-haired Peruvian pets require more care than short-haired or rough-haired cavies as the hair needs more maintenance and attention to keep it pest- and knot-free.
What’s a Good Variety for a Beginner?
A pet for a beginner would ideally be smooth or rough-haired, but with relatively shorter hairs (eg, less than 1.5cm long). This will ensure that combing and washing are kept to a minimum, hair loss is not messy and any treatments for lice and fleas will work much better if needed.
Beginners are also recommended to choose certain sexes if having more than one cavy, due to fighting and breeding problems that occur from combining sexes. One male or one female is happy on its own, but if more than one is desired, consider buying females, as they live together in the same cages in harmony, whereas the males fight and hurt each other. Males need to be kept in separate cages unless they are being used for breeding with the females.
Tips for Selecting Your Pet
When you buy a guinea pig, check it appears healthy. Eyes should be bright and clean, noses, ears and anus should be clean and lacking crusty sores or signs of scratching or bleeding. Fold back some hairs on the animal’s back, neck and stomach to check that there are no skin flakes, redness, sores, lice or fleas.
Do not buy any cavies with sores as they often have ongoing problems. Initial fleas can be removed with flea powders and other treatments, but avoid any sporting sores due to scratching.
Feeding: What Do Guinea Pigs Eat?
By nature, cavies are grazing animals, and in the wild they live on leaves, stems and seeds of grasses and their associated plants. In captivity, cavies like to eat fresh green grass, hay, fresh fruit and vegetables and grain for their staple diet.
For the most basic diet, consider using a grazing hutch to allow your pet to eat as much grass as it can. When your cavy is taken indoors, provide a small bowl of one of the following: honeyed oats, crushed oats, guinea pig pellets (but not rabbit pellets), cavy grain mixture, wholemeal bread or bran (mixed in a mash with milk or water). You can buy any of these at a local feed store or pet shop. Honeyed oats are the best of these for encouraging a healthy appetite. The pellets tend to be used as a last resort.
Read More From Pethelpful
Fresh Veggies and Fruits
The kinds of fruits and vegetables cavies like to eat include apples, carrots, lettuce, corn on the cob, celery leaves, spinach, silverbeet, cabbage, orange rinds, grapefruit rinds and tomatoes. Serve crunchy fruits and vegetables that you would eat yourself—no slimy brown edges or any rotten foods.
Guinea pigs are individual animals regarding diet, and some will like tomatoes and some will turn up their nose at them! For this reason, to ensure they get a good amount of Vitamin C, fussy eaters might like occasional orange or tomato juice mixed into their water.
Your pets will require water at all times, in both outdoor and indoor cages. Pet shops sell water dispensers or you can make your own out of a small, empty soft drink bottle, a piece of wire, a rubber cork and a metal tube with a round ball wedged in it.
Attach the dispenser to a cage by allowing the metal tube into the cage while keeping the bottle outside it (propped up with wire). The cavy licks the metal ball and moves it around in the metal tube, allowing water to flow out in small amounts. Check water dispensers daily to make sure they have enough to drink.
Mix the following to create a delicious guinea pig food that can be used every day for a healthy diet (alongside fruit, vegetables and grass):
- Brown and green hay
- Layer pellets
- Cracked oat seeds
- Cracked barley
- Golden syrup or molasses (in moderation, since a diet too rich in sugar can lead to intestinal problems)
Housing and Cages
Weather permitting, cavies like to be housed indoors and outdoors. Typically, they will graze in an outdoor cage most of the day and prefer an indoor cage when the weather is cold or stormy and also every night.
These come in a variety of styles. The main features to look for include:
- Being able to add a water dispenser
- Adequate air ventilation
- Having enough room for each animal
- Convenience in being able to clean out the floor of the cage
Lots of people use large plastic storage containers with a homemade or shop-bought grill on top (or a wooden frame lid with wire in the centre) so that they can breathe. Drill a hole for the water dispenser tube in the side and attach the water bottle to the outside of the cage with wire. Put sawdust, sand or newspaper on the floor of the cage to absorb urine and droppings. Then, place food containers into the cage and a handful of hay for a bed.
These are often known as “outdoor runs” and “outdoor hutches.” Usually, these cages have four walls and a roof but no floor—allowing cavies to eat the grass underfoot and fertilise the lawn with their droppings. A water dispenser should be attached, but no food containers are needed with the outdoor cage. A lifting lid that allows you to handle your pet into the cage without it running away is a good idea.
Since predators such as birds, cats, foxes and dogs might look at the cage, make sure it is a heavy cage or is attached to the ground with tent pegs. Somewhere for the cavy to hide is essential—you can have a homemade box with a door or cut a doorway into an upside-down flowerpot for each animal. Allowing them to hide from predators is very important as they can die of fright if not protected. For this purpose, some cages have solid sides as well—not all walls of the cage have to be mesh or chicken wire.
Clean the indoor cage at least once a week, or even more often. Simply remove the cavy, scrape the mess off the bottom of the cage into a bin and replace the sawdust, newspaper or sand. When the cage has had a few weeks of cleaning, it might get a bit smelly from urine. Simply hose out the cage and let it dry when cleaning to get rid of this.
Outdoor cages shouldn’t need cleaning, except if you have a hutch or shelter with a floor.
Guinea Pig Care and Grooming
Guinea pigs don’t need lots of bathing, but in hot weather, a cool bath can make your pet feel a lot more comfortable. Bathe them in a shallow container; while they can swim, they are panicked and frightened when doing so. Be prepared to hold onto your pet while it kicks and splashes in the water—they don’t like baths! Then wrap the wet cavy in a warm towel to dry off its fur.
You can apply medical shampoos when your pet has a bath, but it is better to apply the smallest amount possible and to avoid shampooing them with chemicals just to make them smell nice.
Trim their toenails every month using a pair of toenail clippers. If you have a long-haired cavy, brush the hair using a brush or comb regularly, to prevent knots and burrs. Trim any matted patches if they cannot be brushed out.
Pregnancy and Breeding
Every child learns that if you put a male and female guinea pig together, you get lots of excitement and noises happening on a regular basis. However, females are notoriously fertile and can get pregnant at just 12 weeks of age, producing 5 litters a year for an average of 2 years. Each litter can have 1–4 babies.
If you’re set up for large families, by all means, go ahead and trial a breeding program. It’s lots of fun to see what varieties and mixed colours can produce— anything from albinos to patchy tortoiseshells can surprise you!
However, if you want to keep your cavy herd down to a personal pet flock, consider keeping males and females constantly separated in both indoor and outdoor cages. And don’t trust your children not to put males and females together when you’re not there—they’ll do it because the males make interesting sounds at the females and they’ll want to see what happens next.
Common Diseases and Treatments
- Hair Loss: Hair loss in cavies can be caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the diet. Hair loss combined with sores may indicate fleas or lice and can be treated with medicated shampoos, lotions and powders from your pet shop or vet.
- Pneumonia: Like hair loss, pneumonia can be caused by a lack of Vitamin C. Pneumonia in particular can be treated by keeping them in a dry, warm environment out of the weather.
- Intestinal Problem and Diarrhoea: If your pet is eating a diet too rich in sugar, fruit, starches and carbohydrates, it will have intestinal problems and diarrhoea. Make sure your cavy is getting lots of grass. Diarrhoea can also occur if they eat too many dark green, leafy vegetables such as silverbeet.
- Constipation: Constipation occurs if the diet is too dry and lacking in roughage—more water and fruit will help.
- Middle Ear Infection: Guinea pigs which hold their head to one side and may veer in circles may have a middle ear infection, and veterinary advice should be sought.
- Pasturellosis: Pasturellosis, which causes respiratory and eye infections, can be treated with antibiotics, as can streptococcal infections.
- Pseudotuberculosis: This infectious disease produces enlarged neck glands and can be fatal if professional help is not forthcoming.
- Salmonellosis: A rapidly deteriorating condition is Salmonellosis, which occurs through carriers of the disease in colonies.
- Wounds: These may be caused by putting two male pigs together or having an overcrowding problem in the cages. Bathe wounds in a mild antiseptic and keep the fighting cavies separated permanently. Wounds will heal quite well if the fighting does not occur again.
Some illnesses, such as old age, cannot be cured but must be endured. Keeping your cavy as comfortable as possible and with a healthy diet helps retain good health, rewarding you with a happy pet!
Enjoy Your Pets!
Thank you for reading my article about guinea pig care for kids and adults. If this information was useful to you, please comment below!
- Caring For A Long Haired, Peruvian Guinea Pig
Peruvian guinea pig care information on hair care, hair loss, hygiene, diet and comfort. Peruvian cavies need extra attention to make sure they stay free from disease and discomfort.
- About Abyssinian Guinea Pigs - Care Guide, Breeds, Fur Colours, Origin
Information about Abyssinian guinea pigs, including the Abyssinian personality, care tips, colour guide, types, the history of the breed and what makes them the ideal pet for both children and adults.
- 150+ Gorgeously Cute Guinea Pig Names: Names for Guinea Pigs
Looking for cute guinea pig and cavy names? Here's some handpicked suggestions for naming your cavy after celebrities, famous book characters and more!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Suzanne Day
Guneia Pig lover on April 27, 2020:
You can have 1 male Guneia Pig as long as you interact with it every day. Males are solitary in the wild and will fight if they are together. Females get lonely and need a friend. If you don't interact with your Guneias, they can die of lonliness.
Guneia Pig lover on April 27, 2020:
I hope I will get a Guneia pig for my 10th birthday. Where should you get them from?
Autumn on March 10, 2020:
I'm getting my first guinea pigs soon and this article really hellped
Jazmine T on July 19, 2019:
thanks to this info I am now looking into getting a guinea pig I am so excited thx for the info
lilly on May 31, 2019:
this was very helpful for me. i am getting a guinea pig and i am doing research!
Guinea owner on May 13, 2019:
There is some misinformation in this article. You need at least 2 guinea pigs living together or they get depressed. You should never put anything in their water, they should get the proper nutrition from food. Guinea pellots are very good for them. Do your research before getting one, but they are wonderful pets.
Laura,(Ana),(A.K.A.); (Nickname: Annie)(Last: Flores) on November 26, 2018:
Your page is extremely helpful my dad saved a guinea pig and that was dying and she left it overnight I think she’s on her way to getting better, I have no idea how to care for a guinea pig and I don’t want to hurt her or make her sick I want her to be happy and I give her enough room,not feed her too much,Give her food so it won’t kill her and find out what brands are good especially for treats in betting bettin give her food so I won’t killer and find out what brands are good especially for treats and beding I need to know,How much to feed her pressure of water and food and how much is too much. What she should way I’m thinking she’s relatively young. Anything else I wanna missed please help me and never had A guinea pig before
Sue Walker on November 01, 2018:
I am now in my fifties and have had guineas since I was 5 years old. They really are the best pet ever. Have a chinchilla and a budgie too
Suzanne Day (author) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on October 18, 2018:
Hi, just feed your guinea pigs breakfast and dinner and in between, leave a less-appetizing snack, like oats or grass.
Guinea pigz on October 13, 2018:
I need to know when to feed my guinea pigs. Is it a certain time?
Guinea pig breeder on September 10, 2018:
I own 5 guinea pigs at the moment and I breed and sell them for $10... I breed them about 3 or 4 times each year
GuineaPigs on September 03, 2018:
I have 3 guinea pigs, one is a Albino, There are 2 of them that fight all the time and recently Dallas (the albino) pulled out the other Guinea Pigs hair. We have a younger Guniea Pig that tries to go out of his house and eat but Dallas keeps pushing him in to the house. Dallas has ripped out the other Guinea Pigs hair twice now and we have had them for 2 days.
Ginny pig lover on August 03, 2018:
I am trying to convince my parents that I am ready for a Guinea pig
liam on January 07, 2018:
I want to get a guinea pig for my 9th b day the smoothed haired is so cute
georgiagurl77 on October 18, 2017:
How do I know how old my new fur baby (guinea pig) is? The lady says she just turned 6 weeks but I'd like to know for sure if possible. Thank you very much
Somerzby on August 13, 2017:
thank you for you're very helpful article, it's a great help to all the pet owners that are looking for good sound advice on how to care for their guinea pigs, well done...
Anthony on August 04, 2017:
I read all of this and it really helps because I'm getting a guini pig soon!
emily on July 27, 2017:
so helpful now i now how to take care of my guinea pig
ZaraDaGunieaPiglover on July 15, 2017:
OMG! Thank you guys so much I had a pet rabbit since my first day at school (in my new town bc I moved) and that was over 2 years ago. He recently pasted from illness if me not taking the best care of him, I was gonna get him a Guinea Pig buddy, but not anymore. Now my birthdya is coming up (in September) and I've asked for a Guniea Pig I already have a cage for him, and my best friends says she will give me one of her genies pigs for freee
jack kandiken on June 18, 2017:
First of all, guinea pigs are not happy on their own. They are herd animals and can quickly develop depression and you always need to have two guinea pigs in a cage. Also, male guinea pigs can be bonded together and will do fine. I have a pair of male guinea pigs who would never hurt eachother and are absolute best friends. Another thing that was not mentioned is that all guinea pigs need to go to the vet once a year regardless of their health.
RikkeH on June 13, 2017:
WHAT? NO! No oat, no grain, no bread and definitely no milk! And spinach is not good for them. They should eat hay, pellets, grass, hay, vegetables, dandelions and hay. Fruits like apple and orange for snacks. Not honeyed anything.
Nunnink on May 24, 2017:
I just got guinea pigs and I used a lot of your tips, and they helped so much, they actually cuddle with me now!
elki on May 11, 2017:
wow thanks i like the advice
Ella on May 03, 2017:
Don't listen to everything on this post people! If a guinea pig bathes in cold water it can get sick and die. It also makes them hotter if you bathe them in water on hot days because it makes their fur all sticky. Therefore, you should NEVER bathe a guinea pig in cold water! Some of the stuff about bedding was wrong too. People who read this should also read the article 5 Common mistakes guinea pig owners make so they know how guinea pigs should really be treated!
La on April 13, 2017:
Don't use sawdust cause it will hurt the Guinea pig's feet and maybe break the Guinea pig's feet.
Chris on February 26, 2017:
I'm buying two guinea pigs and this helped so much thank you
Nathan on February 20, 2017:
I am so excited about getting my first 2 guinea pig children. Thank-you for all the helpful information.
PIG LOVER on January 05, 2017:
Mya on January 02, 2017:
I'm 10 and I might be getting a guinea pig. I don't know how big a cage has to be for one female guinea pig. What would you recommend for me. I intend to keep it in my room
A on December 12, 2016:
I dunno if anyone has tried doing this but it says to add milk or water, but DO NOT do that as cavies are vegans and cant eat dairy.
Suzanne Day (author) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on December 02, 2016:
No, if they won't breed it's because there's some other problem, such as being the wrong sex, the wrong age or being desexed. Health of the guinea pig doesn't stop them breeding, but health does impact the health of their offspring and birth complications.
Dixie on November 27, 2016:
I only got my two guinea pigs yesterday female 4 months snd male 1 year old. I found it very helpfull ss the two I got was not well looked after and they have a vet appointment today at 2 vet said if they were not well looked after thats why they wont breed is that true?
Valene from Missouri on August 29, 2016:
I loved having guinea pigs when I was younger and hope to have some again someday.
Not telling you on August 09, 2016:
I just got a new guinea pig and this helps loads!!
kittykatsss on July 21, 2016:
im geting a guiean pig and i think this really helped thx
Syd on April 17, 2016:
I'm getting another guinea pig today and I red this like 50 times, thank you so much this was very helpful and this will help me keep my guinea pigs happy and healthy!
Alex on February 22, 2016:
Really useful information about guinea pigs. I just bought a little piggy. I also found some useful advice for guinea pig owners here : http://guineapigowner.com
Erin-Jade on December 23, 2015:
Thanks that was helpful !!!!
Getting two Guinea pigs for Christmas need tips
Snakesmum on December 17, 2015:
Enjoyed reading about guinea pigs. Don't mean to keep one, as the pythons might get a bit excited about it though.
It's important to do research before getting any type of pet, and your hub gives a lot of valuable information in an easy to read format.
Suzanne Day (author) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on June 06, 2015:
Sounds like the guinea pig you bought was trained already to be frightened of humans. Sometimes you can help them by putting them on your lap or on a stable surface, patting them and feeding them. Spend time letting them get to know you and see if they can feel more comfortable in your presence.
Mian on June 06, 2015:
Hello Suzzane , I bought a guine pig at a pet shop ... is it hard to take care of them? Bcuz they dont want being hold or touch ..
Emily Tack from USA on March 06, 2015:
I have owned guinea pigs, off and on, for almost 50 years. The ones we have now, LOVE cilantro. I'm glad, because I detest it. To me, it tastes like soap. To THEM, it tastes like candy!
xhalyhanna on January 26, 2015:
You helped alot
Person on December 05, 2014:
Its a myth that two male guinea pigs will not get aling. I have two males and they are the best of friends.
mad fulla on September 29, 2014:
thank u 4 that u da best
Suzanne Day (author) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on April 19, 2014:
Thank you to everyone for your comments! I'm glad you're finding my guinea pig care guide useful - guinea pigs are great pets and fairly easy to care for once you know how!
vidhya on March 22, 2014:
very good information. Ready to buy guinea pigs.
Me on January 02, 2014:
Well for a start your not supposed to put sawdust in their cages .You shouldn't keep them outside in the winter as its very cold and could make them ill. Also if you don't want breeding and you get a male and a female you could neuter it (look into it on the Internet) and my 2 boys have been living together for over 4 years now and they've never fought. Also when you get them out to have a cuddle they put like cats do and often people make that mistake and think they're happy but actually it's the opposite, it means you're scaring them
From more facts on guinea pigs email me at : firstname.lastname@example.org
Me on January 02, 2014:
I have two boy guinea pigs and they don't fight I've had them for 3 years so far sooo......
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 21, 2013:
Oh, I think Guinea Pigs are soooo cute! My elder daughter had a couple of them when she was in high school. One was a Peruvian longhair; the other an Abyssinian with swirled fur. (Both were females.)
They made the cutest noises, and they could be LOUD. Their cages were upstairs in her room, but from up there, they could hear the lettuce being opened down in the kitchen, and we'd hear a very demanding "SQUEEEPP!!" out of them.
Both were adopted from the local humane society shelter where we lived, and they lived about 6 years. The short-haired Abby, however, was quite the sh** disturber, and fancied herself a barber, for she'd always gnaw off the "bangs" of the long-haired piggy. She'd also go after our shoelaces when we had them out to play and exercise.
They were very enjoyable pets, and they are easy to care for.
Voted up, interesting, useful, shared and pinned.
Annomynus on October 02, 2013:
I am hoping my parents will get me 2 female guinea pigs for my birthday.
But we don't know where to get some. If anyone has 2 female guinea pigs of about 3 months to 6 months that are desexed and wormed please write a comment about it. And please write it before October 20th because My birthday is on the 27 of October. And I live in Perth, Western Australia.
Thank you for reading this. Yours sincerely, R.I.W
Guinea Pig Obsessed on July 20, 2013:
There are a few point where you have made a error... you CAN put male & female together, but one of them has to be neutered or spayed... you also CAN put 2 males together as long as they have either been introduced properly, are from the same litter or are already bonded.
Cages MUST HAVE a minimum space of 7.5 sq feet for 1 guinea pig, 10.5 sq feet for 2 etc. which almost all store bought cages are too small for even 1 guinea pig... they cannot have any cereals, nuts, grains, rhubarb, onion, potato as they can be lethal to them... when looking to add a piggy to your family, avoid petshops at all costs because they have no idea about the proper care for a guinea pig.. go to a rescue and adopt a pair, as guinea pigs live much happier in pairs and rescues know what they're doing.
Happy on June 11, 2013:
Good I liked it and I think I'm going to get one:)
madi on May 04, 2013:
lots of info i am only 8 years old this one of the best info about guinea pigs i am going to get one soon :D
Nikki on March 05, 2013:
First of all, guinea pigs cannot be kept on sawdust. It irritates their eyes, and can get stuck in their nose causing infections, also, 2 boars (male piggies) Can live together and get on well if their introduced in a neutral area, and 2 female piggys can fight upon meeting the same as 2 boars can. (I have 2 boars myself, and their the best of buddies)
Guinea Pig nuggets are also better, imo for feeding to them as they contain everything a pig needs to stays healthy, because if you give them the muesli mix, they'll tend to only eat their favorites bits, leaving out any they don't like, which is usually the stuff containing fiber, you also should have mentioned that guineapigs CAN NOT have iceberg lettuce, it can be toxic to them, it's also nutritionally inadequate for them.
Certain fruits and veg should be fed in moderation, only 1-2 times per week, others can be fed on an almost daily basis. Also, instead of adding orange juice or tomato juice to their water, you'd be better off picking up from a pet store a tub of vitamin C powder than can be dissolved in their water, or sprinkled over their food.
Guineas need and unlimited supply of hay as it helps keep their teeth ground down and their digestive system moving, its in a guineas instinct to bite and knaw so I'd reccomend getting plenty of wooden chew toys or un-dyed cardboard boxes
Allie on January 21, 2013:
Guinea pigs should not be kept in pet store cages, they should be in
C&C cages. How big it should be depends on the amount of guinea pigs living in it. 1-2 guinea pigs in a 2x3 cage, 2-3 guinea pigs in a 2x4, and 4-5 guinea pigs in a 2x5 cage and so on. Being in apet store cage is like being sent to your room forever, you have to entertain yourself, eat, sleep everyday until you die. How do you think your guinea pig feels? They also shouldn't be on sawdust, guinea pigs love to burrow right? Well, when they burrow in sawdust it gets in their eyes and nose and causes respitory infections like URI (Upper Respitory Infection).
Summer on June 26, 2012:
thank u this helped a lot i cant wait to get my new guinea pig
Diane14 on June 11, 2012: