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How to care for guinea pigs

Feeding

  • Guinea pigs are messy. They kick their food and bedding around their cages and urinate and defecate in open water and food containers. Food (dry pellets) and water are best supplied in hoppers and bottles that are attached to the sides of the run. Water bottles should have bungs that cannot be chewed.
  • Regularly check that the sipper tube of the water bottle is unblocked because guinea pigs often spit food up the tubes, stopping the flow of water. An 800-gram guinea pig will drink 80–320 millilitres of water a day.
  • Each day, remove and replace uneaten fresh food.
  • Guinea pigs are herbivores and, like people, cannot make their own vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Dry pelleted food, formulated for guinea pigs and available from pet shops and some veterinarians, is a good base diet that should be supplemented with fresh, well-washed raw fruit and vegetables. Carrots, beans, celery, carrot tops, silverbeet, and cabbage are good for keeping their teeth in shape and supplying vitamin C.
  • A supply of quality hay is a necessary source of dietary fibre.
  • Store dry food in an airtight container in a cool dry place. Avoid sudden changes in diet and do not buy more than three months' supply of food at once to maintain its nutritional value.
  • If you don't give guinea pigs something to gnaw on, they will chew their hutch. Fruit tree branches are good, but select plants carefully because many garden plants are poisonous.

Handling

  • Guinea pigs enjoy gentle handling and petting, and it is normal for them to vocalise while being handled. Daily handling helps to keep them tame and provides an opportunity to check on their health. However, if they are over-handled, they can easily become stressed.
  • To hold a docile guinea pig, use one hand to support its chest with your thumb and forefinger in its armpits or around its shoulders and your second hand to support its hindquarters. A guinea pig that falls or is dropped may be seriously injured.
  • Guinea pigs rarely bite, but they may scratch.
  • Wash your hands after handling guinea pigs.

Health

  • During your daily health check, look for normal activity. Is your guinea pig eating and grooming? Check its fur and skin for scabs, scurf, bald spots, or itchiness. Check its eyes, ears, and nose for any discharges and check that its faeces and urine are normal. Know what is usual for your guinea pig. Cleanliness is vital.
  • Lice, ringworm, and vitamin C deficiency can cause skin problems in guinea pigs.
  • Dentition problems can be caused by overgrown teeth or by the guinea pig not having enough hard food to eat or a gnawing block to chew on.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhoea, can be caused by eating contaminated food or by sudden dietary changes.
  • Stress may also cause guinea pigs to become ill, and they may deteriorate rapidly if their illness is ignored. At any sign of illness or if you have questions, consult a veterinarian.

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