cavymadness: guinea pig care and gifts

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These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.

life with your cavy

training your kids to be responsible
picking up and handling your piggy
guinea pigs and other pets
guinea pig language
guinea pigs do the weirdest things...


You have (hopefully) learned how to properly feed, house, and care for your guinea pig. Those are the basics. There is one more aspect of having a guinea pig: companionship! You have learned that guinea pigs are sociable animals; they will learn to trust you and enjoy your attention.

A favorite quote of mine is by Dick King-Smith, author of I Love Guinea Pigs: "One especially nice thing about guinea pigs is that if you handle them regularly, and carry them around, stroke them, talk to them, and make a fuss over them, they become really fond of you."

cavy life


training your kids to be responsible

You already know that being a responsible pet owner requires a little effort. But you may have also thought that guinea pigs are an excellent first pet to teach children how to be responsible. My advice: give your child a plant first and see if it's still thriving in six months. Many children tire easily of the responsibilities involved with caring for a living thing, so the plant test is a safe introduction to long-term care.

"Guinea pig" has come to have a second meaning — animals or people used in an experimental stage. I've been a human guinea pig myself, testing new products for companies that don't test on animals. But I have a choice. Animals suffer the consequences when in the hands of irresponsible people, children and adults alike. Even a well-meaning person can put a guinea pig's life in jeopardy if he or she does not know proper care for guinea pigs.

If you are a parent reading this page, remember that the care of the guinea pig may fall into your hands. They live for a while (5-8 years) and need a committed human companion. (Of course, this is true for any small animal.) Inspect the cage regularly; ensure that the guinea pig is getting proper care. This isn't a toy; it's a life. I cannot stress enough, guinea pigs are social, lively animals, and they need a stimulating, safe environment. Too often, the novelty of a pet wears off after a few months. Make sure that your child—and you—are ready for the commitment.


children and guinea pigs

picking up and handling your piggy

Guinea pigs, unlike other small animals, have more "body" than they do bone structure. In other words, they are heavy for their size. For this reason, it is essential to fully support them when you are picking them up. A wiggling guinea pig can easily injure itself.

Always have one hand underneath them when you pick them up, and never, ever hold them so that their hind legs are dangling. If you end up with a piggy that doesn't enjoy being picked up, and squirms, be extra careful!

Guinea pigs generally love to be cuddled, so you can hold them for a long time. Children should be taught how to properly hold a guinea pig; young children should only hold guinea pigs in their laps while seated (and with an adult nearby). Most people hold their guinea pigs against the chest, with one hand underneath the rump. Many guinea pigs love to nuzzle against the neck. No matter how you hold a guinea pig, however, it's always a great experience. Don't walk around with a guinea pig, because they may get frightened and jump out of your grasp. A fall can be fatal to a guinea pig!

Returning a guinea pig to her cage requires care, since some guinea pigs are prone to leap once they see their home in sight. To prevent injury, handle your guinea pig firmly with both hands. Many people suggest returning your piggy to her home rear-end first.

Handling guinea pigs is integral to building a trusting relationship with them. Since they are primarily prey animals, they have a strong instinct to flee. You must be very gentle with them at all times, and make them feel safe while being held by you.


guinea pigs with other pets

I've often been asked whether a guinea pig can cohabitate with rabbits, mice, and other small animals. The answer is generally "no," except for mellow dwarf rabbits. Even then, it's wise to be cautious until you know that your cagemates will get along well.

Guinea pigs have different dietary needs from other small mammals, and feeding the same diet to a guinea pig and a rabbit will result in deficiencies. Some people who allow a dwarf rabbit and a guinea pig to be roomies generally take extra steps to ensure that, come mealtime, they are separated. Both will eat hay, so you can keep the hay rack full.

The biggest risk of keeping guinea pigs with other animal is injuries sustained from playing. Guinea pigs will romp, jump, chase and butt each other, but other small animals often play much rougher. One kick from a rabbit's hind leg can cause great harm to a piggy. So can the quick jab of a sharp paw from a rat or ferret. The main idea here is CAUTION. You will have to monitor your new cagemates very closely, and you will need to be vigilant about care for all of them.

predators, perhaps

Dogs and cats need to be supervised once you introduce a guinea pig to your home. You can build a dog-proof or cat-proof cage yourself by using wire shelving or another strong material. Know your dog's personality; Greyhounds, for example, are bred to chase a quick rabbit, so a quick-moving guinea pig can turn into a snack. A mellow, well-behaved dog can actually be a great friend to a guinea pig. Same for cats: Armand and Titania (left) were featured on Cute Overload, but the responses ranged from "aw, cute" to "terrified piggy!"

Introduce your guinea pig to your dog or cat by having someone else there, with one of you holding the guinea pig and the other holding the dog or cat a few inches away. Depending on the initial reactions, try a more open introduction, or protect your guinea pig(s) accordingly. But don't ever leave guinea pigs roaming about alone unsupervised - animal instincts are just too powerful.

guinea pig language

Guinea pigs have quite an extensive array of sounds and actions to display their emotions. You'll quickly learn when your guinea pig is happy and when it's angry; a very long wheeeeeeek! will signal "gimme food!" just as it can signal "ow!" As a piggy parent, you'll be able to notice the urgency or pain in the wheek.

During floor time, especially if you have several guinea pigs, you'll be entertained by a melody of short wheeks. This is piggy talk. If you feed your guinea pig(s) at the same time each day, you will end up with a very accurate wheeking alarm clock; a rustle of plastic can result in a deafening, demanding wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

When food is nearby, the full Concerto of Wheeking is truly remarkable. And adorable!

They show that they are happy by popcorning, which is basically a jump and wiggle in the air. (Ever seen popcorn pop?) It looks like a spasm of sorts, but it's just extra energy being released. And it generally means you've got a happy piggy. I often compare popcorning to cats having "the rips." Both are releases of energy, but guinea pigs don't tear across your pillows at 3 AM when you're trying to sleep!

Rumblestrutting is a deep vibrato purr accompanied by a wiggling rear end, also referred to as motorboating. This is used for dominance and in some cases, aggression. Males will often rumblestrut to show that they are in charge; however, females will often do the same. It's pretty odd, seeing a little guinea pig try to act tough and intimidating! Unless, of course, chattering (below) is involved. Two guinea pigs can seriously injure each other in a fight, so be aware of aggressive behavior, especially when introducing a new guinea pig to an established one. Rumblestrutting is also a courtship maneuver; males will rumblestrut and secrete a scent to mark their territory, and "claim" a female."

Teeth chattering is undeniably aggression or anger, and is usually followed by a nip or a fight unless the offending action is stopped. Don't confuse teeth chattering for the milder "chompchompchomp" of your guinea pig simply sharpening its teeth (much like us gnashing ours). Teeth chattering is loud, and shows that your piggy is pretty ticked off. Once chattering of teeth has commenced, a bite is almost certain to follow. Guinea pigs housed together that exhibit this behavior need to be closely monitored, even separated.

When guinea pigs fight — often two mature males — they will rumblestrut, chatter their teeth, and push their bodies higher with their legs (to intimidate the other). If one does not run off, then it gets ugly; guinea pigs will rip ears and bite deeply when fighting. This is why beginning guinea pig enthusiasts should be extra cautious and attentive until they understand the personalities of their guinea pigs.


guinea pigs do the weirdest things...

Yes, they're cute, and hundreds of pages by obsessed guinea pig enthusiasts can't be wrong: they're funny. Hold a guinea pig above your eye level and look at the lips. Check out how the whiskers flop back and forth, and the nose goes in and out as she breathes. If you're not already laughing, put your finger on her throat, and watch the bottom lip flop down - or see if she raises her head up so you can scratch her neck.

Let your piggy take a nap on your bed, and watch him stick his legs out as he totally relaxes. If you move even the slightest bit, he'll jump up to attention, and possibly lose his balance if he was in a deep sleep.

Guinea pigs have some strange habits, too: they are sometimes alarming, but remember: these are perfectly normal things that guinea pigs do:

eating poop. Copraphagy is a practice where an animal will eat its own droppings. Guinea pigs will typically rear up on their hind legs and grab a pellet of poo - a vitamin B-rich caecal pellet - in their mouth. The digestive process allows a partially-digested pellet to pass through that can be re-ingested, something like a little poo vitamin. This can be compared with, say, a cow chewing its cud. Copraphagy is also seen in rabbits. Herd mates will often share caecal pellets with sick of injured piggies; it's a common practice to feed caecal pellets from healthy piggies to ailing pigs, to give them a little vitamin boost.

eating another piggy's hair ("barbering"). Guinivere, a Texel, had enough hair to feed an army of pigs. I would walk in ther room often to find three others munching happily away at her long tresses. It's a mysterious, and annoying, habit. Keep your long-haired piggy trimmed, and the other one may not eat so much. This is one of those mysteries, but thankfully doesn't seem to cause too much harm to the munching piggy.

operatic singing. Chirping, singing, or otherwise melodic sounds coming from a guinea pig will stop nearby piggies in their tracks. This performance remains a mystery, and only a few guinea pig owners have heard this phenomenon. Two of my girls were singers; the first, Emma, made it sound like there was a bird in my room, chirping. The second one, Ophelia, would actually warble something of a birdsong. All the other girls in the pen stood, frozen, looking in her direction. I've also witnessed a guinea pig chirping out of terror, so this habit is not necessarily a positive one. Perhaps it was used in the wild as a means of warning; perhaps it's a full-moon-type thing. But if you ever hear it, you'll be moved.

popcorning and running about. Popcorning is pretty straightforward: happy piggy, extra energy, jump around. However, some guinea pigs suddenly break into a run around their pen for no apparent reason, often knocking bedding and toys everywhere. I'd love to actually clock how fast they can go; for fat little eggplant-shaped animals, they can sure MOVE.

That Blank Stare. I affectionately refer to this as "Emma Face," for my second guinea pig, Emma, had this blank expression that left you wondering what was going on in there. Cordelia, at left, is a master starer. I sat in front of her and snapped this photo with nary a twitch of her piggy whiskers.

The Blank Stare is a guinea pig contented, often munching on something, or even just staring into space. It's pretty funny.

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care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.


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