cavymadness: guinea pig care and gifts
 

contacting CavyMadness

I receive many emails each day that ask these very questions. Before you email me with a question, please read this list, read the care pages, and check the Messageboard. I sometimes am not able to answer emails, for which I must apologise. And please - spell check your emails!

If you cannot find an answer to your question here or in the Care pages, feel free to email me.

a very handy FAQ
for guinea pig beginners

All of this information can be found in the Care section of CavyMadness. Please visit those pages for more in-depth answers to these questions. Another excellent resource for frequently asked questions is the GuineaLynx forums; here's a link to a list of very popular threads on the forum.

I just got a guinea pig. Help!
What do I need when adopting a new guinea pig?
Why do I have to quarantine a new guinea pig?
One piggy or two?
What do I need to set up a cage?
What's the best bedding to use?
What types of toys should I provide for my guinea pig?
Do guinea pigs like the rodent wheels and big plastic balls?
What do I feed my guinea pig?
How do I provide my guinea pig with vitamin C? I think he has scurvy.
I just adopted a guinea pig. I think it may be sick...
How do I treat lice / mites / fungus?
My guinea pig is coughing / has a runny nose / seems to have a cold.
Ick! Why is my guinea pig eating his poop?
Does my guinea pig have an eye injury? There's a white liquid in her eye.
My guinea pig's teeth are broken. What do I do?
Do I need to bathe my guinea pig?
How do I tell whether my guinea pig is a boy or a girl?
I'm 9. How can I convince my parents to get me a guinea pig?
What does it mean when they purr / jump about / wheek loudly?

 

I just got a guinea pig. Help!

Ah, the chorus of the "now what do I do?" crowd. Since this is such a general question, I suggest that you a) buy a book that will serve as a handy reference; b) visit the Messageboard to talk to many guinea pig enthusiasts who are willing to help out those new to guinea pigs; and c) if you need one-on-one mentoring, check out the PigPals program. Keep in mind that books are often incorrect, but they will at least give you a very general overview about caring for guinea pigs.

CavyMadness is designed as a portal to get you started. Many, many sites out there go into greater detail, and guinea pig people love to share their knowledge and experiences. Half the fun of these little furballs is learning all about them!
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What do I need when adopting a new guinea pig?

  • A well-designed cage with a solid bottom;
  • Newspaper and bedding;
  • Hay rack and water bottle holder;
  • Ceramic food dishes, untippable;
  • Nesting items, such as tunnels and shelters;
  • Things to climb onto or tunnel under;
  • Storage bins for hay, pellet food, bedding, and other supplies;
  • An appointment at a vet, for a well-piggy introductory checkup;
  • Medical needs, including toenail clippers, styptic pencil,
    Neosporin, mineral oil and cotton swabs
  • A transport container of sorts for vet visits, trips to Grandma's,
    etc.; a small cat/dog carrier is ideal. Place a towel in it so your
    cavy can burrow and feel safe.
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Why do I have to quarantine a new guinea pig?

If you introduce a second (or third, or fourth...) guinea pig into your home, you must keep it separate from the other piggies until you are sure that the new piggie is free from any illnesses. The average quarantine period is two weeks. Always introduce guinea pigs gradually, on a neutral surface such as the living-room floor.
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One piggy or two?

I advocate getting any pets in pairs, as the companionship while you're away is essential for their happiness. A lone piggy will pine for you while you're away, and will be very bored. Remember that these are social, lively animals that need a little excitement and interaction in their day.
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What do I need to set up a cage?

Your cavy's home must have a solid bottom, no wires, to prevent foot injury, and plenty of ventilation. Give as much room as you can so that your piggy can romp; I would highly suggest getting the biggest cage you can fit into your room. CavyCages.com is a comprehensive site that will give you a lot of ideas. The best cages are custom-built, as most retail cages are either too small or not well-ventilated.
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What's the best bedding to use?

Don't even consider cedar or that weird green stuff in pet shops. Aspen and pine wood shavings seem to be a very popular choice, since they are inexpensive and control odor fairly well. Pine, especially, is often debated because it contains fragrant oils in its natural state, but oven/kiln-dried pine is available. If you want to use pine, look specifically for kiln-dried pine shavings at farm/feed stores and sawmills; this type of pine is unbelievably cheap, and has been oven-dried to remove the oils. The shavings should be coarse, about the size of breakfast cereal flakes, and there should be no dust. And they should not smell pungent. Some manufacturers don't remove all the oil, so you'll have to do a bit of searching to find the safe kiln-dried pine.

Recycled wood pulp bedding, such as Care-Fresh, is immensely popular, but is costly. They don't use dye nor chemicals, and it's virtually dust-free. A soft pile of hay on top of newspaper or other bedding makes a great burrowing spot for your cavy. But beware of sharp ends that can poke your cavy in the eye.
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What types of toys should I provide for my guinea pig?

Here's where you get to be creative. A house can be as elaborate as you can build it, or as simple as a cardboard box. My suggestion: make it a three-sided shelter, so your guinea pig is under something, but can still see you.

Bricks are good for climbing onto, as long as they are clean and your guinea pig doesn't start eating them. In the summer, my girls are stretched out on bricks and large pieces of slate tile, which stay cool despite the hot days. Other climbing toys include wood blocks, flowerpots, cut tree branches, and wooden platforms with ramps. Remember to keep climbing things low; a fall can seriously injure a guinea pig, and they're a little daft when it comes heights.

Try anything, as long as it a)can be eaten or chewed without risk of choking; b)does not have sharp edges or anything that can harm a guinea pig; and c)won't take up too much room in the cage. Some guinea pigs love squeaky toys, or little cat toys with bells in them. Others will try to destroy anything you put in the cage! You'll have to try a few different things to see what toys your guinea pig likes.
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Do guinea pigs like the rodent wheels and big plastic balls?

Do not buy rodent wheels for your guinea pig, even if they say "for guinea pigs." Guinea pigs are simply not made for them: they can easily break a foot in a rodent wheel.

Those big plastic balls are marketed as being ideal for guinea pigs, but guinea pigs will sit, terrified, in the ball. This plastic ball is too disorienting for guinea pigs; it cuts them off from their environment, and doesn't allow them to really see where they're going. It's much better to just let your piggy roam in the kitchen, with a few towels thrown on the floor.
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What do I feed my guinea pig?

If you must ask this question outright, please read the Food section in the Care pages. I often end up just cutting and pasting that text into an email anyway...
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How do I provide my guinea pig with vitamin C? I think he has scurvy.

Too little vitamin C in their diet can indeed cause scurvy; signs include loss of movement in the legs. Because vitamin C degrades rapidly once added to water, most liquid supplements are useless by the time you buy them off the shelf. The best source of C is actually ascorbic acid in powder form added to water. Ascorbic acid is found in whole food and nutrition stores. If you use this method, though, you must refresh the water daily. If you use a vitamin C tablet, get one that does not have any additives, including sugar.

Just as we should ideally get all our nutrients from food instead of vitamin supplements, the ideal way to provide enough vitamin C in your guinea pigs' diet is to feed veggies high in C.

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I just adopted a guinea pig. I think it may be sick...

It is always a good idea to take your new guinea pig to a veterinarian for a checkup. The vet will be able to check your guinea pig's teeth, ears, and coat. It is also important to know your guinea pig's weight, since weight loss is the most common signs of illness in a guinea pig.

Find a vet that is experienced with guinea pigs! Many vets can be certified as exotics vets without treating any guinea pigs. If you ask a shelter in your area, or post to a newsgroup, you should find an experienced guinea pig vet. And one last suggestion: Don't wait until you need one; find a vet in your area and keep the phone number handy. If your guinea pig is ill, you'll need to seek treatment as soon as possible.

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How do I treat lice / mites / fungus?

For mites, you must go to a vet to confirm that mites are present. Treatment usually requires two shots of Ivermectin. Don't try to treat the mites yourself; they are under the skin and must be treated by injection. There is no dip or ointment that will help.

Lice, on the other hand, can usually be treated at home. Basically, any lice treatment suitable for cats will work for guinea pigs. Make sure that the lice dip contains Pyrethrin, and massage into the coat. Do NOT dip the head; take a small cloth with the solution on it and rub on the head. Dry thoroughly, as in bathing. Before you place your guinea pig back into the cage, change all the bedding and clean the cage with the lice dip, to kill any lice that may be remaining.

Two common types of fungal infections are Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum canis. The skin is usually scaly or flaky, and your piggy will no doubt be scratching at the area. Hair loss usually results.

Treatment for fungal infections is fairly easy; topical shampoos and creams are available in your local pharmacy. Tea tree oil is an organic option; Miconazole cream, Lamisil (2x/day for 1-2 weeks), Veltrim/clotrimazole and Nizoral shampoo (twice in a week) are all topical creams that work well. In severe cases, Griseofulvin, an oral medication, can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

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My guinea pig is coughing / has a runny nose / seems to have a cold.

Always consult a veterinarian if your guinea pig has a cough, runny nose, or trouble breathing (place your ear against your guinea pig's chest and listen; if the breathing sounds "wet," irregular or "clicky," get it checked). An untreated "cold" or upper respiratory infection is almost always fatal for a guinea pig. Signs to watch for include runny nose, crusty eyes, irregular breathing, loss of appetite, and coughing/sneezing. If you suspect a cold, it's best to seek treatment as quick as possible.

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Ick! Why is my guinea pig eating his poop?

Copraphagy is a practice where an animal will actually eat its own droppings. Every now and then, a guinea pig's digestive system will produce a caecal pellet that holds a lot of the nutrients from food, resulting in a small "poo vitamin." Guinea pigs will typically rear up on their hind legs and grab this pellet in their mouth. This can be compared somewhat with, say, a cow chewing its cud.

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Does my guinea pig have an eye injury? There's a white liquid in her eye.

While grooming, the guinea pig may produce a white liquid in the eye, which is quite normal. Our tear ducts constantly wash away particles that lodge in our eyes; for guinea pigs, they have their own special eye cleaning solution.

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My guinea pig's teeth are broken. What do I do?

A guinea pig's teeth grow continuously, so it is important that they have enough hay and other roughage in their diet to wear the teeth down. If the front teeth are broken, they must be clipped to an even level so that the bite is even. Keep in mind that the teeth are always growing; if a tooth is actually missing, it will grow back as long as the root remains. You may need to feed your guinea pig soft food, if the alignment is affected, until the teeth grow back.

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Do I need to bathe my guinea pig?

Bathe your guinea pig only on an "as needed" basis. Don't bathe a guinea pig unless its coat is dirty or oily. Bathing removes natural oils in the skin and will dry out the coat. That said, if you must bathe your guinea pig, it's best to use a small dishpan or bathroom sink with a washcloth in the bottom and warm, shallow water. Use a very mild shampoo such as baby or kitten shampoo, and work a small amount into the coat. If your guinea pig struggles, hold it gently.

Keep your guinea pig's head out of the water, especially the ears and nose. Rinse well, and dry thoroughly. Use a hair dryer on a warm, not hot, setting, to help dry the pig. Wet guinea pigs are very susceptible to colds, so keep them warm until they are completely dry. A vegetable treat is always good after a bath.

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How do I tell whether my guinea pig is a boy or a girl?

This is probably the most frequently asked question among new guinea pig owners. Sexing young guinea pigs can be difficult, but it's not impossible.

Male guinea pigs (boars) have testicles, which develop at a fairly young age. All of us are familiar with testicles. They hang. In young mammals, they don't hang as much, but they are still apparent. But if a bulge is not apparent, look at the genitals. Is there a faint "pucker" of skin? That is the retracted penis. If you press gently (and I do mean gently; this is a sensitive area, after all) above this doughnut-shaped area, the penis will pop out. Be very gentle when pressing. The penis will also appear distinctly separate from the anal opening.

Female guinea pigs (sows) will have a "Y" shaped genital region, right next to the anus. If you look closely, you will notice that the genitals and the anal opening appear to be almost one and the same. Female guinea pigs are relatively flat, compared to male guinea pigs, but that's not enough of a distinction to make when you're trying to tell boys from girls.
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I'm 9. How can I convince my parents to get me a guinea pig?

Parents: you may think that guinea pigs are an excellent "first pet" to teach children how to be responsible. This is a thought that has landed hundreds of guinea pigs in shelters; please 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 youćare ready for the commitment.

Kids: First, get a book (check out the Amazon store). Buy a small plant. Make sure you understand the needs of the guinea pig, wait for six months. If, in six months, you are still interested, the plant is still alive, and you understand what it takes to raise a healthy, happy piggy, then you have my blessing.

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What does it mean when they purr/jump about/wheek loudly?

Guinea pigs "talk" with a series of sounds. You'll 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.

Guinea pigs have quite an extensive array of sounds and actions to display their emotions. They show that they are happy by popcorning, which is basically a jump and wiggle in the air. 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. 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.
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