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
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
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
What does it mean when they purr / jump about / wheek
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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- A well-designed cage with
a solid bottom;
- Newspaper and bedding;
- Hay rack and water bottle
- Ceramic food dishes, untippable;
- Nesting items, such as
tunnels and shelters;
- Things to climb onto or
- 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.
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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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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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
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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
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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
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 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
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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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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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
can be compared somewhat with, say, a cow chewing its cud.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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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