Guinea pigs are often seen as “starter pets,” but this couldn’t be further from the truth! They’re best suited to experienced pet owners who thoroughly research the species and their care.

Guinea pigs require large cages that are at least 7.5 square feet, constant access to fresh hay, daily vegetables, and companionship. They should never be housed alone. They can be expensive pets, especially when they need to see the vet.

In this complete guide, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about guinea pig care, from what they eat to how to monitor them for health problems.

Are Guinea Pigs Easy to Take Care of?

If you have experience with other pets, you likely won’t find guinea pigs too difficult to care for. The most difficult parts of guinea pig care are cleaning and maintaining their health. They’re also more expensive than most people think. In my experience, they cost around the same amount as a cat or small dog.

When guinea pigs are sick, the illness tends to progress very quickly, so it’s important to know the signs and get them to the vet right away.

Their vet bills can be especially costly since many vets aren’t qualified to care for guinea pigs. You’ll need to see an exotic pet veterinarian, who is likely to charge more than a vet for dogs or cats.

Guinea pigs aren’t pets that children should care for on their own. They require dedicated grown-ups who can clean their cage daily, watch them for signs of illness, and afford a vet if something goes wrong.

Why Guinea Pigs Need Companions

You should never adopt just one guinea pig. For new owners, it’s best to adopt a bonded pair from a rescue or shelter.

Guinea pigs are herd animals that get stressed when living alone. They may become depressed from this lack of companionship, leading to them hiding more, moving less, and having a reduced appetite.

Female guinea pigs can live in pairs or large groups. Males can be bonded with one other male or a herd of females.

Two males in a herd with females will fight over the ladies, and male trio or herd bondings tend to fail unless they have docile temperaments and an abundance of space.

Guinea pigs need a companion

How to Bond Guinea Pigs

You cannot put two random guinea pigs together, as they might fight and hurt one another. Instead, you’ll want to do plenty of research on introducing guinea pigs first.

  • Start with a neutral environment, ideally someplace your guinea pigs have never been. Use new or clean materials to set up a bonding pen with neither of their scents on the items.
  • In the beginning, your piggies should only have hay and water in their new space. Be ready with a towel or oven mitt over your hand in case you need to separate any fights, as guinea pigs can bite hard!
  • Watch your piggies closely. Humping, chasing, and chattering is all normal as they establish their new hierarchy. Separate them immediately if blood is drawn.
  • As the bond progresses, you can add double-sided hides and eventually move them into a fresh, clean cage without either of their scents. It’s typically not recommended to add single-entrance hides or toys to the cage until the bond is well-established.

Providing one of each item per guinea pig (hide, water bottle, food bowl, etc.) will help to prevent your piggies from becoming territorial with one another.

Healthy Guinea Pig Diet

Every day, each guinea pig should get:

Fruit makes a good treat when fed in moderation, as do veggies high in sugars such as carrots.

Be careful with store-bought guinea pig treats, as many sold in pet stores contain unsafe ingredients. Avoid anything containing dairy, honey, seeds, nuts, or high amounts of sugar.

Unlike us, guinea pigs can’t produce their own vitamin C. That’s why they need to get enough of it from food. Dark leafy greens and bell peppers are excellent sources of this vital vitamin.

Guinea pig feeding guide

Because guinea pigs lack a specific enzyme that is required for synthesis of Vitamin C from glucose, it is important they get an exogenous source of Vitamin C through their diet. Fresh produce such as dark leafy greens and small amounts of fruit such as kiwi or oranges are all a good source of ascorbic acid.

DR. MEGAN CONRAD, LICENCED VETERINARIAN

The Best Enclosures for Guinea Pigs

The best cage for your guinea pigs is a C&C (cubes and Coroplast) cage, either homemade or bought from online retailers. For two pigs, the minimum size is 7.5 square feet and the recommended size is 10.5+ square feet.

Many piggy guardians disagree with these minimums and think guinea pigs need much more space. It’s important to provide as large of a cage as you can to prevent disputes and broken bonds and to give your piggies space to run.

While C&C is the most popular type of cage due to its customizability, there are also a few other suitable options that we mention here.

Males tend to need more space than females. Of course, the larger your herd, the more space you’ll need as well–see our cage calculator.

Minimum guinea pig cage size square feet
* for male pairs or groups, go up one cage size
* guinea pigs are highly social and should be adopted in non-breeding groups or pairs
Minimum guinea pig cage size square meters
* for male pairs or groups, go up one cage size
* guinea pigs are highly social and should be adopted in non-breeding groups or pairs

Where Should I Put My Guinea Pigs’ Cage?

You’ll want to place your guinea pigs’ cage in a quiet area where you spend plenty of time. You don’t want too much activity going on around them, but you should be able to give them plenty of attention and they should get used to human movement and voices.

People who work from home often keep their piggies in their home office, which is a great choice!

Bedrooms are another popular option, though I didn’t personally enjoy my piggies waking me up in the mornings! You may like having them close and not mind the noise, or they might be quieter than my boys were.

Some people put their guinea pigs’ cages on the floor, while others keep them elevated on tables. I’ve done both, personally, and find that there are benefits and drawbacks to each.

With floor cages:

  • You’re often towering over your piggies and they might be more afraid of people.
  • It’s easy to sit on the floor with them, especially inside of a large cage, which can help you bond.
  • The cage can be larger as it doesn’t have to sit on a table.
  • Cleaning large cages is easier as you don’t have to reach the back of a table, but can simply step into the cage if needed.
  • Other pets such as cats or dogs have easier access to the piggies. If you have other pets, I strongly recommend against keeping the cage on the floor!

With raised cages:

  • Your piggies are at waist height, which can make you seem less large and intimidating.
  • You can’t enter the cage for bonding or cleaning, which can make both more difficult.
  • A large piece of furniture is needed and your cage size will still be limited by the size of the item it sits on. You can build a base out of C&C cubes to combat this, but it must be completely sturdy. You’ll need to use multiple zip ties to attach each grid and may need wooden dowels to keep large cages from wobbling or collapsing.
  • Cleaning can be easier as you don’t have to bend to the ground. Large cages can be difficult because you may not be able to reach the back easily.
  • Other pets have a harder time accessing the guinea pigs, especially if you also add a lid to the cage.

Ultimately, it’s a personal choice! Different people and different guinea pigs will vary in their preferences. Don’t be afraid to try multiple setups to find the one that works best for you and your piggies.

What Bedding is Safe for Guinea Pigs?

There are many types of guinea pig-safe bedding. They include:

  • Fleece liners
  • Bath mats
  • Paper bedding
  • Aspen shavings
  • Hemp bedding
  • Kiln-dried pine shavings

Avoid pine that hasn’t been kiln-dried, clumping or clay cat litter, straw or hay, and anything dusty.

Many people use multiple types of bedding in their guinea pigs’ cages. For instance, you might use a fleece liner to cover the cage bottom and bath mats in heavily-used areas. Or, you might use paper bedding in the litter box and fleece throughout the rest of the cage.

Cage Accessories and Toys

Your guinea pigs need water bottles and hides in their cage at minimum. Each guinea pig should have their own hide and water bottle. If your piggies have a favorite hide that they gravitate toward, such as a fleece tunnel, you might want to buy one of these per piggy as well to prevent them from getting territorial.

You can use food dishes to hold their pellets and veggies, or simply sprinkle them throughout the cage for your piggies to forage. Hay can be kept in hay racks or bags, but is best fed in a large pile.

Many hay racks are dangerous because they have holes too small for your guinea pig to have free access, or the holes are just the right size for their head to get stuck inside. For this reason, you should choose a hay rack or bag with holes large enough for their entire body to fit through.

When it comes to entertaining your guinea pigs and providing enrichment, tunnels and chew toys are great additions. You don’t want the cage to be too crowded for them to run around, but a few tunnels in the cage can help them feel safer to explore.

Toys allow guinea pigs to chew on different textures, providing enrichment and helping to keep your piggies’ teeth healthy.

Always check the materials used to make your piggies’ toys before buying, as an unfortunate number of them aren’t safe. Avoid any items with holes small enough for their heads to get stuck inside of as this is a huge safety risk.

How to Clean Your Guinea Pigs’ Cage

You should spot-clean your guinea pigs’ cage once to twice daily and clean it fully once to twice a week.

Spot cleans consist of:

  • sweeping or vacuuming poop,
  • replacing soiled bedding,
  • and replenishing their hay.

Deep cleans require:

  • taking out all of the bedding,
  • wiping down the cage and any dirty items,
  • replacing the bedding and any soiled items.

Never use strong chemicals or scented products to clean the cage–a white vinegar and water mixture is best. Laundry should be done with a gentle, scent-free detergent.

If you have a litterbox, it should also be cleaned at this time–and may need even more frequent cleanings depending on how often it’s used.

Some guinea pigs are messier than others. The type of bedding you use will also play a role in how often the cage should be cleaned.

The cage should never have a strong odor and your piggies shouldn’t have stained coats or be sitting in puddles of urine. These animals do have a natural smell but if it’s overwhelming, the cage likely needs more frequent cleaning.

How to Exercise Your Guinea Pigs

A large cage is enough to give your guinea pigs the exercise they need. Never buy hamster wheels or balls for your guinea pig, as these items are unsafe.

If you want to get your piggies moving a bit more, try bringing them out for floor time in a safe area. You can buy a playpen online or simply lay down a waterproof liner and some fleece in your living room.

Make sure to pick up the floor, put away any wires that are within reach, and block off furniture that they can crawl beneath.

Grooming Your Guinea Pigs

Most guinea pigs will groom themselves well, similar to cats. Longhaired guinea pigs should be brushed regularly, sometimes every day to prevent mats. It depends on the length, texture, and thickness of their coats. You should also trim their fur to keep it from dragging on the bottom of the cage.

Guinea pigs don’t need regular baths, and should only be bathed when necessary, such as if they have parasites or are dirty. If only their butt is messy, you can give them a “bum bath” rather than washing their entire body. Use shampoos made for guinea pigs, not human products!

Skinny pigs often need coconut oil rubbed on their skin to either moisturize dry skin or remove oil and debris from oily skin. Do this as needed.

You’ll also want to check your guinea pigs’ ears and grease glands and clean them as needed. Remember to never stick anything into your guinea pigs’ ears–only clean the outside.

Males often need regular boar cleanings as well, especially older, unneutered boys. The frequency will vary, with some seldom needing help and others needing frequent cleanings.

Lastly, your guinea pigs’ nails should be trimmed monthly.

Guinea pig nail care

Guinea Pig Health Checks and Common Health Issues

Your guinea pigs should get health checks at home at least once a month. Personally, I prefer weekly checks since guinea pigs can develop health problems very quickly and often hide their pain.

It’s vital to educate yourself on common health concerns such as:

Weigh your guinea pig during their health check, complete any necessary grooming tasks, and look over their bodies for signs of illness.

These include:

  • weight loss,
  • broken teeth,
  • discharge from the nose or mouth,
  • difficulty breathing,
  • fur loss,
  • bloating,
  • crusty nipples.

It’s also important to monitor your guinea pigs daily by paying attention to their appetite, water intake, activity levels, and even their poops.

If you notice a sudden change in behavior or any symptoms of illness, get them to the vet as soon as possible.

In conclusion, guinea pigs require much more space, time, and money than most people think! They’re also completely worth it for the right people–but it’s okay if piggies aren’t the pets for you.

Remember that you can expect to pay around the same as you would to care for a cat, that they need more space than a pet store cage, and that they require constant access to fresh hay and daily fresh vegetables.