15 Things to Know Before Adopting Guinea Pigs

by Lindsay Pereira
Things to know before adopting guinea pigs

A true favorite among small pets, guinea pigs are no doubt unique, sweet little creatures. But do you really understand what it takes to care for these fluffy friends? Wondering if you are able to commit to being a responsible pet parent to these adorable little rodents? Then check out these 15 things to know before adopting guinea pigs to gain insight and knowledge of their care requirements.  

1. Time commitment

Although your guinea pig companions will not require as much time as a newborn baby, they will indeed need your care and attention for many things. Therefore, it is essential to consider how much of a time commitment these pets will be. Will you be able to bond with them, play with them, and care for their needs?

As social creatures, even though they may be paired with a buddy, your cavies can experience adverse effects on their health due to boredom, loneliness or depression, so it is vital to keep this in mind before adopting them. 

2. Impressive lifespan

Smaller rodents like mice and hamsters have lifespans of about 2-3 years. Cavies, however, can live to the ripe old age of 6 or 7 – perhaps even 10 years like our Abyssinian, Muffy, who is still going strong! As such, consider this substantial commitment, especially before getting them as pets for children. Remember, even when interest in them wanes, as the adult pet parent you will be required to care for them for quite some time. 

3. Continued investment

Although the fees for adoption and habitat set-up are certainly more affordable than many other pets, welcoming cavies into your home is nonetheless a continued investment. While food costs will always remain low since they eat very little (though continuously), costs do add up.

Fresh vegetables, greens, hay, and dry pellets are necessary every day, along with a source of fresh water and the occasional fruit. Aside from food, medical care is another factor to consider, particularly when it can cost a significant amount of money to regularly visit an exotic pet specialist. 

4. Potential for allergies

Make sure allergies will not be a problem beforehand by spending time with cavies on more than one occasion. Although you may not react to the guinea pigs themselves, are you aware of any allergies with hay?

Hay is an essential part of the cavy diet, so much so that they cannot live without it. Thus, avoid all the heartache that comes with having to give up pets your kids have already bonded with by testing for allergies before adoption. 

5. Children’s age and their understanding

Guinea pigs are often purchased as gifts for young children. However, gifting guineas – or any pet for that matter – is never a good idea. The younger the child the more likely they are to view their cavies as actual toys. Of course, as adults, we know that is not the case, but this can truly pose a huge problem during interactions between kids and cavies. If left unattended, the situation can turn disastrous – so never leave pets and kids together unattended. Guinea pigs are small and fragile, with delicate little legs that need gentle care. Before adoption, teach your children what it means to be a responsible owner of a pet. 

6. Never go solo

Keep guinea pigs in groups or pairs

Whether they are in the wild or in a habitat in the living room, cavies should not be adopted in singles. They are extremely social creatures and commonly live in large groups. So, if you are considering adopting a guinea pig, ensure they come with at least one companion. This is exceptionally crucial as guineas are known to become depressed when alone and, in some cases, can even die of loneliness.

The good thing is that caring for a duo (or a trio) is pretty much just as easy as caring for a solo piggy. However, do pay attention to their sexes when pairing them up, as some pairs do not get along as well as others.

7. Male + Female = lots of babies! 

As early as three weeks of age, female cavies can get pregnant. So if you’ve got yourself a pair of unfixed guineas, you are bound to end up with litter after litter of babies! Ascertaining the gender of guinea pigs is not that straightforward and even pet store staff have been known to inaccurately determine sexes, which can certainly result in some unexpected pregnancies. As such, if you do adopt, make sure to go to a reliable, well-known adoption center, breeder or vet who can certifiably determine gender.  

8. Habitat size matters (a lot)

In general, guinea pigs grow to about the same size as adults, though males tend to be slightly larger. The habitat you provide for them must be big enough to comfortably accommodate your cavies. The more pets you have, the larger the cage must be.

While there are tons of suggestions online as to what dimensions to get, you may want to check out our detailed post on proper sizing. One rule of thumb to stick to however is always go for the maximum dimensions to ensure your guineas are relaxed, happy, and each have their own little spaces. 

9. Free-range time is a must

Although their habitat will be their main safe space, cavies should never be stuck 100% of the time inside a cage. Even if you purchase an impressively large C&C cage with a second-floor hayloft, your pets will still need some free-range time.

Set-up a safety zone play area with an enclosure for your cavies and let them roam wild and free. This can easily be done in your living room or even a bedroom. Going outside in the backyard on a nice, warm day for some grassy nibbles is also a great way to let your piggies stretch out their tiny legs, but never leave them unattended if you do so. 

10. Cute bottomless vegetarian pits

Do not be fooled by their sweet ways, gentle eyes, and charming demeanor – these cavies are true pigs! Since they are vegetarians, it can seem like they’re ravenous, bottomless pits of adorableness, with a hunger that never disappears. Food is constantly going in (and out), especially vegetables, greens, and hay. Depending on their age and gender, they will have different nutritional requirements. Regardless, they all need an unlimited amount of hay in their habitat for digestion and to curb excessive tooth growth.

11. Grooming is essential

Grooming guinea pigs

The longer the coat, the more grooming your pet will require. Some cavies have such long hair, like the silkies, that you will need to brush them daily. Abyssinians, like our cavy Muffy, also have a substantial coat, and as such, will need weekly brushings.

Aside from their hair, their nails need regular clipping and ears need regular cleaning. Since their teeth are ever-growing, you will need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get out of hand and must be filed down by a vet.

12. Be careful with other pets

Cavies, in the wild, are prey to a great many creatures. At home, they may seem like a nice little toy or snack to larger pets. If you already have other animals in the house, then you may want to consider the new dynamic guinea pigs would create. Cats are not typically known to attack cavies, but they are not particularly friendly with them either. In the end, it wouldn’t be prudent (or kind) to introduce guinea pigs into a space with other pets if it’s just going to stress them out. 

13. Surprisingly noisy (even overnight!)

One of the things people do not realize until they actually adopt guineas is just how noisy they are, especially overnight. Aside from the frequent vocalizations that sound like squeaking – what’s actually called wheeking – they also make several other noises, depending on their emotions. These sounds range from:

  • whistling at you to gain attention,
  • making purring-like noises when you pet them,
  • to clicking their teeth to show annoyance.

There are often various rustling noises as well from their everyday movements.

Also, cavies tend to be very active overnight, so if you have their cage set-up in a bedroom, you may wake up throughout the night. 

14. Cages need regular cleaning

After learning how much guinea pigs eat, it may come as no surprise at this point that all that food turns into a whole lot of waste. Of course, that means their habitat needs regular cleaning.

On a daily basis, you’ll need to remove bits of uneaten food or meals that have been knocked over.

And on a weekly basis, their cage will need to be completely cleaned out, and bedding replaced. If you skip these details, then you will be looking at a lot of mold growth, bugs in the hotter months, and even sick guineas. 

15. Vet visits are necessary 

Many people are under the misconception that small pets like rodents do not require regular vet visits. However, this is completely false. Any living pet requires medical follow-ups to ensure they are fit and fine. Just like any other animal, they can have health issues that may go under the radar until it is too late. What’s more, cavies are exotic animals, which means they can’t just go to any veterinarian for a check-up. Therefore, make sure you have room in your budget to get the care your pet needs when it needs it. 

There is no doubt about it, guinea pigs are awesome little creatures. While adopting them comes with a rich list of rewards, they do nonetheless need the proper care they deserve. No pet, no matter how low maintenance or low cost they were up-front, deserves a “feed it and forget it” attitude from their owner. Guineas are not less time-consuming or an easier alternative to a cat or dog. So, before you go out and adopt an adorable pair of cavies, please think about what it truly takes to be their pet parent. 

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