Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Species of the Day: Guinea Pig (Cavy)
Scientific Name: Caviidae porcellus
Size: 8 to 9 inches long
Origin: South America; specifically the Peruvian Andes
Average Life: Span: 5 to 7 years
Temperament: Friendly; active
Larger than hamsters but smaller than rabbits, guinea pigs can weigh a couple of pounds and generally live 5 to 7 years. The three most common varieties found in pet stores are the smooth-coated, with short, glossy fur, the Abyssinian, with dimple-like rosettes all over in its fur, and the Peruvian, which has long, silky fur. Guinea pigs make wonderful companions. These docile members of the rodent family rarely bite and are known for squealing with delight when their favorite person walks into the room.
Guinea pigs are social animals and they prefer to live in small groups. It's best to keep two females together, but if you want two males, it’s smart to choose brothers from the same litter. Since guinea pigs, like all rodents, multiply rapidly, keeping males and females together is not recommended. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to provide a minimum of four square feet of cage space per guinea pig—but please try to get as large a cage as possible. You’ll need a solid-bottom cage—no wire floors, please, as they can irritate your pets’ feet and cause open sores. Plastic-bottom “tub cages” with wire tops also make great guinea pig homes. Never use a glass aquarium as they can cause illnesses due to poor. Always keep the cage indoors away from drafts and extreme temperatures, as guinea pigs are very susceptible to respiratory infections and heatstroke.
Line the bottom of the cage with aspen shavings or some other form of safe bedding, such as grass hay. Do not use cedar or pine chips—the oils they contain can be dangerous to your pets. (P.S. Yes, you can train a guinea pig to use a litter box—but please note that this will require lots of time and patience!) Guinea pigs love to hide and play, so be sure to place cardboard tubes and/or empty coffee cans with smoothed edges in the enclosure for this purpose. Plastic pipes and flower pots are good, too, and bricks and rocks for climbing will be much appreciated. All guinea pigs need a cave for sleeping and resting, so please provide a medium-sized flower pot or covered sleeping box, readily available at pet supply stores.
Commercial guinea pig pellets should make up the bulk of your pet’s diet. Nutritionally complete, they’re available at pet supply stores, and are made from plants, seeds and veggies. Feed your guinea pigs twice daily, in the morning and in the evening. Offering small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables to your guinea pigs every day is a great way to bond with them, as the quickest way to a guinea pig's heart is through their stomach! Try grapes, cucumbers, corn, peas, carrots and pears. Half a handful of veggies and a slice of fresh fruit per pig is plenty. You have to watch the treats with guinea pigs and it's not hard for them to become obese. Always make sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. You’ll also need to make grass hay available to your pets at all times. It’s great for the digestive system, prevents hair-balls and will also satisfy your pet’s need to gnaw. Just like human beings, guinea pigs cannot manufacture Vitamin C on their own, so you’ll need to ensure that your pets get enough of this essential nutrient every day. A quarter of an orange will do, but you can also include some fruits and veggies that are high in C to their daily ration of fresh foods, such as kale, dandelion greens and strawberries. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. Use an inverted bottle with a drinking tube, and change the water daily.
Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food from the cage daily. Clean the cage completely once a week by replacing dirty bedding and scrubbing the bottom of the cage with warm water. Be sure everything’s dry before adding fresh bedding. Guinea pigs are rodents and therefore their teeth grow continuously throughout their whole lives. That’s why it is important that you provide yours with something to gnaw on at all times. Branches and twigs from untreated trees will work, as will any small piece of wood that hasn’t been treated with chemicals. Once you have hand-tamed your piggies, you should let them run around in a small room or enclosed area to get some additional exercise every day. You will need to carefully check the room for any openings from which the guinea pigs can escape. These animals must be supervised when they are loose because they will chew on anything in their paths—including electrical wires. Guinea pigs are very conscientious about grooming themselves, but brushing them on a regular basis will help keep their coat clean and remove any loose hairs, plus it feels mighty good! Long-haired guinea pigs should be brushed daily in order to prevent tangles and knots from forming.