Getting a new “exotic” (not a cat or dog) pet is exciting as it is scary. You don’t know what to expect, will it be friendly or aggressive? Clean or dirty? So many questions, which come down to, in this case, are guinea pigs good pets?
Well, guinea pigs make great pets for a number of reasons. They’re affectionate and incredibly sociable and make a great addition to almost any family. But, as with everything in life, it’s not all great.
Let’s go through everything you need to know about owning a guinea pig.
Why Guinea Pigs Are Good Pets
1. Minimal Space
Guinea pigs make great pets if you don’t have a lot of space, but you want a pet that’s large enough to cuddle. As they sleep for around 20 hours per day, they don’t need a massive exercise area. Around 4 square feet should work for a pair of guinea pigs.
2. Simple Health Issues (Early Life)
As long as guinea pigs are bred well, they don’t have too many health issues to manage, and any problems that do arise in early life can usually be dealt with easily. The main things you should look out for are:
Indicate an eye infection. These can be treated easily with eye drops.
Rodents teeth grow continuously, so they need to be worn down by gnawing at wood. If they have a slight jaw misalignment, it may cause excessive teeth growth, and they’ll need to be cut down regularly.
Guinea pig claws grow quickly. A simple cut will need to be completed regularly.
Depending on the type of fur that your guinea has, their skin can sometimes become quite dry. This can be sorted with some specialist medicated shampoo that’s available at most pet stores.
Sounds terrible, but it’s actually easily resolvable. Ringworm appears as patches of bald, flaky skin, usually around their bum or behind the ears. A ‘spot on’ treatment can be purchased from the pet store and applied at home to resolve this as long as you catch it early.
While all pets can be prone to health issues, you can do the most common care you’ll need to provide for your guinea pig from home without a huge vet bill.
3. Big Personalities
Guinea pigs have great personalities, and they’re all individuals. They’re very sociable, and as they get older, you’ll start to see their personality emerge, whether it’s loving, grumpy or shy.
They’re well known for having some of the biggest personalities in the rodent world and it makes them even more loveable and amusing to watch.
4. Many Different Types
Guinea pigs come in many different colors and fur types, you can even get bald guinea pigs. This makes them totally unique and interesting pets. You know that no one will have one just like yours.
5. Low Costs
Guinea pigs are relatively cheap pets to keep in comparison to dogs or cats. An upfront cost for a guinea pig is around $15 (but remember that you’ll always need to buy at least two, more on that below). Other costs that you’ll need to think about are:
Cage: These can range from standard plastic bottomed cages to extravagant DIY solutions depending on how much you want to spend. A good range is 20$-100$
Food: This will be an ongoing expense; however, bags of hay are usually only a couple of dollars and will last a week or so. Dried food is a little more expensive (8$-15$), but a big bag may last as long as a month.
Vegetables: Purchasing vegetables or herbs for their daily diet can be really cheap, a few dollars a week will usually give them all they need.
Health Care: Standard health care for minor issues will normally be cheap and can usually be treated at home. However, larger problems that might develop later in life (more on that below) could cost a few hundred dollars, so you’ll always need to make sure you have that money in case of an emergency, or pay monthly pet insurance.
6. Fairly Independent
Although guinea pigs do love company, that doesn’t necessarily need to be you. As long as they have a companion, they’ll be fine if you leave them throughout the day. This makes them the perfect pet if you have a busy lifestyle.
7. Non-Picky Eaters
Although their diet should be varied with different vegetables and herbs, they are fairly set in what they like to eat and aren’t picky.
Unlike dogs or cats, you’ll have no need to switch their diet up to keep them interested. They’ll be just as excited at feeding time every morning, no matter what food you’ve fetched.
8. Long Life Span
Guinea pigs can live for anywhere between 5-8 years in captivity. This gives you enough time to really get to know and love your pig and get them to love you back. It’s never enough, but they have a much longer lifespan than other rodents so you have much more time to bond.
9. Daytime Activity
Guinea pigs are active during the day, which makes them the ideal pet for bonding compared to smaller, nocturnal rodents such as rats or hamsters.
However, the term ‘active’ is used loosely, as they do sleep for large amounts of the time; they will usually sleep 4-6 hours during the day and be actually-active the rest of it.
Why Guinea Pigs Are Bad Pets
1. Can Be Tough To Handle
Guinea pigs are very loving and can make great cuddly companions. However, if you happen to have a guinea pig that wasn’t socialized early, it may be challenging to get them used to handling.
If you have a baby guinea pig, it’s recommended to spend at least an hour a day handling them and getting them used to you at first. They need to recognize your smell and understand that you aren’t a threat.
You also need to learn to pick them up properly, supporting their chest and bum and hugging them to you. If your guinea pig feels insecure, it only takes one bad experience to put them off being picked up.
Older guinea pigs can be quite skittish if they haven’t had this care and attention from the start of their life, meaning they’re quite hard to catch to pick them up and can be easily upset.
2. Complicated Health Issues (Later Life)
Although minor health issues can be resolved easily from home, your guinea pig may be prone to larger health issues as they age. Things to look out for are:
Older male guinea pigs lose the elasticity within their anal muscles, meaning that poop can sometimes build up inside the anal cavity, causing a blockage.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this other than constant cleaning. You’ll have to check them daily to see if they’re impacted (you’ll be able to see it). And if so, you’ll have to physically pull out the blockage yourself. It can be very smelly and unpleasant.
This is something that occurs in around 1 in 4 (old) guinea pigs and unfortunately, is very serious. Lymphedema is a form of cancer which usually begins with lumps under the armpit of your guinea pig.
And it can quickly spread throughout the body if not dealt with immediately. As soon as you notice a lump, it’s best to get it checked out. It might be something benign, such as a mammary gland inflammation or infection.
But if it is cancerous, the lump will need to be removed, which can cost a fair bit of money. If your guinea pig is old, there’s also a risk with operations as anesthetic can affect them more severely. Always ask your vet what the best options are.
Kidney Or Bladder Stones
Kidney and bladder stones can be avoided if your guinea pig has a varied diet. However, they are much more common in older guinea pigs. The stones are a build-up of calcium, forming a physical stone that blocks food or water passing through.
To keep the risk of stones to a minimum, make sure you vary the herbs and vegetables that your guinea pigs eat. Although spinach and coriander are favourites for guinea pigs, you should limit them to once every couple of weeks due to their high calcium content.
These stones can be very painful for your piggy if not handled straight away. If you notice your guinea pig drinking excessively, starting to lose their appetite, or visibly struggle to pass anything, you should take them to the vet.
An operation to remove the stone is usually the only solution – which can cost anywhere up to $500.
Although guinea pigs have been kept outside in hutches with a floor of wood shavings for many years, new research says that the cold air and dust can affect their lungs, causing respiratory problems.
To prevent this, it’s always better to keep your guinea pig inside the house at a constant temperature and house them on grass or solid-wood flooring.
3. Problematic Sociability
Because guinea pigs are sociable, it’s recommended to house them with other guinea pigs. It’s even illegal in Switzerland to purchase a single guinea pig by itself. However, this can become a problem when one of your elderly guinea pigs dies before the other.
You either have to face the issue that your remaining guinea pig will be depressed by itself and commit to lots of extra attention, or go through the painstaking task of finding another guinea pig that they’ll get along with.
Unfortunately, although they’re sociable, you can’t guarantee that a new pig will get on with the old pig either.
Attempting to find a new guinea pig to go with the old one leaves you with an ever going cycle of guinea pigs, making them a much more long-term commitment than you will have initially anticipated.
Are Guinea Pigs Good Starter Pets?
Guinea pigs make great starter pets! However, if you intend to purchase guinea pigs for your children, make sure you’re also prepared for their needs.
If your kids do get bored (which can sometimes happen), it’s not fair for your guinea pigs to suffer. Make sure you understand what you’re going in to.
- They aren’t too small, like hamsters or mice, so they’re easier to handle and more robust if you intend to get guinea pigs for a child.
- They’re not aggressive, so you can be confident in leaving them around children.
- Most of them are sociable and generally quite cuddly – though it’s recommended for an adult to show a child how to hold them and pick them up properly.
- They’re fairly easy to keep clean, so it’s a good responsibility for a child to take on as a daily task.
- They eat dried food, hay and vegetables or herbs, so it’s an easy diet to manage. Plus, children might like to grow some of their guinea pig’s food themselves, giving them a little extra project.
- Guinea pigs aren’t nocturnal, unlike many other rodents, so they will be active during the day. This means that your children will have fun bonding with them and watching them play.
Do Guinea Pigs Like To Be Held?
Yes, they do like to be held, but getting to that point can sometimes be a struggle. Guinea pigs are naturally timid animals, meaning it can take a while to become completely tame.
The best incentive for them is food. If they recognize that you’re the source of food and not a threat, they will start to approach you more often and become friendlier.
However, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find a guinea pig that naturally likes to be picked up. In the wild, they’re prey for many predators, some of these being birds of prey.
When you pick them up, their instincts always tell them that you’re a predator that just successfully captured them. Though, once you have them safely in your arms and supported from underneath, they’re generally fine.
If you snuggle up with them to watch TV on the sofa, they’ll settle down with you. You can tell that they’re comfortable if they spread their legs out to the side or if they curl themselves around into a ball, much like a tiny cat.
Do Guinea Pigs Stink?
Like all animals, if you keep them in the house, there will be some smell. However, guinea pigs are one of the nicer smelling pets as long as you keep their environment clean. It’s usually the cage that smells rather than the guinea pigs themselves.
Daily cleaning of any particularly poopy bits and a twice-weekly full clean will keep them smelling nice and fresh. It’s also recommended to clean the cage with a pet-friendly anti-bacterial spray as this keeps odors to a minimum.
If you notice that your guinea pig smells particularly bad, you can bathe them too (check our full guide). Sometimes guinea pigs with longer hair can start to smell due to their hair dragging along the ground.
A quick warm bath with pet-friendly shampoo will sort out the problem. Make sure you dry them thoroughly with a towel before placing them back in the cage.
How Long Can Guinea Pigs Be Left Alone?
Alone From Other Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are sociable animals in the wild and live in herds of no less than 10. This helps them protect themselves as there are more eyes to look out for predators.
In captivity, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have space for more than ten guinea pigs, but they’re happy enough in pairs or trios. You can have all females (sows) living together or all males (boars). Having a mixed-sex group won’t work so well.
You should never leave a guinea to live by itself. Guinea pigs get lonely very quickly, and this can lead to depression and cause serious health issues.
Your guinea pig needs constant companionship to be content, so never separate them from their family for more than a few hours at a time.
Alone From People
Guinea pigs require feeding every day. So, although they can live without your attention for days at a time if needed (as long as they have the company of other guinea pigs), you will still need to feed them once a day.
This means they aren’t a great pet if you plan to spend a lot of your time away from home unless you can find some feeding-solution.
Do Guinea Pigs Bite?
Guinea pigs are normally completely non-aggressive and very rarely bite. Although you might notice the odd signs of anger in them in the form of vibrations accompanied by a ‘giggly’ noise or through the chattering of their teeth.
Even bites between each other are usually just warning nips and very rarely draw blood. If your guinea pig does nip you, it’s normally as a warning or instinct; they don’t actually intend to hurt you, they just want to let you know that what you’re doing isn’t acceptable.
This might happen if you’re holding them in an uncomfortable position or if something is going on around them that upsets them. Generally, if you hold your guinea pig correctly and treat them well, they won’t bite you.
Guinea pigs make amazing pets with unique characters and chipper attitudes. However, you do need to understand their needs fully and be prepared for a long-term commitment.