In this section we look into Accommodation, Bathing, Bedding, Grooming, Handling, How to Clean The Hutch, The Run, Security, Socialisation and Toys.
Choosing the right hutch is very important. Make sure it is a solid well made tongue and groove hutch. A lot of hutches are made of thin ply and these are not warm enough. It is worth checking the construction of the hutch as well, as often they are just tacked or stapled together and although cheaper to initially buy will not last very long. Please do NOT buy two tier hutches or hutches with runs attached. Two tier hutches are not safe for guinea pigs as they can harm themselves on the ramps. Guinea pigs should not have free access to grass, as during cold wet weather the damp ground will cause health problems and in the spring eating too much rich new grass can cause bloat. So run time should be strictly controlled by yourselves.
For 2 guinea pigs we recommend a hutch/cage 4ft (120cms) x 2ft (60cms).
For 3 guinea pigs we recommend a hutch/cage 5ft (150cms) x 2ft (60 cms).
For 4/6 guinea pigs we recommend a hutch/cage 6ft (180cms) x 2ft (60cms).
These are the minimum hutch sizes that we will re-home to. Please see (Adopting a Guinea Pig) for further details.
During the winter months guinea pigs need to come inside. They can either be moved into a dry warm shed with plenty of light or moved indoors. If moved indoors some people like to move them into a suitable cage. This will probably have a plastic bottom with wire top, the minimum cage sizes we recommend are the same as for hutches. If you are considering putting them into your garage please make sure that there is plenty of light and also that you do not keep your car there as exhaust fumes can and do kill your guinea pigs.
During the summer months, position the hutch out of direct sunlight in a shaded area free from drafts. If kept indoors it is inadvisable to position the cage in front of a window or radiator as guinea pigs can overheat. The cage should be kept away from draughty doors.
Guinea pigs do need to be bathed on a fairly regular basis. I recommend Gorgeous Guineas shampoo made specifically for guinea pigs.
Unless we are in the middle of a very hot spell in summer it is important that when guinea pigs are bathed they should stay indoors overnight so they are completely dry before going back outside. Unless they have a skin problem I would probably avoid bathing them in the cold winter months.
You will need a washing up bowl for your guinea pig to stand in, shampoo, cotton wool pads and a towel.
First of all you need to wet the coat with slightly warm water (as you would for a baby). This should be done very gently avoiding the water going over their face.
Once the coat is wet you should put enough shampoo down the back to so that it makes a good lather. Avoid shampoo going into the eyes. At this point you need to rub some of the shampoo from the guinea pigs body onto the cotton wool pad and with this you can gently wipe round the ears. The ears get very waxy and you will be surprised how much wax comes away. Do not dig right into the ears.
The guinea pig has a grease gland which is where a tail would be, if a guinea pig had one. Particularly with boars these can be very greasy and the best way of removing this grease is with the original Fairy Liquid. Just put a few spots on the grease and rub in well. You may need a small toothed comb just to loosen it but it will come off. Sows do have a grease glad but usually quite hard to see.
Rinse well. Depending on the shampoo you use, you will usually need to shampoo again as above, and then rinse thoroughly.
Towel dry. You can use a hair dryer on a low setting but make sure you have a good hold of your guinea pig otherwise he may run in fright. Keep the hair dryer moving so that it does not burn the skin. Once the pig has got used to this they usually relax and quite enjoy the pampering.
Keep them indoors away from draughts during the night, the next morning they should be completely dry and ready to return outside. Please bear in mind that guinea pigs should not have a quick change in temperature so if the weather is chilly leave the bathing until another day.
Shavings and sawdust have been used as bedding for many years but they are not healthy for your guinea pigs. There are now much healthier and cheaper bedding's on the market. Most of these bedding's were initially intended for equine use but they make ideal guinea pig bedding. At the Wheek & Squeak we use Megazorb. This is made of woodpulp and it also makes ideal compost material. It is very soft which makes it kinder on their feet and very comfortable for snuggling into.
There is also Aubious which is just as good but we favour the softer Megazorb. Either of these can be bought at most equestrian retailers or you can support us and buy your Megazorb here.
Keeping your guinea pig well groomed is very important.
COMBING AND BRUSHING
Short coated guinea pigs need very little combing or brushing.
Rex or Teddies do need combing regularly as pieces of hay get stuck in their coat and stick into their skin which must be very painful. A small narrow toothed comb is ideal for combing these little bits out. These can be purchased at our shop.
The very long coated guinea pigs do need a lot more care. The coats should not be left to grow to the full length as they will get very messy with urine stain and they can also get their back feet caught in the long hair. We trim the coats so they only just reach the ground but cut it a lot shorter around the rear end. This should be done every month. They should be brushed and combed regularly but if you find a knot please do NOT comb it out as guinea pigs have very sensitive skin, just cut the knot out with scissors.
The ears do get very waxy and should be checked weekly. I would use a little olive oil on a cotton pad and wipe around the ear flap. Do not poke right inside the ear or stick a cotton bud inside. I also wash their ears when they are being bathed as described above.
The grease glad is at the rear end of a guinea pig, where a tail would be if it had one. It is more prominent in a male than a female. It becomes very greasy and unsightly. It is harmless but it should be kept clean especially as some boars produce a lot of grease.
I always clean it when they are bathed but the grease glad can be spot cleaned in between baths. You should wet the coat with warm water, apply either Swarfega or original fairy liquid. Work this well into the coat to loosen the grease. You may need to run a comb through to coat to help remove the grease. Do not rub so hard that it makes the coat sore. When you feel you have removed the grease then rinse thoroughly with warm water.
This will probably need to be done monthly. You will need to hold the guinea pig firmly, I usually hold them to my chest so the legs tend to dangle so they are easy to reach. Do not cut into the pink section which you will see if they have white nails, if they are black then I would suggest you clip a very small bit at a time. If you have problems with this we do a complimentary nail trim to all guinea pigs, so you are welcome to bring your guinea pig/s along and we can either do it for you or show you how. The nail trimmers we recommend are sold in our shop.
It is important to handle your guinea pigs regularly. Firstly so that they get used to you and secondly that you can give them a healthcheck eg nails, skin, eyes, lumps etc.
When guinea pigs have had enough of being handled they will usually become unsettled and start wriggling, this is the time to put them back. If you ignore this behaviour they may give your finger a little nibble. They do not usually bite but have been known to if they are frightened or handled very roughly.
When holding a guinea pig you should always keep one hand over their back so if they do try to jump you will have a firm hold of them. Guinea pigs are not suitable for very young children to handle on their own, they should always be supervised by an adult.
You should always remove uneaten vegetables after about 3 or 4 hours.
On a daily basis all soiled hay should be removed, sweep up the droppings and clean out damp patches (usually in the bedding area). Then top up the bedding and then put in fresh hay.
The whole hutch should be cleaned out completely at least once a week, every 5 days would be more suitable if the above has not been done daily.
When cleaning the whole hutch you must first remove the guinea pigs to somewhere safe.
You then need to remove all the bedding, making sure to sweep right into the corners.
Spray the hutch with a pet disinfectant (do NOT use household cleaners as these can be very dangerous to your pet) and with a clean cloth wipe the floor, sides of the hutch and don't forget to wipe around the doors.
Allow this to dry.
Once dry line the floor with newspaper making sure there are no staples.
Cover the newspaper with an inch thick of the bedding, in our case it would be Megazorb.
Put loads of hay in the bedding area and hay rack if they have one and replace any toys.
At this stage it is a good idea to wash the dishes and water bottle thoroughly, remember to clean the metal dropper bit of the water bottle as this gets very green inside.
Now it is time to return the guinea pigs to their new clean hutch and enjoy watching them investigate their new clean hutch.
If guinea pigs hutches are not cleaned out regularly then they will be laying on wet bedding and this will be very detrimental to their health.
Guinea pigs love being in their run where they can munch grass to their hearts content. But a run can be a dangerous place as guinea pigs are prey to many animals and birds prey.
First of all make sure you have a solid run that is not easily knocked over by children playing or other animals.
Also make sure that there is plenty of shade for them, remember the sun moves round very quickly so an area that is in shade one minute can easily be full sun the next.
Guinea pigs are very fearful of open spaces so make sure there are houses where they can bolt to if they are frightened. These houses should not be plastic as they heat up very quickly, there are a wide choice of wooden houses or even a cardboard box could be used.
It is not wise to let your guinea pig have the free run of your garden, no matter how secure you think it is. So many guinea pigs get killed each year where a cat, fox, next door's dog, magpie, sparrow hawk, buzzard the list goes on, has come into the garden. It makes no difference if you are in the garden or not they are taken so quickly you have no chance of saving them.
Guinea pigs should never be put on damp cold grass as this can cause health problems. Also you should be careful not to let your guinea pig eat too much grass from April to early June as the grass is very rich this time of year and can cause bloat. It is best when they first go in the run after the long winter break to just let them go out for an hour or so and then lengthen the time as the weeks go by.
It is very important to keep your guinea pigs secure. Alot have guinea have been stolen from either the garden or the shed. So it is important that they are kept in a locked shed (when you are not around of course) and if they are in a run that they are not put in a garden where it is easily accessable to the public.
It is also wise to have strong bolts put on hutches, the little pieces of wood that most hutches are fitted with can very easily be moved or even become so loose that they fall down on their own.
Guinea pigs are also prey to many other animals and birds. Dogs, cats, birds of prey, magpies, rats, foxes, badgers the list is endless. Guinea pigs have been attacked even when the owner is in the garden with them. So please make sure they are kept in secure runs and not allowed to have free running of the whole garden.
Guinea pigs in the wild live in herds and they love the company of other guinea pigs.Although rabbits are commonly advertised as good house mates for guinea pigs this is inaccurate and dangerous. Rabbits have a very strong kick which can easily hurt and even kill a guinea pig. Guinea pigs should eat about 75% of the day whereas rabbits should be kept on a smaller diet. Guinea pigs require a diet higher in Vitamin C than a rabbit and a rabbit needs a diet higher in Vitamin D than a guinea pig. As such, guinea pigs should NEVER be housed with rabbits.
A single guinea pig is usually a very lonely guinea pig, when a single guinea pig comes into our rescue they just seem to come alive when they hear all the other guinea pigs squeaking away. Some, I agree, will not live with another guinea pig but they do love to be able to chat to another guinea pig through the bars of their cage and join in with their squeaks for food.
When a guinea pig loses his cage mate they can get very depressed. Sometimes they even give up eating. If this is the case then you should act immediately. Sows are usually easier to pair up however this isn't always the case. Boars are more difficult but can be done with experience. I have read in many places that it is impossible to pair up adult boars,however we have been pairing up adult boars for over 10 years with great success. I have also read that you can put a baby boar in with an adult boar and he will usually accept him. Although there is some truth to this, it is not always as easy as it sounds and I would not rush into this without great thought. An adult boar will not necessarily accept a baby boar and could bite the baby quite badly. He could also go over the top with establishing dominance and continue to mount the baby boar for several hours making the baby guinea pigs life a misery, especially if he has nowhere to get away from the adult.
If the initial pairing with a baby boar and adult works out they will still need regular observation while the baby grows up. Once the baby has become an adult (usually between the ages of 4 to 12 months), the baby may decide it would like to be 'top pig' and fighting can ensure.
You may think after reading this 'what am I supposed to do then with a single boar'. My answer would be to speak to experts who are experienced with pairing up guinea pigs. As mentioned above, at Wheek & Squeak we have been pairing up single boars for over 10 years and would be happy to talk to you. Alternatively other rescue centres and some guinea pig breeders may be able to offer advice.
Guinea pigs do not usually play with toys as such and a lot of toys advertised for guinea pigs will simply be ignored by them. Howeer, guinea pigs do enjoy things they can sit in such as tunnels, paper bags, cardboard boxes. They also enjoy chewing so tunnels, paper bags and cardboard boxes also double up for something they can chew.
You can also get a branch off of a fruit tree (apply or pear) and put it in their hutch, I usually wind this through the wire.
There are willow balls and sea grass products available which the majority of guinea pigs love to chew.
I have never found any of my guinea pigs enjoying pieces of wood shaped as carrots or similar. As mentioned above, they are often simply ignored.