Scientific name : Cavia porcellus
Size: The average guinea pig weighs about two pounds.
Lifespan: Five to seven years
Lots of variations, from brown spotted and black banded to pure golden and all-white.
If your pig's no porker, then what is she? A guinea pig is a rodent, just like mice, rats and hamsters. She has short legs and a plump body, and a tummy that's so big her back legs have to point sideways to fit around it! It's not that she's overweight—like all guinea pigs, she needs a big stomach to digest all the tough plant food she eats.
The three most common breeds of guinea pig are the smooth-coated, who has short, glossy fur; the Abyssinian, whose hair grows in fluffy tufts all over her body; and the Peruvian, who has long, silky hair that flows to the ground.
Guinea pigs are social, and if you keep two or more females together, they'll become great friends. If you want two males, it's smart to choose two babies from the same litter. Groups of adult males tend to fight, so we suggest a pair of females for first-time piggy caretakers.
Wild guinea pigs spend most of the day grazing on grasses and chowing down on seeds. Feed your furball special guinea pig pellets, available at pet supply stores. Be sure to feed her every morning and evening. Supplement her food with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, cucumbers, corn, carrots and apples.
Hay, you! Wild guinea pigs spend up to six hours a day grazing on grasses, so every day you'll need to give your pet fresh hay, such as timothy.
It's also super important that your guinea pig (and you, too, by the way!) gets enough vitamin C every day. Give her foods high in C, like kale, green and red pepper and strawberries. Be sure to chop up everything nice and small.
Don't forget to fill 'er up! Fresh, clean water should be available to your guinea pig at all times. Use an upside-down bottle with a drip tube, and change it daily.
Home Sweet Home
One of the top ten rules of guinea pig housing: Get your pet a solid-bottom cage! Wire floors can irritate a guinea pig's feet. As a rule of thumb, you'll need to provide FOUR square feet (that's 2 feet x 2 feet) of cage space per guinea pig. So if you're keeping more than one pig together, make sure there's enough room. The cage will need a sturdy cover to keep other family pets from bothering your GPs. Plastic-bottom "tub cages" with wire tops, available at pet supply stores, also make great guinea pig homes.
Line the cage with several sheets of paper and fill the bottom with bedding, so your pet can make a comfy nest. Use aspen or hardwood shavings or grass hay. You can give your guinea pg some shredded paper, too. Do not use cedar and pine shavings, which can make your pet sick.
All guinea pigs need their private space. Make sure your pet has a cave for sleeping and resting. Use a medium-size flower pot, or you can buy a covered sleeping box from a pet supply store.
Don't throw away those empty oatmeal containers and shoe boxes! They make great places for your guinea pigs to run through and play in. Plastic pipes and flower pots are good, too.
Remember, you've got a new job as guinea pig housekeeper, so you'll have to clean the cage regularly. Every day you'll need to remove old bedding, soiled paper lining the floor, droppings and stale food. Scrub the bottom of the cage with hot, soapy water once a week.
Fun and Games
You talking to me? One of the best things about guinea pigs is that they're one of the few small pets to make noises! They'll whistle and grunt when they're excited, and when you come to feed or play with them, you may be greeted with an entire guinea pig chorus of loud, excited, HAPPY whistles!
Guinea pigs love to play outside of their cages, and you should let yours run around in a room in your house for extra exercise every day. Think of it as gym class! You'll have to supervise, of course. That means making sure your pets don't get stuck behind furniture or chew on electrical wires. You can make an indoor fun box for your guinea pigs and fill it with their favorite toys. Don't forget to give 'em a place to hide—an empty shoe box will work great—and some soft bedding, should they feel a snooze coming on.
Your guinea pig's teeth will grow continuously, so she'll need to chew—a lot—to keep her choppers in good condition. Make sure she has a piece of log or wood that hasn't been painted or treated with chemicals for this purpose.
Guinea pigs are gentle by nature, but you'll still need to get your new pet used to you—and used to being handled. Start by feeding her small treats. When she's comfortable with that, you can carefully pick her up. Make sure that one hand supports her bottom, as you put the other hand over her back. Always hold her securely.