Advice and Insights for First-Time Owners of Guinea Pigs, Presented by Your Pet Guinea Pigs
You and your family may be thinking about adopting guinea pigs because March is National Guinea Pig Adoption Month. If this is the case, you are probably curious as to what kind of advice current owners have for prospective owners and people who are just starting out with guinea pigs. This advice should go beyond the hard facts that you are already learning through your research.
If you were to ask one hundred owners for five insights into the temperament of guinea pigs, you would most likely receive hundreds of different responses. Although guinea pigs are relatively small, they have big personalities despite their size.
They’re Smarter Than You Think
Those who assert that guinea pigs are unintelligent little animals have obviously never spent much time with one. These cunning little rascals are aware of the time of day when you are most able to kick back and relax, and they will take full advantage of this by demanding additional hugs and kisses as well as additional treats (or both).
The owners of guinea pigs claim that their pets are able to distinguish between the sounds produced by various types of plastic bags located in another room, squeaking appropriately when it’s a produce bag and remaining silent when it’s not a produce bag. Some people have reported that their guinea pigs hid vegetables that they didn’t particularly like under their cage bedding or in piles of hay, which led their owners to believe that the pigs hadn’t finished their food and were still hungry.
Just like any other living creature that possesses a brain (and, by extension, intelligence), guinea pigs require mental stimulation, physical interaction, and socialization. They become depressed, lethargic, and reclusive if they do not have all three of these things. Because of this, guinea pigs can only be adopted in pairs. Having a roommate of the same species as them provides a significant amount of the stimulation, interaction, and socialization that they require. Spending quality time with their human caregivers on a daily basis provides more. Changes are also made to the assortment of toys and other items that are kept in their enclosures and play areas.
They’re Creatures Of Habit
When you take care of a critter that weighs only 2.5 pounds, you will find that you are drawn into more routines than you ever imagined were possible. The habits of guinea pigs can actually be beneficial to humans, who aren’t always good at following disciplined routines. These habits can act as the foundation upon which other routines can be built.
Guinea pigs are notorious for being difficult to train and noisy when they do so. You’ll notice the pace in their cage actively trying to get your attention if you’re running behind schedule if you’ve gotten into the habit of giving them chunks of lettuce and sweet bell pepper at 7:30 in the morning before you leave for work. If you do this, they’ll be hungry. If you’re running behind schedule, they won’t think twice about yelling and screaming at you until breakfast is served. If they are accustomed to getting a piece of carrot every evening, you shouldn’t be surprised if they start making a racket at 11:30 in the morning because they haven’t gotten their snack yet and they are hungry. If only they weren’t so adorable, it would be more annoying.
When their owners have tried to wean their guinea pigs off of daily servings of commercial treats (the junk food of the guinea pig diet), some owners have written in online forums about being locked in month-long battles of will with their guinea pigs. The battles of will involve the guinea pigs picking over everything else that is given to them in an overt attempt to manipulate their humans into forking over the treats.
They’re More Emotional Than You Think
The majority of people don’t realize that guinea pigs have more emotional needs and stronger personalities than they do, despite the fact that they aren’t emotional wrecks or constantly nervous nellies. They have their own distinct mentality, which must be learned over the course of some time and with close attention paid to how guinea pigs behave. It is possible for them to be possessive of their living space, though this trait is not very common. They are also selective in the roommates they will accept and the toys and cage accessories they use. If a guinea pig’s favorite pigloo is removed from the cage and replaced with something else, or if the hay that they normally eat is switched out for a different brand, the guinea pig may experience behavioral issues as a result. A guinea pig that is willing to cuddle up with a roommate in their waffle blockhouse might be unwilling to share a cozy cup with that roommate, however.
On a deeper level, guinea pigs are susceptible to clinical depression for a number of reasons, including:
They do not have a roommate.
– Their human caregivers neglect to engage with them in meaningful ways for an excessive amount of consecutive days (even as few as three days) (e.g., no lap time)
– a roommate dies
– they are abandoned by their family (older guinea pigs are especially hard to hit emotionally when their family abandons or surrenders them)
– the conditions of their enclosures are deplorable
Their diets are deficient in both adequate nutrition and variety.
If owners do not take prompt action to rectify the situation, their guinea pigs may experience a variety of additional health issues after developing depression. They are less likely to experience depression if they have roommates of the same species, if they interact frequently with their humans, and if they have a consistent routine.
They Need More Living Space Than You Think
Even though they are relatively small, guinea pigs require a relatively large housing area. It is easy to understand why guinea pigs require a large amount of space when you take into account the fact that most of them will spend 22 hours a day in their cage (presuming that they are let out once daily for a two-hour play period). Their enclosure needs to provide space for more activities besides just eating and sleeping. They need to have a cage that is large enough to provide them with a separate bathroom area that is located away from where they eat and sleep. They require space to play in and the ability to go for a good run whenever the inclination strikes them on a daily basis. In addition to this, they require time apart from one another on a regular basis in order to maintain the peace over the course of the relationship (the same way humans need to have some space from each other).
Unfortunately, we see a lot of guinea pigs that have been kept in aquarium tanks, plastic storage tubs, and cages purchased from pet stores. These types of enclosures only provide about one-third of the space that guinea pigs truly require. All three of these “cage types” are essentially nothing more than litter boxes with poor ventilation, which presents a multitude of potential health issues due to the fact that the animals are forced to live in environments that are high in bacteria. When The Critter Connection has taken in guinea pigs that had previously lived in plastic storage tubs or aquarium tanks, we have had to put in a lot of effort to help the guinea pigs adjust to their new exposure to light and sound. This is because the guinea pigs’ previous environments had acted as a significant filter and buffer for light and sound. One male guinea pig that had been living in an aquarium tank that had been improperly maintained for a couple of years before it was brought to the rescue had actually banged his head against the glass on multiple occasions, most likely in an attempt to escape.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any true-blue guinea pig advocate (owner or rescue worker) who disagrees with the living space recommendations listed on the Cavy Cages website (www.guineapigcages.com): guinea pigs should be kept in cages that are at least 18 inches long, with a minimum width of 12 inches.
– 1 pig: 7.5 square feet or more
– 2 pigs: 10.5 square feet or more
– 3 pigs: 13 square feet or more
– 4 pigs: 16 square feet or more
It doesn’t matter how content the guinea pigs appear to be in their current housing situation; once they are transferred into the larger, open-topped C&C cages, there is a discernible shift in the manner in which they interact with one another, their level of activity, and their general disposition. In addition, healthier pigs come from happier pig farms.
Their Diet Can Help You Improve Your Diet
The inclusion of a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables in a guinea pig’s diet each day is extremely beneficial to the health of the animal. Despite the fact that romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, carrots, and sweet bell peppers are some of the guinea pigs’ favorite foods, you can feed them a wide variety of other foods as well, such as swiss chard, curly endive (also known as chicory), escarole, parsley, cilantro, Crenshaw melon, honeydew melon, and many more (see www.guinealynx.
It is not uncommon for guinea pigs to lose their previous preference for a particular type of fruit or vegetable as they get older; this can happen either temporarily or permanently. It is easy to see how humans could become uninterested if the only types of vegetables they ever consumed were romaine lettuce and carrots day in and day out. They are less likely to become uninterested in a particular food item if they include a wide variety of foods in their diet.
By spicing up your salads, revving up your snacks, and introducing new sides to your meals, you can easily increase the amount of vegetables and fruits in your diet while you play around with different meal options for your pigs. This is a great opportunity for you to take advantage of while you are trying out new menu options for your pigs. If you have children, “menu planning” can be a useful and entertaining way to teach them about proper nutrition and how to develop healthy eating habits. You and your children will be well rewarded by the sounds of your guinea pigs happily crunching on their new snacks, and it will be a fun experience for your guinea pigs as well.
Do You Want More?
On the internet, there are a number of very active guinea pig information websites and owner forums, and you can sign up for free to participate in any of them. The most popular discussion boards can be found on Guinea Lynx (www.guinealynx.com), Cavy Madness (www.cavymadness.com), Cavies Galore (www.caviesgalore.com), and Guinea Pigs Info (http://guineapigs.info/). All of these websites are accessible via the World Wide Web. There is no shortage of people who are enthusiastic about guinea pigs and are willing to assist those who own them.
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