By Whitney Potsus
For such a small critter there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about guinea pigs, their needs, and their natures. Unfortunately, these myths too often prevent a lot of lovable critters from finding good homes.
Although we could fill an entire issue with myths that need to be debunked, we picked the seven most common myths.
Having two guinea pigs means neither will bond with humans.
How well a guinea pig bonds with a human depends on how much said human interacts with said guinea pig. You can have a strong bond with four guinea pigs if you interact with them daily. Guinea pigs are communal animals who are happier and healthier when they live with at least one of their species; when you have a pair, you have bright and active pigs who engage with the world around them. Lone pigs are more prone to depression; no matter how many hours a day you spend with them. Humans simply cannot make up for the absence of another guinea pig.
Guinea pigs are inactive, so they don’t need a lot of cage space.
Guinea pigs are very active when they have an interesting, spacious living space that allows them to play and explore. Recommended minimum cage size for one guinea pig is 7.5 square feet (30″ x 36″); for two pigs, 10.5 square feet (30″ x 50″). Wondering how to get a cage that big? Check out Cavy Cages at www.cavycages.com.
Two or more males can’t live together.
Two or more males can’t live together if there’s a female in the cage. Having a girl in the mix stirs up fighting for alpha male status and inevitably the female, and one of the males, gets hurt. As with any species, it comes down to personalities – some mix, some don’t. But you can have two or more males – neutered, unneutered, or a combination – live together harmoniously. (You also can have one neutered male with several females.)
Rabbits and guinea pigs can live together in one cage.
Not really, and for several reasons. One, rabbits’ hind legs, which they occasionally get feisty with, can seriously injure a guinea pig. Two, rabbits and guinea pigs require different diets, with rabbits on an alfalfa-based diet and guinea pigs on a timothy-based diet. Three, rabbits have big appetites, leading them to hog the food (theirs and the pig’s) and leave the guinea pig underfed. If you want a companion for a rabbit or guinea pig, find a rescue that specializes in whichever species you have and work with them to find a roommate for your pet.
Males can’t be neutered; females can’t be spayed.
Both procedures can be performed by a veterinarian who specializes in small/exotic animals. The surgery for females is more invasive, and is commonly reserved for cases when there is a life-threatening problem with the reproductive system. If you want to keep a male and female guinea pig together, neutering the male is the preferred option. (A female guinea pig with a neutered male is a very harmonious, lasting match.)
Guinea pigs don’t need regular checkups with a vet.
Guinea pigs should have regular checkups with a veterinarian who specializes in small/exotic animals. These visits are a chance to check their weight; check their blood, urine, and feces for signs of internal problems (e.g., diabetes, urinary tract infections, stones, or crystals); check heart and lung function; look for signs of arthritis in aging guinea pigs; and more. Remember, these are living beings that have very complex (and delicate) physiological make-ups.
Guinea pigs only live three years.
Guinea pigs’ life span depends on several factors, including quality of care, quality of living conditions, genetics, and breeding. Poor or inappropriate diet, dirty living conditions, improper living environment (e.g., too cold, too drafty, too warm), and other products of inattentive care lead to infections, illnesses, malnutrition, and dehydration that endanger a pig’s life. The genetics of a “family line” may create a higher chance for cancer, diabetes, arthritis, or other conditions. Irresponsible breeding (e.g., inbreeding) leads to congenital problems with just about any part of a guinea pig’s body. That said, guinea pigs can live as long as eight years – not a short-term commitment – and life spans average between four and eight years.
Wondering if something you read or heard is actually a myth? Send it to the “Ask the Guinea Pig Expert” column, in care of Pets Press, and let us set the record straight!