CAVY COMPANIONS' purpose is to educate
people on the proper care of guinea pigs.
Cavy Companions is CLOSED for adoptions. I am no longer receiving or placing guinea pigs, and I am no longer boarding guinea pigs. I am, however, available for advice on behavior issues. I AM NOT A VETERINARIAN. There are no letters behind my name. Do not contact me for advice about a medical issue with your guinea pig. If you think something is wrong, take him/her to one of the veterinarians listed below.
WHERE TO ADOPT GUINEA PIGS
Seattle Animal Shelter, 2061 - 15th Ave. W. Seattle, WA - 206-386-7387
Guinea Pig Haven, Kirkland, WA
Cavy Critters, Redmond, WA
Search for guinea pig rescues in your area. Most county shelters have guinea pigs for adoption.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU GET GUINEA PIGS
Please learn about guinea pigs from a rescue or an animal shelter *BEFORE* you make a decision, then adopt !
First, make absolutely certain that everyone in your household is not allergic to timothy hay or to guinea pigs. Pet stores don't tell you about possible allergies, and, consequently, this is the second most common reason guinea pigs end up in shelters.
Second, are you willing to make the 6-8 year commitment to caring for guinea pigs, no matter what?
Third, do you have the money and are you willing to spend it to take your guinea pigs to the vet when they need to go? The costs of treatment, examinations, a blood workup, and x-rays are expensive. If you have limited resources, or can't spend money on a vet, DON'T get guinea pigs. It isn't fair for you not to take care of them when they are sick.
Fourth, if you have to move in or out of state, are you going to take the guinea pigs with you? Most people say they will take their guinea pigs with them when they move but that is rarely the case. Be honest! It is much better for everyone if you know how to care for guinea pigs and then don't adopt than it is to adopt and then abandon them because you're not prepared.
Any pet store that sells small animals for profit cannot, by definition, be a good place to get guinea pigs. Most pet stores consider small animals "inventory" to be replaced by another "batch" when one sells out. Store employees normally make minimum-wage and with a high rate of turnover chain store management gives little to no proper training in the care of small animals. Do not believe a pet store employee who tells you that your guinea pig has been neutered or spayed. Both male and female guinea pigs have 2 nipples each which means that is not a way to sex them. Pet stores often count on you or your children buying guinea pig babies on impulse. After all, they are cute and small. How much do I really need to know? A LOT. Pet store cages are expensive and too small. With the exception of Cavy Cuisine pellets made by Oxbow, pet store pellets are filled with junk food like dried vegetables, seeds and/or nuts which are not nutritious and are junk food. Most pet stores sell Vitamin C drops to be put into the water bottle. This has to be one of the most stupid products ever made. Like humans, guinea pigs' bodies do not make Vitamin C. Guinea pigs should have between 35-50 mgs of Vitamin C every day. If you buy the water drops, know that Vitamin C dissipates within 1 hour after being exposed to light so you would need to refill your guinea pigs' water bottle at least 10 times a day. Since you have no way of knowing how many drops equal how many milligrams of Vitamin C, you are just guessing. Putting too many drops in the water bottle will be too bitter for the guinea pigs to drink, and too few will lessen even further the amount of Vitamin C she/he takes in. See below for better ways to ensure your guinea pigs get a sufficient amount of Vitamin C every day. The bottom line is: get guinea pigs because you have given it a great deal of thought. Guinea pigs are "forever" companions, not throwaways.
Beware of getting a guinea pig from Craig's List. Some people lie and you could be taking one who is sick. I consider "responsible breeding" to be an oxymoron; therefore, I neither approve of nor would adopt from someone who deliberately breeds guinea pigs. With hundreds of wonderful guinea pigs available for adoption, WHY would you buy one? If you are looking for a specific breed, WHY? Companion animals don't care what you look like; why do you care how they look?
Guinea pigs are not "tools," i.e. they are not for teaching your child responsibility. Adoptions are to the parents, not the children, so the parents are the primary caretakers. If you want to teach your child how to be responsible with companion animals, let them learn from your example. PLEASE GIVE A LOT OF THOUGHT TO WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE GUINEA PIGS EITHER AFTER YOUR CHILD GETS TIRED OF THEM, OR IF YOUR CHILD GETS TOO BUSY TO SPEND DAILY TIME WITH THE GUINEA PIGS.
Wild guinea pigs live in several countries in South America and roam the foothills of the Andes Mountains in groups. Guinea pigs are "prey" animals, i.e. they are meant to be food for other wild animals. Therefore, a guinea pig's bones are softer in order to be more easily eaten. This means that companion guinea pigs' bones can be broken much easier than your dog's or your cat's, or even your own. It is critical that young children not be allowed to pick up or put down your guinea pigs without either adult supervision, or have the adults handle the guinea pigs in and out of the cage. When holding them, sit on the floor instead of a chair or a sofa. This way you are more on their level and any sudden move is unlikely to harm them.
A guinea pig's general lifespan is 6-8 years, but genetics, health of the mother during pregnancy, and proper care for the babies can greatly influence a guinea pig's lifespan. One of my resident guinea pigs is over 6 years old and in good health. I have also lost guinea pigs at 2 and 3 years of age.
Spaying and neutering is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED for health reasons. Male testicles are overly-large, and over time the testicles can "crowd" the anal area, thus the fecal pellets form but are unable to pass freely through the anus and collect in the anal sac. This is called "impaction." When this occurs, you will have to clean out the fecal mass every day for the rest of the male's life. It is painful for the guinea pig and smelly and can generally be avoided by neutering. Females have a high probability developing ovarian cysts after age 3 years, and/or developing uterine cancer. Even if you have a male neutered and leave the female unspayed, this is not a good situation. Guinea pig hormones run particularly high. The female will continue to come in and out of heat about every 2-3 weeks. You will never know when she is but the male will know and he will pester the female chasing and wanting to mount her. Although she can take care of herself, it's extremely stressful for her thus weakening her immune system.
Guinea pigs have a "hierarchy" wherein two males will likely fight for dominance, and females do so as well. The easiest and best overall match is a neutered male and a spayed female. Unless already paired, females and even some males can be paired, but my experience is that it is a 50-50 situation completely dependent upon the particular guinea pigs' personalities and ages. Don't make the mistake of thinking that any guinea pigs will get along with each other. You don't like everyone you meet and guinea pigs are no different in this respect. If you buy 2 baby guinea pigs from a pet store, they will go through what I term a "make it or break it" stage at the age of about 4-6 months. The 50-50 chance is that the brothers or sisters will either begin to fight and thus need to separated, or they will not fight and get along. You need to think about what will happen to the boys or girls if they have to be separated. Will you keep both in separate cages? If you are not willing to keep both guinea pigs, then THINK about this BEFORE you buy young guinea pigs who seem to get along. Don't think that any pet store is going to tell you this. Their primary interest is in selling small animals and supplies. Since guinea pigs have unique personalities, pairing a single guinea pig with a new companion is best done by a "get acquainted" visit supervised by people who KNOW - and care about - guinea pigs.
Baby guinea pigs are not a good choice for small children, or "first-time" caretakers because (1) babies are likely to nibble or bite at your fingers because they don't know any better; (2) babies are squirmy and most do not particularly want to be picked up or held, and (3) they move so quickly and thus are more likely to be injured when being picked up or put down by small children or the inexperienced caretaker. Nibbling is normal for baby guinea pigs and is not aggressive. They can be taught not to nibble if you get advice on what to do. If you don't teach them that nibbling or biting is inappropriate behavior, they will learn that they can get their way by doing so and you won't want to pick them up at all. Remember, though, that guinea pigs will bite in self-defense, if you abuse, poke at, or mishandle them.
An excellent cage can be purchased from www.cavycages.com. This cage is called a "cube and coroplast" cage. It is very easy to clean, lightweight, and sturdy. A good size for 2 guinea pigs is 3 1/2 ft. X 2 1/2 ft.; an adequate size for 1 guinea pig is 2 1/2 ft. X 2 1/2 ft. If you buy a cage at a pet store, even their "extra large" size is not big enough. The "starter" cage kits are awful and come with junk food pellets and pine shavings. Guinea pigs need to have room to move about freely and be able to run around without running into her/his cage mate. The cage should NEVER have a wire floor above the tray bottom. It is painful to have to stand/walk on wire. Think about what it would do to your feet to walk barefoot 24/7 on a wire grid. Cavy Cages have a flat bottom.
Never make your guinea pigs live in a glass tank. These are made for reptiles and fish, not mammals. Glass tanks allow little to no air circulation and forces your guinea pigs to breathe in urinary odor. Tanks also distort noise so the voice they hear from inside doesn't sound the same on the outside.
Stay away from cedar or pine shavings as they can cause serious respiratory and liver ailments. Remember: if it has a smell to it, don't use it. There are several options for bedding: (1) layer of Carefresh over a thick layer of newspaper, (2) a 50-50 mixture of Carefresh and aspen, or hemp, shavings over a thick layer of newspaper, or (3) a towel, towels, or fleece, that covers the bottom also over a thick layer of newspaper. The third method requires that the towel or fleece be changed EVERY OTHER DAY and replaced using a clean, fresh towel. You can also use a product called White Shavings but you must make sure that the packages have been kept completely dry and under a roof or in a building. If these packages are kept outside until purchaed, the chances are that the shavings will be damp inside which makes them useless. Change all the bedding whenever it is needed. Areas of the cage can be "spot" cleaned daily until the entire cage is emptied and cleaned. Water and paper towels are sufficient to clean any cage. Vinegar can leave behind an odor that isn't strong to you but is for guinea pigs whose noses are keener than yours. Avoid commercial cleaning sprays that are toxic, and again, leave behind a noticeable smell to guinea pigs, even if you think you've wiped it out enough.
Toys and Houses
Don't waste your money buying "toys" and "treats" at a pet store. Guinea pigs live on the ground so their bodies are not made to be put into a plastic ball or run on a wheel. These are for hamsters who instinctively run long distances for food. Wood blocks or sticks to chew on are another stupid idea. The natural action of chewing hay and eating vegetables is plenty to keep your guinea pigs' teeth in working order. Small apple tree branches are good for them to chew on though not always available. The branches from no other types of trees can be given. If you get apple tree branches, be absolutely sure that the tree has never been sprayed and doesn't grow too close to a road (pollution).
A good toy for guinea pigs is a grocery store-size paper bag. Roll the top down enough to where it will stay open then use your hand to "fluff" the bag. Put it in the cage where the guinea pigs can run in and out. Most guinea pigs love these. They shove the bag around, some make "windows" in it, some just sit in it, some wander in and out of it, and some chew on it. Don't worry that the guinea pigs will eat too much of the paper or if you see a piece on the floor just take it out. Obviously, the paper bag will soon be "trashed" so you just throw it away and use a fresh one. Cheap and fun! The toy commonly sold at pet stores that hangs inside the cage with a bell on the end of it is a waste of your money.
As far as using a "house" or a Pigloo or a cardboard box as a hiding place, here is what I tell people. It's natural for guinea pigs to want to hide; however, when you bring your guinea pigs home and immediately put a "house" in, they will hide and never learn to trust you. To them you are huge prey that might hurt them or eat them. When guinea pigs come to live with you, take the house completely out of their cage while you are at home. When you are gone either for the day or for a few hours, put the house in the cage. It's "tough love" for them to have nowhere to hide while you are at home but it's the only way they will learn that you are trustworthy. So, you've left the house for the day with the house in their cage. When you return, if the guinea pigs do not come out to greet you then you have to keep this routine up. When you come home and the guinea pigs come out of the house to see what you're up to, then you can leave the house in 24/7. Understand that they need to get used to your voices, your smells, your footsteps and your routine.
Fresh food, water, guinea pig pellets and timothy hay must be available EVERY DAY. Hay is NOT a treat, but is the Number One food in their diet. Rabbit pellets are not suitable for a guinea pig's diet. Guinea pigs are herbivores, so do NOT feed any meat or animal products such as milk or eggs. They need as much or more than they can eat every day of second cutting timothy hay. Daily fresh vegetables are also needed. See below for vegetables to give. Do not "free feed" pellets to your guinea pigs. A young guinea pig needs more pellets per day than an adult, and a chubby guinea pig needs a lot less per day. Generally for adult guinea pigs, 1/8 cup for a pair is enough. When the pellets have been eaten, don't give anymore until the next day.
Some fresh foods guinea pigs can be given daily are: red leaf, green leaf or romaine lettuce (NOT iceberg as it has no nutritional value and is known to contain nitrates), or Spring Mix. Celery in 1/2-inch pieces are fine, especially the paler, leafier insides humans tend to throw out. A big mistake people make is giving too many carrots. Carrots are high in sugar so you can give ONE SMALL baby carrot or a 1/2" piece of a whole carrot per day. That's it! They can be given a small piece of apple or one seedless grape on alternate days. Fruits do not need to be peeled but apples need to be cored. Foods such as kale, broccoli, parsley and spinach should be given sparingly as they are very high in calcium and therefore not good for your guinea pig on a regular basis. Hay and pellets contain sufficient calcium for your guinea pig, and keep in mind that guinea pigs can develop bladder or kidney stones from too much calcium in the diet. Guinea pigs are not able to vomit. Every mammal has some intestinal gas, but guinea pigs who eat gas-producing foods will have no place to go but stay in the stomach or intestines. This causes major problems. Avoid green peppers, cabbage, radichio, bok choy, and the flower part of broccoli and cauliflower. These cause excess gas. Small pieces of tomato are fine. Some guinea pigs will eat most any fruit and vegetable, some will eat only certain produce. Don't overfeed either fresh foods or pellets. You don't need to be exotic in what you feed your guinea pigs. They prefer consistent daily veggies than out-of-the-ordinary produce.
Second cutting timothy hay must be given freely every day because it is an essential source of roughage. Orchard grass hay can be given as a treat. Alfalfa is a legume hay and is too rich and high in calcium. Small herbivores have very unique digestive systems. In the wild these animals are always eating small amounts of food throughout the day, constantly ready to take flight when danger approaches. They are hindgut fermenters that utilize fiber and have simple stomachs. Eating small amounts of food throughout the day stimulates the peristaltic motion of the intestines. Dietary fiber level is important for stimulating gut motility. If a guinea pig does not eat for several hours, peristalsis slows down and problems such as enteritis, ileus and too much intestinal gas can occur. Do not use straw as it has no nutrients and can cause eye injuries.
In the summertime, grass or dandelions from your yard are tempting; HOWEVER, please don't give it to your guinea pigs. Because racoons live in close proxmity to nearly everyone, be aware that the majority of racoons carry a microscopic parasite known as "racoon roundworm." This parasite pops away from the feces onto the grass and when ingested by a guinea pig it enters the brain stem and attacks the motor functions. There is no cure. If you want to give grass as a treat, purchase wheatgrass from health food stores, Mud Bay, or PCC.
Like humans, guinea pigs do not manufacture Vitamin C so you MUST supplement this in your guinea pig's daily diet. Feeding nothing but pellets is not good for them because the pellets may have lost Vitamin C due to their being on the shelf too long and exposure to light. I have been unable to find a 50mg or a 100mg Vitamin C tablet so I rely on red bell pepper, kale, cilantro, and parsley for it. I give a 1/2" piece of red bell pepper or a small piece of kale (the stems are fine), or a few sprigs of parsley or cilantro but not on the same day.
Clean, fresh water must be available all the time. A water bottle hung from the side of the cage is preferred as the guinea pig will usually dirty a water bowl or tip it over. Add water daily and make sure the ball bearing in the tip is functioning properly so that the water doesn't continue to drip, therefore depleting the guinea pig's supply and soiling the bedding. When guinea pigs drink water, they leave "backwash" so the inside of the water bottle should be cleaned with a bottle brush once a week. Tap water is fine to use as is filtered water if you have it, but do not buy distilled water as necessary minerals have been removed.
Never let the guinea pig's cage be near a draft or an open window with a constant breeze hitting their cage. Guinea pigs can tolerate cool temperatures much easier than they can tolerate heat. 55 degrees F. at night is not too cool, but 80 degrees F. and up is too hot or them. Heat stroke is a cause for real concern. When the weather is hot, fill a plastic water bottle, freeze it and place it near the house or near the hay in your guinea pig's cage during the day. This allows your guinea pig to get close to the coolness, or not, and as the frozen water melts it "wafts" cool air around the cage. When it's melted, re-freeze and use it anytime its needed. When the weather is too cold and you turn your heat down lower than 65 degrees F., you can put a fleece throw over the cage leaving space, of course, for them to breathe! Guinea pigs also need natural light just as humans do.
Guinea pig health is somewhat fragile and an illness can appear suddenly, often within one day. In advance, find a veterinarian who knows a lot about guinea pigs and how to treat them because a delay in care can be fatal. There are a couple of so-called guinea pig vets Cavy Companions will absolutely NOT recommend. Read further for recommendations. (Many vet clinics will tell you that they see guinea pigs. Questions to ask are: how many has the vet seen and for what reason, and what treatment was given; has the vet done any type of surgery on guinea pigs and, if so, what is their surgical protocol. A vet who has done a general exam for a guinea pig probably doesn't know about, or have the equipment for, checking the molars.) Some examples of danger signals to pay immediate attention to are not eating, not drinking, lethargy, watery eyes, stuffy nose, diahrrea, fecal pellets with an odor, and breathing heavily. A rescuer is NOT a vet. Be sure your veterinarian has a lot of experience doing guinea pig neuters and spays as the procedure is very difficult and completely different from a dog or a cat or a rabbit. Altering a guinea pig is expensive (about $300). Recommended small mammal veterinarians in the Seattle, Washington area are:
Diane Mitchell, DVM, Redmond-Kirkland Animal Hospital, 7251 W. Lake Sammamish Pkwy NE, Redmond, WA (425) 882-8000
Melissa Nathanson, DVM, North Seattle Veterinary Clinic, 10322 Lake City Way, Seattle, WA (206) 523-7187
Brent Johnson, DVM, Northwest Animal Care Hospital, 10105 - 19th Ave. SE, Everett, WA (Mill Creek area) (425) 379-0400
Liz Kamaka, DMV, Kamaka Exotic Animal Veterinary Services, 23914 56th Ave. W., #3, Montlake Terrace, WA 98043 (425) 361-2183
Guinea pigs groom themselves, but not to the extent cats and rabbits do, therefore, guinea pigs do not form "hairballs." A long-haired guinea pig needs to be combed every now and then with an Un-tangler Comb. (Unlike a brush, the teeth in un-tangler comb rotate and can move up and down so it doesn't pull the hair yet gets out the tangles.) A long-haired guinea pig also needs her/his hair along the bottom trimmed periodically to keep it from getting matted and soiled. If mats are already formed, cut them out; don't comb them out.
Nails should be trimmed about every 3-4 months. I will do it for $1.00 per guinea pig or I can teach you how to do it yourself. Be careful not to trim too much so that you cut to the quick. Have styptic powder (Quik-Stop) on hand in case you do cut the quick in order to stop bleeding. Guinea pigs do NOT need routine baths ! If your guinea pig's fur is soiled, giving a "butt bath" is sufficient. If your ginea pig smells, or is wet, you aren't doing your job !! Keep the cage clean and, in the case of a long haired guinea pig, her bottom hair trimmed and a routine bath is not needed. A bath once a year is okay but understand that guinea pigs, like cats, are not water animals. They will hate being bathed! If you do bathe them, be sure to dry their fur completely with a hair dryer set on low heat.
Love and Attention
Talk to your guinea pigs often, hold and cuddle them every day. Keep the cage in a part of the house where you spend a lot of time. A child's bedroom is not a good place because there is limited interaction, and a basement is a terrible place. Guinea pigs are family companions. They are social animals who need and rely on your attention. They should have as much time with you as possible every day. You cannot give guinea pigs too much love, attention and gentle handling, so let them live as part of your household. Some guinea pigs are what I call "lap pigs." They are very content just hanging out with you on your lap or chest while you watch TV but be sure that your guinea pigs fall into this category as some don't want to. Baby guinea pigs are especially impatient. Like kids, they have "things to do and places to go" and don't want to be still.
Be absolutely certain that the person(s) in whose care you leave your guinea pigs is reliable, trustworthy, knowledgeable about guinea pigs and their proper care, and would know what to do in case of an emergency.
Do NOT assume that any two guinea pigs will get along in the same cage. Guinea pigs are real individuals and not all personalities match. If you want to adopt a companion for your guinea pig, there must be a supervised "get-acquainted" visit. If you have 2 guinea pigs and think you want to add a third to the cage, THINK AGAIN. Whenever the cage "dynamics" are changed, there can be real trouble. A threesome can work; however, you need understand 2 things: whether or not the 3 get along is solely dependent upon their individual personalities, and if the third guinea pig doesn't work out, are you going to get rid of her/him?
Warning signs of trouble are teeth clacking (or chattering) , posturing (the guinea pigs will slowly inch their way towards each other until they are standing closely side by side), and closely circling each other. If a single guinea pig clacks her/his teeth, something has upset or frightened her/him. Try to discover what upset your guinea pig. Talking softly can help. If 2 guinea pigs begin chattering teeth, be very careful about putting your hand in the cage. When guinea pigs are upset with each other they are focused each on the other one, not on you. If one attacks the other, and your hand is in the way, you can be bitten. If you think a fight is about to happen, use thick gloves to remove either of the 2 from the cage. Hopefully, both will settle down. This does not apply to your putting 2 guinea pigs who are strangers together. Guinea pigs are generally very vocal and "wheeping" or "wheeking" is a noise of happiness, as is "purring" when they are stroked. Yawning is a sign of dominance. Even if the guinea pig is not facing the other one, it says, "see how big my teeth are." This doesn't, however, mean they will fight. "Motorboating" noises are made by males and females and are hormonal in nature, i.e. an unspayed female is in oestrus (heat) and the companion knows it, or a male will "strut his stuff" for his mate anytime. "Clucking" or "tut-tutting" means "I'm happy" in guinea pig.
When a guinea pig's mate dies, she/he will definitely grieve. This can take the form of the survivor being unusually quiet, lethargic, and even little or no appetite. You can help your surviving guinea pig by paying a LOT more attention to her/him but you CANNOT let her/him go without food, or just pick at the food, for more than 24 hours ! Again, since guinea pigs are very individual, the period of grieving is individual. Some are sad for a day, some are sad for a week, and some take longer to recover from the loss. If your guinea pig does not eat, or is only picking at food, you MUST intervene and adopt a mate ASAP. Usually, a guinea pig who loses her/his mate will begin to grieve 48 hours after the death, so watch closely for any unhealthy sign. If your guinea pig eats, drinks and poops normally, then the grieving is over and she/he will be fine. You need to grieve also, and as long as your guinea pig is alright you can wait. If you are not sure what to do, contact me and I will do what I can to help.
If you have questions other than medical, you can contact me by email: email@example.com.