Woody

Cavy
Companions

Care and Feeding

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            Please learn about guinea pigs from a rescuer or an animal shelter *BEFORE* you make a decision, then adopt !

          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 South America and roam the foothills of the Andes Mountains in large 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 children younger than 7 years old 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.

          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.

          Unneutered males can emit an odor that is eliminated by neutering.  This odor is noticeable to the human nose when two unneutered males are in close proximity, or when an unneutered male is in close proximity to an unspayed female. Spaying and neutering is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED for health reasons.  Male testicles are overly-large, and over time the testicles "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 can generally be avoided by neutering.  Females run a 75% chance of developing ovarian cysts after age 3 years, and or developing uterine cancer.

         Guinea pigs have a "hierarchy" wherein two males may fight for dominance, and females may do so as well. The easiest best overall match to do is a neutered male and a spayed female.  Females can be paired, 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.  Brother guinea pigs and sister guinea pigs go through what I term a "make it or break it" stage at the age of about 4 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.  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 Cavy Companions or at a shelter such as Seattle Animal Shelter.

          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, (2) babies are squirmy and most do not particularly like to be 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 will outgrow this **if you know what to do**.  If you have this behavior, or want to know how to help the baby, contact Cavy Companions.

          Any animal, including a guinea pig, will bite in defense of itself if it has been mishandled, poked at or abused.

Living Space:

          The best and least expensive cage can either be made yourself or purchased from www.cavycages.com. The recommended cage is called a "cube and coroplast" cage.  It is very easy to clean, lightweight, and sturdy. If you have another cage, it should NEVER have a wire floor above the tray bottom. This is extremely painful for the guinea pig and can easily cause a serious medical problem called "bumblefoot" or pododermatitis.  It is better to stay away from what "pet" stores claim is an adequate size cage.  The "starter" cage kits are a horrible size and the kit comes complete with junk included in the pellets and/or pine shavings!

            NEVER use cedar or pine shavings as they cause serious respiratory and liver ailments.  Remember: if you can smell it, don't use it.  There are several options for bedding:  (1) a 1-2" 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, and (3) a towel, or 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.  Change all of the Carefresh, or Carefresh-aspen, whenever it is needed, i.e. at least once a week.  Since guinea pigs naturally "run for cover," provide a "safe place" for the guinea pig to go into such as a 4" PVC "Y" pipe available at most hardware stores, a shoe box with entrance and exit holes cut out, or a "Pigloo."

Food

          Fresh food, water, guinea pig pellets and timothy hay must be available EVERY DAY.  Hay is NOT a treat, but a critically needed staple.  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.  Pellets from a pet store often contain dried vegetables, seeds and/or fruit.  Guinea pigs need only pellets; the rest is junk food!  They need as much or more than they can eat every day of, preferably, second cutting timothy hay.  Daily fresh vegetables are also needed.  Check below for proper foods or go to the guinealynx website.  Do not "free feed" pellets to your guinea pigs; a standard amount to feed per day is 1/4-1/3 cup per pair of  guinea pigs.

          Some fresh foods guinea pigs can be given daily are:  red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, and/or romaine lettuce (NOT iceberg as it has no nutritional value and is known to contain nitrates), celery (especially the paler, leafier insides humans tend to throw out), ONE baby carrot and a small piece of appleor one seedless grape.  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.  Some guinea pigs will eat most any fruit and vegetable, some will eat only certain produce. Please don't overfeed either fresh foods or pellets. Using a baby carrot as an example, ONE carrot per guinea pig per day is plenty because of the high sugar content.  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 -- also called Bluegrass hay -- can be given as a treat.  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.  Alfalfa hay contains too much calcium for an adult guinea pig's system and can lead to the formation of bladder stones. Do not use straw as it has no nutrients and has been the cause of many eye injuries.

          Being rodents, a guinea pigs's teeth continue to grow but the fact is that the natural chewing of hay, fresh vegetables, fruits and timothy hay are sufficient to keep the teeth healthy.  In addition to a daily, ample supply of timothy hay, guinea pig pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables, a piece of vegetarian dog biscuit, or a 1/4" (or less) diameter apple tree branch (no leaves and NOT sprayed with pesticide) are fine to give them. Pellets are a supplement so do not overfeed.  Don't be misled into buying colored wood chew sticks (the "pet" store just wants to sell you something).

          In the summertime, grass from your yard is a real treat; HOWEVER, please don't give it to your guinea pigs.  Because racoons live in close proxmity with nearly everyone in the Puget Sound area, be aware that the majority of racoons carry a parasite known as "racoon roundworm."  This parasite pops away from the feces onto the grass and when ingested by a guinea pig, rabbit, or even a human child, 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, Pet Pros or PCC.

Vitamin C

          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. An easy way to give Vitamin C is to purchase the Naturally Preferred brand, chewable 100mg tablet in the natural fruit flavor available at Fred Meyer. There are also children's Vitamin C brands but be sure the tablet is ONLY Vitamin C with 100mg tablets or less.  Cut the 100mg tablet in half and each guinea pig gets a half per day.  Guinea pigs need between 35-50 mg of Vitamin C every day.  Many guinea pigs will take the Vitamin C half from your fingers.  For those who won't, place it on top of the pellets and wait for her/him to eat it, being careful not to let the cagemate eat two!  If that doesn't work, crush the Vitamin C and put it on a wet-ish piece of lettuce.  Whole Foods also has a chewable Vitamin C tablet.  Look in the children's vitamin section for Kanga Vites (100 mg). Rite-Aid had 250 mg tablets but they contain aspartame, which is potentially harmful to both humans and guinea pigs.

           Don't be misled into believing drops in the water bottle will achieve the same result.  You don't know how much Vitamin C the guinea pig is getting per ounce of water, too many drops make the water taste bad so the guinea pig won't drink it, and the guinea pig would have to drink an entire 16 oz. every day to get whatever amount of Vitamin C you think you are giving !  In my opinion, recommending drops in the water is just one more reason not to listen to what "pet" store personnel tell you!

Water:

          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.

Warmth:

          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.  60 degrees F. at night is not too cool, but 75 degrees F. and up is very warm for them.  Heat stroke is a cause for real concern. When it's really hot, fill a plastic, personal size water bottle, freeze it and place it in the middle of 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 the next day.  When it's too cold, you can put a fleece or cotton throw over the cage if you choose.  Guinea pigs also need natural light just as humans do.

Veterinary Care:

          Guinea pigs are somewhat fragile and illnesses can debilitate them quickly, 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 some so-called guinea pig vets Cavy Companions will absolutely NOT recommend. (See below for Cavy Companions guinea pig veterinarians.)  Some examples of danger signals are not eating, not drinking, lethargy, watery eyes, stuffy nose, diahrrea, fecal pellets with an odor, and breathing heavily. Lice can be seen and one sign is your guinea pig scratching to excess.  The nits (eggs) are not transmitted to humans, but these lice WILL transmit to other guine apigs.  Mites cannot be seen except under a microscope, and signs of mites are excessive scratching, back biting, and fur that looks "dandruff-y. These parasites, though easily treatable and not transmissible to humans, should be seen to by a vet quickly because they will only increase if untreated, and can quite literally drive your guinea pig insane.  Think about yourself having a 24/7 itch that you could not get rid of !

          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.  Recommended small mammal veterinarians in the Seattle, Washington area are:

          Melissa Nathanson, DVM, North Seattle Veterinary Clinic, 10322  Lake City Way, Seattle, WA (206) 523-7187

          Diane Mitchell, DVM, Juanita Bay Veterinary Hospital, 11416 - 98th Ave. NE, Kirkland, WA (425-823-8411)

          Brent Johnson, DVM, Northwest Animal Care Hospital, 10105 - 19th Ave. SE, Everett, WA (Mill Creek area) (425) 379-0400

          Leann Sperlich, DVM, Browns Point Veterinary, Browns Point, WA.  (I do not know Dr. Sperlich personally. She is listed because one of my adopters and Foggy Creek Cavy Rescue are happy with the treatment given their guinea pigs by Dr. Sperlich.)

 Grooming:

          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 combing 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 2 months. 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.

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.  They are extremely social animals who need and rely on your love and attention. They should have as much time with you as possible EVERY DAY.  You cannot give guinea pigs too much love, attention and handling, so let them live as part of your household, not shut away in a bedroom or basement.

Vacation/Boarding:

          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. Cavy Companions will board guinea pigs adopted from me for a donation of $2.50 a day for each guinea pig, which includes hay, bedding, fresh food, Vitamin C, fresh water, and pellets, and, of course, the temporary cage.

Behavior:

          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, it's best to bring her/him to Cavy Companions, or the shelter, for 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 him/her?

         Warning signs of trouble are teeth clacking (or chattering) and posturing (the guinea pigs will slowly inch their way towards each other until they are standing closely side by side). 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/aggression.  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.  It is best to introduce a new mate as soon as possible after the surviving guinea pig's grief period is done; however, you don't have to.  You need to grieve also, and as long as your guinea pig is alright you can wait a bit.  If you are not sure what to do, contact Cavy Companions for guidance.

       There is a serious and tragic problem with guinea pig overpopulation. A store that sells animals is NOT a good place to get a guinea pig because (1) staff have little, many times false, and/or limited knowledge about lifetime care, (2) a store guinea pig is often pregnant because of not being properly sexed and therefore separated, (3) stores consider small mammals merely as gifts or impulse purchases, so many guinea pigs end up unwanted, uncared for, and abandoned, (4) many store guinea pigs will have lice or mites, and (5) baby guinea pigs often kept in overcrowed conditions and are allowed to be dropped on the floor, or hit on the head, and merely put back in the "bin" for sale. Stores offer no lifetime support if you have a question about care, behavior and/or medical symptoms, and the ones who do more often than not don't have a clue what to suggest. Breeders often will give bad advice, such as not advising spaying and neutering. This is not in the best interest of the guinea pig ! Cavy Companions exists solely for the welfare of all guinea pigs, and is here to help you take proper care of your companion guinea pigs.

          For more information, or if you have questions, please contact Cavy Companions.  Cavy Companions was begun strictly to help guinea pigs and their two-legged caretakers, not to make money from them.


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