Guinea pigs are domesticated descendants of wild and semi-domesticated rodents living in the highlands of north central and north west South America. They have been bred for over 400 years and are selected for color, hair-coat pattern, and disposition. They first became popular as pets in Europe around the 16th Century. Guinea pigs are strict herbivores, social and most active at twilight or before sunrise.
There are several color and hair-coat varieties of guinea pigs. They may be mono-, bi-, or tricolored and have short regular hair (English or shorthair); long hair arranged in whorls (Abyssinian); long strait hair (Peruvian); or medium-length fine hair (silky). These varieties may interbreed.
Anatomical and Biological Characteristics:
Guinea pigs are best housed in open-top bins (walls at least 10" high) or in cages with solid floors because wire floors may injure limbs. Bedding (wood shavings or shredded paper) is used, as are hopper feeders and sipper tube bottles. All must be cleaned often. They should be kept away from drafts, chills, excessive heat (over 85 degrees F), temperature fluctuations (maintain between 65 and 75 degrees F), and other environmental disturbances. They may be housed in groups, but will establish a pecking order.
Guinea pigs are restrained by supporting the chest with one hand (placed under the chest) and the rear quarter with the other hand. Grabbing a guinea pig over its back may inhibit respiratory movements.
Guinea pigs are strict herbivores and cecal fermenters,
as are rabbits and horses. Food intake is not controlled by calories
ingested, but by bulk consumed. They require special amounts of
calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium. Therefore, feeding
table scrapes should be avoided. Guinea pigs should be fed a feed
prepared specifically for the species. It should be supplemented
with a source of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Food containing ascorbic
acid should not be used 90 days after the milling date without
supplementing with vitamin C. They require 10 mg/kg daily and
20 mg/kg if pregnant. Vitamin C may be supplemented by:
A commercial pelleted diet containing 18 to 20 % protein, 4 % fat and 16 % fiber is highly recommended. They will consume approximately 6 g of food and 10 ml of water per every 100 g of body weight per day.
Common problems in guinea pigs include vitamin C deficiency, respiratory infections, abscess, skin mites, overgrowth of premolar teeth, cystitis and bladder stones.
Barbering is another condition common in guinea pigs, this is when a dominate (alpha) male chews the hair off of the back of a subordinate animal (may lead to skin infections).
Public Health Significance:
A few organisms that infect or inhabit guinea pigs are potentially zoonotic, but these organisms are seldom associated with human disease. Special precautions should be taken if housed with an immunocompromised individual. These organisms include Salmonella, Campylobacter and Sarcoptes (mites).
Allergy to guinea pig dander is another frequently reported condition in people handling guinea pigs.
We hope you will find this information useful and that you have many years of enjoyment with your new pet. Please check the numerous literature sources available for more detailed information on guinea pigs and their care.
David E. Hammett, DVM
G. Scott Russell, DVM
and the staff of All Creatures Veterinary Clinic, PC
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