Guinea pigs make wonderful pets but it is vital they get proper care to ensure they are happy and healthy. Below is a comprehensive guide with lots of tips on how to take care of your guinea pigs for beginners as well as for more experienced piggy owners.
Guinea pigs must have the correct diet in order to be healthy. They should always have fresh water (changed daily), a clean supply of grass hay, fresh vegetables and a quality supply of pellet food designed for guinea pigs.
A dirty environment will encourage all kinds of nasties from parasites to bacteria. These can seriously damage your guinea pigs health. Your guinea pigs’ housing needs daily spot cleaning and a regular full clean to ensure they avoid these problems.
Your guinea pig’s mental health is just as important as his physical wellbeing. This means that it is important he is living in an environment that isn’t boring. If he does become bored, he will show signs of stress.
Change the environment regularly with interesting things to forage, play with, and chew.
Remember that guinea pig’s love companionship and should always be housed in a pair (if male and female are together then the male should be neutered as they breed very quickly).
Guinea pigs are sociable creatures, though some breeds can initially seem very shy, they do like having regular interaction with their humans. Playtime and grooming are a great way to bond but also provide essential stimulation
If you adopt a guinea pig who seems to dislike being stroked or held, it could be because they were mishandled or treated roughly by a previous owner. Don’t give up. Hold your guinea pig for 5 minutes at a time and be gentle with them. They will gradually get used to being loved, and you may be surprised at the improvement in their temperament after a few weeks.
With patience and perseverance, guinea pigs can be tamed so they feel more relaxed in your company. This can make lap time a lot more enjoyable for them.
Grooming your guinea pig is an essential part of the regular care routine and gives you both an opportunity to bond. Handling your guinea pig whilst grooming keeps them used to human contact and has the benefit of making health checks and trips to the vet much easier.
A well-kept coat will help keep your pet’s fur free from debris, tangling and excessive staining from droppings and urine. Grooming time is a great way to perform your routine health checks whilst enjoying some quality time with your guinea pig.
It is a good idea to weigh your guinea pig weekly and record their weight so you can monitor weight gain or loss. Significant weight loss or gain can mean they are sick and need to be checked over by a vet.
If you handle your guinea pigs on a regular basis, you will get to know what is normal behaviour. This means that if they do become ill you are more likely to notice that something is wrong and hopefully get them to the vet before it gets too serious.
It is a good idea to perform a health check on your cavy each week. This isn’t difficult once you have done it a few times. In fact, it is something you can do when you take them out for a cuddle. The more you do it, the more your piggy will become used to it.
Here are the things you need to check:
Check the colour of the teeth. They should range from white to yellowish, so if they are brown they may be deficient in a particular nutrient.
Check the length. They should be around 1 to 1.5cm long and should be straight, meeting naturally. Also check the the teeth are not chipped
Back teeth are more difficult to examine but changes in eating such as dropping food, drooling or not wanting to eat are a warning sign that there is potentially something wrong with their teeth.
Check the inside of the mouth and lips are a healthy pink and that they are free from any sores ulcers or infections. If you notice any soreness you should take your guinea pig to the vet. Too many acidic foods, especially fruits, can also aggravate any sores in the mouth.
Because a guinea pig’s nails are continuously growing, you’ll need to trim them regularly. It is best to do this every couple of weeks rather than waiting until they are too long. Nails that become long often curl making them very tricky to trim.
To clip your guinea pig’s nails, you should use a special pair of scissors or nail clippers. Because each nail has a blood supply, called the ‘quick’, trimming too close to the feet can cause the nails to bleed.
If the nails are very long, then trimming a little each week will encourage the ‘quick’ to recede and you can get them back under control. Lastly, if you do clip too short and the nail bleeds a little then don’t panic, you can simply apply a styptic pencil to the cut. You can buy these from a pharmacy in the men’s shaving section. If you don’t want to cut their nails yourself or find it too difficult, you can get them trimmed at the vet or at a guinea pig rescue centre.
Feet should be cleaned with a soft damp cotton pad and should be free of lumps, scabs and crusts. Dampened cotton buds are also useful for getting in between the toes.
Check your guinea pig’s nose is clean and free from any discharge. If there is discharge from the nose, it can be a sign of bacterial or fungal infection. Signs that the nose is swollen may actually indicate an inflammation of the lips such as cheilitis.
Make sure the eyes are clear and free from any crusty build-up. It is normal to sometimes see white secretions around the eyes as this helps keep their faces clean; however, this should be milky and not forming any build-up.
Eyes that are bulging, sunken or cloudy can all be signs or illness in your guinea pig and should be investigated by your vet. A cloudy eye is often the result of a hay poke. Check for any hay in the eye but also make a vet appointment as soon as you can.
Ears should be relatively clean, free from any debris and crust.
Parasite infections can grow rapidly in the ears so a regular inspection is essential to prevent this happening.
As part of your grooming routine you should look inside the ears and, if necessary, wipe with a damp ball of cotton wool to remove grime.
Depending on the breed of your guinea pig their coat (hair) should be silky with a small amount of shedding being normal.
With regular grooming you will soon become familiar with how their coat should feel. Changes to this can indicate signs of poor health, dietary problems or other general health issues.
Look out for any signs of excess hair shedding and dandruff.
Examine the coat at their rear to make sure that it is clean and free of debris. Excess staining of urine or droppings can attract flies and cause ‘flystrike’, which is a very serious condition. They should be relatively dry underneath and incontinence or being overly damp may be a sign of poor health.
As well as checking your guinea pig for any health issues, you should also check the cage during the daily clean for any health problems with your cavy.
When you have had your guinea pig for a while you will become used to how much they eat on a daily basis. If you find they aren’t eating the food you are putting out for them, this could be an indication that your guinea pig is sick.
Droppings should be uniformly oval and firm with a dark brown colour.
Some of their droppings may be dark green in colour and these are perfectly normal. Called caecal pellets, your guinea pig may eat these as they are high in essential nutrients.
Guinea pigs can receive accidental injuries whether it’s from a fall (eg being dropped whilst being handled) or by fighting with their fellow guinea pig mates.
These can range in severity from a simple sprain, scald or bite to a broken limb or, more seriously, internal injuries.
If you are aware of an injury from a fall or fight, then you need to be very alert to the signs of possible danger. Check your guinea pig more frequently and be very gentle when looking for signs of injury. If you are in any doubt whatsoever, you should visit your vet for more advice.
Occasionally they will get their ears nibbled by other guinea pigs in the same housing. Little nips are nothing to worry about but if it looks any more serious, you should get professional advice from your vet.
Vets can get expensive but if you are concerned about the health of your guinea pig it is essential they are seen by a professional.
If your cavy experiences any of the following symptoms, you should contact your vet:
If you know your pet well then the signs of poor health will be fairly obvious. Be observant and never be too cautious when it comes to getting your guinea pig checked out. You can see a list of common guinea pig health problems and diseases here.
To help pay for your guinea pig vet treatments it is a good idea to consider pet insurance when you first get your pet or as soon as you can.
The average life expectancy of a guinea pig is between 4 and 8 years.
As they become older you can expect your pet to experience changes. It is normal to see changes in diet, mobility and general condition at this stage however the older they are, the more difficult it can be to fight off infections and illnesses.
They can naturally become less mobile and certain things they once enjoyed may be more difficult, such as climbing in and out of their hutch. If you suspect arthritis, then your vet may be able to help diagnose this and prescribe pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Using a ramp may become a problem for old guinea pigs so if you have a two tier cage, you might need to change it to just one level.
If you can adopt a guinea pig from a rescue centre, you have the potential to transform that little pet’s life. With hundreds of guinea pigs in rescue shelters all over the UK, these small pets with the most adorable personalities are desperately in need of your help.
Before buying from a pet shop, please think seriously about adopting a rescued guinea pig instead.
But, even more importantly, before getting guinea pigs at all, do consider the commitment it takes to look after them and be sure you’re prepared to take care of them for the duration of their lives.
It’s easy to fall in love with a guinea pig when visiting the pet shop but there are many reasons why you should choose a rescued guinea pig over a pet shop guinea pig:
It is unfortunately too easy to buy a guinea pig from a pet shop. Pet shops will stock their shops with however many guinea pigs they need to meet demand. The more people buy them, the more guinea pigs will be needlessly bred and a great many of these will end up in the rescue centres where they are struggling to cope with the intake of guinea pigs.
If more guinea pigs are adopted from rescues, pet shop demand will decrease resulting in less guinea pigs being bred and ending up neglected or in rescue shelters.
Before buying or adopting a guinea pig, it’s really important to find out as much as you can about how to care for them as well as how much they will cost on an ongoing basis.
Getting a guinea pig must never be an impulse buy from your local pet shop. They are very cute pets and it’s so easy to make this mistake but they are a lot of work.
Before you make the decision to adopt guinea pigs, first check out our “What you need to know before getting a guinea pig” page. This gives you a load of quick information that you may not know about guinea pigs and will help you decide whether this is the best pet for you.
First you’ll need to check if there’s a guinea pig rescue near where you live. Or you can contact your local animal shelter as they may also have guinea pigs awaiting adoption. Rescue centres all have their own ways of doing things so you’ll need to find out from the one you choose what their particular requirements are for adoption.Here are some of the common adoption requirements:
Bear in mind that rescue centres are extremely careful about where they re-home their guinea pigs. This is totally understandable when you think of the love and care they’ve given to these guinea pigs to rehabilitate them.
It would be heartbreaking for a rescue to see one of their guinea pigs in a state of neglect or unwanted yet again.
You don’t need to go to a pet shop if you want a baby guinea pig because rescue centres will often have babies that are awaiting adoption.
But don’t rule out adopting an adult piggy as they also need a good home. So many of these lovely pets have had years of neglect and have waited a long time to find that special forever home.
Some rescue centres may require temporary foster carers for guinea pigs while they await a permanent new home. This is another option you may want to consider.
There are many reasons why guinea pigs end up in rescue centres. Here are some of the following reasons:
There are many more reasons why guinea pig rescues are so full and it’s incredibly sad that so many of these pets have also been neglected or even dumped somewhere because they were no longer wanted.
There are lots of resources on our website to help you learn how to care for your newly adopted guinea pigs. We also have loads of product recommendations and, as guinea pig lovers ourselves, we only recommend those products that we know to be safe and suitable for guinea pigs.
In fact, we’ve tried most of the products we recommend to ensure they are good enough for our favourite small pets.
Here are some links to products and care information that you’ll find helpful:
Guinea pigs are herbivores which means they eat a plant-based diet. Their daily diet should consist mainly of grass hay with some fresh vegetables or safely foraged weeds and guinea pig pellet food every day as well. But it’s important they are fed the right balance of food to ensure they get the nutrition they need.
Of course, guinea pigs also need constant access to fresh, clean water at all times.
A guinea pig needs unlimited grass hay (Timothy or Meadow hay) at all times, a cup of fresh daily vegetables or safely foraged weeds and about an eighth of a cup (2 tablespoons) of guinea pig pellet food. Water should be given in a bottle fixed to the side of their cage and replaced daily.
|Grass Hay||Unlimited – there should ALWAYS be feeding hay in their cage|
|Guinea Pig Pellets||About ⅛ of a cup|
|Fresh vegetables or foraged weeds/plants||About 1-2 cups|
|Fresh Tap Water||Constant supply in a feeding bottle|
It’s important your guinea pigs get good quality food to ensure they receive a good balance of nutrients and it’s also vital they eat the right amounts of each food type or they can become ill.
Not only will your guinea pigs be much healthier if fed the correct foods in the right quantities but it could also save you a lot of money on vet bills later.
In the wild, guinea pigs would forage for weeds and vegetation that are packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s important you supply a daily portion of fresh vegetables or safely foraged weeds or plants for them to eat so they get a good range of nutrients.
If you’re wondering if you can replace fresh food with dry pellet food, the answer is no. Fresh food is an important part of your guinea pig’s daily diet and although it’s more expense and more work to prepare, this food is a part of what keeps them healthy as it’s packed with nutrition.
Guinea pigs can eat fruit in very small amounts but green leafy vegetables are the most important part of their fresh daily food. Foraging is a great way to provide more variety in their green leaf intake and is even better than buying fresh leaves from the supermarket.
Not all vegetables and fruit are suitable for your guinea pigs so we’ve put together a safe fruit and veg list that will show you what is suitable. It will also help you to provide a good variety of different types of vegetables during the week.
You may also want to purchase our full colour fruit and vegetable list that is available to buy, download and print here – you can choose from a blue design or pink design. Some of our previous buyers have said they like to download and keep it on their phones as a reference for when they go to the shop.
You should feed your guinea pigs about a cup of fresh veggies or foraged weeds each day, plus a small amount of fruit occasionally or in very small quantities as a treat.
A guinea pig needs to be fed every day but whether you feed them in the morning or evening can be suited to your own schedule.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that guinea pigs are creatures of habit and will get to know when it’s feeding time, so it’s a good idea to stick to a particular routine each day if you can.
Our guinea pig feeding routine is a refill of hay in the morning plus daily pellets and half their daily veggies. We feed the second half of their daily veggies in the evening at dinnertime and refill their hay if necessary.
Here are some suggested daily feeding schedules for your guinea pigs – you can use whichever fits into your daily routine the best.
|Morning||Refill||Daily portion 1/8 cup each||Daily portion 1 cup each|
|Morning||Refill||Daily portion 1/8 cup each|
|Evening||Refill||–||Daily portion 1 cup each|
|Morning||Refill||–||Daily portion 1 cup each|
|Evening||Refill||Daily portion 1/8 cup each||–|
|Morning||Refill||Daily portion 1/8 cup each||Half portion (1/2 cup each)|
|Evening||Refill||–||Half portion (1/2 cup each)|
|Morning||Refill||–||Half portion (1/2 cup each)|
|Evening||Refill||Daily portion 1/8 cup each||Half portion (1/2 cup each)|
A good balanced diet that includes a large variety of vegetables, forage and fruit throughout the week is one that is most likely to keep your guinea pigs healthy.
By varying the veggies, they are getting a good range of vitamins, nutrients and minerals and they are less likely to need treatment for health problems later.
Guinea pigs love food and will spend much of their time eating, so if your guinea pig is not interested in food, or is not eating, this is a sign that there is a serious problem. You must take them to the vet as a matter of urgency as they can deteriorate fast without food.
If a guinea pig that is not eating doesn’t get the medical help they need, more serious health issues will arise fast and be fatal for your pet.
It’s important to introduce any new food to your guinea pigs gradually to avoid any tummy upsets.
You may also find they don’t eat much of a food the first time it is introduced to them. Sometimes it can take a while for a guinea pig to become used to a new taste and texture.
Switching to a new pellet food should also be done gradually over a week or two. Mix small amounts of the new food in with the existing one and each day add more of the new food and less of the old one.
It’s important to remove any uneaten fruit or vegetables after an hour or so, especially if your guinea pigs are outdoors. Uneaten food, especially fruit, will attract flies which can pose an extreme danger to your pets and the food will also begin to deteriorate, especially in hot weather.
Any leftover pellets from the previous day should be replaced with a new fresh portion as the vitamin C content in pellet food diminishes as it’s exposed to light.
Make sure you only feed them their daily portion each time to minimise any waste.
Hay that is on the floor of the cage will also need to be replaced daily as guinea pigs won’t eat contaminated hay. There will always be wastage with hay being dropped on the cage floor. This is natural and can’t be avoided. But we recommend you use a hay feeder to minimise the waste and to keep their feeding hay clean.
A guinea pig eats their poops (called caecals) because they contain important bacteria, minerals and nutrients. Re-ingesting them means they get these extra nutrients back into their system.
Guinea pigs produce two different types of poop. The one you may be familiar with is fairly hard and dry, dark brown and long in shape. It contains mainly indigestible fibres and has a low water content. These are the poops you see scattered around the cage and your guinea pig won’t eat these.
The second type of poops, which are formed from hindgut fermentation, contains more water and therefore is much softer. There are large amounts of vitamins and minerals in these poops, especially vitamin K and B vitamins. These are the poops your guinea pigs will eat.
If you see your guinea pig looking like he is cleaning his bottom, he is probably eating one of these poops as they eat these little nutrition-packed parcels straight from their bottom.
If you happen to notice any diarrhoea or very soft or unusually coloured or shaped poops, you may be giving them too much watery or sugary food. Try cutting down on those types of food and if it doesn’t improve you should take them to the vet.
If your guinea pig’s diet hasn’t changed at all and they are getting diarrhoea, we recommend taking them to the vet straight away as this could be a serious health problem.
Dry forage mixes that don’t contain additives are great for guinea pigs but they shouldn’t replace the fresh food you feed your guinea pigs.
Here are some of the forage mixes we recommend and if you use the code REFER-GPIGGLEUK then you’ll get 15% discount on your whole order:
Guinea pigs don’t actually need treats and snacks but there are some you can safely give to your guinea pigs that they will enjoy.
Treats can be useful if you are trying to tame your piggies and get them used to you, but they should not replace any other part of their daily diet.
Many of the treats sold for guinea pigs are unhealthy and not recommended because of the ingredients they use but there are some good natural treats that we recommend. You can also use the discount code REFER-GPIGGLEUK for a 15% discount on these too:
Your guinea pig can eat fresh grass which you can either pick for them or they can eat while out in a safe run.
However, there are poisonous weeds and plants that grow in lawns and grass that you need to beware of as these will make your guinea pigs ill. Buttercups, daisies and hemlock commonly grow in grass and are all very dangerous for your guinea pigs.
Any grass they eat must also not be contaminated with pesticides, weed killer, dog or other pet excrement or urine.
If you’re picking grass from a park or hedgerow, you should always give it a good thorough wash before feeding it to your guinea pigs.
Lawnmower clippings are not suitable for guinea pigs and can cause serious illnesses so make sure you pick the grass or your guinea pigs graze on a safe lawn.
It’s important that you don’t replace your guinea pig’s regular hay intake with grass.
Although grass is a really good food for them and very healthy, they also need the coarse, rough and fibrous texture of the hay to keep their teeth in trim and for a healthy digestive system.
Guinea pigs can eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs with some of their most popular foods being lettuce, kale, parsley, coriander, cucumber, carrot, sweet bell peppers, tomato and apple. Our comprehensive guinea pig food list of over 60 fruit and veg tells you how often it is safe to feed these foods to your guinea pigs.
As well as our “at a glance” reference below, we’ve designed some safe food sheets showing the fruits, vegetables and herbs a guinea pig can eat with a colour picture of each food and how often they can have the food. You can buy and download the food sheets here…
|Food name||Type||How Often?|
|Corn on the Cob / Baby Corn||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Basil||herb||Couple of times a week|
|Beetroot||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Bok Choy (Pak Choi)||veg||A few times a week|
|Carrots||veg||A few times a week|
|Cauliflower leaves||veg||A few times a week|
|Celeriac||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Celery Stalks (and leaves)||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Collard Greens||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Coriander / Cilantro||herb||A few times a week|
|Courgette / Zucchini||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Cress (garden cress)||herb||A few times a week|
|Cucumber||veg||A few times a week|
|Dandelion Leaves (greens) & Flowers||forage||Couple of times a week|
|Dill||herb||Couple of times a week|
|Green beans (french beans)||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Kale||veg||A few times a week|
|Kohlrabi||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Lambs Lettuce||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Lettuce (Romaine/Cos/Butterhead/Red/Green Leaf||veg||A few times a week|
|Melon (all varieties)||fruit||Occasionally|
|Mint||herb||Couple of times a week|
|Parsley||herb||Couple of times a week|
|Peas||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Peppers (Sweet Bell – all colours)||veg||A few times a week|
|Radichio||veg||A few times a week|
|Rocket Salad / Arugula||veg||A few times a week|
|Swede / Rutabagas||veg||Occasionally|
|Swiss Chard||veg||A few times a week|
|Thyme||herb||Couple of times a week|
|Tomato||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Turnip||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Turnip Greens||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Watercress||veg||Couple of times a week|
|Buy and download our full colour printable safe food sheets here….|
But it’s better to change the veggies as much as you can from day to day, so feed your guinea pig as much variety as possible rather than giving them a lot of one or two vegetables.
Mixing several vegetables in their daily fresh food portion helps your guinea pigs get a good range of vitamins rather than a lot of a select few nutrients. This will contribute to them staying strong and healthy for longer.
About cup of vegetables is a good amount of fresh food for a daily portion for one guinea pig. This is not always easy to judge when you have lots of leaves so a little more is fine.
Guinea pigs tend to stop eating when they’ve had enough so after a few minutes, remove whatever veggies are left so it doesn’t attract flies or go bad. If you find they are leaving a lot each day, you’re probably feeding too much. If they are eating it very quickly and seem to be looking for more, give them a slightly larger portion.
You can feed them once a day or split the portion in two so they have one in the morning and one in the evening.
Fruit is high in sugar so your guinea pig’s fresh food should consist mainly of vegetables with the odd small piece of fruit now and again. We recommend a small piece of fruit about the size of one or two grapes each day at the very most, but it’s better not to feed them fruit on a daily basis.
A diet that is too high in fruit can cause diarrhoea and may lead to obesity which can cause other health problems in your guinea pig.
Green leafy vegetables are extremely important in a guinea pig’s diet. Some of the best greens and the ones they tend to like best are Romaine lettuce, green and red leaf lettuce, spring greens, kale, various herbs including mint, parsley, coriander (cilantro) and basil.
You can also feed your guinea pigs safe weeds and wild plants that you have foraged. Favourite forages with our guinea pigs are sow thistle and dandelion leaves and flowers.
Guinea pigs need plenty of vitamin C in their diet to keep healthy, as their bodies can’t make this vitamin by itself.
Some pet stores will tell you they need vitamin C supplements but these are usually unnecessary. Your guinea pigs should get plenty of this nutrient from their daily fresh fruit and vegetables. However, if they aren’t eating fruit and veg properly for whatever reason, it may be necessary to give a supplement.
Frozen fruits or vegetables are not suitable for guinea pigs and neither is tinned or canned food. If you can’t get fresh veggies for whatever reason, see if you can forage for safe plants or weeds. You may be surprised how many of these are growing around where you live.
Check out our full colour printable pdf download of fruit and vegetables that will help you on a daily basis to find the best fresh food for your guinea pigs.
Having guinea pigs brings additional work and there are a few regular tasks you’ll need to do to make sure your piggies are well cared for.
We’ve designed and created a printable pdf download of 12 care sheets in both pink and blue to help you (or your kids) keep on track with daily, weekly and monthly jobs as well as keeping records of their health and medical information.
Some of the routine tasks you’ll need to do on a regular basis are feeding (3 types of food), cleaning, grooming and keeping a check on their general health.
We’ve included everything you need in our set of 12 care sheets to help you keep organised with checklists, record sheets and information sheets for you to fill in. They include
Adults, and especially parents, are usually extremely busy people so having record sheets and checklists can really help keep organised. As a parent of 4 children myself (now grown up.. phew!), checklists have always helped immensely with getting things done on time without being forgotten.
These care sheets may be a lifesaver for busy adults/parents but also a great learning tool for kids too.
When caring for a pet, recording information and ticking off completed tasks is something that can help children feel a sense of achievement and purpose.
A reward system for younger children can work really well. Rewarding them with a star for each completed task can be a great motivator, especially if there is a bigger treat once a certain number of stars have been given.
Guinea pigs are not what you would call “starter pets” as their care is quite involved and will require lots of input from a parent or carer. However, if you have very young children, perhaps you can do the tasks together (it may mostly be you doing the work but it gets the habit in place!) and get your child to tick the boxes once a task is complete. This will teach them from a young age the importance of caring for animals and the responsibilities it brings.
Parents always need to be the ones ultimately responsible for the guinea pigs as children, even older teenagers, do sometimes get bored of certain tasks. But we hope the care sheets will help come some way to help them feel a sense of duty and responsibility towards their pets in a positive way and that it will help you as a parent in getting the jobs done in a more stress-free way!
Our care sheets are available in pink or blue and come as an instantly downloadable pdf that you can print out at home. There are 12 care sheets in each pack and you may print them out as many times as you want for your own use.