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What you need to know before getting a guinea pig as a pet

It’s National Guinea Pig Month, so Tom Dock of Noah’s Animal Hospital joined us today with everything you need to know before getting a guinea pig as a pet.

1) Guinea pigs are also known as cavies, have been domesticated for over 600 years. The Andean Indians of Peru kept the large rodents as a food source and as offerings to the Incan gods. Guinea pigs were introduced to Europe by Dutch explorers and many people were quite drawn to the whimsical, vocal nature of these pets.

2) Selective breeding has created several varieties of guinea pigs and four different ones are most commonly encountered. Shorthairs, Abyssinians with crazy whorled hair, Silkys with a medium hair coat and Peruvians with long silk hair.

3) Guinea pigs can live up to seven years and are one of the largest rodents kept as pets.

4) Like any pet, it’s important to keep hygiene in mind when considering a guinea pig as a pet. These cute little animals are rodents and will often defecate and urinate wherever appropriate. When kept in a cage, they generally choose one corner as a bathroom and this are should be cleaned daily.

5) The right diet is crucial to guinea pigs. First, like us, they can’t produce Vitamin C and must have it supplied through other sources. While commercial pellets (not rabbit pellets) can help, fresh fruits and veggies are a much better source of this important nutrient.

6) Additionally, guinea pigs evolved to eat grasses, so certain hays, like timothy and orchard grass work very well. Alfalfa should be avoided in large amounts as it is not a grass but actually related to peas and certain beans. Lots of alfalfa leads to chunky pigs!

7) When handled gently and consistently, many guinea pigs will display some pretty incredible personalities. They will squeal for their treats, purr when wanting attention, and hop, hop, hop their way into the owner’s heart!

8) Most often, guinea pigs are fairly healthy, but several common problems might occur. The first is actually scurvy and results from not having enough Vitamin C. Just like in people, scurvy causes bleeding gums and bone/teeth issues.

9) Malocclusion of the teeth, or slobbers, is another routine issue seen in these pets. Like all rodents, guinea pig teeth grow consistently and should be worn down by eating grasses. Improper diets as well as genetics and possibly vitamin D deficiency will lead to this painful condition. Your veterinarian will need to periodically trim the teeth and possibly provide pain relief medication for your little friend.

10) An important thing to remember is that not all veterinarians feel comfortable treating guinea pig diseases and concerns. While routine vaccination is not necessary, understanding the right nutrition and husbandry for these fascinating little creatures is vital and some veterinarians prefer NOT to treat. Ask your veterinary team if one of the doctors in your favorite practice is willing to provide care for your guinea pig!

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