guinea pig face
Guinea pigs are great pets for people with the right expectations. photon_de/Flickr

For some people guinea pigs are the greatest pets on the planet; for other people the opposite is true. Whether or not guinea pigs make good pets is a frequently asked question, but the answer depends more on a person’s expectations rather than the characteristics of guinea pigs. If you’re wondering whether a guinea pig would be a good pet, the real question to ask is whether a guinea pig makes a good pet for you.

Defining The Ideal Pet

Before determining whether a guinea pig is the best pet for you, think about what qualities you want in a pet, what sort of care you can provide, and the available living space. These factors are important to consider before getting any type of pet. If you want a pet that accompanies you on your daily jog, then a guinea pig probably isn’t the right choice, unless you use a pet stroller.

Guinea pigs typically live for 5 to 6 years. For people who might be facing major life changes shortly, such as leaving for school or moving, that life span might be too long. For others, it might be far too short.

Just like other pets, guinea pigs require veterinary care. A wellness visit with a guinea pig-savvy veterinarian when you first adopt your furry friend helps you locate a vet before an emergency and allows the vet to get a baseline exam and get to know your guinea pig. The veterinarian can also advise you about spay/neuter, nutritional needs, and signs of common guinea pig ailments.

Guinea pig habitats must provide space for guinea pigs to move. The bare minimum for one guinea pig is a habitat a little larger than 2 by 3 feet. The longer, the better. And even with a cage, guinea pigs require time outside the cage daily to roam in a safe area while supervised. The habitat or cage needs to be in a cool, nondrafty, semi-quiet area where the guinea pigs can be part of the family.

two guinea pigs eating
Guinea pigs usually like to have a guinea pig friend around. daniellehelm/Flickr

Guinea Pig Characteristics

Now that you know what you want and can provide, it’s time to get to know guinea pigs. Every animal is an individual, so exceptions to the following generalizations about guinea pigs do occur.

1. Guinea Pigs Are Vocal: They’re not as loud as a barking dog or a squawking parrot, but guinea pigs do make noise. The noises usually are made in reaction to situations. The “wheek” or squeal they make when they want or anticipate the arrival of food is common. Purrs and chutts are also common. In fact, one scientific study identified between 7 and 11 unique guinea pig sounds.

2. Guinea Pigs Are Intelligent: With patient training they can learn simple commands, such as coming when called, running an agility course, or tricks. And they quickly recognize the sounds that indicate food is on the way!

3. Guinea Pigs Tolerate Cuddling: Like most prey species, guinea pigs usually aren’t big fans of being picked up and held, but unlike rabbits or hamsters, they tolerate it. Some might even enjoy it. Sitting with your guinea pig on your lap can be a mutually happy experience, at least for a few minutes. If you do so, though, be sure to keep your guinea pig on a towel to protect you from any fecal droppings or urinary accidents.

4. Guinea Pigs Are A Bit Messy: As mentioned, urinary accidents can happen with guinea pigs. They “go” a lot. Fecal pellets might drop every few minutes and peeing is also frequent. This means that the cage bedding and litter box need spot cleanups several times a day. Food and water bowls also need checking. A thorough cage cleaning might be needed weekly; this can vary depending on the habits of individual guinea pigs. A dirty habitat can make guinea pigs ill and causes odors in your home. Regular cleaning prevents odors and minimizes illness.

5. Guinea Pigs Need Another Guinea Pig: Guinea pigs are social and generally like to be with at least one other guinea pig. Exceptions exist, as some guinea pigs prefer their own company and some guinea pigs get a great deal of attention from their owner. But usually it’s recommended that guinea pigs live with a guinea pig buddy or two.

6. Some Guinea Pigs Require More Care Than Others: Longhaired guinea pigs need a bit more grooming than shorthaired. That long fur needs brushing or trimming to prevent mats. Some guinea pigs might have a medical condition that needs extra care. Guinea pigs with maloccluded teeth might need regular veterinary visits to prevent tooth overgrowth.

7. Guinea Pigs Need Hay: Hay is the staple of the guinea pig diet. They need to chew fresh hay daily to keep their constantly growing teeth in check. If you or someone in your home is allergic to hay, this is something to consider. Fresh vegetables, fruits, pellets, and treats round out the guinea pig diet.

Guinea Pig Care Rankings

Below is a subjective ranking on the ease or difficulty of basic care for guinea pigs. Anything rated easy means you barely need to lift a finger, average means some effort is needed but nothing extreme, and difficult means a great deal of effort is needed to do it.

  • Feeding: Average. Provide clean, fresh hay and water daily, small portions of safe fruits and vegetables, limited pellets and treats.
  • Housing: Average. Once adequate housing is set up, regular cleaning of the habitat and keeping it stocked with accessories like bottles, bowls, hideaways, and toys is fairly easy.
  • Grooming: Average for shorthaired, difficult for longhaired. Brushing, nail trims, occasional spot-cleaning baths, ear and anal inspection apply to both; longhaired need more brushing and might need trims.
  • Interaction: Average to difficult. This is what you make it. The more you interact, the more it affects your schedule, but the better for your bonding.

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