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Deciding to get a guinea pig can be a big decision.  At AVC, we know that all pets are family and deserve the best care available.  Guinea pigs make wonderful pets and are a popular choice for a first pet, for children, and for those with limited space.  Guinea pigs are easy to care for, have a relatively low cost to set up and maintain, and provide companionship and entertainment to their owners.  To help you determine if a guinea pig is right for you and your family, here are some veterinary guidelines to consider before you get your pet:

RESEARCH –Before getting a guinea pig(s), do the research.  Determine where you will keep the guinea pig and whether you can afford the initial set up and continuing care.  Because guinea pigs are herd animals and extremely social, most veterinarians recommend getting a pair.  In some countries it is illegal to buy a single guinea pig.  Either two females or two males (if introduced early) are recommended.  A neutered male may be kept with a female, but an unneutered male should never be paired with a female unless you intend to breed them.  If you have children, especially young ones, make sure they understand how and when to interact with the animal.  Guinea pigs love to interact with their humans and may exhibit signs of depression if they do not receive enough attention.  If you have other pets, ensure the guinea pig is safe from predatory dogs or cats.  Remember to take your time before getting a new pet.  Many owners, especially young children, are enthusiastic when they first get their pet and quickly lose interest.  A pet is not a good way to teach children responsibility.  Teach them responsibility prior to getting a pet and let them demonstrate it by caring for their pet.

SELECTION – Guinea pigs can be bought at pet stores, through private parties, and may be adopted through rescue organizations.  Once you determine guinea pigs are right for you, find a reputable seller.  A healthy guinea pig should have clean ears, clear bright eyes, and healthy teeth that are not overgrown.  A guinea pig’s coat should be smooth, with no bald spots or lumps.  The guinea pig’s bottom should be clean and dry.  Wet fur around the bottom is a sign of diarrhea and should be avoided.  If there are many guinea pigs available, spend some time observing them.  If any of the animals appear sick, do not select an animal from that source, even if the others look healthy.  Look for guinea pigs that are not too aggressive or shy.  Ask the person you are getting the guinea pigs from if you may hold them and ask them about their observations regarding the guinea pigs.  Make sure you are certain of the sex of the animal(s) before you take them home.  Avoid guinea pigs that bite.  Do not force the decision.  If the first or second place you go to does not have the guinea pig you want, keep looking.  The right guinea pig for you is out there.

HABITAT – While the initial cost of a guinea pig may be relatively low, guinea pigs require specific habitats with components that can be costly and add up quickly.  When you get your guinea pig home, allow them a few days to acclimate to their new home.  A guinea pig requires a cage that is a minimum of 7.5 square feet and provides plenty of ventilation.  Guinea pigs require a solid floor and lots of room to exercise.  Unlike other rodents, guinea pigs are not big climbers, so ramps and multilevel cages are discouraged.  Make sure you keep your guinea pig away from direct sunlight and air conditioner or heating vents, as guinea pigs are extremely sensitive to temperature.  Guinea pigs may be kept outside, but this is not recommended for inexperienced owners or those who do not live in a temperate climate.  If you are considering keeping a guinea pig outside, consult a veterinarian first.  Give your guinea pig plenty of toys, tunnels to crawl through, and a house or hiding spot where they can sleep.  Line the guinea pig’s habitat with approximately two inches of bedding.  Wood chips, paper, or fleece are recommended.  Clean your guinea pig’s cage approximately twice a week and replace the bedding.

DIET – Feed your guinea pig every day.  Guinea pigs are grazers and should be given unlimited access to hay.  Guinea pigs require hay for digestive and dental health.  Timothy hay is best and should be purchased when it is green and soft.  Alfalfa hay is good for nursing or young animals, but is high in calcium and should only be given sparingly to most guinea pigs.  A small metal or ceramic dish can be used to feed your pet.  In addition to hay, a guinea pig will eat approximately one cup of vegetables per day.  Vegetables that are good for guinea pigs and high in vitamin C include celery, carrots, broccoli, and dark, leafy greens.  Guinea pigs are one of the few mammals who cannot make their own vitamin C, so vitamin C must be included in their diet.  Pellets (specifically for guinea pigs) and fruits may be provided in moderation.  Any food that is not eaten within 24 hours should be removed from the cage.  If you are unsure if a food item is safe for your guinea pig, please contact the staff at AVC.  Make sure your guinea pig has plenty of clean, fresh water in a dispenser.

HEALTH ISSUES – Guinea pigs are relatively hardy pets.  You can help keep your pet healthy by being a responsible and attentive owner.  Keep the enclosure safe and clean.  Provide clear, fresh water.  Provide sufficient nutritional food and snacks.  Inspect your pet regularly for signs of disease or injury.  The best time to do this is when you are cleaning the cage.  An overabundance of uneaten food may indicate loss of appetite, a lack of droppings could indicate constipation, and if your guinea pig has diarrhea it will be evident when you clean the cage.  Lack of urine output may be a sign of urinary problems.  Excessive coughing or sneezing may be signs of pneumonia, common in guinea pigs.  Dietary issues may be symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy.  Examine your guinea pig for hair loss, lumps, and broken bones.  Examine the teeth to make sure they are not overgrowing the mouth.  Make sure the ears and eyes are clean.  Examine the feet and look for limping.  Pododematitis, or bumblefoot, is common in overweight animals or animals who don’t have proper flooring.  Remember that guinea pigs are normally active pets; lethargy could be a sign that your pet is ill.  If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or just want to bring them in for a wellness exam, the doctors and staff at AVC would love to meet you and your pet.  Congratulations on your new guinea pig.