Acquired: Breeder (non-professional, hobby breeder)
Kansas, United States
Posted May 24, 2016
My only complaint about guinea pigs is that it took me so long to discover them! I currently own two - both brothers from the same litter, but they each have their own unique personalities. These little guys make great hand pets and are very entertaining!
Easy to Train:
We got our guinea pigs when they were only a few weeks old and fit easily into the palm of my hand. Now that they're fully grown, they're each roughly the size of a football. Unlike my experiences with hamsters and mice, these guinea pigs were easy to hand-train. By holding them regularly, feeding them from my hand, and speaking to them in soft tones while cuddling them, they learned not to be afraid of me. They have never once bitten me or anyone else, even when nervous or frightened. Mine are always a little difficult to catch, because their flight instinct is very strong when they sense something trying to pick them up, but once you've gently caught them (best to do so with one hand under their tummy and one under their rump), they calm right down and thoroughly enjoy cuddling. I would advise putting a towel under them while holding them, as they will pass waste without much warning - but as you learn to read their body language, you'll begin to sense when it's time to put them back in their cage for a bathroom break. Ours get a little restless and one of them starts turning in circles when he needs to relieve himself.
Social and Communicative:
Guinea pigs do best with at least one other guinea pig for a friend. We have two males, and they get along well except for the occasional spat, but they have also been together since birth. I would not recommend putting two males together as adults, or they will fight. Guinea pigs make different sounds to communicate, and with practice you'll learn to tell the difference between, for example, their hungry squeal and their frightened one. Distinguishing between these two was difficult for me at first, but it also helps to read their body language. Ours will stand by their food dish or their hay bin while squeaking if they're hungry, but if they're frightened they will hide under the shelf in their cage. They also make little contented chirping sounds when you're holding them, which is fun to hear. When feeling excited or playful, our guinea pigs will sometimes do something called "popcorning," which is where they hop around and do little sprints around their cage. This can be very entertaining to watch!
Habitat and Diet:
A guinea pig's habitat can be as simple as a roomy cage (no wire flooring, though, as this is bad for their feet) with plenty of bedding and a small shelf for their food. They do drink quite a bit of water, so make sure you check their water bottle at least twice a day. The most important thing to keep in mind with their habitat is that it MUST be cleaned regularly and thoroughly, or the smell can become overpowering and the guinea pigs could get sick. Cleaning their cage is my least favorite part of their care, because unlike some animals guinea pigs do not set aside a specific area for their waste. They leave it all over their cage, even where they sleep and in their food dish, so their bedding must be changed often.
A guinea pig's diet is easy to provide: it mainly consists of timothy hay, guinea pig pellets, and various fresh vegetables - ours are particularly fond of tomatoes and baby carrots! This is one area where their personality variations become most evident: one of our guinea pigs strongly prefers tomatoes, and the other likes carrots best. It's fine to give them some of the darker green leafy vegetables (like spinach), but don't overdo it - and never give them iceberg lettuce, as that will make them sick. Our guinea pigs love to chew, so we provide them with a toy log that they can use both as a chew toy and as a little hiding place! This keeps them from chewing on the bars of their cage.
In conclusion, I cannot recommend guinea pigs enough! They are everything I was looking for in a small hand pet: they are incredibly friendly, they love to cuddle, and they are relatively easy to care for. If you're willing to do the work involved in keeping their cage clean, then this may be the perfect pet for you!