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Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, were domesticated by 500-1000 AD in South America. They were brought to Europe about 400 years ago by the Spaniards. There are three main breeds: English(short, straight, fine hair), Abyssinian(rough, wiry hair in whorls), and Peruvian(long, straight, silky hair). When frightened guinea pigs will either freeze in their tracks or make an explosive attempt at escape. They are non-aggressive and rarely if ever bite or scratch. Adult males weigh 900-1200 grams and females weigh 750-900 grams. Obesity is very common in pet guinea pigs. Female guinea pigs intended for breeding should be bred before six months of age to prevent dystocia. Babies are born with full body hair, open eyes, and the ability to eat solid food within the first day. Babies will nurse for the first 14-21 days of life at which time they are weaned. The usual lifespan for guinea pigs is 4-8 years.
The enclosure in which the guinea pig lives should be made of wire with minimal dimensions of 24”X12”X12” per adult animal. There are many guinea pig/rabbit cages commercially available. Bedding should be provided in abundance. Hardwood shavings, recycled paper materials, pellets, shredded paper are good choices. The bedding should be changed 1-2 times weekly. A hiding box is appreciated for hiding and sleeping. Do not house together with rabbits, cats, or dogs because these animals carry the Bordetella bacteria, which can cause serious illness in cavies. Bordetella is part of the Infectious Tracheobronchitis complex that we recommend all dogs be vaccinated against. The ideal temperature is 55-70° F. Temperatures above this can cause heat stroke.
Guinea pigs develop dietary preferences early in life and do not adapt readily to changes in type, appearance, or presentation of their food. Starting them on a good diet early in life will prevent most health problems later in life. Commercial guinea pig pellets with 20% protein and 16% fiber should be offered free choice. Guinea pigs have a dietary requirement for Vitamin C. Commercial guinea pig food is processed with Vitamin C, however it only remains active for 90 days after the milling date. Because of this food needs to be purchased frequently. A good quality grass hay should also be offered free choice. Vitamin C containing foods such as oranges, kiwi fruit, beet greens, chicory, spinach, red and green peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, parsley, kale, and cabbage can also be offered in small amounts. Guinea pigs tend to have a very sensitive stomach, sudden changes in diet (including brands) may result in serious GI upset. Feed bowls should be cleaned regularly because guinea pigs like to sit in them and defecate. As with all pets fresh water should always be available.