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Guinea pig housing requirements - what you should know

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Guinea pigs are excellent pets for older children who have mastered proper handling techniques and who have parents who are ready to shoulder the responsibility for the pets’ care should the kids lose interest. Guinea pigs make wonderful companions; they are generally calm and rarely bite. Guinea pigs squeak – or ‘wheek’ with delight when their favorite people enter the room.

Most Guinea pigs are one of three breeds: the Smooth-Coated Guinea pig has short, glossy fur; the Abyssinian Guinea pig has hair which grows in fluffy tufts all over their body, and the Peruvian Guinea pig has long, silky hair which flows to the ground. Guinea pigs live an average of five to seven years, which is longer than many other small pets such as hamsters, gerbils, mice, or rats, but not as long as rabbits, cats or dogs. Five years is still a significant period of time, so make sure you are ready to provide your pet with a good home, good food and veterinary care and daily attention for that period of time.

Guinea pigs are social animals and will be happiest in small groups (and can thus provide each other with companionship when you are not around). If you keep two or more females together, they will become great friends. If you want two males, it is best to find two littermates in order to avoid conflict later on. Guinea pigs - like all rodents - multiply rapidly, so you do not want to keep males and females together unless one or both have been spayed/neutered.

Guinea pigs are frequently available for adoption at the Humane Society of Grater Dayton or Robyn’s Nest Rescue in Miamisburg, and frequently these are groups of two or more guinea pigs which are already happily bonded and living together.

Before bringing your pet home, you will need a cage roomy enough for guinea pigs – the typical cages sold as guinea pig cages were actually meant for smaller rodents such as gerbils and hamsters, and do not provide enough room for a guinea pig to have living quarters, a sleeping area and a toilet area. Ramps and platforms at low heights can provide interest, but guinea pigs need level room to exercise and daily playtime outside of the cage.

The minimum space requirements for housing a guinea pig are 7.5 square feet for one pig. 2.5 by 3 feet is a nice size for one pig, as s/he is going to need room for a nest area and a bathroom area, plus food and water. You will also need bedding, food (pellets and hay), a water bottle or dish, some toys, and some untreated wood to gnaw on. All guinea pigs need something to hide and sleep in: a flower pot will work, as will a small, sturdy cardboard box (be aware that your guinea pig is liable to entertain himself by chewing on this – you will need backup boxes!).

If you are planning on having more than one pig, the space requirements will increase of course. Two guinea pigs can live in that 7.5 square feet cage, but 10.5 feet is much more ideal. Three guinea pigs require a minimum of 10.5 square feet, but 13 square feet is better. Four pigs can get by in 13 square feet, but would be happier in an area of 15 square feet or so – a cage 3 feet wide by 5 feet long will work.

Adequate room for exercise will help keep your guinea pig healthy, as it is less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, bumblefoot, and anal impaction. Your guinea pig will be able to exercise during their most active times - morning and evening - when it may not be convenient to take them out for playtime.

The cage must have a solid bottom (no wire floors) to avoid irritation and injury to the guinea pigs’ feet. A large cage with a plastic bottom and wire top will work, but never keep them in an aquarium due to the poor ventilation. The bottom of the cage should be lined with aspen or hardwood shavings, wood pellets or some other form of safe bedding (grass hay is fine also). Do not use cedar or pine chips—the oils they contain can be dangerous to your pets. Use shredded paper or other bedding products made from paper, to a depth of 2-3 inches to provide maximum absorption. Guinea pigs can also definitely be trained to use a litter box if you have the time and the patience for it.

The cage should be indoors, away from drafts and NOT in direct sunlight or other heat sources (no sun streaming through the window into the cage, please.). Guinea pigs cannot sweat and are therefore quite susceptible to heatstroke, and prefer a temperature range of 60 to 80 degrees F.

The cage should also never be placed in an unheated room, a breezeway, a garage or any other chilly location. Keep the cage away from drafts (away from doors and windows) and keep on an elevated surface. High humidity is bad for guinea pigs as it encourages the growth of potentially deadly mold and toxins in their hay and bedding.

Guinea pigs like being near family activity and enjoy the extra attention they will receive when they are located in a place where they are easily seen and heard. A family room or living room is great, but do not place the pig’s cage next to a TV or stereo as their hearing is sensitive. Make sure, too, that your guinea pig has a place to hide away if s/he needs some peace and quiet. The cage should also be in an area where it is safe from other pets; if you have young children, make sure to control access to the cage and always supervise child-guinea pig interactions.

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