Guinea pigs, or “cavies,” are short-tailed, rough-haired South American rodents (family Caviidae). They are hardy. When cared for and fed properly, guinea pigs are generally very healthy animals. Like other pets, they can be prone to particular diseases – for example, dental disease and bladder stones in their case – but these conditions may be prevented to some degree with proper nutrition and regular medical check-ups. Also, since guinea pigs are from cool climates, they don’t do well in hot, humid conditions. Keeping them inside lessens the likelihood that they’ll overheat and/or dehydrate. Guinea pigs live long lives, on average, most guinea pigs live five to seven years and some have even lived into their teens. They are colourful. Short-haired, long-haired – guinea pigs come in various breeds with fur of all lengths, colours and patterns. There are 13 breeds and 10 basic colours of guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs like people. These friendly little animals really do recognize and respond to their owners. Many squeal with delight when they see their owners or try to climb up the sides of their cage to greet them. They are as interactive and friendly as dogs and cats. Guinea pigs make great first pets. Given their low-maintenance care, overall hardy nature, strong ability to bond with their owners and generally long lifespans, guinea pigs make terrific first pets for families who want an animal that is loving and rewarding but can’t provide the degree of care that a cat or dog requires – no need to walk a guinea pig!
Guinea pigs are easy to care for. They require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and a small amount of pelleted food formulated for guinea pigs, plus a vitamin C supplement each day. They also need a fairly large cage lined with paper-based bedding. The cage needs to be spot-cleaned daily and completely cleaned weekly. Add some daily attention and they are good to go. Just remember, unless you want to end up with several little additional guinea pigs, you’ll need to separate males from females even before they are a month old! Guinea pigs are great pets for children as they are not as fragile as rabbits.
Guinea pigs are unique. Many people don’t realize this, but guinea pigs have a lot of personality. Some guinea pigs are shy; others are bold and dominant. Just because two guinea pigs look the same doesn’t mean they’ll act the same. Before selecting a guinea pig, be sure to interact with her to ensure that her personality meets your expectations. For example, if you’re looking for a cuddly pet, you’ll want an outgoing, friendly little pig.
Guinea pigs purr! Just like cats, guinea pigs make a quiet yet audible vibrating sound when they are happy, often when they are petted gently. Most people who don’t own guinea pigs aren’t aware of this adorable sound. In addition to purring, guinea pigs make a number of other sounds including “wheeking” (squealing), “rumbling” (a sound made by a male courting a female), and teeth chattering (when they are angry or aggressive).
Guinea pigs like to pop. “Popcorning” is a unique behaviour more commonly seen in young guinea pigs when they are happy or excited: They jump up straight into the air over and over. Some guinea pigs run forward and backward quickly, while others alternately kick out their front and back legs. Many pigs also squeal simultaneously. Popcorning is unique to guinea pigs and is a fun behaviour to watch.