Average lifespan: 5-7 years
Sexual maturity (females): 4-6 weeks
Sexual maturity (males): 9-10 weeks
Gestational period: 59-72 days Respiratory rate: 90-150/min
Heart rate: 190-300/min
Body temperature: 38.6-39.5C
Being a social animal, guinea pigs should be kept in groups of at least two, unless owners can spend a reasonable amount of time with them each day. They are most active at dawn and dusk. Being a “prey” species, it is important that guinea pigs be kept in an environment that is physically protected from predators. Additionally, guinea pigs need to feel secure in their enclosure. Soiled bedding should be removed daily, and the enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned once or twice a week. Hiding places in the form of boxes or PCV pipes should be provided. Wire flooring can predispose to foot problems and should be avoided. Appropriate substrates include newspaper, towels, grass and artificial turf. Some guinea pigs will chew on fibres and cannot have material flooring.
Guinea pigs should have access to direct sunlight regularly but always provide adequate shelter so it can retire if overheating or stressed.
Guinea pigs handled frequently when young usually become well socialised adults. When picking up a guinea pig it is important to support the entire body. This particularly applies to children, as a guinea pig that does not feel securely held will struggle.
Like all animals guinea pigs need access to fresh water. Depending on the owner’s (or guinea pig’s) preference a sipper or a bowl can be used. Take care with new guinea pigs as they may not recognise water placed in a different container and can dehydrate.
Guinea pigs are best fed similar foods to those that they would eat in the wild, namely hay, grass and small amount of fruit and vegetables. Fresh hay, ideally Timothy hay should be available all year round. Grass can be given as well during the summer if not treated with herbicides or pesticides. High fibre is the key to a healthy guinea pig digestive tract. People often do not feed vegetables to guinea pigs in the belief that they cause diarrhoea. Vegetables do NOT cause diarrhoea as long as the diet is high in fibre and any changes are made gradually. Apart for Iceberg and Cos letuces which are mainly water, virtually all common leafy vegetables, salad items and herbs can be fed to guinea pigs. Fruits like apples and pears can also be fed in small amounts. Raw carrots and potatoes are also good. Wild food such as dandelion, chickweed and groundsel should be rinsed well before feeding. As long as the guinea pig is eating the other foods, fresh guinea pig mix should be restricted to 1 tablespoon a day. Guinea pigs do not produce vitamin C and need to have it supplied in the diet each day. The average non-breeding, healthy guinea pig needs 50mg/Kg of vitamin C each day. Breeding or unwell animals should be given 100mg/Kg. Vitamin C is ideally provided in the diet. Alternatively, water soluble vitamin C can be added to the water if changed fresh each day. Source of vitamin C include: turnip greens (260mg/cup), mustard greens (252mg/cup), dandelion (200mg/cup), kale (102mg/cup), brussel sprouts (173mg/cup), parsley (140 mg/cup), broccoli leaf (120mg/cup), strawberries (100mg/cup), melon (90mg/cup), broccoli florets (87mg/cup), spinach (60mg/cup), raspberries (60mg/cup), orange (52mg/cup) and cabbage leaves (50mg/cup). Guinea pig mix has good levels of vitamin C when fresh but NO vitamin C remains after only four months after manufacture. It has little fibre.
Breeding guinea pigs
If sows have not bred before 6 months of age the pelvic symphysis is likely to have fused and a caesarian section will be required.
Baby guinea pigs are born fully furred, with open eyes and are able to walk soon after birth. They normally wean at three weeks of age, but can survive if weaned as early as five days.
Mites in guinea pigs
Mites are a common cause of skin problems in guinea pigs. These cause irritation, itchiness and fur loss. They can be diagnosed with skin scrapings. These parasites can be found on most guinea pigs, all the time, but become a clinical problem when the pig is stressed. Treatment aims at reducing the number of mites. Some guinea pigs seem predisposed to repeated problems with mites. To help reduce the clinical signs, vitamin C can be added to the diet during outbreaks at a dose of 100mg/Kg for up to one week.