Guinea Pig Awareness Week 2021

22nd to 28th March 2021 sees the first ever Guinea Pig Awareness Week (GPAW)! The aim of GPAW is to give current and future guinea pig owners the knowledge and information to be able to meet the five welfare needs of their guinea pigs: DIET; HEALTH; BEHAVIOUR; ENVIRONMENT; and COMPANIONSHIP. By meeting these needs, you can help keep your piggies happy and healthy!
DIET

As herbivores, guinea pigs are entirely vegetarian and need high levels of fibre in their diet. Fibre keeps their digestive systems healthy and their gut moving, so they need a plentiful supply of good quality feeding hay at all times.

Always keep an eye on your guinea pigs’ weight. If you have any concerns that they’re overweight or if your guinea pig is not eating, seek the advice of your vet.

Guinea pigs can’t synthesise their own vitamin C, so they need extra in their diet for healthy skin, joints and blood vessels. Vitamin C deficiency is known as Scurvy, which can be very dangerous for piggies.

Good quality extruded guinea pig nuggets will contain the correct levels of protected vitamin C. Fed alongside unlimited hay (hay should make up 85-90% of the diet), and a daily handful of fresh greens (such as kale or romaine lettuce), you can make sure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay happy and healthy.

HEALTH

A healthy guinea pig is alert and chatty, with bright eyes and a good coat. As with all healthcare, prevention is better than cure, and understanding the signs of ill health and knowing what to look out for, can make all the difference between your pet enjoying a speedy recovery or becoming very poorly.

The average lifespan of a guinea pig is between 4 to 8 years, and by looking after their health, you can help your piggies live into their golden years. Ensure you take your guinea pigs to a piggy-savvy vet for at least an annual health check, and by purchasing pet insurance, you can help cover against future illnesses or injuries.

Common health problems in guinea pigs include: DENTAL DISEASE (often due to incorrect diet); PODODERMATITIS (pressure sores on the soles of the feet, also know as BUMBLEFOOT); VITAMIN C DEFICIENCY /SCURVY; ECTOPARASITES (such as fleas, lice and mites); RINGWORM (a fungal infection on the skin); FLYSTRIKE (a potentially fatal condition where flies lay their eggs around your guinea pig’s perineum which hatch into maggots that eat away the flesh).

BEHAVIOUR

Guinea pigs are small furries with big personalities! They are gentle and lively, and full of life, and by understanding guinea pig behaviours you are bound to have a great relationship with them.

Guinea pigs are generally very friendly pets who rarely bite or scratch. You may have noticed your guinea pigs jumping up and down, or seen them zooming around their housing – when they are excited, guinea pigs run and jump straight up and down, turning 90 degrees in a move known as popcorning!

However, their behaviour can change if they feel scared or stressed. Guinea pigs are prey animals so are always on the look out for potential dangers and like to have a safe space to retreat to when they feel threatened. When they do feel unsafe, they can become aggressive or hide away, and occasionally guinea pigs can bite. This is very rare, and a great way to keep your guinea pigs feeling safe is to provide them with plenty of tunnels and hiding places in their housing.

Guinea pigs enjoy play, so need plenty of toys in their housing for exercise and enrichment. They are also natural foragers, so a great way to keep them entertained is to hide food, for example scattering their nuggets in the feeding hay, which will also ensure that they eat plenty of tasty hay.

Other toys to keep your piggies entertained include: hides; tunnels; treat balls; forage cubes; wicker balls; and always lots of tasty feeding hay to munch on!

ENVIRONMENT

Guinea pigs can live both outdoors or indoors. Although in these two environments, their housing will be slightly different, the fundamentals of a great guinea pig house are the same. Your guinea pigs’ housing is essentially their ‘bedroom’ – their sleeping quarters, so it should be permanently attached to a much larger run for their general living space. Guinea pigs only sleep for around four hours a day, so they’ll need plenty of space to exercise throughout the day and night.

Their housing should be as big as possible, but at an absolute minimum it should be 4ft by 2ft to allow your guinea pigs to exercise with plenty of space. There should be a separate toilet area to their sleeping area, with plenty of bedding hay or straw, or paper-based, non expanding litter.

As already mentioned, enrichment for your guinea pigs is really important, and as a prey species, they need lots of safe hiding places in their exercise area. The perfect guinea pig hideaway involves tunnels, pipes and nest boxes. Deep piles of hay will also allow for natural tunnelling behaviour, as well as making sure they’re getting enough fibre in their diet.

The following are essentials you’ll need to make the perfect set up for your guinea pigs, whether they live outside or inside: plenty of good quality FEEDING HAY; GUINEA-PIG PROOFED SPACE; FOOD AND WATER BOWLS; HIDEY HOLES, TUNNELS AND PIPES; BEDDING; SAFE CLEANING PRODUCTS.

Guinea pigs can be housed happily indoors, but it is important that they get used to common household sights and noises. Indoor housing or a run may be provided, or a safe room of their own. Ensure any electrical cables are covered to prevent chewing, and move away any unsafe house plants. Keep your piggies away from radiators and ensure good ventilation, with an ideal ambient temperature of 17 to 20 degrees C.

Guinea pigs can also live outdoors, but they need their housing to be adapted to protect them from hot weather in the summer and poor weather in the winter. When the weather is particularly bad, don’t put your guinea pigs in their outdoor run. Instead pop them inside or in a guinea pig proofed outdoor shed. In the cold winter months, move their accommodation to somewhere warmer and give them plenty of extra bedding to help them stay nice and cosy. When the weather is good, keep your guinea pigs’ house and run out of direct sunlight, and fill it with lots of places to hide. Ensure outdoor housing is secured with good quality wires and bolts, to protect your piggies from predators such as foxes, and also ensure that any harmful chemicals such as pesticides are not used near your guinea pigs.

It is important to maintain good hygiene in your guinea pigs’ environment, regardless of whether they live indoors or outdoors. A daily “spot-clean” should be performed to remove soiled bedding and substrate, and remove and replenish uneaten food and water, with a more thorough clean carried out weekly to remove and replace all bedding and clean out litter trays. A “deep-clean” should be performed monthly, by removing all contents and scrubbing the housing with a pet-safe cleaning product.

COMPANIONSHIP

Guinea pigs are very sociable group animals, so should always have the company of other piggies. Single sex groups or pairs are ideal and littermates make the best companions. Male and female guinea pigs can live together but to avoid your guinea pigs mating, it is important to have one or both neutered.

Never keep guinea pigs and rabbits or chinchillas together. They have different food and housing needs and could fight. Rabbits also often carry a bacteria called Bordetella Bronchiseptica which can lead to severe pneumonia in guinea pigs.

As already mentioned, guinea pigs should not live alone, but unfortunately when a housemate passes away, they often leave the remaining piggy behind. If this does sadly happen, it is possible to successfully introduce a new guinea pig and ensure a long lasting friendship, but bonding needs to be done slowly and very carefully.

Before bringing a new guinea pig home, always remember to consider the gender of your current guinea pig, and whether they are neutered. If you have a female guinea pig at home, consider bringing home a neutered male, as this can be more successful. Also think about their personality types. A confident piggy might prefer a quieter housemate, to avoid issues with dominance.

Never put your guinea pigs together straight away. Start by putting their housing next to each other and swap their toys over so they can get used to each other’s smell, and eventually move them to the same enclosure, but with a safety barrier between them. When they meet for the first time, introduce your guinea pigs on neutral ground and include lots of hidey holes, tunnels and their favourite food. Remember to always keep an eye on them for any signs of aggression!

Building a good relationship between new guinea pigs takes time, but with patience and knowing the right things to look out for, you can help build a long lasting relationship between your piggies.