Explorers introduced them to Europe in the 16th century. Their scientific name is Cavia porcellus. They live about 4-6 years generally, go into their first heat at 3-7 months and have a pregnancy length of around 65 days. They usually have 3-4 young in a litter and wean them at 2-3 weeks. Guinea pigs have some interesting characteristics. They are one of the few species, besides humans, that cannot have appropriate supplementation with Vitamin C in tablet or liquid form. We commonly see guinea pigs suffering from this terrible disease, which can cause joint pain, lethargy, and spontaneous bleeding from the gums. We recommend supplementing with the Oxbow vitamin C tablets (available at our clinic) or children’s vitamin C drops or chewable tablets. They should get at least 50 units a day. Although guinea pig pellets may claim to contain vitamin C, it is degraded quickly by exposure to light, heat, dampness and length of storage time, so you still need to supplement even if your pellet says it is complete. Some people feel that a quarter of an orange or a small amount of kale daily can supply enough vitamin C, but since we have seen this disease in our clinic even in guinea pigs given these things, we recommend supplementation to be save. It is almost impossible to overdose Vitamin C, as any extra is excreted in the urine. Guinea pigs, like other rodents, have continuously growing teeth. In the wild, the rough forage they eat keeps these ground.
Tooth roots or the jaw and cause abnormal growth. It is important that their teeth are check regularly-at the annual exam visits, we will look into the back of your guinea pigs mouth with an otoscope to see the molars (which are very difficult to see normally.) These can overgrow and form points which cut into the cheeks or tongue, or sometimes even grow over and entrap the tongue, especially in older guinea pigs. Sometimes, we need to give the guinea pig a short anesthetic to adequately visualize the back molars and trim or file them down (similar to “floating” a horse’s teeth.) We may need to guinea pigs, like other rodents, have continuously growing teeth. In the wild, the rough forage they eat keeps these ground take x-rays of your pet’s jaws to see overgrown or abnormal roots. You might notice signs such as excessive drooling, down, but a diet of only pellets in captivity may allow these teeth to overgrow. Also, events such as a fall may injure the reluctance to eat (especially carrots or harder foods) and weight loss if your guinea pig is suffering from this problem. Occasionally, pigs with chronically overgrowing or damaged incisors may have them surgically removed (we are experienced in this surgery here at Laporte Animal Clinic), however their molars will still need to be filed down, as they are not easily removed. The pigs can eat fine without the incisors, but not without the molars! Guinea pigs with this disorder will likely need periodic tooth trimming every 6-8 weeks or so for the rest of their lives, although some can be kept under control with proper hay supplementation. This brings us to the importance of hay in your guinea pig’s diet.
I cannot stress this enough: a good timothy or other grass hay should be given every day. Guinea pigs have intestinal tracts similar to a horse’s, and need roughage all the time to keep things moving properly. We often see intestinal upsets, blockages, etc in guinea pigs that do not receive hay. We do not recommend alfalfa hay (or pellets) for adult guinea pigs, as it can cause them to be overweight and also develop urinary stones. We recommend the Oxbow brand pellets, as this company is very diligent in their research into pet rodent nutrition-many other commercial pellets are based on lab rodent fare, which is not particularly designed for the long life of pet rodents. Do not feed the seed mixes sold at pet stores, as they cause obesity and many other metabolic problems. Adult guinea pigs should have the Oxbow Cavy Cuisine Timothy Pellets, while youngsters and pregnant females can have the Cavy Performance which has some alfalfa and is higher in protein. Guinea pigs do fine as solitary pets as long as they have plenty of love and attention. Often 2 male guinea pigs that have been raised since babies together will get along. Be aware that 2 females may be more likely to fight as they can be territorial, and while baby guinea pigs are extremely cute, breeding of Guinea pigs has some inherent risks. Females that are over a year old or so and have never had young will fuse their pelvic bones, and have a very hard time delivering, usually requiring a c-section, which can be very risky for both the mother and the babies survival. The young are delicate, and hand raised orphans rarely survive.
We recommend a recycled newspaper bedding such as Yesterday’s News (available at the clinic) to avoid the dangers of toxic fumes from many of the wood type shavings (especially cedar). Guinea pigs should be housed in as large a cage as possible, and be careful of closed glass aquariums, as ammonia fumes from the urine can build up and predispose them to respiratory infections. Always have plenty of water available at all times (a sipper type water bottle is best) as guinea pigs drink an amazing amount compared to their body size. Change bedding every day or every other day to avoid fumes and bacterial/fungal growth in the bedding. Guinea pigs should have annual physical exams to check their teeth, skin, nails and general health. They are prone to teeth overgrowth, nail overgrowth and curving (we will be glad to do inexpensive routine nail trims for you or show you how to do these at home) and skin conditions (mites may be carried in on contaminated food or bedding-bring your guinea pig in for a checkup quickly if you notice signs such as hair loss, excessive scaling and crusting of the skin and ears and itchiness-discomfort can be so bad from this condition that some guinea pigs may show seizure like symptoms!) We stress again that proper levels of vitamin C and good diet are the best prevention for skin and other health problems, and ready access to hay keeps teeth growth in check (although some older guinea pigs can develop teeth overgrowth with even the best diet.) Please feel free to ask us if you have any other questions on general guinea pig care when you come in for your annual or first examination or ask us for handouts on Guinea pigs at the clinic.