Guinea Pig FAQ, Version 1.2.2

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Emily C. Rocke

Oct 13, 1995, 3:00:00 AM10/13/95
Archive-name: pets/guinea-pig-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Version: 1.2.2

This is the seventh posted version of the guinea pig FAQ.

A current version of this FAQ can be found:

* In the newsgroups rec.pets, rec.answers, and news.answers (posted

* On the World Wide Web at
(This is the best place to look 'cause it has cool formatting :-)

* Via anonymous ftp at
and at any other site where news.answers postings are archived

* If all these fail, email me ( and I can mail
you a copy.

If you are reading it somewhere other than one of these places, it
may not be the most current copy. Try looking in one of the above
places to get the latest up-to-the-minute revisions to the FAQ. As
of today, October 13 1995, this is the current version.

New in Version 1.2.2 (7/95)
Section 13: blurb on Home for Unwanted and Abandoned Guinea


Many thanks to Sandi Ackerman and Debbie Ducommun for their help and
for lending their expertise to this project. Thanks also to Dan
Austin for suggesting some new topics to cover.

Disclaimer: I'm not a vet, nor am I a breeder of guinea pigs. I
believe all the information in this FAQ to be correct, but I do not
in any way guarantee its factuality. I have compiled it merely
because it seemed needed, and no one else had done it, not because I
consider myself an expert. Please treat this FAQ accordingly.

Guinea Pig FAQ

Version 1.2.2


Subject: 1. Table of Contents

1. Table of Contents
2. Why would I want a guinea pig?
3. Where do I get a guinea pig?
4. What should I feed my guinea pig?
5. What sort of housing should I obtain?
6. What should I use for bedding?
7. Will multiple guinea pigs get along together?
8. What should I know about breeding?
9. What are the pros and cons of neutering?
10. My guinea pig has <...> symptoms. Is this serious?
11. Do I need to trim my guinea pig's toenails? How?
12. My guinea pig runs away from me. What can I do?
13. Where else can I get information about guinea pigs?


Subject: 2. Why would I want a guinea pig?

As far as small pets go, guinea pigs are among the easiest to
care for, and also rate high on the cuddliness scale. You will
need to feed them and check their water daily, and change their
bedding about once or twice a week -- somewhat less when they are
small. Also, if they are confined to a cage, they need to be
allowed to run around a larger area for exercise daily.

Guinea pigs are ideal for (responsible, gentle) children because
they tend to be sweet-tempered, pettable, and relatively easy to
catch if they escape from your child's hands -- mice, hamsters,
and gerbils, by contrast, are able to hide for weeks or more if
they escape. They are larger than most rodents (about the size
and shape of a large tennis shoe when grown), which makes them
easy to find and to handle. If you are looking for a highly
intelligent and sociable pet, you may be looking for a rat
(seriously). If, however, you want a sweet, lovable furball who
will sit on your lap to be petted for hours (well, minutes,
anyway), a guinea pig may be the pet for you.


Subject: 3. Where do I get a guinea pig?

There are basically four places to get guinea pigs -- from a
breeder, from a pet store, from an ordinary guinea-pig owner who
has had a litter of small guinea pigs, or from an animal shelter.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but a detailed
discussion is not in the scope of this faq. To be brief --
reputable breeders often sell high-quality pets but they cost
slightly more. Try to get recommendations from other guinea pig
owners, or by asking on the net, before choosing a breeder.

Pet stores are somewhat cheaper, but depending on the pet store,
the guinea pigs are more likely to have caught a disease and may
have been improperly cared for. Most people do not recommend
purchasing animals from pet stores.

If you can find an acquaintance giving away a litter, or selling
them at a reasonable price, by all means go ahead -- this way you
can be fairly sure of getting a healthy, well-treated baby, while
probably not paying too much.

Do check out your local animal shelter to see if they have guinea
pigs -- you may be able to find a lovable pet and save a guinea
pig at the same time.

Whichever route you choose to go, make sure you choose a healthy-
looking, energetic guinea pig with no signs of disease. If you
go to pick him (or her...) up and he shows very little interest
in the procedure, there's something wrong-- a healthy guinea pig
will usually either run away from your hand or investigate it.
Spend a few minutes with him before taking him home, to make sure
the two of you get along and aren't allergic to one another.


Subject: 4. What should I feed my guinea pig?

A guinea pig's main diet should consist of dried timothy hay (or
another grass hay), supplemented by pellets and fresh vegetables.
If grass hay is not feasible, a legume hay such as alfalfa may be
substituted, although that should be avoided if possible because
too much calcium can cause bladder stones. Whichever hay you use
should be available at all times.

If grass hay isn't available at your pet store---or even if it
is, and you want something a lot fresher than what most pet
stores sell---there are a couple companies that mail order hay.
Sandi Ackerman reports that a person at
delivers Brome, a grass hay, for $30.00 (shipping and handling
included) for ten 16 oz bags. Also, several people (including
me) have had good luck with the Oxbow Hay Company in Nebraska,
which ships UPS. Three 15 oz bags of Timothy costs $11.55,
including shipping and handling. You can call 800-249-0366 to
order or to ask for more information. This is a family business
and the number goes into their home, so you may get an answering
machine sometimes even during office hours. It helps if you
leave numbers where you can be reached both by day and in the

Use ONLY the plain kind of guinea pig pellets (without nuts and
dried fruits, which are high in fat and not good for your guinea
pig). If you are concerned about your guinea pig becoming obese,
you should probably limit pellets to a small amount per day.
They should also get a cup or two of fresh vegetables daily---aim
for ones with high vitamin C, which guinea pigs need to keep
healthy. Avoid iceberg lettuce (the pale lettuce that comes in
heads and is the main ingredient in most American salads), since
it has next to no nutritional value, and can cause gas and other
more serious health difficulties. Other than that, most fresh
vegetables and fruits that are safe for humans are safe for
guinea pigs.

A list of some vegetables with high vitamin C content is below,
thanks to Dr. Susan Brown from America OnLine's "Ask A Vet".
Keep in mind that guinea pigs need about 10 mg of vitamin C per
day (20 mg for pregnant moms), so if you aren't giving them the
appropriate amount of the high-C foods below on a daily basis,
you will need to give vitamin C supplements. Crushed chewable C
vitamins dissolved in the water works well for this.


The following chart shows the vitamin C content in milligrams
(mg) of 1 cup portions of selected foods.

Vitamin C (mg)

Turnip Greens 260 mg
Mustard Greens 252 mg
Dandelion Greens 200 mg
Kale 192 mg
Brussels Sprouts 173 mg
Parsley 140 mg
Collard Greens 140 mg
Guavas 125 mg
Beet Greens 100 mg
Broccoli Leaf* 120 mg
Cauliflower 100 mg
Kohlrabi 100 mg
Strawberries 100 mg
Broccoli Florets 87 mg
Spinach 60 mg
Raspberries 60 mg
Rutabaga 52 mg
Orange 50 mg
Cabbage (all leaves and Chinese
cabbage also) 50 mg

*Broccoli stem has 0 mg of vitamin C
(Notice that oranges have less vitamin C than dark leafy
greens!....stay with the greens for these little guys)
Dr. Brown


Subject: 5. What sort of housing should I obtain?

Any kind of cage with a solid bottom (not wire!) is okay. As for
size, a rule of thumb is a _minimum_ of two square feet per
guinea pig. If they are not allowed to run around the room for
exercise on a more or less daily basis, they will need a lot more
space to be happy and healthy. See next section for what to use
for bedding. Bedding should be a couple inches thick, and should
be changed when it looks soiled, usually once or twice a week.

Since guinea pigs do not jump very high, you do not need very
tall sides for whatever housing you provide. This allows you to
be creative, and you can design a wonderful housing and play area
for your companions. For a very easy basic kind of area, that
you could add to later, you can use 4 - 2"x12" boards, nail them
together at the corners and sit the resulting "frame" on a piece
of linoleum remnant. And remember, the bigger the better. The
litter/bedding can be placed directly on the linoleum. When it's
time to clean the whole area, just pick up the "frame", sweep up
the litter, and mop with vinegar. If that's the extent of your
woodworking abilities, instead of building a small wood house
without a floor (they like to have a dark place to hide), you can
put a small litterbox, filled with bedding, inside a grocery bag.
Guinea pigs are perfectly happy using that as a place to sleep
and hide. (Although expect them to destroy the grocery bag
within a week or so.) Or you can use a medium-sized cardboard
box, cut out one side for a door, and line the bottom with

Another option is to allow the guinea pig free run of one or more
rooms. Since guinea pigs instinctively will mostly confine their
bathroom activities to safe "homes", you only need to put
litterboxes where they are fed and given water (again, cardboard
boxes work fine, although prepare to replace them every few
months; I use an opened cage for the pellets, alfalfa, and water,
and give fresh veggies in a cardboard box), and lay down
cardboard in some of the darker corners. It also helps to block
off couches and beds. Again, since guinea pigs don't jump or
climb, it is only necessary to see that all wires and chewables
are a foot or so off the ground. Remember to watch where you
step! Guinea pigs are prone to following feet around, especially
if the associated person is known to hand out vegetables.

If you decide to go with a store-bought cage, I recommend the
sort with a plastic tub on the bottom and a removable cage part
on the top, because it's convenient and easy to clean, but any
kind without wire flooring is okay. Wire flooring damages guinea
pig feet, and if it is too widely spaced they will often break
their legs in it. Try to avoid cages with wood on the bottom
too, since urine will soak in and be impossible to remove. It's
helpful to line the cage with newspaper before putting in
bedding. You can use a cardboard box with the bottom side cut
out (so that urine soaks into the bedding instead of pooling in
the bottom of the box) for a hiding place. Remember that you
need to make sure you have several square feet per guinea pig.

You will need to buy food and water dispensers. For water, most
people recommend one of those rodent bottles (available in pet
stores) with a stainless steel tube coming down to drink from
with a stainless steel ball at the end of it. Don't give water
in a bowl (as one might do with a dog or cat) because it will get
soiled. For the pellets and the hay, you can experiment with
what works for your guinea pig. I've had some success with food
dishes designed for parakeets, but your mileage may vary. Other
accessories are optional. Some report that their guinea pigs
enjoy parakeet toys, such as the mirrors with the bells in front.
They also like to climb up very gentle slopes; make a climbing
area out of bricks (this will also help keep the toenails short),
or give them a pile of (clean) discarded clothing or an old
sheet, as space allows. As long as they are given pellets, a
salt wheel is not necessary, but it can't hurt, and lasts nearly


Subject: 6. What should I use for bedding?

There is considerable evidence that cedar based bedding is
harmful to small animals. There are those who feel that pine
shavings are also harmful, although this is more widely disputed.
Sandi Ackerman ( has some
studies about the possible dangers that she is willing to give
out. If you want to play it safe, there are several alternative
beddings to use, made of aspen or recycled paper. Many pet
stores carry aspen shavings (one major brand is L/M, which seems
to be the main bedding/food supplier for most pet stores I've
been in), and you can ask your vet or local pet store to order
other beddings for you to try out.

There is a list of some safe beddings that Debbie "The Rat Lady"
Ducommun compiled for the Rat Fan Club. It has the brand names
of the litters, the names of the companies that make them, and
the toll free phone numbers for these companies. One of the
beddings on the list can be ordered directly to the home, and the
rest you can order through a pet supplier. This list is now
being posted as a FAQ to the newsgroup rec.pets. If you can't
find a copy on your site, you can email me and I will send you a


Subject: 7. Will multiple guinea pigs get along together?

Yes. Guinea pigs (unlike hamsters and some other pets) are
sociable creatures, and are usually all the happier for company,
although they may ignore their humans more as a result. If you
don't have a lot of time to spend with your guinea pig, or are
gone for much of the day, your guinea pig may be a lot happier if
you get him or her a friend. Same-sex groups, of either sex,
usually get along fine if given sufficient room, although from
anecdotal evidence females seem to be slightly more reliable in
this respect than males. A male and a female are naturally the
best company for each other, but unless you want your female to
be constantly making little guinea pigs, you will have to neuter
one or both of them.


Subject: 8. What should I know about breeding?

First of all, it's a good idea not to try to breed a guinea pig
until you have found some responsible people who would like one
of the offspring as a pet. Pet stores often treat small animals
very irresponsibly, and you don't want to bring guinea pigs into
the world that aren't wanted or will be mistreated.

That in mind, there are a few caveats. A female should not be
bred until she weighs 500 g, or is 4-5 months old. Also, no
older female should ever have a first litter. Somewhere between
the ages of 9 and 12 months, if she is childless, her hip bones
will fuse such that she can not give birth naturally, and a later
pregnancy will require a caesarian section. Therefore, if you
plan to breed your female, or if you do not plan to spay her and
the situation is such that she may become pregnant later on, you
should probably see that she has at least one litter between the
ages of 5 and 9 months. If an older female does accidentally
become pregnant with a first pregnancy, you and your vet will
want to plan on surgery to deliver the babies, otherwise she will
likely die giving birth. In addition, do everything you can to
avoid such an accident in the first place (for example, have your
female spayed even if you think she won't be near a male), since
a caesarian section is risky for both mother and babies. For
more information, see _Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs_ by
V.C.G. Richardson.

The gestation period (time between conception and giving birth)
for guinea pigs is approximately 60-70 days. Guinea pigs do not
normally require assistance in giving birth. The young are
usually in no danger from either parent, although you may want to
remove the male right away, since the female is able to conceive
again within the hour after giving birth. Litters can have
between 1 and 8 little ones, but typically have two to four. The
males of the litter should be separated from the mother and their
sisters directly after weaning, since they are sexually mature
shortly after. The babies will probably be weaned by the time
they are about 3 weeks old.

It is important to handle the babies soon and often, to socialize
them to humans. Like other animals that are born precocial,
guinea pigs form their social bonds shortly after birth, sometime
within a matter of hours, so human contact is critical during
this time to ensure that they establish strong bonds to people.
Many people are under the impression that handling baby animals
too soon will cause the mother to reject them, but this isn't
true for guinea pigs. Lots of love and gentle handling and
petting from the start will make the babies grow up more
friendly, and less afraid of humans.


Subject: 9. What are the pros and cons of neutering?

Guinea pigs of both sexes can be neutered, and in some cases
should be. There is some evidence that neutering a female can
reduce incidence of uterine cancer. Also, if you have an older
female that may not have had a litter yet, she should definitely
be spayed for her safety. There are no known health reasons to
neuter a male guinea pig, although I hear that it can reduce
their sex drive and cause them to stop mounting female guinea
pigs, if that is an issue.

The risk can be very small if you find a good vet to perform the
surgery. You can begin by looking for "exotics" (read: not just
cats and dogs) vets in the phone book. Or call ordinary vets and
ask who they refer their serious guinea pig cases to. Call
around, ask for recommendations, and don't be afraid to drive a
long distance -- it's only once, and it could save your fuzzy's
life to be at an experienced vet's. Ask any prospective vet how
many guinea pig spays/neuters they have done in the past year,
and what their success rate is. For a good vet, it should be
well above 90%.


Subject: 10. My guinea pig has <...> symptoms. Is this serious?

First of all, if there's any doubt about the nature of the
disease, take your guinea pig to a veterinarian right away! See
the previous section for techniques for finding a good guinea pig
vet. Sometimes a simple medical procedure can clear up a problem
that would otherwise be fatal. That said, here are some common
symptoms with what illnesses they may indicate.

Note: This is NOT intended as a replacement for a visit to a
reputable veterinarian! The maintainer of this FAQ takes no
responsibility for any misdiagnoses that might result from
reading this section.

Some sneezing is completely normal, just as with humans.
However, if your guinea pig is sneezing all the time, or is
sneezing a lot in combination with other symptoms, he or she
may have a bacterial infection or other illness (see next).

Sniffling, wheezing, constant sneezing, runny nose:
Your guinea pig probably has a bacterial infection or other
illness. Separate him (or her) from any other guinea pigs
you might have immediately so they don't catch the disease.
If it doesn't clear up on its own in a day or two, take him
to a vet because he may need to be given antibiotics before
he will get better. Make sure your vet never prescribes
Amoxicillin, because it's deadly to guinea pigs and some
vets don't realize this. If the vet prescribes any sort of
antibiotic, you should give the guinea pig a supplement of
lactobacillus acidophilus (you can find this in health food
stores) or live culture yoghurt, so that the antibiotic
doesn't kill the good bacteria in the stomach that enable
digestion. Also, make sure he has plenty of water and that
the room is kept at a constant comfortable temperature,
neither too warm nor too cold.

Blood in urine:
This is a symptom that could indicate any of a number of
diseases, some of which are extremely serious. Take him/her
to a good vet right away!

If you have recently fed your guinea pig a new type of
vegetable, or an unusually large quantity of fresh
vegetables, that may be the cause. Try not feeding that new
vegetable (or not feeding so many vegetables) for a day or
so to see if the problem clears up. Whether or not his/her
vegetable consumption has changed, if a day passes and your
guinea pig still has diarrhea, take him or her to a vet
right away! It doesn't take long for a small animal to
dehydrate and die, so diarrhea is a very serious problem.

If your guinea pig has been on an antibiotic, the problem
may be enteritis, which just means that the antibiotic is
killing off the digestive bacteria in the stomach. See
sniffling section above.

As with sneezing, some scratching is completely normal.
Guinea pigs spend most of their time grooming themselves.
However, if the places being scratched are becoming raw or
sore, or losing their hair, the scratching is probably
excessive. Your guinea pig may have some kind of parasite,
such as mites, or fungus, such as ringworm. Take him (or
her) to a good vet, who should be able to run tests and find
out what is bothering him.

If your guinea pig is kept on a softwood bedding, like pine
or cedar, he may also be scratching because he is allergic
to the bedding. Try changing to a non-allergenic bedding
like the ones on Debbie's list (see the bedding section) and
see if this helps.

Trouble walking (stiff joints or stumbling):
This could indicate a vitamin C deficiency. Give plenty of
the high vitamin C vegetables listed in the feeding section
(even if you have to go out to the supermarket and buy them)
and see a vet right away. Your guinea pig may need to get a
C shot.

Loss of appetite:
See a veterinarian immediately. Being small animals, guinea
pigs usually eat pretty much constantly and metabolize food
very fast, so if an illness or other condition is preventing
them from eating they could die overnight.


Subject: 11. Do I need to trim my guinea pig's toenails? How?

Yes, you will probably need to trim your guinea pig's toenails,
unless he or she does a lot of running around on bricks or
concrete or other rough surfaces that will keep the nails short.
Once the nails start getting long there is nothing but you
clipping them to remedy the situation; the nails will eventually
either curl back into the pad of the foot, crippling the guinea
pig, or else break off and sometimes cause bleeding and
infections in the process. You can clip the nails at home
yourself or, if you feel insecure about it, you can have a vet do
it the first time so you can see how it's done---although they
may charge you a fair bit for this. You can use either a normal
human nail clipper or the clippers with curved blades they sell
in pet stores for trimming cat nails.

The easiest way to do this is to have a friend help you, so that
one of you can hold the guinea pig while the other trims the
nails. If this isn't possible, some people recommend rolling
your guinea pig up in a blanket or something, so he (or she)
can't see and doesn't struggle, and turning him on his back in
your lap so his face is still covered but his feet stick out.
I've never tried this myself, so I don't know the precise
logistics of it, but apparently it keeps them from putting up a

The thing you have to be careful of is not to cut the quick,
which is the pink part in guinea pigs with white nails. Just
like in humans, the pink part shows how far the flesh of the toe
extends, and the white part has no nerves. If your guinea pig
has dark nails, you may need to use a brighter light source to
see the quick, which should be slightly darker than the end of
the nail. If you still can't see where the quick is, just cut
the nails often and a little bit at a time and you should be
fine. If you do accidentally cut the quick a little and it
starts bleeding, dab a bit of hydrogen peroxide on the spot to
help prevent infections. Try to hold him or her until the
bleeding stops so that the site stays clean and the cut is given
a chance to heal over somewhat. There are products---"Quick
Stop" is one of them---that you can apply to the site to help
stop the bleeding; these are helpful (but not necessary) in a
situation like this.


Subject: 12. My guinea pig runs away from me. What can I do?

It's normal for a guinea pig to be afraid of you at first, and
some guinea pigs, depending on personality, are always a little
shy. However, with patience and love, you can almost always make
good friends with a guinea pig. The younger they are when you
start, the easier it will be to gain their trust.

The thing to remember is that you are very large and frightening
to a guinea pig. Also, being picked up is _very_ scary, since
guinea pigs aren't really climbing or jumping sorts of animals
the way, for instance, hamsters are---they're used to having four
feet solidly on the ground. It's much easier if you start when
they're little, so that your hand can support more of the body at
once. The best way to pick one up is to place one hand under the
belly and lift, then as soon as they are off the ground, place
another hand under the hind legs so he (or she) feels secure and

Put him in your lap---maybe on a towel so you don't have to worry
about "accidents"---and pet him to your heart's content. Some
guinea pigs also like being held standing against the chest, with
the nose pointing up towards your face, or cradled in your arms
at chest level. Try different positions, and you should be able
to tell which one(s) your guinea pig likes by how restless they
are. This is a good time to give fresh vegetable treats, so he
feels positively about the experience! As soon as he begins to
squeak or become restless, let him down. Besides the fact that
he'll become enthusiastic faster if he isn't imprisoned on your
lap, it also may be a sign that he's about to pee.

Some guinea pigs never feel comfortable being picked up,
especially if they aren't handled a lot when they're little.
This doesn't mean that you can't have a good relationship with
your pet, though, just that you have to relate to him (or her)
where he's more comfortable, namely on the ground. The best time
to do this is during play time, when he's let out to run around
the room (this should happen every day, so they get enough
exercise). Lie down on the floor, so you aren't so tall and
frightening, and offer a piece of vegetable to your guinea pig.
While he's eating it, reach forward slowly to pet him. If he
runs away, let him finish his vegetable and try again later. It
may take patience, but eventually the shyest of guinea pigs
should sit still for you to pet him, and even come over to be
petted. The more time you spend on the floor with him, the
faster he'll get used to you. Also, the less you chase him
around to pick him up the less afraid of you he'll be, so if your
guinea pig lives in a cage, try to set up some sort of ramp so
that they can get back into their cage on their own. If you put
fresh vegetables in there, or just rattle around their pellets a
little, I guarantee they'll go back into their cage without more
forceful urging.

Remember, the more time you spend with your guinea pigs, the
faster they'll become friendly with you!


Subject: 13. Where else can I get information about guinea pigs?

If you want more information of a rather technical sort about
guinea pig health, you can try _Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs_
by V.C.G. Richardson.

Also, check out Carlo "G.P." Ferrari's guinea pig site. In
addition to containing some documents with information about
guinea pigs, it has an archive of all the guinea pig related
posts on rec.pets. If you have access to the WWW, you can point
your URL to
> gopher://
or, if your site has a gopher client, just type
> gopher
at the prompt, and then follow the links to pets.

There's also another WWW site with guinea pig information, as
well as all sorts of other veterinary documents, at
or, for the gopher server
> gopher://
again, if you have gopher and not WWW, you can type
> gopher

Finally, the Swedish GP Club's home page resides at

If you are on the WWW, you can get to all of these through links
from the WWW version of this guinea pig FAQ:
by clicking on "Index for links to other gp related sites" at the
end of the document.

There's also a great gp mailing list that Carlo maintains. Once
a day a digest is sent out of all the submissions that have been
received that day, so it won't clutter up your mailbox. To
subscribe, send mail to with no subject,
and the message body "subscribe gpigs <your name>"; e.g.
"subscribe gpigs Emily".

And last but not least, a woman named Lee Mahavier who runs a
shelter for abandoned guinea pigs puts out a quarterly
newsletter which costs $8 a year (the money goes to the shelter).
The address is:
Home for Unwanted and Abandoned Guinea Pigs
699 Creekview Dr.
Lawrenceville, GA 30244 (USA)
(404) 963-4755
I haven't had a chance to check out the newsletter personally,
but it came highly recommended by several people.

If there's any other information you think should be added to the
FAQ, or other sites with guinea pig info I should mention, please
write me ( and let me know.

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