Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs make very good pets. They may seem timid at first but they’ll soon settle and become tame and friendly. Guinea pigs never usually bite. Their size and shape makes them easy for children to handle. 

Housing

Because they are smaller than a rabbit, it does not mean they should be housed in a smaller hutch. A 4 foot hutch is great for a pair or a small group of guinea pigs. There are various styles of interior and exterior hutches. Never use an interior hutch outside as it will offer no protection from bad weather. Guinea pigs can be kept indoors all year round or just for winter.

Position of hutch

Site the hutch away from prevailing wind and direct sunlight. In very bad weather it is a good idea to move the hutch into a fume free garage, porch or shed. It is important to raise the hutch off the floor to prevent damp and vermin. It also makes cleaning easier. Keep the hutch dry and draught free. Do not keep them in the dark.

Feeding

Feed your guinea pigs on a staple diet of guinea pig mix. The most important aspect concerning the guinea pig diet is vitamin C; guinea pigs are one of the few animals like us that cannot make their own vitamin C, their diet must contain plenty of it to stay healthy. Vitamin C is found in Gerty guinea pig mix, fruit, vegetables, grass and Vitamin powder; feed such items daily to make sure your pet gets all the vitamins it needs. Provide plenty of hay daily and fresh water in a water bottle.

Cleaning

Cover the base of the hutch with a thick layer of newspapers or magazines to soak up any urine, cover this with a thick layer of wood shavings. Use plenty of hay and straw as bedding material, adding more in colder weather. Clean the hutch thoroughly two–three times a week. Use an animal disinfectant to keep the hutch smelling sweet and germ free.

Exercise

It’s important to allow your guinea pigs the freedom of a run on days when the weather is fine. Not only does it allow the guinea pigs to stretch their legs it also allows them to graze. Provide a sturdy box or smaller hutch in the run so that the guinea pigs can escape from bad weather, strong sun and the attention of cats and dogs. Always supply food and water.

Furnishings

A few fruit tree branches keep teeth in trim. Fix a mineral block to the cage front. Guinea pigs also like terracotta pots placed sideways to sit in.

Handling

Always support the body weight, put one arm below the body and the other on top stroking the face and body to re-assure the guinea pig. If children are handling it is best for the guinea pig to sit on their lap so they don’t drop it.

Company

Guinea pigs are very social animals and it is unfair to keep them on their own; two or more sows (females) will live together happily regardless of age, even strangers get along. Boars (males) will live happily together as long as they have been raised together, it’s slightly more difficult introducing older boars if they have been kept on their own or with females.

Problems

The most important aspect concerning guinea pigs’ health is including vitamin C in their diet. Guinea pigs soon become unwell if they do not receive enough. Another problem sometimes encountered is mites - symptoms include hair loss, patchy fur and itchy skin. Prevent mites by bathing with medicated shampoo. If your guinea pigs do have mites, you can treat them using prescription medication available from your local vet.

In addition, you must dispose of all bedding grass, thoroughly clean the cage with hot water and 10% bleach solution. You should also wash all your towels, sheets, vacuum and steam clean the surrounding rugs and wash the floor again with HOT water and 10% bleach solution.

Important information

Guinea pigs usually live for five to eight years.

Flystrike is an unpleasant and distressing condition, which occurs in the summer months when flies lay their eggs around a guinea pig’s rear end, or within faeces in the hutch. The eggs hatch into maggots, which feed on the faeces and eventually the guinea pig, burrowing into its flesh. Sound horrible? It is. Prevention is better than cure – if caught quickly enough some guinea pigs can be successfully treated, but Flystrike is often fatal. Effective hutch hygiene and good health care is by far the best defense. Follow this simple 3-step guide below to ensure that your guinea pig is not at risk.

Step 1

Examine your guinea pig each day, to check that his fur is clean, dry and not matted with faeces. If you see any sign of maggots, immediately remove them using soap and warm water, thoroughly dry the affected area and contact your vet straight away. A guinea pig with diarrhoea or a dirty bottom is most at risk. Ensure that your guinea pig has a balanced, complete diet to avoid the side effects of digestive disturbances based on hay and grass.

Step 2

Change soiled bedding every day. A dirty hutch and bedding is a magnet for flies. Use plenty of good quality absorbent bedding in your guinea pig’s toilet area to avoid excess moisture. Russel Bedding is ultra-absorbent and what’s more, it’s treated with a non-toxic cleaning agent to eliminate pet odours, germs and bacteria. It is made from super-threshed barley straw and is totally safe for your guinea pig, even if eaten. Russel Bedding has a pleasant lemon odour – an effective deterrent to flying insects.

Step 3

Once a week, thoroughly clean and disinfect the hutch. Remove everything from the hutch and disinfect with a purpose-made solution suitable for use with small animals. Supreme Home Help is a non-toxic hutch cleaner formulated by vets to eliminate pet odours, germs and bacteria. Sprayed inside the hutch and on bedding, Home help makes your guinea pig’s hutch hygienically clean with a fresh citrus smell. It comes in a handy trigger spray bottle and there’s no need to rinse.

Clipping your guinea pig's nails

A guinea pigs' nails grow continuously, and in the wild they wear them down by scratching and burrowing. A domestic guinea pig in a house or cage does not have the opportunity to wear down their nails, so consequently they need regular clipping. Clipping a guinea pig’s nails is straightforward. You will need some nail clippers, the kind used to cut cat’s claws are suitable; also have on hand styptic powder, a compound that stops bleeding. Both of these should be available from pet shops. The first few times you clip the nails it will be useful to have a helper available, as your guinea pig may not be too happy – guinea pigs are often frightened by new procedures. A small torch helps too, especially if the guinea pig is dark coloured. Finally, wear a long sleeved shirt and trousers; it will save you many scratches! The most important thing to remember is that there is a vein within the nail and you need to cut below this. If you cut into the vein, firstly it will hurt the guinea pig as there are nerves in this living part of the nail, and secondly it will bleed – sometimes quite heavily and this is when you will need to use styptic powder. By shining the torch behind the nail it is usually possible to see the vein as a darker central section of the more translucent nail. The difficult part is getting the guinea pig to stay still while you clip the nails. The following is a good way to gently restrain your guinea pig while clipping.

The snuggle hold put the guinea pig on a carpet square on top of a table, positioned so that his rear is facing you then put your arm around his middle section so that you have your guinea pig snuggled up against you. At first consider this as a practice session, just touch his toenails, so he gets used to this before you actually try to clip them. If he tries to struggle at any stage, stop and reassure him. Once he seems happy with you touching his nails, slide the clippers over the nail until it is below the vein, and firmly but quickly snip the nail off.

*If the guinea pig becomes ill, veterinary treatment may be needed. Although many guinea pigs will never need veterinary treatment during their life, you should be prepared for the possibility when taking on the commitment of a pet.

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