Things to Know Before Adopting a Guinea Pig
From what food to buy to the size of the cage, this list has you covered.
It was August of 2020 when I walked into my local humane society. I had put in an application a few weeks prior about some guinea pigs that were listed, hoping that a small furry friend would soon be available for me. There were a few pigs up for adoption that day, but this shy little girl instantly caught my eye (just as I definitely caught hers).
I had done plenty of research in the months prior, feeling confident that I could provide a happy forever home for a piggie in need. So I signed the forms that day and brought tiny Tuna the guinea pig back to my apartment with me.
Though typically labeled more low-maintenance than a cat or a dog, there is more that goes into caring for a guinea pig than people may realize. I would always recommend doing research before bringing home this pet, as guinea pigs require proper care and attention to live happy healthy lives. But here are just a few of the things I found good to know before adoption, and that helped me provide the best home for my piggie.
1. Is my guinea pig already bonded with another?
This is a great question to ask the shelter before adopting, and usually, they will let you know upfront whether or not your piggie has a bond with another. In my case, Tuna was a solitary guinea pig. I have considered introducing another pig to her, but for now, she seems very happy and content living on her own. That is not always the case. Some pigs may be bonded to their mothers or siblings, and as a result, it is best to adopt them together. Guinea pigs can be very social with each other, so make sure you are not tearing them away from their little pack.
2. What food do you feed a guinea pig?
Guinea pigs diets are made up primarly of hay — make sure you are stocked up! They also need pellets (I buy the Oxbow brand) and plenty of vitamin C. I usually provide that to my guinea pig in the form of vegetables and leafy greens, about a cup a day. Occasional sweet treats are fine too. Tuna loves watermelon, but your piggie will let you know fast what fruits they enjoy. They can be picky eaters, but will always clean their plates once you figure out what they love!
3. Do you have to build a cage or buy one?
If you do your research, you will more than likely come across videos showcasing amazing DIY cages people have built for their guinea pigs. While these habitats are super cool, definitely don’t feel like you have to construct the cage yourself. The most important thing to remember here is space. Your guinea pig should have enough room (at least 7.5 sq. ft./pig) to live in. You can find some really neat custom built cages for sale online, but I’m a big fan of MidWest cages. Affordable, easy to assemble, and plenty of room for my piggie to roam as she pleases. Make sure to add comfortable bedding too! My favorite is the GuineaDad fleece liners.
4. How often should you play with your guinea pig?
This answer varies, but it’s a good idea to get your guinea pig outside of their cage for at least an hour total every day. This gives them a chance to feel more bold, curious, and stimulated by a new environment. Make sure the area is safe, and you gives them a hidey spot in case they need it, but they should love the change of scenary. Plus, if you hide some treats for them, it gives them the chance to forage — it doesn’t get cuter than watching them sniff out the food.
5. Do you need to give your guinea pig baths?
Yes. Guinea pigs will usually clean themselves daily using their tongues and paws. But it’s good to get some shampoo from the pet store and give your piggie a gentle all-over wash every other month or so (sometimes longer during winter months). I usually fill up a big tupperware bowl with lukewarm water to about guinea pig standing height. A little dime-sized drop of shampoo goes a long way, and a treat like a carrot or cucumber is usually a good distraction for them while you massage it into their fur. Make sure to dry them thoroughly afterwards too!
6. Do I have to trim their nails?
This is a big yes — and most piggies are not too fond of this. Treats help distract them here, too. It’s important to hold them securely against you and use a small pair of clippers; I bought mine from the pet store. Be warned: it’s easy to accidentally cut the “quick” or the vein that runs through their nails. You will learn over time to get better at finding this, but my suggestion is to start out with smaller trims until you get comfortable. If you do cut too short, your guinea might let out a squeak of pain and start to bleed. DON’T FEEL BAD! It’s not the end of the world for you or for them. I have done this before, and while you can stop the bleeding with a few different methods, I usually use a bar of plain unscented soap and press the nail into it to staunch the bleeding. Make sure the bleeding has stopped before letting them back into their cage. Give them an extra big slice of carrot or apple, and they will forget all about it.
These are all just a few of the helpful pieces of information I needed to get started. Just remember to give your guinea pig plenty of love and attention, and they will soon show you the same!