Before you buy a Guinea Pig
Guinea Pig Crisis!!! It's that time of year and the rescues are full to bursting. If you could offer a permanent home to some lovely piggies why not take a look at The Guinea Pig Forum or Guinea Pig Rehome.
Many Guinea Pigs end up dumped in rescue centres each year because someone bought a pet for their children on impulse and then didn't have time to look after it when the children lost interest. Many more live out their lives shut in small, unsuitable cages bored out of their little furry minds and get sick and die because of inappropriate care or freeze to death over the winter. If you are going to buy a Guinea Pig please think carefully about the following issues before you buy one.
A Guinea Pig is not a toy.
Guinea Pigs can make lovely children's pets but they should be the responsibility of an adult. The adult must make sure that they are cared for properly and be willing to take over responsibility for looking after an animal that can live over 6 years if the child looses interest. Young children should not be allowed to handle Guinea Pigs unsupervised as they are very easily injured particularly if they are dropped. They are nervous animals that react to being terrified by sitting still and can suffer from a lot of stress. A fancy rat is in some ways a much better pet as they are much less afraid. I would recommend adult piggies from a rescue centre for children as it is possible to get one that is already tame and happy to be handled. A good rescue centre will be able to give you lots of advice and fix you up with a suitable pet.
Guinea Pigs feel the cold.
An outside hutch is not a suitable home for a Guinea Pig in the winter. If you can provide a shed that has heating that can keep the temperature above freezing then they can be kept out. But bear in mind that you have to check your Guinea Pig at least twice a day in all weathers. They are much happier inside - look at the Guinea Pig Cages page for ideas on how to make a great indoor run.
A Guinea Pig can live for over 6 years.
Make sure that you are willing to look after your new pet for it's whole lifetime. Think about holidays and times when you will get busy (with exams and leaving home if you are a child or teenager or when the children do this if you are an adult).
If anyone in your family is prone to allergies please consider spending some time with a friend's guinea pig or even borrowing one for a short while to see how you react to them. Once you have a guinea pig it is too late to find out that they cause you problems. Hay is a common source of problems and it is easy to work out if it gives you a problem - open a bag and take a deep breath (please don't try this if you know you have asthma or hay allergies).
Have you got the time?
Guinea pigs need investment of time to clean them out regularly and get them tame. They like to go in a run on the grass in the summer but it is not a good idea to leave them unattended if you have foxes in the area and they must be put away before dusk. Don't buy a long haired Guinea Pig unless you are willing to comb them daily. They can be given a haircut in the summer but they won't look as pretty.
A Guinea Pig needs a good size cage.
When they are little the hutches that they sell in pet shops look fine. But as they grow they really won't have enough room. Guinea Pigs like to run around at great speed and need room to do this. I would suggest a minimum 4 foot hutch - ours are in 5 foot hutches. For more information see the Guinea Pig Cages page. A good sized outside hutch plus a run to put them on the grass and an indoor run in the winter is quite an outlay. You can save money by buying second hand - look in your local free ads paper or even on eBay. They can easily get bored and need toys and things to keep their interest - see the Environment Enrichment page for some ideas. In addition a Guinea Pig needs exercise outside it's cage either in a run in the garden or in a safe room.
If you're not willing to pay for vets bills then don't buy and animal. No excuses, no buts. Find a good vet who has experience when you first get your Guinea Pig and take them in for a checkup so that you have a vet you are happy with in any emergency. Vets bills for Guinea Pigs are rarely huge but there are some things that will require an operation, which is never cheap.
Cats and Guinea Pigs don't mix well. If you have a cat make sure that they cannot get to the Guinea Pig. Also watch out for neighbours cats when they are out in their run. Weight the run down so it can't be knocked over and always provide them with somewhere to hide. Dogs can be as good as gold or decide that your pet is a rat - never, ever leave them unattended.
Guinea Pigs like company.
Guinea Pigs get lonely living on their own. Two boars (males) can occasionally fight as they reach adulthood although most boars who grow up together are fine together their whole life. So if you are offered two adult males who have always lived together you'll probably be fine. The best bet is two sows (females) or a neutered boar and sow. Many rescue centres will neuter all of the boars that they get or it is a straightforwards and safe operation for your vet to do. It is kinder to put a boar through a simple operation that to doom him to a life in solitary confinement - he can then have as many girlfriends as you can fit in. Introducing two females or a male and female guinea pig is pretty straightforwards but make sure they have supervised visits until you are sure that they are happy together. Always give them separate nesting boxes to save squabbles over who gets to hide in there.
Don't Breed Guinea Pigs.
Please, please don't breed Guinea Pigs. There are already many, many unwanted pets out there and because baby guinea pigs are born so large there is quite a high rate of complications. Only ever breed if you are willing to keep all of your babies if you cannot get good homes for them and even then if you have the room consider adopting rather than breeding. If you are thinking of breeding guinea pigs then read this page from Cavy Spirit first.
Don't Buy - Adopt.
There are lots of rescue centres around the country with unwanted Guinea Pigs for adoption. Try the RSPCA for a start or try Guinea Pig Rehome. Many of the guinea pigs have come from previously loving home and someone has done all of the hard work of getting them tame for you.
Guinea Pigs make great pets.
Guinea Pigs are lovely little animals. They can be got very tame indeed and will come and chat to you. Once they are tame they are great lap pets and will happily sit and munch a bit of green stuff whilst you give them a brush. They are simple to keep and they are well known so you can get lots of information about them. If you've read everything above and are willing to put the time and effort into caring for them properly then I cannot recommend them highly enough. I really miss my piggies and hope to have them again one day.
If anyone would like to add anything to this list please feel free to e-mail me.