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March for guinea pigs

In 2002, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) decided to dedicate the month of March to guinea pigs. National Adopt a Guinea Pig Month is still honoured and perhaps we should follow America’s lead in Europe. Guinea pigs are often chosen as pets and then abandoned, leaving charities with many animals needing new homes.

Why are guinea pigs abandoned?

Guinea pigs are hugely popular pets, especially with children, but far too many end up being abandoned by their owners. Rescue organisations report that guinea pigs are amongst the most commonly abandoned animals. This could be because inexperienced owners have believed that such a small pet will be easy to care for and will not make serious demands on their time or their wallets. But like all animals, guinea pigs do take time to care for and their food, bedding and veterinary care must be paid for.

Many guinea pigs are discarded after children who begged for pets lose interest in their furry friends. Their parents aren’t motivated to care for the animals and don’t want to spend their hard earned cash on pets that their kids no longer bother to spend any time with.

All of which means that there are generally a huge number of guinea pigs looking for new homes. If you would like to keep these appealing pets, it is best to adopt animals which badly need a break rather than buying them from breeders or a pet store. You can help to prevent discarded guinea pigs from spending the rest of their lives at rescue centres which are struggling to cover the cost of looking after them.

How to adopt a guinea pig

If you are interested in adopting guinea pigs, think carefully about whether you are truly committed to caring for them for the rest of their lives. Below you will find a guide to looking after guinea pigs which should enable you to decide whether or not they are appropriate pets for you. If they are, contact your nearest Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) or RSPCA centre, to see if they have any animals for rehoming.

You could also search online for smaller charities close to you which are involved with rescuing guinea pigs and you might find advertisements for pets which are no longer wanted. There are no charities in Ireland or Northern Ireland which deal only with guinea pigs. However, the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) takes in abandoned guinea pigs as does the Assisi Animal Sanctuary in Northern Ireland.

Charities do charge for the animals that you adopt in order to raise the funds they need to continue their work. Expect to pay around €25 which is roughly the cost of buying a guinea pig from a pet store.

Choosing your guinea pig

The process of adopting a guinea pig may require more than one visit to the sancutary or shelter before you make your final decision. Guinea pigs are social animals so you may also want to consider how many you want to adopt. Here are a few things to look out for when choosing your guinea pig:

  • Overall body condition, they shouldn't be fat or skinny.
  • Check for swelling, lumps or bumps.
  • The coat should be well groomed with no bald or red patches of skin.
  • Take a look at the feet for any sores or dry patches as this could be a sign of an infection.
  • Soiled rear end could indicate diarrhea.
  • Make sure the eyes, nose and ears are clean and free from any discharge.
    • Watery eyes could indicate dental or respiratory problems.
    • Discharge from the nose could be an indication of an infection.
    • Crusting and/or white streaks in and around the ears could be a sign of a fungal infection.
  • Check the mouth for any sores or crusts.
  • Make sure the teeth have not overgrown as this could lead to other health issues.
  • Make sure the guinea pig's breathing isn't labored.
  • Guinea pigs should be active and alert.
  • Observe how the guinea pig responds when being handled.
  • Make sure the guinea pigs surroundings are clean and it has fresh food and water.
  • Don't buy a guinea pig if it shares the same cage as an ill guinea pig.
  • Make sure female guinea pigs aren't housed together with male guinea pigs as you could be in for a surprise.
  • Don't get a guinea pig that is younger than 6 weeks old.

Guinea pig checklist

Before bringing your guinea pig home it is important to have all the necessary items. We have put together a checklist of some basic essentials you'll need for you furry friend.

  • Cage
  • Bedding
  • Hay
  • Water bottle
  • Food bowl
  • Food
  • Toys
  • Treats

Transporting your guinea pig home

Make sure you have transport hutch or box ready to transport you guinea pig home. The box should be lined with some newspaper and hay. The base of the box needs to be reinforced and you'll need a lid to stop your friend from climbing out, the last thing you'll want is a little escape artist and you need to make sure it has air holes. Be sure to provide a water bottle and fresh food too.

Once you've reached home put the guinea pig in their new hutch and allow them to settle in. The video below has some tips on how to tame your guinea pig.

How to care for your guinea pigs

Before committing to your new pets, there are a few things you need to know about their care. Guinea pigs are far from being the most demanding animals but you will need to devote a reasonable amount of time to them and you will incur significant ongoing expense, especially if your pets require medical treatment.

Guinea pig cages and enclosures

It is vital that you establish the right living environment for your guinea pigs. This means providing a cage and/or enclosure of adequate size and keeping this in a suitable location. Having the right bedding is also important as are toys to keep your guinea pig entertained.

  • A pair of guinea pigs require a cage which is at least 120cm x 60cm x 45cm, but the bigger, the better.
  • The cage should be high enough for the guinea pigs to stand up on their back legs.
  • Guinea pigs benefit from access to a large exercise area in addition to the shelter of their hutch.
  • Your guinea pigs should receive regular exercise and ideally free access to an exercise area.
  • The exercise area should feature pipes and shelters to encourage exploration.
  • Guinea pigs should be protected from draughts and extreme temperatures.
  • Your pets’ environment should be maintained at between 15°C and 26°C.
  • Outdoor accommodation must be sheltered from direct sunlight and prevailing winds.
  • Indoor accommodation should be positioned away from direct heat sources and draughts.
  • Guinea pigs favour quiet areas away from other animals which they will see as a threat.
  • Cages should have plenty of warm bedding and this must be safe to eat.
  • Bedding should not be soft material which may separate into strands such as cotton wool.
  • Guinea pigs must not be given untreated wooden toys or plastic items to chew.
  • Cages should be cleaned out regularly.

Feeding your guinea pigs

As with any pet, a good diet is fundamental to guinea pig health. The right diet will help to prevent many common issues including dental problems, gut disease and vitamin C deficiency. Ensure that your guinea pigs eat daily and pass plenty of dry droppings. If their eating/drinking habits change, consult your vet immediately. Rewarding your guinea pig with treats is not only good for reinforcing positive behaviour, it's also a good way to bond with your furry friend.

  • Provide plenty of fresh drinking water and check this twice daily. Never allow water to freeze.
  • Good quality hay should always be available and this will constitute the majority of your pets’ diet. Their digestive systems need grass and/or hay to function properly. Do not provide mowed grass clippings.
  • Supplement the hay with fresh vegetables, ideally daily. This will enable the guinea pigs to keep the growth of their teeth in check through chewing.
  • Provide a fresh portion of grass-based guinea-pig pellets each day as these feature vitamin C.
  • Fresh grass and leafy greens are good sources of vitamin C but don’t feed your pets citrus fruits.
  • Potatoes, tomatoes, flowering plants, beans, dill and fruit seeds are poisonous to guinea pigs.
  • Sudden changes to your pets’ diet should be avoided as guinea pigs are creatures of habit.
  • Root vegetables and fruit should only be fed as occasional treats.
  • Monitor your pets’ weights and adjust the size of their meals accordingly.
  • Guinea pigs produce two dropping types – hard dry pellets, and softer moist pellets which they eat directly from their bottom and are dietary essentials. Consult your vet if your pets’ droppings change.

Guinea pig health

It is important to keep an eye on your guinea pigs so that you spot health issues early. If you are going away, ask whoever is caring for your animals to check them too.

  • Look at the fur and skin around your guinea pigs’ rear ends. Any droppings stuck there or urine staining can cause flystrike which is often fatal.
  • Guinea pigs may not show signs of pain and so it is important to note changes in behaviour as these could be indicative of poor health.
  • Check teeth and nails weekly for excessive growth.
  • Inspect you pets weekly for signs of external parasites.
  • Groom your pets’ coats regularly. Long-haired guinea pigs need grooming daily.
  • A small amount of discharge around the eyes is normal during grooming but if this increases or decreases it could be a sign of illness. Discharge at other times could also be symptomatic of an underlying problem.

About guinea pigs

Guinea pigs have a lifespan of 5-6 years or longer. These adorable fluffy creatures are known to be very social, they have there own unique personalities, they are fun to play with, affectionate towards humans and need plenty of attention.

Guinea pigs as pets

Guinea pigs are rewarding pets which lend themselves to family life. These charming animals can be endearing and entertaining but do require significant levels of care and a generous amount of space in which to live. If you are sure that guinea pigs are the right pets for you, try adopting rather than buying your new pets as you will be helping animal charities while providing a much needed home for abandoned animals. Not convinced, take a look at our guinea pig fun facts.

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