Owning... guinea pigs
Care and attention
Guinea pigs are small and easily scared. Keep other pets, like cats and dogs, away from them. It is not advisable to keep a rabbit with guinea pigs because the rabbit usually bullies them. Their hutch will need cleaning out nearly every day, since the newspaper will be soaked overnight, and at least twice a week. If the newspaper is not too wet, it might last two days. Remove any wet shavings and soiled hay, and replace with fresh. Water should be changed every day. Guinea pigs should be fed twice a day, once in the morning when they wake up, and once in the evening when they come in for the night. Small amounts of green food can be fed during the day, but the main portion should be fed in the evening to give them something to do when they come in for the night.
You should handle your guinea pigs from a young age as much as possible. When you first get your pet, it will be timid and shy away from your hand, but if you keep offering him your hand to sniff, and giving him little treats, he will soon learn that it is not so scary after all. It may take a while for your guinea pigs to get used to you, so be patient and keep going and they will soon be friendly. When you have gained your guinea pig's trust, he will let you stroke him. Be careful not to cover his eyes with your hand when you do so, as this will make him panic and run away. Once he is used to his new home and being stroked, you can try to pick him up.
The best way to pick up a guinea pig is to gently slide one hand under his tummy, while the other hand is placed on his shoulders to steady him. Lift him up gently and slowly and hold him close to your body. If he wriggles, try not to squeeze or poke him, just keep a firm pressure on his shoulders until he stops, then let him get down. If you let him go while he is wriggling, he could fall and hurt himself. It could also develop into a bad habit. If you continue to gently pick him up and hold him for longer periods each day, he will soon get used to it and be a lot calmer. Eventually, he will enjoy his cuddles and start to chunter and ' whoop ' at you.
Grooming is a good way to make your guinea pigs easier to handle. It is only really important to groom guinea pigs that are long haired. Long haired guineas must be groomed every day, sometimes even twice a day. If you don't, their coats will become tangled and matted, which is very uncomfortable and messy, and will have to be clipped off. Short haired guineas don't need to be groomed as often, and will keep themselves very clean. A small travel comb, the type you get from airlines, is ideal for grooming long-haired guinea pigs. Dog combs work well too, because they trap the loose hair and remove it while you comb. Be careful not to pull tangles, as this will hurt your guinea pig. Gently separate the tangled hair by combing through it layer by layer until it is smooth.
Short haired guinea pigs will rarely need a bath, but long haired varieties tend to get dirty around their back ends and require regular washing. If your guinea pig does get messy, there is a Johnsons small animal shampoo which you should use - directions are on the bottle. With long haired guineas, it is only their bottoms that need to be washed, so only make the fur in that area wet, not the whole guinea pig. After you have washed the dirty area and thoroughly rinsed the shampoo out, you should dry the guinea pig on an old towel and comb the hair through while it is still wet, to get rid of tangles and any loose hair. A hairdryer on low heat can be used as long as the guinea pig is not scared of the noise. If the hair needs trimming, it is easier done when the hair is wet. Just use a pair of blunt-ended scissors and carefully trim the long bits away. Keep the guinea pig warm until it is dry, then you can put him back out in his hutch or run. Try to avoid bathing in cold weather, or your pet could catch a chill.
Nails may need trimming as the guinea pigs get older. You can do this yourself but be very careful. Guinea pigs have a blood vessel running down the centre of the claw, known as the quick. If you look at their claws, the quick shows up clearly as a pink area. Do not cut the pink bit, it will bleed profusely and be very sore. Use nail-clippers and carefully cut the excess off about 2-3mm from the pink. Be extra careful when trimming dark or black nails, as you won't be able to see the quick. If you have a guinea pig with dark claws, you may find it easier to cut the claws very often, but only taking off a tiny amount each time. This way, you will never cut the quick.
Teeth should be checked regularly to make sure that they are not overgrowing and restricting the animal from eating. If they do need clipping, take the guinea pig to the vet, don't try to clip them yourself. If your guinea pig falls from a height, always check to see if the teeth are broken. If they are, make sure that there are no pieces left in his mouth and feed soft foods until they have regrown. If there is severe damage, i.e. a loose and bleeding tooth, take him to the vet.
Guinea pigs will get most of their exercise in the run, but during the winter months when it gets dark earlier, they will have to be put to bed earlier. It is a good idea to bring them in to handle and play with them for half an hour every other day or so, just to stimulate them and give them something different to do. There are also guinea pig harnesses available, so you can take your pet for a walk around the garden. I highly recommend getting one of these, they are very easy to fit (make sure they are quite snug or your pet will slip out and escape) and once they are used to wearing it, guinea pigs love to wander about to find the choicest blades of grass. However, be very careful not to let them eat anything other than grass or dandelions as there are many plants which are poisonous and even fatal to guinea pigs - see the Food & Housing section.