The month of March has been designated Adopt-a-Rescued-Guinea Pig month to encourage people thinking of adopting a guinea pig to look to shelters and rescue groups first. Whitney Potsus, vice president of the Critter Connection guinea pig rescue, says that each year Adopt-a-Rescued-Guinea Pig Month educates a few more people about guinea pigs and the rescues dedicated to their welfare. She says that she hears these comments over and over again:
• I didn’t know there was such a thing as a guinea pig rescue.
• How can such a small animal be given up so often? They don’t take up nearly as much space as, say, a dog or a horse.
Whitney Potsus usually answers by saying: “The truth is that all species of animals can run into trouble if they land in the care of the wrong humans, or if they’re taken in by people who didn’t do enough research beforehand or weren’t realistic about what they could take on.”
Although guinea pigs are considered low-maintenance pets, daily care and feeding can be time consuming and their bedding and hay tend to get messy. The average lifespan for a guinea pig is five to seven years, though they may live up to 10 years, so be sure to consider this moderately long-term commitment. Even though guinea pigs are often chosen as a first pet for a child, since they have special requirements, such as a roomy cage, specialized diet, daily cleanup, and gentle handling, an adult should ultimately be the primary caretaker.
If you have a guinea pig, or a “cavy” as they’re properly called, or if you are considering adopting one, here is some useful information:
Guinea pigs are popular because they are very social animals. They rarely bite if they are handled properly. Guinea pigs do stress easily, so they should be picked up slowly and gently and held close to your chest where they feel secure. Guinea pigs are not suitable for younger children as they often squeeze the guinea pigs too tight, or poke and jab them. Older children, however, make excellent guinea pig owners. Guinea pigs tend to get lonely, so if you have the room, adopt two.
You can train your guinea pig as Pavlov did his dog. Shake his bag of food every time you go to feed your guinea pig. Soon your piggy will squeak when he hears the bag rattling, knowing that you’re going to feed them. I once worked with guinea pigs that actually knew what I looked and smelled like. Everyday at the Santa Barbara Humane Society, I’d come in to feed the guinea pigs timothy hay and veggies, and they would start squeaking as soon as they saw me even if I didn’t have a bag of treats!
Funny Facts About Guinea Pigs
• Guinea pigs all have a little bald spot behind each ear.
• They have four toes in the front and three in the back.
• They will sometimes sleep with their eyes open.
• Guinea pigs are famous for “pop corning”—little vertical hops of one to two inches they make when they’re excited or happy.
• Guinea pig pellets (these aren’t the same as rabbit pellets)
• Leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, and romaine lettuce; carrots, celery, and broccoli
• Fresh fruit such as apples, oranges, and strawberries. Be sure to remove all seeds from the fruit
• “All they can eat” timothy hay
• A gnawing log is essential as guinea pigs’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives.
• Be sure to include these extra fruits and veggies as guinea pigs are unable to produce their own vitamin C and can potentially get scurvy from lack of vitamin C.
• Change water daily. Guinea pigs tend to backwash when they drink; if you are using a water bottle, the bottle they drink from will get quite murky.
• The best cages to use are those that have plastic bottoms. The wire-bottom cages can cause sore hocks and foot problems in guinea pigs, so stay away from those.
• Their living quarters should be at least 18 inches wide, 14 inches high, and 25 inches deep. Check out this Web site for more information: www.guineapigcages.com.
• Guinea pigs should always have a place to hide—plastic igloos are the best option, but an old shoebox works great, too.
• Newspaper and timothy hay are the best options for lining the cage. Never use cedar shavings or sawdust. They can be very harmful to guinea pigs. The pigs will use the hay as food, bedding, and as their bathroom. Be aware that guinea pigs are messy! They typically scatter their bedding and food.
• Guinea pigs are curious and playful, so provide plenty of entertainment such as toys and tunnels. Paper towel and toilet paper rolls make great tunnels!
• When picking up guinea pigs, be sure to support both their front and rear ends when you’re holding them as their spines are fragile.
• Guinea pigs’ necks aren’t very flexible and so they always like to be held horizontally, not vertically. They should be held on your lap and not across your chest or your shoulder like a cat.
• Time out of the cage is very beneficial. Guinea pigs like to play on the floor, sit in your lap, or just run around. However, guinea pigs must be supervised when they are loose because they will chew on anything in their paths— including electrical wires.
• As mentioned above, your guinea pig’s teeth will never stop growing. They need to chew on tough hay stalks or wood blocks to wear down their teeth. Their nails don’t stop growing either. They will need trimming every once in awhile.
• Wax behind the ears is totally normal. Try to clean them occasionally, but they will most likely never be squeaky clean.
• The longhaired breeds of guinea pigs require frequent brushing and combing to stay clean and tangle-free.
For more information on adopting a rescued guinea pig in your area, visit www.petfinder.com
Guinea Pigs Available for Adoption in Santa Barbara
BUNS (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter) has many guinea pigs available for adoption. For more information on adopting a guinea pig from BUNS, call Animal Control Services at (805) 681-5285 or BUNS at (805) 683-0521, or visit bunssb.org
Guinea pigs tend to hide out in their igloos in shelters, so you will need some assistance in choosing one. If you sit on the floor with your legs straight out with another person doing the same (their feet touching yours) you have created a little play area for the guinea pig so you can get to know them before you adopt!
Adoptable Pet of the Week