Part 2 - Issues Facing Small Animals - Guinea Pig Care
So What Do Guinea Pigs Need?
If you missed Part 1 of this series, catch up here: Part 1
So I thought I was prepared, and we got our two girls, Ziggy and Cuddles. And I was really hoping the cage I bought at the store would be large enough as it is the largest regularly sold in pet stores - designated for rabbits - but once we got it home and set up, I realized there wasn't enough room for all the recommended space guinea pigs need. No matter what I thought, everything I read online had been correct; pet stores do not sell cages that meet the needs of the animals. And if it didn't fit guinea pigs in it, it most certainly wouldn't fit said rabbit!
There's six sq. ft. of space in the original cage. But piggies have a LOT of requirements like space to run around and a second guinea pig for companionship.
For two guinea pigs, the minimum space for comfort is 10.5 sq. ft. inside not including any lofts you might have. That's an interior measurement of approx. 27"x56". It is advisable, if you can, to make the cage longer rather than wider, as they do like to run and "popcorn" around.
Our new cage set up. A C&C cage, 10.5 sq ft in the base area, with a lid. We chose to add a small loft which measures approx. 12"x22".
Even if you only get one guinea pig, the minimum size recommended 7.5 sq. ft., which amounts to an interior measurement of 27"x41".
This size might seem absurd at first, but, let's pause and think about the size of adult pigs first. At adult size, a guinea pig can be anywhere between 10-14 inches long and weighs between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds. That's the size of a medium to a large eggplant!
They are not small, they like to run around, and they need room to get away from each other. That includes having hideys that have two entrances so that no one can get trapped in one by the other.
The FAVORITE hidey
Another great way to break up space is to use what is often called a "fleecy forest," or an area where several strips of fleece drop down, making both another space to hang out, and blocking arguing pigs from seeing each other for a bit.
An easy way to make a fleecy forest - shared from www.calicavycollective.com
Yes, even the most bonded of guinea pigs will occasionally sound like they are in a tiff, but as long as they aren't drawing blood or really fighting, they are just fine. We often joke that ours sound like two elderly sisters who can't stop crabbing at each other sometimes, but won't listen to the other one!
There are several ways to get a cage large enough - you can purchase a type called C&C cage online, as we did (pictured above) or you can build it out of the same materials that you can buy at a larger hardware store. All you need are metal grids that are 9X9 - the grids that size are the ones small enough to keep piggy heads from getting caught in the bars, and a material called coroplast - there's a link with directions below. Or go to it with wood and other materials - check out youtube, there are tons of videos on there!
Then there is the food! Hay is the most critical part of their diet. It should equal about 80% of their food. Fresh Timothy hay, possibly mixed with others like Orchard Grass, Oat, or Meadow Hay for variety, must be available at all times. Guinea pigs need a constant supply of food to keep their GI tract moving, or they risk going into stasis which is often fatal.
So busy eating, I fell asleep.
With two piggies, I go through two or three 90 oz bags of hay a month = approx $40-$60. And guinea pigs are messy creatures, if they can get the hay out of whatever containment system you choose, they will eat, pee, poop, and sleep in it. It makes my girls so happy; I let them keep some leftover hay to build their nests with when I refresh it in the morning.
Shortly after morning hay, Ziggy is done eating and has buried herself in it.
Guinea pigs also need a salad every day, the nutrients are necessary for their continued health, and their salad should consist of a wide variety of vegetables. Each pig needs about a cup of veggies a day consisting of a mix of lettuces, peppers (Vit. C!), and a rotating list of other things including but not limited to endive, cilantro, radicchio, parsley, zucchini, cucumber, and the very occasional fruit treat. (See further dietary resources at the bottom.)
In our family, the veggies must be the most expensive part, although I don't calculate what I spend on the pigs versus what I spend on us; but about three times a week we need to make a stop at the grocery store for some veg or another.
When we got the new cage, I learned how much harder it is to help a kid keep that much bedding clean and fresh, as well as how expensive it is. We were going through at least one bag of Carefresh ($20 each) per bedding change. That's at least one FULL change a week!
I heard about people using a combination of fleece over a few layers of Uhaul furniture pads as bedding instead. After looking further into it, fleece bedding seemed to make the most sense for our family. But, of course, hay gets everywhere, and it can be a pain to change too. We ended up ordering a particular food area that fits in our cage where we feed the pigs and give them hay. Since they tend to pee and poop in the places where they eat and sleep, we continue to use bedding in their "cafe" area.
Clean cage day! Hanging from the open lid is one of their "fleecy forests" and the other is to the right, in the loft, the yellow strips that currently fall around a tunnel. To the left, you can see the edge of their dining area with the hay pile.
Taking care of guinea pigs can get overwhelming. Not only do you need to be prepared to take on the most basic of needs, but they also do much better when they have opportunities for time to run around outside of the cage and snuggle time with their owners. And then there is everything else - vet bills ranging from basic check-ups to emergency visits, regular clipping of their nails, rotating and sanitizing hideys and toys, and more.
Yeah, I'll admit it, there are some days when I wish that we hadn't gotten guinea pigs, but we did and are committed to giving them the best care possible. I love these two messy, loud, needy, sweet little girls, the day they arrived they became part of our family.
See you for Part 3 where I will cover rabbits/bunnies, as well as touch on hamsters, gerbils and other small and furry cuties.
Further resources on Guinea Pig Care: