When I was twelve I begged my dad for a pet. He vetoed a dog or a cat but one night he arrived home with a large cage which housed two chubby balls of cuteness. It was my introduction to guinea pigs.
I christened them Siouxsie Sioux and Roxy (which gives away my teenage musical tastes). They became my characterful and vocal companions for the next six or so years.
Guinea pigs, or ‘cavies’, are short-tailed, rough-haired South American rodents. They are longer-lived and friendlier than hamsters, and more socially acceptable than rats (disclaimer…I love rats, but many people don’t).
Guinea pigs are pretty hardy and healthy if fed properly. They can be prone to dental issues and bladder stones, but proper nutrition and regular medical check-ups help prevent this. They originate from cool climates and don’t do well in hot, humid, or freezing conditions, so avoid positioning the cage next to a radiator or keeping them outside unless you have a very sheltered warm shed.
The warnings in the previous paragraph notwithstanding guinea pigs are actually easy to care for. They require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables, a small quantity of specialist guinea pig pellets, and a vitamin C supplement each day. Their cage should be as large as possible and lined with paper-based bedding. It needs to be spot cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned weekly. They are very sociable and highly fertile so don’t keep a male and female together unless you want baby guinea pigs! They are great pets for younger children under parental supervision. They can be short or long-haired and come in a variety of colours. The long-haired ones are very pretty but do require frequent grooming.
The fact that they can live up to 7-8 years (average around 5-6) is both a bonus but also something to consider if your child requests a guinea pig aged fifteen but plans to move out to attend university at 18!
Guinea pigs are rodents with definite personalities so take the time to interact with a few before taking one home. Some are shy and quiet; others are bold and vocal. You need to choose one (or two) that suit your personality and expectations.
One of the most delightful characteristics of guinea pigs are the sounds they make. They purr like a cat when they are happy and relaxed. They make soft squeaks and squeals to communicate and chatter their teeth when disgruntled. They also exhibit a behaviour called ‘popcorning’ – they jump up and down when happy or excited). My son (who has two guinea pigs) calls it their ‘happy dance’. It’s cute to watch; and they really do like people. They bond with their owners and are as interactive and friendly as cats or dogs. The flip side of this is that if they are ignored they can become depressed.
Guinea pigs make amazing companions.
If you’re considering a pet then check out these cute little creatures.