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Buying a Guinea Pig

It is best to buy your Guinea Pig when it is 6-8 weeks old, when it is fully independent of its mother. It should be alert, lively and the eyes and nose should be free of discharge. 

Feet, foot pads and claws should be clean and dry. 

Teeth should be unbroken and upper and lower teeth should connect with each other.

Housing

The cage should protect the guinea pig from dogs, cats and rats, therefore a mesh wire over the top of the box is recommended. Do not place the guinea pig on a wire or mesh floor as this can result in foot ulcers.

Frequent cleaning is essential as good sanitation can prevent nearly all gastrointestinal diseases. Make sure the hutch is placed away from draughts.

Be careful when placing guinea pigs on a high surface such as a table top.  When they are excited or nervous they have been known to jump from an open space onto the floor regardless of the height.

Never house rabbits and guinea pigs together. Rabbits can harbour a bacteria in their respiratory tract without developing clinical signs and spread it to the guinea pig. This bacteria can lead to a serious disease and sudden death in guinea pigs.

Nutrition

Guinea Pigs sometimes die of dehydration even though water appears to be available. A more dominant guinea pig may prevent others from drinking.  Guinea pigs may plug sipper bottles with foreign objects such as bedding.  Also the waterer may be placed too high for your pet to reach it. Water bottles with the metal tips are the preferred ones as guinea pigs like to chew on the ends of the drinkers.

Guinea pigs of all ages require vitamin C in their diet. Guinea pigs do not possess the enzyme which is required for synthesis of vitamin C in the body, therefore they rely solely on dietary sources of vitamin C. The feed content of vitamin C is decreased by dampness, heat and light, so food should be stored in a dry, dark place with the ambient temperature less than 22 degrees Celsius.  Buying pelleted diets specifically for guinea pigs alone will provide enough vitamin C, so long as it is stored properly and used within 90 days.

If you are adding vitamin C to drinking water, 50% of the vitamin may be lost within 24 hours. The vitamin C content will decrease more rapidly in metal water containers, if exposed to heat or light, and if mixed in hard water.

Fresh fruit and vegetables can be added to the diet. A heavy food bowl is recommended as guinea pigs tend to tip over lighter bowls.

Common Diseases

Dental Problems

If the upper and lower teeth don’t align (malocclusion) they will grow and may cause mouth ulcers and difficulty picking up and chewing food. All teeth can be affected and clipping of the teeth may be required.

Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy)

Scurvy is characterised by lethargy, a course coat, weight loss, and anorexia.  Other less common clinical signs include lameness, reluctance to move and biting or vocalising due to the pain associated with handling or movement.  Once guinea pigs are weakened by this disease, it will be very susceptible to respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases. The starvation or secondary infections will cause death.

Emaciation

Anorexia and emaciation is common in guinea pigs. 

Causes include dental malocclusion, vitamin c deficiency, sudden changes in food, feeders or waterers.

Alopecia (hair loss)

Weaning guinea pigs may develop thin hair as neonatal hair falls out.  If group housed, the more dominant ones may chew the fur of the lower ranked guinea pigs.

Young animals may pull out the fur from their mothers.

Pregnant sows often lose their hair especially over the back and flanks during the later stages of pregnancy.

Bumblefoot

This is a common condition, more often involving the front paws. It is usually seen in guinea pigs that are overweight and that are housed on wire or abrasive floors. Feet become swollen, hairless, and ulcers and scabs form on the soles of the feet. This condition is very difficult to treat. Prevention is better than cure.

Sources

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RSPCA

VetWest