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Guinea pig care guide

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What to expect

Guinea pigs, or cavies, are hardy, comical and, usually, affectionate and good with children. They're also 'chatty' – with a repertoire of endearing noises – and come in a myriad of colours, sizes, coat lengths and facial expressions. They're not demanding but do need all the basics – socialisation, health and hygiene. They also need more space than you might think – including a large enough cage (see below).

Guinea pigs must never live alone, and many of our adoptions are single guinea pigs being introduced to a recently bereaved guinea pig. BARKSare happy to bond the two on neutral territory to ease the process of introduction.

BARKS won't allow you to adopt a breeding pair. But we will encourage you to take on two or three of the same sex as they are herd animals.It's best to have siblings, otherwise they might fight. Depending on the circumstances, neutering is an advantage to avoid males fighting,and of course to avoid males and females breeding. However this is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as some male siblings bond successfully with no need for neutering.

Typically,well cared for, they live for four-to-eight years, so they're along-term commitment, for children and their parents.

Getting to know them

To get acquainted and build trust, choose a calm, quiet time and place and go slowly. Always use both hands to pick up the guinea pig. Support her body from underneath and wrap your fingers round gently.Place the other hand under her bottom and lift. If you hold her close to you she'll feel more secure and struggle less.

Guinea pigs are smart and will learn quickly if you interact with them several times a day. For playtime you don't need to spend much on toys – ping pong or tennis balls are perfect for them to chase. You could also buy a tunnel – but make sure it's not made of materials like cardboard or glue as the guinea pig might eat them and suffer as a result.

If you take on a pig who dislikes being stroked or held, it could be they've been mishandled before they came to BARKS. We'll advise you of this if it's so.  Don’t give up. Hold them for a few minutes at a time and be gentle. They'll gradually get used to being loved.

Food and feeding

Guinea pigs are grazing animals. So, it’s vital they always have quality,bagged, non-dusty hay to keep their digestive systems working and prevent their teeth growing too long. They also need a  small amount of guinea pig mix, daily. Supplement this with some fruit and vegetables to give them a source of vitamin C, because guinea pigs don't produce this key enzyme themselves. Dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, coriander, broccoli, kale and cabbage are all good, as are melons and apples or oranges. A small cupful per day. Never give them iceberg lettuce as it can cause diarrhoea.

To drink, just some fresh cool water, topped up regularly, in a dish or water bottle.

Health & hygiene

Choosing the right cage is crucial.At least 7ft square for one animal. And don't be fooled by the sizeof a baby guinea pig – they will be much bigger as an adult!

If outdoors or in an outbuilding, they need a large predator-proof wooden hutch and run. Each hutch should have a separate sleeping area where the pig can retreat to get some rest. Also look for a cage with a tray at the base as this is more comfy for the animal to walk on than wire mesh and easier to clean. Make sure the hutch is out of direct sunlight and draughts as guinea pigs are very temperature-sensitive, and protect them from dampness.  It is essential to protect guinea pigs from cold weather, they are happiest at 12-15 degrees Centigrade, and many people keep them in heated outbuildings.  In warmer weather, beware of flies laying eggs in soiled bedding, which can result in fly strike which is fatal to guinea pigs.

If indoors, your pig will need to run around frequently, so it’s important to allocate one room they can explore safely.

Whether their hutch is inside or out, they also need an outdoor run so they can graze, and when they do not have access to grazing areas, freshly picked grass should be provided.  

For bedding, dust-free hay is fine, on top of a layer of newspaper. Avoid pine or cedar shavings because they are toxic to guinea pigs.  Straw can cause eye injuries so is best avoided.

The cage needs cleaning out every day – especially into the corners,and the food and water need replacing just as often. BARKS suggest you do a cage 'deep clean' at least once a week.

A healthy guinea pig is alert, with bright eyes and a good coat. Guinea pigs generally keep themselves clean. A short-haired animal can be wiped with a dry cloth and brushed gently a couple of times a week. Along-haired guinea pig should be brushed gently each day and bathed two or three times a year.Also remember to clip your guinea pig’s nails every few weeks.

Safety tips

Children need supervision when playing with the guinea pig and should be encouraged to be gentle and keep play sessions short.

For indoor pets allocated a room for exercise and play:

  • Remove wires or cables they might chew and get electrocuted.
  • Remove other pets. Introduce them very carefully and slowly.
  • Choose a room with wipeable flooring because the inevitable will happen!


Never keep guinea pigs – or any animal – in a garage used for vehicles as the fumes can kill them.

Don't keep guinea pigs and rabbits in the same hutch or run, as the pigs may be bullied or badly injured and rabbit bacteria can also be harmful to them.