Are you ready for a Guinea Pig? What to know BEFORE adopting a pet guinea pig.
Are you thinking about getting a Guinea Pig? If you’re considering adopting a new Guinea Pig or two, there are a few things you should know first.
It’s true, they are super cute mild-tempered furry little potatoes. But are you sure you’re truly ready to go down Guinea Pig Lane? After answering the following nine questions you’ll know whether or not they’re the right pet for you and your family.
What are some things I should know before getting a pet Guinea Pig?
Guinea Pigs aren’t the type of pet you bring home on a whim. But really no pet is! There is a good amount of initial setup and cost involved. It’s NOT – buy the tiny little cage from the pet store, a water bottle, some hay, and some Guinea Pig pellets and you’re good to go…if only.
And they definitely aren’t “starter pets”, no matter what the people at the pet store or the people giving them to you try to say!
I want to be completely open and honest about a few things right off the bat. I did not go into adopting my first pair of piggies fully informed. Rather I caved to the relentless pleas from my son for a pet Guinea Pig, shortly after our African Pygmy Hedgehog passed away. RIP sweet Dandy boy.
With some research and a general idea of what we were getting into, we adopted two males, Snickers, and Reese. But, after a few trips to the vet, I quickly realized I had a lot more to learn about Guinea Pigs. And I needed to figure it out fast!
You can read a little more about our adoption story if you’d like.
You see, there’s a great deal of confusing and conflicting info out there about how to care for Guinea Pigs. Because of this, I want to simplify things to help newbie Guinea Pig owners avoid some of the pitfalls I made when I was first starting out.
The fact that you’re here now reading this, shows that you’re already doing your own research! Way to go! And by going through these questions you’ll have an even better idea about the time, space, energy, and financial investment involved with owning Guinea Pigs.
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Start here BEFORE adopting Guinea Pigs
Without further adieu, I invite you to check out the following questions to prepare yourself before getting Guinea Pigs. It may help you avoid re-homing, returning, or surrendering your piggies down the road.
This first question is for parents and guardians who are asking if Guinea Pigs are good pets for children.
If your kids keep begging for a pet Guinea pig, I totally understand! It’s hard not to give in when they say, “Pleeeeeease can I have a Guinea Pig?!” But, ask yourself this first.
1. Are you prepared to oversee and supervise your child(ren) with the daily care of the Guinea Pigs?
Guinea Pigs are not starter pets and require daily care and attention. Despite what many pet stores may tell you about the level of care they need, they are not low-maintenance pets. Not by a long shot!
The “beginner pet” tag posted on the side of the cage is simply not true!
So, if you give your child a pet Guinea Pig, be prepared to handle and oversee the care and chores involved.
Things to be aware of:
- Even the most responsible children and teens will need help and/or supervision with the daily feeding, chores, and cleaning of the cage. This FREE weekly care guide and schedule will help you and the kiddos keep track of all the daily and weekly Guinea Pig jobs!
- Children should never be left to care for Guinea Pigs on their own to “teach responsibility.” The only ones who suffers if the daily chores aren’t done are the Guinea Pigs. Adults should always check in on them.
- Guinea Pigs are fragile animals so they need to be held carefully and watched closely when they’re out of their enclosure.
- They can be “jumpers” so it’s best to have an adult pick them up out of their cage and place them back into their cage, so they aren’t accidentally dropped. Of course, older children can do this once they know how to handle them.
- Teaching children how to properly hold a Guinea Pig by supporting their back legs will keep their fragile spines safe when being picked up.
- Speaking of fragile spines, a word of caution, NEVER put a Guinea Pig in a wheel or an exercise ball! They are dangerous for piggies and can cause serious injury or even death.
While Guinea Pigs are common household pets, it’s good to know their unique needs so they can live happy healthy lives and you’re not shocked at how high maintenance they are!
I wish that more parents knew this before getting Guinea Pigs for their children. It would keep so many Guinea Pigs from being neglected, returned, given up, or worse abandoned outside.
On the flip side, I’ve heard many parents say that they initially got the Guinea Pigs for their kids and ended up falling in love with them too!
This is exactly what happened in our house. Our six furry little potatoes are my babies, even though we bought them “for our son”. But, I also do 99.99% of the care and maintenance.
2. Do you or those you live with have allergies to Hay or to Guinea Pigs?
This might seem like an obvious question. But, it’s worth asking if you live with roommates or family members who might have potential allergies to Guinea Pigs or to the hay they eat.
It would be a shame to bring your new pet home only to find that you or those you live with can’t live with your Guinea Pigs – without taking allergy medicine.
FYI, they eat copious amounts of hay and it’s about 80% of their diet. So having hay particles float through the air is the norm if you’re keeping your Guinea Pigs inside the house.
They need access to unlimited piles of hay 24/7 to keep their digestive system moving and to help wear their continuously growing teeth down.
Not only is hay important for their diet, but it’s also a crucial part of their enrichment as they burrow and forage in the piles of hay!
You might be asking, but what if I’m allergic to hay can I still get a Guinea Pig?
There's hope. Guinea Pigs can eat various types of hay including Timothy Hay, Orchard Grass, Oat Grass, and Alfalfa – for young and nursing pups (aka baby Guinea Pigs) so you may just need to stay away from the types of hay that cause you allergy symptoms. You can read more about the various types of hay Guinea Pigs can eat.
Timothy Hay makes me sneeze, but Orchard Grass doesn't bother my allergies. I swap between the two and mostly use Timothy Hay when we can keep the windows and doors open on nice days.
A real lifesaver for our allergies is this air purifier! It's a MUST have if you've got hay or pet allergies! We currently have two running in our living room and it keeps the dust, dander, and odors under control.
3. Does your current living situation allow for pets in the home?
Would those you live with be okay with Guinea Pigs in the house?
It’s always a good idea to consider how your roommates or family members would feel about having Guinea Pigs.
They do need a good amount of space. They also need lots of hay which means there will be stray pieces of hay here and there (or everywhere!) depending on how tidy you keep their living area.
How noisey are Guinea Pigs? Will they be disruptive?
Cavies (another name for Guinea Pigs) each have their own unique personalities and temperaments. Some are more active and vocal while others are content to laze around and nibble quietly on their hay.
While Guinea Pigs are rather docile creatures, they can be squeaky at times. Especially if they hear a crinkly bag or the refrigerator door open. They might “wheek” or squeak loudly in anticipation of being fed, if their hay gets too low, if they want a refill on their pellets, if they want a treat, or for any number of reasons. Ours are big-time beggars!
When they’re excited they get the “zoomies” and run laps around their cage which can be super cute and funny to watch. They also “popcorn” which is when they kick up their heels and buck like a wild horse at the same time. It looks spastic and can be concerning if you’ve never seen a Guinea Pig popcorn before. But, it just means they’re very happy!
If you’re looking for a super quiet animal, you might not want to get a Guinea Pig. But, I love when mine do “zoomies” and “popcorn” around their cage because it’s a sign they’re energetic and healthy!
My Peruvian Princess, Poppy is a very vocal young lady. She likes to get the rest of the troops involved with a loud wheeking match if I take too long to bring them their morning veggies.
If you rent or lease your home, do the owners, landlords, or property managers allow you to keep exotic pets?
Double-check your rental terms first!
Some places that list small pets as being allowed, such as small dogs and cats, exclude exotic pets like Guinea Pigs, Chinchillas, Sugar Gliders, and Hedgehogs.
So, be sure to check your lease agreement before bringing home your Guinea Pig(s). You never want to hide your pets or break the rules of your rental agreement and risk fines or legal repercussions.
4. Are you prepared to own at least two Guinea Pigs?
Wait! Who said anything about getting two?
You may have heard the saying…
And it’s true! It's not just a ploy from pet stores or the shelter trying to unload more than one piggy. Buddies are ideal!
Cavies are social animals and do much better in pairs or small groups. They are herd animals by nature and typically enjoy the company of at least one other piggy companion.
In the wild, Guinea Pigs have many natural enemies including snakes, hawks, owls, wild cats, coyotes, and wolves. A large herd helps keep them safe from predators because there is protection in numbers.
Beyond protection, a herd also establishes a pecking order or hierarchy within their community to keep order. Younger Guinea Pigs learn appropriate social behavior from older Guinea Pigs. It’s important they learn “their manners” so they can live amicably with other Guinea Pigs.
If you're wondering if you should get males or females, this might help!
Which Guinea Pig pairings work best?
Well, that depends.
Males vs female Guinea Pigs?
Two males can work together nicely if they’re not both going through puberty at the same time. If you have two adolescent males together you might notice some dominant behaviors like humping, rumble strutting, and chasing while they work to establish who the top pig is!
The signs of puberty usually start showing up around the 3-6 month mark and can continue on for a few months, but eventually, they settle down and can live happily together. Pairing an adult male with a young male pup (baby Guinea Pig) is easiest as they don't need to “square up” as much to determine who's the boss.
My boys, Reese and Snickers still have occasional humping battles and will chase each other around. Luckily they’ve never drawn blood or caused injury and are happy cagemates most of the time.
Two is company three is a crowd – when it comes to male Guinea Pigs.
Trios of males are never advised as they may fight more frequently. If you have a bonded pair of males, you do not want to upset the apple cart by introducing a third male to the mix. It’s not worth the risk of breaking the bond between your existing pair and then having to have 3 separate cages. This is so sad when it happens.
Female Guinea Pigs, on the other hand, do well with two or more females together.
If you want a small herd then 3 or 4 females can live happily together in a large enough cage.
They will still need to determine their pecking order, just like males. And that’s totally normal. So, if you see chasing, humping, or other aggressive behavior, know that it’s okay and necessary for them to create order amongst themselves.
If you’re wondering if male and female Guinea Pigs can live together, then it depends on a few things.
You could have one neutered male in the same cage with 2 or more females OR one male with all spayed females.
But, you NEVER want to put male and female Guinea Pigs together that aren’t fixed/de-sexed! You will quickly have a large herd on your hands with many mouths to feed!
Guinea Pigs are fertile at a very young age (around 4 weeks old) and females can get pregnant very easily with a fertile window every 16 days!
Unplanned pregnancies happen quickly if males and females are together. And if you're not an experienced Guinea Pig breeder, it's best to not breed. There are many risks involved with “backyard breeding” and it's not worth the risk of complications or death during delivery.
By having multiple same-sex or spayed/neutered Guinea Pigs living together, they get the much-needed social interaction from each other and won’t feel lonely or isolated, especially if you’re unable to be home with them throughout the day.
Having frequent engagement with a human is incredibly important for these highly social creatures. Because humans don’t “speak their language” having their own kind will help them feel safe and secure in their home.
Plus, Guinea Pigs who have a cagemate tend to live happier healthier lives!
5. Do you currently have other pets in the home?
Something to consider before bringing Guinea Pigs home is how your existing pets might react to new furry roommates. Some dogs and cats might not care at all about new housemates while others may be very curious or aggressive towards your Guinea Pigs.
Will your dog or cat play nice with your Guinea Pig?
No matter how well-tempered and gentle your dogs or cats are, please never leave your Guinea Pigs unattended with them. A cat or dog’s natural hunting instinct can kick in at any moment ending in injury or tragedy for the piggy.
How do I keep my Guinea Pigs Safe around my other pets?
Keep a lid or cover on the piggies cage, if you have a cat or dog who could get into the cage. Or, keep the cage up on a table with a lid or in another room that can be blocked off from unwelcome visits from the cat or dog. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.
6. Do you have the extra space required for a Guinea Pig cage?
Guinea pigs need enough space to meet their natural instincts to run around, graze, and hide in various spots. They love to do “zoomies” and “popcorn” when they’re excited, so they need plenty of space to get up to full speed without immediately running into a wall.
The small cages you find in most pet stores do not meet the standard minimum square feet requirements for a single Guinea Pig, let alone two or more! Even the ones that say XL or Jumbo usually aren’t big enough.
It’s tragic and cruel to put Guinea Pigs in a small cage and expect them to be happy and healthy. They need plenty of flat space to run around and be active!
How big of a cage do you need for two guinea pigs? (in square feet and in cm)
Guinea Pig Cage Size Recommendations
|Number of Guinea Pigs||Recommended Floor Space (square feet)||feet||cm|
|2 females (sows)||10 sq ft||2 x 5 ft||61 x 153 cm|
|2 males (boars)||12 sq ft||2 x 6 ft||61 x 183 cm|
|3 females (sows)||12 sq ft||2 x 6 ft||61 x 183 cm|
|1 male + 2 females||12 sq ft||2 x 6 ft||61 x 183 cm|
|4 females (sows)||14 sq ft||2 x 7 ft||61 x 214 cm|
|+ each additional Guinea Pig||add + 3 square feet||+ 1.5 x 1.5 ft||+ 46 x 46 cm|
Think about where you’ll keep the cage and if you have enough room for one. There are many different cage setup options. So, you should be able to find one that suits your Guinea Pigs needs and looks good in your home.
My personal favorite is the C&C cage! I DIY'ed mine and saved a lot of money by doing it myself.
These are the cage grids I purchased to create my 5×3 feet cages (15 square feet) for each pair of my Guinea Pigs.
When in doubt, bigger is always better! Your best bet is to get a larger cage than you think you need to avoid having to “size up” later on.
But, above all, be sure the cage is large enough for them to move around freely with many places to hide and burrow under large piles of hay. You’ll be sure to have happy “popcorning piggies” if you do.
7. Do you have the time and energy to care for Guinea Pigs?
As you know, Guinea pigs are social animals and will need an owner who has ample time to spend with them.
Not only will they do best with at least one other Guinea Pig friend, but they also do well with consistent daily interaction with their owners. Daily attention helps with taming and makes them more receptive to being held and cuddled.
Guinea pigs are naturally timid in new surroundings and people. So when you first get them it will take time, consistency, and patience to get them to trust you enough to be held. You can start off by sitting next to their cage, talking calmly, and offering them a few treats by hand. This will definitely help them warm up to you faster.
My boy Reese is very food motivated so he was tame in just a few weeks, while my more reserved Snickers took a bit longer to get used to being held. I use these pea flakes as bribery while taming my piggies!
Are you prepared to do lots of cleaning?
Cleaning up after your Guinea Pigs is a daily chore, which takes consistency, time and energy!
Cage cleaning needs to be done frequently depending on the number of Guinea Pigs you have and the size of the cage.
They’re also what I like to call “Super Poopers”! The amount of poop these little creatures make is astounding! So, be prepared to clean up lots of piggy poop multiple times per day if you want to keep the mess and odor under control.
I spot clean all three of our cages at least twice a day (morning and evening). I fully clean out all three cages twice a week.
My piggies love clean cages! They promptly begin to rearrange their furniture and mark their territories by doing the “butt drag”. It’s quite amusing to watch and kinda gross at the same time!
Full disclosure, I spend way more time on the upkeep and cleaning of the Guinea Pigs cages than I ever have with any other animal I’ve owned!
So, if you’re looking for a pet that you can clean up after just once a week, you might want to pass on getting Guinea Pigs.
If you need help with creating a daily to-do list and a weekly Guinea Pig schedule then be sure to grab your FREE helpful printable!
8. Do you have the extra money to take care of an exotic pet?
Guinea Pigs are considered “exotic animals”, and not all regular veterinarians will agree to treat them. Thus they may require seeing an Exotic Vet, which is sometimes more expensive than a traditional vet visit. It’s best to call around to secure an Exotic Vet and check if they are accepting new patients BEFORE bringing a new Guinea Pig home.
I’ve witnessed too many distraught Guinea Pig owners desperate for emergency veterinary care with nobody willing to see their sick pet. Or, they have to drive hours to see the closest exotic vet. It’s heartbreaking to hear of this happening, but unfortunately, it’s all too common.
Guinea Pigs can hide their illness very well, so it’s good to keep daily tabs on how they look and behave. This way you'll notice any changes in their behavior and react accordingly.
How much money do you need for Guinea pigs?
I needed to take Snickers to the emergency vet within the first few days of having him due to an upper respiratory infection (URI). Thank goodness there was a vet who would see him right away, otherwise, it could’ve turned out very badly for my little guy. URI's can be deadly if they aren’t treated promptly by a Cavy Savvy vet.
It wasn’t a cheap office visit ($210 + $30 for the prescription), but it saved his life!
Here’s a breakdown of some of the initial expenses and ongoing costs of owning Guinea Pigs.
These figures are estimations. Prices and supplies can vary depending on where you live, the number of Cavies you own, the type of food you provide, the bedding material you use, etc.
What are the initial set up costs and ongoing costs for Guinea Pigs?
|Initial Up Front Expenses|
|Recurring Ongoing Expenses (for 2)|
|Adoption Fee ($30-$50)||Daily Fresh Vegetables ($5-10+ per week)|
|Cage ($70 DIY to $200+)||Daily Unlimited Hay ($40+ per month)|
|Disposable Paper Bedding/Shavings ($20-$30+)||Disposable Paper Bedding/Shavings ($20-$30+ varies per cage size and cleaning frequency)|
|Reusable Fleece Cage Liners ($30 to $80+)||Guinea Pig Food Pellets (varies)|
|Hay ($20 bag up to $150 bulk)||Guinea Pig Safe Chew toys ($5+)|
|Guinea Pig Food Pellets ($15 bag)||Vit C Biscuits ($10+)|
|Water Bottle or Bowl ($10 to $15)||Cage add-ons ($ varies)|
|Fresh Vegetables ($5 to $10)||First Aid Supplies ($ varies)|
|Hides/Huts/Pigloos ($15+)||Grooming Supplies ($varies)|
|Cozy Beds/Hammocks/Fleece Forest ($15+)||Emergency Savings for Vet Bills, Rx Medicine, over the counter medicine ($$$ varies)|
|Treats and Enrichment ($10+)||Treats and Enrichment ($10+)|
|Total Estimated Initial Expenses: $350+||Total Estimated Monthly Expenses: ($75+ varies based on number of piggies)|
9. Are you prepared for a 5 to 8+ year Guinea Pig investment?
How long do Guinea Pigs live?
Unlike their smaller rodent relatives, like the hamster which lives 2-3 years, and the gerbil which lives about 3-4 years, the average lifespan of the domesticated Guinea pig is 5-8 years (sometimes more). This is great news if you want a furry friend who will live longer than just a couple of years! But, not so great if you’re not prepared for that type of commitment.
What do you do if you have a pair of Guinea Pigs and one dies?
I know, losing a fur baby is never easy. You’ll be sad of course, but so will your remaining piggy. Would you be willing to get them a new cagemate right away to avoid depression and loneliness? Getting them a friend would definitely help cheer you both up!
Yes, I know I sound like a broken record about the importance of having two or more Guinea Pigs.
But, did you know it’s actually illegal to have just one Guinea Pig in Switzerland? There’s even a Rent-a-Guinea-Pig service to help Swiss pet owners stay within the law and to keep solo piggies from being lonely and sad. I think it’s pure genius!
Want to try before you buy?
If you're in the South Eastern North Carolina area, Winterpast Family Farm offers weekly Guinea Pig rentals so you can see what they're like before committing to adopting your own.
Farmer Mary offers classroom pet rentals as well, so teachers can have an opportunity to expose their students to a class pet while learning more about how to care for Guinea Pigs.
Can I have just one Guinea Pig?
It’s not all doom and gloom for your solo pig after a cagemate passes away. Especially if you aren’t able to adopt more. Or, if you don’t want to keep the Guinea Pig pet cycle going.
Solo pigs have been known to live long healthy lives. If you’re not interested in getting a second one it’s okay. But, ideally, they do best with a buddy to live with! (Sorry, I can’t help myself.)
Getting a furry companion to keep you company is a big decision!
It’s important to be aware of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Guinea Pigs. Yes, they are adorable, entertaining, and can steal your heart. But they’re also time-consuming, somewhat costly, and can be high maintenance.
Hopefully, these questions have given you some clarity before bringing home a new pet Guinea Pig or two.
So, please take some time to think through these questions before deciding on Guinea Pig ownership. They’re not the right pet for everyone. And that’s okay! But for some, they’re the perfect pet!
If you have any other questions please leave me a comment below! And be sure to get your Free Weekly Care Guide and Schedule if you do decide to start your journey down Guinea Pig Lane!