Breed: Guinea pig (Cavy)
Temperament: Easily tamed
Cost: $10 plus
Lifespan: 5-10 years
Recommended for: Children and adults
Guinea pigs (also known as cavies) are normally divided into three coat types: Smooth-haired – The short coats are the easiest to look after. There is a range of colours, markings, patterns or crests. Long-haired – The long silky hair needs brushing every day and regular bathing. These include the Sheltie, the Coronet and the Peruvian. Coarse-coats – These coats give the guinea pig an unusual rough look as the hair swirls and points in every direction giving it a rough appearance.
Most guinea pigs are easily tamed and handled. Ideally they should be handled daily and most won’t bite but they may scratch if mishandled.
Guinea pigs can squeak, squeal and grunt to express themselves. They give a high-pitched squeak when they’re hungry or see food coming.
Rabbit or guinea pig pellets are available at good pet stores. Water must always be available and will stay cleaner if supplied in a gravity feed bottle, but a heavy dish will suffice.
Guinea pigs need fresh, clean unsprayed grass every day to supply vitamin C which the body cannot store. An alternative to grass could be hay or lucerne. They can also be fed any or a mixture of the following:
Cabbage (small amounts), apples, cauliflower leaves, lucerne hay or chaff, celery, tops or stalks (washed), pea shells, carrots (tops and peelings), banana peel, lettuce (small amounts), parsley, water and rock melon, beans (stringless and runner types), cucumber, sweet corn and husks with silk, tomatoes, silver beet, pieces of mint (occasionally), and spinach.
Hard-dried wholemeal bread makes a change and is good for their teeth, as well as rolled oats or hulled oats.
Health and lifespan
Guinea pigs are susceptible to extreme temperatures of heat and cold. (Temperatures over 30°C can cause problems. Protect from sudden cold snaps and draughts). If the animal’s eyes become bloodshot check for grass seeds in the fur around the eyes. Groom regularly to remove fleas and ticks and check for mange. Avoid rhubarb leaves which are lethal. Oxalis can cause paralysis, while potatoes and peelings can also be toxic. Toxaemia during pregnancy can occur if females overheat. Excess amounts of lettuce can cause diarrhoea.
They live for five to 10 years.
Guinea pigs are almost too easy to breed: females can become pregnant again within 12 hours of giving birth. Short-hairs usually have four babies per litter and long-hairs, two. Babies are born fully furred with their eyes open. They are usually taken from their mothers at four weeks and sold from eight weeks of age.
Each guinea pig should be allowed a minimum of 70cm x 70cm (30″ x 30″). Commercial guinea pig hutches are available from pet shops and cost from $50 to $200. Tin or aluminium hutches can get quite hot in summer but timber hutches can rot and be chewed. If you wanted to make your own, some clubs will provide advice and diagrams. (See contact list below). Do not use treated pine in any construction used for guinea pigs as the preservative used to treat the timber is toxic.
Bedding should be softwood shavings such as pine but avoid treated pine as this is toxic if chewed. Sawdust can cause respiratory problems if inhaled, and cedar shavings can also cause irritation. Cages should be cleaned and bedding replaced weekly.
Guinea pigs will happily live by themselves but if buying two ensure they are both females as two males can fight, and the alternative is a population explosion.
Some owners say that while it’s relatively easy to determine the sex of adults, avoid pet shops which keep all the guinea pigs together as it is highly likely the females will be pregnant.
While smooth-coated varieties can be brushed when needed, long-haired pets need to be groomed every couple of days and exhibition guinea pigs are groomed every day for around 20 minutes. Pet long-hairs can have their coats trimmed every three months or so.
They are usually groomed with a wide-toothed comb and finished with a brush. Exhibition long-hairs often have their coats wrapped up in chux or greaseproof paper to protect it.
These are easy-to-keep pets for almost any situation as long as they are protected from predators. They are ideally-sized for children over five years of age but long-haired varieties are not recommended for very young children or beginners.
Guinea pigs originated in South America where the Incas referred to them as ‘cui’ thought to mean ‘the little pig’ but they aren’t pigs and they’re not from Guinea! They are, in fact, tailless rodents with the scientific name, Cavia porcellus, from which their other popular name, cavy, is taken. The name cavy is used in club names rather than guinea pig.
NSW Cavy Club
Vice President: Daniel Duffin
Phone: (02) 6254 0001
Secretary: Eveon Mafrici
Phone: (02) 9724 3754
Breeder: Billinda Watson
Phone: (02) 9824 0937
Brisbane Cavy Fanciers
Victorian Cavy Council
Phone: (03) 9776 5455
South Australian Cavy Club
Phone: (08) 8522 1268