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Guinea Pig Information Package


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Bowmanville Veterinary Clinic

Caring for Your Guinea Pig

The guinea pig (GP) or cavy, Cavia porcellus, is the domesticated form of a rodent found native to the Andes Mountains of South America. In the sixteenth century, they were brought to Europe and selectively bred into three main varieties. Though more recently, a multitude of new varieties have been developed through mutation of these three basic types:

1. Shorthaired or the English or American Cavy has short hair. 

2. Abyssinian cavy has short rough hair formed in whorls or rosettes. 

3. Peruvian Cavy has long hair often exceeding 6 inches in length.

All three breeds exist in a variety of colors. Adult males weigh around 1000 grams, females weigh between 700 to 850 grams. Life expectancy ranges up to 8 years with 4-6 years average.

The picture above is of a skinny pig named Wilbur. These pigs are for the most part hairless except for coarse hair around the head and extremities.


A pelleted diet formulated specifically for guinea pigs should be the primary diet along with timothy hay and greens. Stay away from the new seed, dried veggie, and pellet formulas. These tend to promote stomach distress and dental disease. Make sure the pellets are made for GP’s, these have additional Vitamin C. Vitamin C degrades rapidly when exposed to heat, humidity, and light; therefore it is best not to buy pellets in large quantities. Pellets should be used within 3 months of the milling date on the package.

Guinea pigs have an absolute dietary requirement for vitamin C, without it they may become very ill. A daily supplement of Vitamin C should total 100 mg. Children’s chewable Vitamin C tablets can be offered or Oxbow chewable vitamin C tablets. Refer to our healthy greens for guinea pigs care sheet for fresh veggie ideas.

New foods should be introduced gradually, to make sure your guinea pig does not develop diarrhea.

Timothy hay or oat grass hay should be offered daily.

Veggies for Guinea Pigs

Listed below are some nutritious foods for you to incorporate into your family member's diet. Nutrition plays a major role in the health and longevity of any animal. Keep in mind that moderation and variety are the keys to offering a complete well-balanced diet.

Swiss Chard (high in calcium and vitamin C)

Endive (suitable amounts of calcium and vitamin C)

Escarole (suitable amounts of calcium and vitamin C)

Dandelion Greens (suitable in calcium, high in vitamin C)

Beet Greens (suitable in calcium, high in vitamin C)

Cilantro (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Parsely (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Mache (poor in calcium, high in vitamin C)

Cress (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Romaine (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Boston (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Carrot (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Yam (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Pumpkin (poor in calcium, fair in vitamin C)

Papaya (poor in calcium, suitable in vitamin C)

Bell Pepper (poor in calcium, suitable in vitamin C)

Guinea Pig Food Pyramid

At breakfast and dinner feed a mix of:

Alfalfa sprouts, Arugula, Beet greens, Bibb, Boston, or Butter lettuce, Celery leaves, Escarole, Fennel, Frisse, Green leaf lettuce

Herbs - mint, thyme, or basil

Parsley - Curley or Italian

Romaine lettuce, Radicchio, Red Leaf Lettuce

Sage, Sorrel, Spring mix, Turnip Greens, Watercress, What Grass

Limit Treats to once a day:

1 oz of high fiber pellets such as Oxbow Guinea Pig pellets, per Kg of body weight.

Fresh herbs, Oxbow Rewards treats, Oxbow Papaya Enzyme tablets, Apple or Pear Branches, or Pet grass

Vitamin C supplement 50 mg per day..

Due to high calcium content feed only 1-2x a week:

Collard Greens             Turnip Greens

Mustard Greens           Carrot Tops

Kale                             Spinach

Common Diseases

1-Bacterial Enteritis               

A number of bacteria are capable of causing infections of the gastrointestinal tract in guinea pigs. Some of these bacteria are introduced through contaminated greens or vegetables or in contaminated water. One of the most common bacteria that cause intestinal disease in guinea pigs is Salmonella. In addition to diarrhea, other common symptoms associated with intestinal diseases are lethargy and weight loss. In other cases, sudden death may occur before expressions of these signs. A veterinarian will often elect to use aggressive antibiotic therapy and supportive care to treat this condition.

2- Bacterial Pododermatitis (Footpad Infection)               

Severe infections of the footpads are very common among guinea pigs housed in cages with wire flooring. Fecal soiling of the wire potentiates the problem. The guinea pig's front feet are most vulnerable to this condition. Symptoms of this condition include swelling of the affected feet, lameness, and reluctance to move. Improved sanitation and cage floor alterations are the initial steps in correcting the problem. In addition, the feet themselves should be treated by a veterinarian.

3- Barbering (Hair Chewing)               

Hair loss is a common problem in guinea pigs. 'Barbering' is just one of the many causes of it. This vice (bad habit) occurs when guinea pigs chew on the hair coats of other guinea pigs that are lower than them in the social 'pecking order'. The dominant 'pig' and the main culprit is identified by its normal, full hair coat while others have areas of alopecia (hair loss). There is no treatment for this condition except separating the guinea pigs if it becomes a serious problem. Hair loss or hair thinning can occur for a number of other reasons as well. Certain fungal diseases and external parasite infestations also present with hair loss problems.

4- External Parasites (Lice and Mites)               

Lice and mites are the most common external parasites of guinea pigs. Lice are tiny, wingless, flattened insects that live within the hair coats of infested animals. Both adults and eggs are found attached to the hair shafts of affected pets. Mites are microscopic, spider-like organisms that infest the top layers of the skin in affected animals. Mite infestations are usually more severe than lice. A specific mite, Trixacarus cavie, causes serious infestations in pet guinea pigs.This sarcoptic mite lives in the outer layers of skin causing an intense itching and scratching with considerable hair loss. In some cases, they present without itching and scratching but with only hair loss and crusting of the skin. A veterinarian can diagnose this mite infestation by performing skin scrapings of affected areas and viewing them under the microscope. Lice infestations often go unnoticed. However, heavy infestations are usually accompanied with excessive itching, scratching, and some hair loss. Scabbing on or around the ears may also be evident. A veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis of lice infestation by examination of the hair coat as well as microscopic examination of hairs from affected animals.

5- Heat Stress (Stroke)               

Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stroke, particularly those that are overweight and/or heavily furred. Environmental temperatures above 85 degrees, high humidity (above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, overcrowding, and other stresses are additional predisposing problems. Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, reluctancy to move, convulsions, and ultimately, death. Prevention of heat stroke involves providing adequate shade and proper ventilation. In addition, a cool misting of water and/or a fan operating over a container of ice can be directed toward the pet's cage. If indoors, air conditioning during the heat of the summer provides the best relief.

6- Pneumonia               

Pneumonia is one of the most common bacterial diseases of the pet guinea pig. Respiratory infections are caused by a number of viral and bacterial agents. Many of the disease causing organisms inhabit the respiratory tracts of clinically normal guinea pigs. Conditions of stress, inadequate diet, and improper husbandry will often predispose a pet to an opportunistic infection with one or more of these agents. Symptoms of pneumonia may include dyspnea (difficulty breathing), discharge from the nose and eyes, lethargy, and in-appetance. In some cases, sudden death will occur without any of these signs. Veterinary consultation is required when a guinea pig exhibits any of the above symptoms.

7- Scurvy (Vitamin C Deficiency)               

Similar to humans, Guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own Vitamin C so they must obtain it from their diet. Also known as scurvy, this disease is characterized by a breakdown of connective tissues in the body which can cause abnormalities such as arthritis, skin sores, and dental disease. Since vitamin C is present in small amounts in many foods, this is a disease that tends to occur slowly over time, as the lack of vitamin C build up over the long term. You may not notice a problem right away, depending on your guinea pig’s diet health status, and age.

Some pelleted diets have added vitamin C, but not enough. Several factors can be involved in this. Storage in warm conditions or in direct sunlight can cause breakdown of the vitamin. Also, the vitamins in the pellets naturally break down over time, so older bags contain less vitamin C than newer bags. Offering vitamin C in the water is not recommended because vitamins break down quickly when exposed to light. Vitamins in water also encourage bacterial growth, which can be detrimental to your guinea pig.

Once deficiency develops, it can be treated with vitamin C supplementation, but some of the side effects may persist for the rest of the guinea pig’s life. Dental disease is a lifelong and potentially fatal problem, which requires tooth trimming periodically (monthly). Arthritis is painful, but can be controlled long term with pain medication and supplements from your veterinarian. Gastro-intestinal stasis (bloat and constipation) is a condition that can come on suddenly, and is often life-threatening, requiring immediate veterinary care.

The best way to ensure that your guinea pig is receiving enough Vitamin C is to give it a 50mg. tablet twice daily. Oxbow vitamin C tablets are formulated especially for guinea pigs, or you can obtain sugar-free children’s chewable tablets from your local drug store. If your guinea pig will not eat the tablet, there are several ways to entice him. Breaking it in half releases the aroma; making it more appealing. Try crushing it on top of wet greens, or a favourite food item. You may also crush it with water and give it by mouth with a syringe. Powered vitamin C crystals can also be sprinkled on moistened greens if your guinea pig will not eat tablets. Certain greens such as cilantro and parsley are especially high in vitamin C (higher than oranges believe it or not!), so they make great healthy treats.

8 - Slobbers / Dental Malocclusion               

Slobbers is the condition where the fur under the jaw and down the neck remains wet from the constant drooling of saliva. The primary cause for this condition is overgrowth of the guinea pig's premolars and/or molars. Most often this occurs in older (2-3 years of age) guinea pigs and usually involves the premolars (the most forward positioned cheek teeth). The overgrowth is due to improper alignment of the teeth when chewing, and excess selenium in the diet has also been incriminated. The overgrown tooth causes injury to the guinea pig's tongue resulting in an inability to chew and swallow food, drooling down the chin and neck, and weight loss (often severe). A veterinarian must be consulted as soon as this condition is suspected. The diagnosis is confirmed by visual examination of the mouth. Correction of the problem involves trimming or filing of the overgrown teeth (usually requiring general anesthesia). Dental work in the mouth of a guinea pig is difficult due to the extremely small mouth opening. There is no permanent solution or correction to this problem. Periodic trimming or filing of the teeth is usually necessary. Guinea pigs with this problem should not be bred since dental malocclusion is often hereditary.