Guinea pigs. They’re cute and furry. Great cuddlers. Will make you laugh (probably every day). Fun to watch. They’ll listen quietly while you talk about your bad day. And probably watch movies with you without complaining about your picks. But with the good, comes… well, not really bad, but just some things you should be totally aware of before you decide to adopt one (or two or three or… you get the point). So, are guinea pigs the right pets for you?
They very well could be! But here’s a list of “you need to knows” before you take the plunge and welcome one into your family.
Guinea Pigs are Noisy Buggers
When they think you have the goods or when they think you should have the goods, they’ll totally let you know and are very vocal about that with their iconic (and loud) “wheek wheek.”
Plastic bags and the opening of your fridge door will set ‘em off and into a loud chorus of wheeking. Guinea pigs use water bottles, and when they’re drinking, the little metal ball at the end may get rolled and jostled around in the metallic spout causing a sound that can be quite loud at times especially if a cage is located in a bedroom.
I mean, have you seen this meme? It’s nothing but #truth.
Guinea Pigs are Insatiable Eating Machines
Aside from unlimited pellets and hay that must be available to them 24/7 because they're graze animals, you must be prepared for trips to the store to get the veggies and fruits they require daily. And they need daily generous helpings of the green stuff.
Guinea Pigs are Space Hoggers
Guinea pigs require much more space to lead a physically and mentally healthy life than most people think.
You'd think that when buying something at a store, the staff is knowledgeable about the products it sells. Sadly, when it comes to guinea pigs and their housing requirements, this isn't always the case. Routinely small cages like the popular “Guinea Pig Starter Kit” (the ones with the hard plastic bottoms) are recommended as the ideal size for one or two guinea pigs. I like to think of those cages as small jail cells; they condemn the pet to a lifelong sentence in a tiny space. Taking the guinea pig out of the cage often does not make up for lack of space while they're in it.
At this point you are probably thinking "why would a pet store give me incorrect information?" I've given that question a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that if prospective buyers are given the correct cage size information a lot of people may decide that they do not have the space for a properly sized cage and consequently not buy the animal. This would not be good for commerce.
I do not necessarily believe that profits are made from the sale of animals in stores, but once an animal is purchased, the buyer will come back for the food, hay and toys the animal requires. It's there where the profits are made.
At Los Angeles Guinea Pigs Rescue, we recommend a minimum size of 47” x 24”, or 8 square feet of living space for two OR one. Even one piggy needs a cage that has 8 square feet of living space. The Midwest Guinea Pig Habitat is a good example, as well as what we call the C and C cage (made with organizing cubes and a sheet of corrugated plastic) that you can easily put together yourself for little money.
Guinea Pigs are Prone to Depression
... if they live all by their lonesome. These little guys (unlike hamsters for instance) long for companionship by nature and are supposed to live in groups that have their own intricate social structures, hierarchies, etc. Now, I don’t recommend getting a whole herd of guinea pigs, but I feel very strongly about the unfairness of having a single guinea pig. I have seen first hand and heard countless stories of guinea pigs whose mate passed that went into a deep depression. Depression can present as reluctance to move, loss of interest in food and consequent weight loss.
Some people try and make up for that same species companionship by spending more time with the animal. Let’s say that extra time would be three hours a day. Three hours a day would be a lot considering how busy everyone’s lives have become. That still leaves 21 hours a day where the guinea pig is all alone, has no stimulation and is without a friend who also speaks “guinea pig.” So, if you're wondering if guinea pigs are the right pets for you, know that the right thing to do is get a package of two.
Guinea Pigs are Expensive
Between unlimited hay, pellets and all of the fresh greens and fruits they require, guinea pigs are quite expensive. They're also considered “exotics” in the veterinary world. Even though, to my knowledge, there are no special medical guinea pig certifications to be earned by veterinarians, clinics often charge more for an exotic pet. (There's nothing exotic about a guinea pig and I've always wondered why they call them that. Exotics are basically any animal that is not a dog or a cat.) Often, folks mistakenly think that since a guinea pig is a small animal the vet bills will be small as well. This is not usually the case, so you'll need to be prepared.
Guinea Pigs are Not Great Starter Pets
Guinea pigs are quite complex and delicate little creatures. And to be honest, I can’t think of any animal that should be deemed a "starter pet." The title of “starter pet” makes it sound like the animal is cheap, easy to care for, and suitable to teach kids responsibility. We already discovered that guinea pigs are not cheap, nor are they easy to care for, so let’s talk a bit about guinea pigs and kids.
Pets should never be just for the kids. In fact, one of the questions on our adoption application is if the adopted guinea pigs are for themselves, the whole family or are for the kids. This tells us a lot, and allows us to start a dialogue to convey some of the realities of guinea keeping if the animals are intended for just the kids.
We have had families come to the rescue and the kids are so happy to be getting a pet and are excitedly running from cage to cage. (Like Lisa Simpson in the Simpsons episode where she went to adopt a guinea pig from a rescue, but the parents are looking at the unfolding scene with a sense of dread at the thought of these rodents in their home.) It's clear that the kids pestered mum and dad long enough until they just gave in.
Oftentimes, the understanding with the child is that he or she is going to be solely responsible for the care of the animal. In theory this sounds great and would be a win win for everyone. However, the reality likely goes like this. In the first month everything is fine; the child will do as was agreed: feed the animals, clean the cage, play with them. The second month, though, the novelty starts to wear off, and the guinea pigs are no longer the shiny new toy they were four weeks ago.
How do I know this? Aside from the (almost daily) surrender request forms we receive that state “the child lost interest” as the surrender reason, it happened to me! Well, it actually happened to my parents.
When I was a child I desperately wanted a hamster and I, too, told my parents that I would do all my chores without complaining from now until forever. They made me sign a piece of paper and told me that I had to take care of the hamster; he was my responsibility. Not long after getting the hamster, it was my mother who was feeding and cleaning the him. One day, I noticed that Willy’s cage was gone. I asked my mother where the hamster was and she told me that she gave him away six days prior. I didn’t even notice!
The best homes are the ones where the mum and dad are totally into the idea of getting a pair of piggies and have realistic expectations with regards to kids and their involvement.
So, are guinea pigs the right pets for you? Only you know the answer. But we're here to help give advice and be honest about what caring for them entails.
If, after reading this article you decide to go ahead and bring a pair or more (same sex of course) of guinea pigs into your home and heart, congratulations. Welcome to the wonderful world of guinea pigs!