Every year, my nonprofit organization places over 1,500 guinea pigs, primarily surrendered by private parties. I am also a mother, so I am uniquely qualified to speak on the subject. I always ask parents adopting from my rescue how much they themselves want a guinea pig. If they answer is along the lines of “for the kids,” the reality of the situation often is not what is expected.
Here is a scenario I’ve heard time and time again.
The kids hounded you for months, promising the moon and the stars—heck even the whole universe—and chores are going to be done daily. Contracts are written, declaring “I will feed the guinea pigs and am responsible for all the cage cleaning” and “If I get guinea pigs then I will promise to do my homework every night and go to bed on time.” And many more, but you get the gist. It is difficult to stand your ground when they look at you with those puppy eyes and a trembling bottom lip, and even though you aren’t into the idea of getting guinea pigs… eventually you give in.
Unless you know a reputable local rescue, you and the kids bundle up, get in the car, and head to the nearest big name pet store.¬ The helpful pet store employee recommends a cage on display, some toys and treats, bedding for the bottom of the cage, a water bottle, pellet dishes, and some hay and pellets.
Then of course, the big moment the kids get to pick their favorite and the cutest guinea pig. Seeing the excitement on their faces makes it all worth it.
You’ve brought your new addition home and settled in, and even found a place for all the food and supplies. The kids are delighted and diligently doing all the things they promised without complaint. Wow, this was a great decision, and my kids are learning responsibility!
Google becomes your best friend as each new question about caring for your new family member arises. Guinea pigs should never be kept alone without at least one other piggy friend, they need more space than the expensive cage on display provides, their voracious appetites—they don’t call them “pigs” for no reason—and they need nutrition from pellets, high-quality hay, and fresh fruit and vegetable.
Now you’re going to the store every day for fresh foods that are safe. You learn the hard way to purchase a variety of food high in vitamin C because that helps prevents guinea pig scurvy. The helpful pet store employee never mentioned that!
Four weeks or so into guinea pig ownership and a few cracks are starting to show. You’ve reminded the kids a few times to feed the guinea pigs or clean the cage. By eight weeks, it is clear that you are the primary caretaker and the kids have lost interest.
The guinea pigs cost more than you budgeted for, smell more than you were prepared for, and the kids aren’t helping as promised. Oh, and who knew that veterinarians who treat guinea pigs are generally more expensive?
Guinea pigs sold in big pet stores come from companies with huge warehouses containing row upon row of breeding guinea pigs. These guinea pigs are mostly fed pellets and, if they’re lucky, a little bit of hay. At three weeks, the babies are shipped to various stores across the country. Rarely if ever are they given any fresh fruit or vegetable, which makes for an unhealthy guinea pig prone to illness, infection, and disease. I started asking families visiting my rescue if their pet store guinea pig was sick at the time of purchase and was blown away by how many allegedly were sick (or died even).
When considering adopting a guinea pig for your family, please research the responsibility (and reality) of guinea pig ownership, along with common diseases and proper nutrition. Guinea pigs aren’t the right fit for everyone, and an unprepared owner can unintentionally contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle. Sometimes, a pet the whole family can enjoy, like a dog or cat, may be a better option, but adopting is always better than buying.