Easter Guinea Pigs

We all associate Easter with bunnies and chocolates and many parents buy their children a rabbit as their first pet around this time, but have you considered a lovely alternative? Guinea pigs (or cavies) are delightful little creatures with a wonderful range of behaviours that are great fun to watch. 

Guinea pigs originated from South America and were brought back to the UK by sailors and sold for a guinea – or so the legend goes. Larger than the other rodents we keep as pets, such as rats and gerbils, guinea pigs are easier to handle as they are not so flighty but still need the weight of their bodies supported to protect their backs. 

Although in the wild guinea pigs are short-haired, breeding has produced a large variety of hair types from short and bristly to long and sleek and a great range of colours too. The short haired varieties are probably easiest for a first-time owner as the long-haired ones are slightly more difficult to manage. Long haired show guineas often have their fur in rollers before a big exhibition to make their locks shine beautifully.

Guinea pigs are generally very healthy animals if cared for properly. They need a large pen with absorbent bedding, fresh hay and water daily with access to some hard vegetables and a small amount of pelleted food. Remember though, like all pet animals, they can be prone to putting on weight due to overfeeding man-made food, so 80% of the diet must be hay. Just like humans they need an additional source of Vitamin C. It is best added to their water rather than just relying on supplemented food as, with time, the vitamin C can degrade in older bags of food. As they are predated on by birds of prey in the wild, all guinea pigs need a box or tube to hide in when they are nervous.

Sexing young guinea pigs can be a challenge and they do need to be separated before six weeks of age to prevent unwanted surprises, so if you are not sure what sex of guinea pig you have, bring them to the surgery for checking. Guinea pigs like to be kept in groups, but you can get ones that bully the others – usually by hogging all the food bowls. Make sure you have plenty of food spread around the cage and weigh your guinea pigs regularly. Loss of weight is usually the first sign of trouble in your cavy. Dental disease can be a problem in guinea pigs just like rabbits, and again weight loss is the first clue to this disease too.

Guinea pigs have wonderful behaviours and voices. They can purr, rumble, chatter and squeak to let you know how they are feeling, and you certainly know you have a guinea pig in the room when they hear the fridge door opening. Popcorning is unique to guinea pigs when they jump and squeal just for sheer delight – it’s great fun to watch. So, don’t think of Easter just as a time for rabbits, consider the guinea pig too.