Guinea Pigs are one of the most common small animal seen in veterinary practice. They are susceptible to husbandry and stress related conditions and often do not show signs of illness until the late stages, and so often present in a critical condition. This is because they are a prey animal and will hide signs of sickness or injury so they don’t appear weak. Again because they are a prey animal, it is crucial to keep them away from cats, dogs and ferrets as this would be a major stress.
Their lifespan is usually 5-6 years. Males weight 900-1200 grams and females 700-900 grams. Gestation period is 69-72 days, and like chinchillas they produce precocious young with full coats and open eyes. If females are going to be bred from, it is essential that they have a litter before 12 months of age or their pelvic canal fuses and means they will be unable to give birth naturally. Although many books state that females cannot get pregnant under 12 weeks of age, pregnancy has been seen in piglets as young as 4-5 weeks of age, so early sexing and separation is recommended.
Guinea pigs, like humans, are unable to manufacture or store vitamin C in their body and so a constant supply is essential. Dry guinea pig food is supplemented with vitamin C, but the amount reduces with time and exposure to air. So it is advised that you buy small sealed bags with an expiry date and not scoops from large sacks that may have been opened for some time. During periods of illness guinea pigs have an increased need for vitamin C, and we have found that syringe feeding them with Ribena, made to normal drinking concentration, is a relatively easy way of doing this and also maintaining their hydration. We do not recommend doing this all the time though as the high sugar can lead to dental issues.
Guinea pigs are prone to developing bladder and kidney stones. It is important to avoid foodstuffs high in calcium or oxalates as these increase the risk of developing these stones. Foods rich in oxalates are blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi fruit, figs, plums, grapes, spinach, beets (greens and roots), chard, okra, parsley, leeks, celery and green beans.
Guinea pigs have open rooted teeth which grow continuously. If they do not meet correctly and grind by chewing a high fibre diet, they develop spurs which can cut both the tongue and the cheeks.
Guinea pigs are social animals and need company. They get stressed when they are on their own. When they are hospitalised we advise that you bring in a companion with them to try and minimise any stress. It is important that they are not kept with other animals (e.g. rabbits) as they can be bullied by a larger companion, and also certain diseases can be spread which are dangerous for guinea pigs.