The ultimate guinea pig guide

In our ultimate guinea pig guide, we cover everything you need to know if you’re considering buying a guinea pig. As well as plenty of information even seasoned guinea pig owners will find useful. 

Guinea pigs make incredible pets, for old and young alike, with these sociable and friendly creatures making popular first time pets for many children and families.

They capture the hearts of many, meaning owners often keep guinea pigs into adulthood.

Our guide covers commonly asked questions such as how long do guinea pigs live, where do guinea pigs come from and what do guinea pigs eat.

We also cover key information around personality and health such as are guinea pigs nocturnal, guidance on housing set up and other commonly asked questions.

The great guinea pig

Guinea pigs originate from South America and over the years have become a popular pet for many.

The average life span of a guinea pig is between 4 - 8 years. These friendly creatures are often referred to as cavies or cavy for an individual, due to their scientific name, Cavia porcellus.

However, why they are called guinea pigs is actually a mystery…some speculate it might be due to The Guianas region of South America, some speculate it’s because people could purchase them for a guinea in 16th century England and some think it may be because the word “guinea” was used to refer to things far across the sea around the 1500’s.

Regardless of how they got their name, we’re sure you’ll agree with us when we say how cute these creatures are!

Where to buy guinea pigs from

When it comes to this, there’s plenty of options.

Lots of pet shops, including both chains and independent stores sell guinea pigs. Alongside this, specialist guinea pig breeders and websites such as Pets4Homes are also a great option if you’re after a specific breed.

As with most pets, you’ll also have the option of rehoming from animal shelters.

Diet

Wondering whether guinea pigs can eat apples? Or if they can eat tomatoes, or even strawberries? Well you’re not alone!

There’s been an ever-increasing amount of online searches around what do guinea pigs can eat, including questions on fruit and vegetables.

Guinea pigs are herbivorous pets which means they only eat plants but that doesn’t mean their diet has to be boring, far from it!

A large proportion of your guinea pig’s diet should be good quality hay. Hay should always be available as it helps their digestive system and wears down their continually growing teeth.

Please be aware that despite hay being a key part of your guinea pig’s diet, you should never feed guinea pigs lawnmower clippings as these will upset their digestive system and may make them ill.

Alongside hay, guinea pigs require specific guinea pig food pellets which are easily available in pet shops or from pet shops online.

You’ll want to ensure the pellets you select contain vitamin C as they lack the enzyme to produce the vitamin themselves.

Providing food pellets which contain vitamin C ensures that your guinea pig is receiving the vitamins and nutrients they require.

Alongside the above, guinea pigs should be fed a fair portion of leafy greens once per day. PDSA recommend around a tea cup’s worth.

A full list of vegetables and herbs guinea pigs can eat is listed below, however it’s worth noting that this list has its nuances.

Whilst celery leaves are considered okay to feed your guinea pig, it isn’t recommended you feed your guinea pig celery due to the high level of oxalates within it.

Tomatoes are another one to be careful with. Tomatoes themselves are safe, however you should not feed your guinea pig tomato leaves or vines as these are toxic.

Greens and vegetables guinea pigs can eat

  • Artichoke leaves
  • Asparagus (Feed in moderation) – high in vitamin C
  • Baby corn on cob
  • Basil
  • Beetroot
  • Bell Peppers – high in vitamin C
  • Broccoli (Feed in moderation, too much can cause gas) – high in vitamin C
  • Brussel Sprouts (Feed in moderation, too much can cause gas)
  • Cabbage (dark green varieties should be fed, feed in moderation)
  • Carrots
  • Carrot tops
  • Cauliflower leaves and stalks
  • Celery leaves
  • Chicory
  • Collard greens
  • Coriander
  • Courgette (and flowers)
  • Cucumber (Feed in moderation as too much can cause diarrhoea)
  • Dill
  • Green beans
  • Kale – (Feed in moderation) - high in vitamin C
  • Lettuce – Butterhead, Red leaf, Cos, Little Gem (not iceburg)
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Pak Choi/Bok Choi
  • Parsley – (Feed in moderation)- high in vitamin C
  • Parsnips
  • Peas – leaves and pods
  • Red cabbage (Feed in moderation)
  • Rocket
  • Romaine lettuce (Feed in moderation)
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Spinach – (Feed in moderation) - high in vitamin C
  • Spring greens – high in vitamin C
  • Swiss chard
  • Thyme
  • Tomato (not leaves/vine, as poisonous) – high in vitamin C
  • Watercress


Fresh fruit and vegetables form a large part of your guinea pig’s diet.

Fruit guinea pigs can eat

When it comes to treats, you may wish to feed a small amount of fruit every so often. Beware though that fruit is high in sugar and therefore should only be fed occasionally. A full list of fruit is listed below.

  • Apple (not the pips because they’re poisonous)
  • Bananas (Feed in moderation)
  • Blueberries
  • Cherry
  • Kiwi
  • Melon
  • Oranges (Feed in moderation)
  • Pears: (Feed in moderation)
  • Pineapple: (Feed in moderation)
  • Plums (Feed in moderation)
  • Squash
  • Strawberries (Feed in moderation)

For even more information on guinea pigs’ diet, view our guinea pig food guide

Guinea pig breeds

The American Cavy Breeders Association recognise 13 different guinea pig breed types. However it’s argued there may also be a few additional “rarer” breeds not recognised.

We’ve listed the 13 different types below with a small description about classification.

Abyssinian – Featuring rosettes evenly spaced across their body, these guinea pigs have a short but textured coat.

Abyssinian satin- Featuring rosettes spaced evenly across their body, Abyssinian satin piggies have a satin sheen coat.

American - Featuring a smooth and short coat.

American Satin - Smooth and short coat with a satin sheen.

Coronet - With a single well centred coronet in the middle of their heads, coronet guinea pigs have a long coat that flows from back to front.

Peruvian - A long coat grows from front to back with multiple rosettes. A mature coat covers their face.

Peruvian Satin - A satin sheen long coat which grows from front to back and has multiple rosettes.

Silkie - They have a long coat which flows from front to back.

Silkie Satin - They feature a long satin sheen coat that flows from front to back

Teddy - A plush, dense coat which has the appearance of standing up. The coat Coat is resilient to touch.

Teddy Satin - Featuring a satin sheen short, plush, dense coat which has the appearance of standing up. The coat is resilient to touch.

Texel - A long curly coat with a cobby body type.

White Crested - A short coat featuring a single, cantered white rosette in the middle of the head.


The American Cavy Breeders Association recognises 13 breeds including the Abysinian as pictured.

Personality

Guinea pigs make great pets and have friendly personalities. These energetic pets will provide endless entertainment and their gentle nature makes them a great choice for young and old alike

They have a number of behaviours in which they express their feelings and we explore these below.

Noises

Guinea pigs aren’t particularly noisy pets however there’s a number of noises they make for various reasons. You may wonder why your guinea pigs squeak and there may be a few reasons for this.

A squeak is also known as a wheek amongst guinea pig owners and this usually indicates excitement - usually when they know food is on the way. Many cavies associate the rustling of salad bags with food time and will often squeak or wheek in excitement. To learn more about Guinea Pig noises and their meanings, view our guide here.

Popcorning

Another sign of excitement in guinea pigs is popcorning. This term is used amongst guinea pig owners and got its name as the movement made by guinea pigs almost looks like a piece of popcorn popping.

Popcorning is used to describe a sudden jump guinea pigs make, usually out of excitement. It can happen when they’re walking or running around and may also be accompanied by a change of direction.

For the most part, guinea pigs popcorn out of excitement, however occasionally they may do it out of fear. If you see your guinea pig popcorning, it may be worth just checking their surroundings to ensure they’re safe.

Guinea pig’s sleep habits

In terms of when you’ll have chance to play and interact with your guinea pigs, they’re crepuscular pets which means they’re neither nocturnal or diurnal.

Crepuscular describes animals who are most active during dawn and dusk. Guinea pigs often take naps of between 10 - 30 minutes throughout the day as well as having sufficient periods of being awake throughout the day.

They’ll often stir or wake up if you enter the room or approach their cage. This is great for families with children who may be keen to show them lots of love and attention.

Did you know guinea pigs often sleep with their eyes open? This is an instinctive behaviour for your pet as in the wild, they are prey animals. Guinea pigs may occasionally close their eyes to sleep but for the most part, they’ll remain open.

Guinea pigs do not hibernate therefore if you notice your guinea pig sleeping more frequently than usual or for long periods, we advise consulting with a vet.

Housing

Choosing the right location, hutch type and bedding for your guinea pig may involve some consideration.

There’s a number of factors you’ll want to consider such as temperature, space and even budget. We cover all of this in our next section.

Guinea pigs’ hutch

Where possible, always select the largest hutch you can accommodate and afford for your pet.

According to PDSA, the size of a guinea pig hutch should be at least 1.5m x 1m ideally with a 2m x 1m run attached if space permits this.

If you’re unable to attach a run to your hutch, it’s advisable to allocate some secure exercise space for your guinea pig.

This space should be free from predators and risks and should be as secure as possible to ensure no piggies escape.

This will give your guinea pig the opportunity to exercise, run, explore, play and have fun.

This space should also ideally have shelter so your guinea pigs can hide and feel as though they have a safe space when they want to relax.


Guinea pigs require daily exercise outside of their hutch therefore it’s important to ensure you have a safe and secure space for this.

Interior for your guinea pigs home

Selecting the right hutch or cage for your guinea pig is super important but equally as important is what goes inside it!

Our guinea pig food guide advises the importance of access to fresh hay, guinea pig pellets, greens and water. You’ll need to ensure you have space to include these in your guinea pigs home. Ideally providing pellets in a food bowl and water through a drip-free water bottle.

Alongside this, you’ll need to ensure you have at least as many cosy/hiding spaces as you have guinea pigs. A variety of options are available in most pet shops such as tunnels and tubes, hideaway huts and igloo style homes.

You may wish to further enhance your guinea pigs living space with bridges for them to navigate and toys to play with made from natural materials such as hay.

Bedding

Another big consideration is bedding. There are different options available and you may be wondering what type of bedding is best.

There’s no definitive answer as it’s down to what works best for you and your piggies. Recommended options include paper-based bedding, fleece, hay, and wood shavings.

Paper-based bedding is popular amongst many guinea pig owners as it provides soft bedding for your cavies and helps with odour control.

In addition to this, it has very little dust which is great as it makes cleaning easier and is also gentler for your guinea pigs health.

Many paper-based options available are made from sustainable sources and are biodegradable and compostable. These make them great for those who are environmentally conscious when it comes to their pets.

Fleece is another popular choice. This is arguably the most sustainable bedding option of all as it can be washed and re-used time after time.

Many pet shops and online retailers offer specific guinea pig or small animal fleece bedding. It’s a soft and comfortable bedding option however one downside to fleece bedding is odour control.

It’s recommended to wash fleece bedding every few days to ensure your guinea pigs’ home stays as clean as it can be. If you have a larger amount of guinea pigs, you’ll probably want to increase this frequency to reduce the risk of odours becoming too strong.

Hay is an option some guinea pig owners opt for, however it’s argued that hay shouldn’t be used as a guinea pigs’ only bedding option.

It can be great to nestle and forage into and you’ll have it on hand anyway as it forms a large part of your guinea pig’s diet. However, if you’re opting for hay as bedding, you’ll probably want to use it alongside another option.

Wood shavings are used by some owners, however, if you opt for them, you’ll want to ensure they’re pine and cedar free as these can be toxic to your guinea pig.

In addition to this, we’d recommend dust free options as dust can irritate your cavies nose and lungs. Because of this, we also advise to steer clear of sawdust as this is made for smaller mammals and not only can irritate guinea pigs but could also lead to health problems.

Cage cleaning

Did you know a guinea pig produces on average around 100 poop pellets per day? Meaning that if you’re keeping guinea pigs in pairs or small groups, that’s at least 200+ poops per day. Many guinea pig experts and owners recommend “spot cleaning” a guinea pig's cage daily.

This entails removing as many poops as possible and if there’s particularly saturated or soiled areas of bedding, removing, and replacing. In addition to this, you should be doing a deep clean ideally twice per week.

A deep clean consists of removing all bedding, cleaning their cage or hut, ideally with a pet safe cleaner and ensuring all surfaces are fully cleansed before returning new, or washed bedding if using fleece. Cleaning frequency is important to ensure your guinea pigs stay happy and healthy.

Failure to keep hutches or cages clean could lead to a wide variety of health problems.

In terms of cleaning water bottles and food bowls, it’s advisable to clean daily. Many places sell bottle brushes to help ensure you fully clean guinea pig’s water bottles.

Do guinea pigs smell?

Another commonly asked question is do guinea pigs smell and the short answer is no, providing they’re well cared for. Ensuring they’re fully healthy and their cage is regularly cleaned should mean that your guinea pigs don’t smell.

If you do notice any unpleasant odours, it’s important to investigate. It might require more regular cleaning of their cage or a trip to the vets to check your piggies are fully healthy!

Can guinea pigs live outdoors?

In terms of where your guinea pigs will live, they can live outside or indoors.

Wherever they are housed, you’ll need to ensure they don’t get too hot in the summer, or too cold in winter.

You’ll want to ensure they’re protected from the elements in the winter, away from the cold, wind and rain as well as snow if temperatures do drop.

Guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature so therefore getting their home location right is key to ensuring your cavy is as healthy as they can be.

We cover temperature and security in more detail in our Guinea Pig Temperature and Security guide

How many guinea pigs to own?

First and foremost, guinea pigs are social creatures and should live in pairs or small groups and shouldn’t be mixed with other small mammal types.

Guinea pigs and rabbits for example should not live together. But that’s not to say you can’t own both types, you just shouldn’t allow them to mix.

Interesting fact: Did you know it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig in Switzerland because they get lonely if they live alone? This isn’t a law in the UK, however some UK pet shops opt to only sell guinea pigs in pairs.

Health

Your guinea pigs’ health will likely be incredibly important to you as you’ll want to ensure they have a long and healthy life.

Many advise registering guinea pigs at a vet to ensure they receive the care they need, if they become unwell.

Another consideration you’ll want to make is insurance for your guinea pigs to support with vet bills if they do become unwell. Want to learn more about guinea pig insurance? click here

Guinea pig nails

Like many pets, guinea pigs require regular nail trimming. Most vets are able to do this or you could do this yourself. If doing yourself, we recommend reading a guide or watching a video. You need to ensure you don’t cut them too short as this can lead to bleeding.

Guinea pig teeth

Guinea pigs’ teeth are constantly growing which may make you wonder if guinea pigs need their teeth trimming.

Providing they get the right diet and plenty of hay, this shouldn’t be needed. If you notice your guinea pig’s teeth becoming overgrown or notice your guinea pig struggling to eat or eating less than usual, seek assistance from a vet.

Female guinea pigs health

Female guinea pigs have estrous cycles which last around 16 days and within this, they’re fertile for short periods of time.

Whilst there may be some similarities to what humans describe as periods, unlike humans and some other mammals, guinea pigs should not bleed during this time. Therefore, if you ever notice blood in your guinea pigs’ hutch, it’s likely a sign your guinea pig is injured or unwell. We’d recommend contacting a vet to check your pet over.

If your guinea pig does become pregnant during this time, be aware that it lasts for 59-72 days. It’s imperative that males and females are separated if you aren’t planning on breeding your guinea pigs.

Females are susceptible to a number of issues if they’re first bred over the age of 7 months old or if they have additional litters after the age of 2 years old as their pelvic bones fuse together which means they don’t spread as easy during labour.

As always, if you need support during this time for your guinea pig, we’d recommend consulting with a vet.

Common conditions in guinea pigs

There’s several conditions which can be common in guinea pigs.

These include ringworm which guinea pigs get through transmission from pet to pet or contact with contaminated objects such as bedding.

Another condition guinea pigs can suffer with is flystrike where flies lay eggs around your pet's bottom.

If you suspect your piggie has flystrike, immediate vet care is required as this condition can be fatal. It’s important to keep your guinea pigs and their environment clean in order to prevent flystrike.

Respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia can also be common in piggies. As mentioned, guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature therefore getting their location correct, ensuring they’re away from heat sources as well as open doors or windows is important.

In addition to this, piggies can catch illnesses from other pets. Therefore if you own other pets, it’s important to wash your hands in-between handling.

The following are a few signs of illness we’d recommend seeing a vet for: changes to breathing, drooling, diarrhoea, blood in the urine or stool, reduced appetite, discharge from the eyes or nose, change in activity level or lethargy, blood in the urine, scratching or hair loss, bumps or lumps. This list isn’t exhaustive, and we’d always recommend seeing a vet if you think your guinea pig is unwell.

How to cool guinea pigs down

As mentioned above, guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature. To help keep guinea pigs fit and healthy, you should be mindful of how hot they are, especially in summer months.

Providing clean, cold, fresh drinking water is something you should always be doing but this is especially important in summer months.

To cool guinea pigs down, there’s a number of things you can do. This includes ensuring their location is suitable and they’re in a cool, shady spot out of direct sunlight. If possible use a fan to help keep their cage cool in the warmer months.

In addition, you may wish to offer ice packs or frozen water bottles covered securely in towels to help keep guinea pigs cool.

Other options akin to the above are pet cooling mats which are now widely available in most pet shops as well as within pet sections in many supermarkets and various retailers.

You should ensure that these are placed in the base of your guinea pig's hutch and ideally are covered with bedding as cooling mats may be tempting for your piggy to chew.

You may wish to help cool your piggies down further by softly spraying them or wetting them with cool, not cold water. This should be done softly and gradually as to not shock your guinea pig.

Grooming

Guinea pigs are incredibly clean creatures and therefore should not need to be bathed often.

You can give guinea pigs a bath if they need it but this should only be required a few times a year at most.

If you find your guinea pig has an unpleasant odour and requires frequent bathing, it might be the sign of an underlying health condition in which we’d suggest consulting a vet.

In terms of brushing, it’s recommended to brush your guinea pig once or twice per week to help ensure their coat remains as healthy as possible. You may wish to increase this frequency if your guinea pig has a longer coat or in summer months if they’re shedding more.

Cost

If you’re considering owning guinea pig as a pet for the first time, you’ll probably want an idea of costs.

Not only up-front costs for your guinea pigs and equipment but also ongoing costs such as food, bedding, hay and any health costs such as insurance or medication.

Costs will vary from location to location, how many guinea pigs you’re buying for and also even time of year. If your guinea pig is a fan of a certain seasonal fruit or vegetable, you may be paying more when it’s out of season.

The main things we suggest you factor into budget are as follows.

Upfront

  • Guinea pigs
  • Hutch/cage
  • Run/equipment to create a run if you’re creating your own
  • Cosy spaces for your guinea pigs such as tunnels and tubes, hideaway huts and igloo style homes. These are an upfront cost but like with most things, you may wish to/need to replace periodically
  • Water bottles
  • Food bowl(s)

Ongoing costs

  • Hay
  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Bedding
  • Food pellets
  • Toys
  • Cleaning products
  • Insurance
  • Vets cost if required and medication if needed.

Some of the above such as hay may be cheaper to purchase in bulk from some pet stores. If buying in bulk however, you’ll want a dry, cool storage space where no other animals can get to it.

We hope this guide has been useful and helps answer your pet care questions.

If you’ve got addition questions regarding your piggies health, as always we recommend consulting with your vet.