Well, Sprinkles has officially been part of our family for about 4’ish months now. Since bringing her home I’ve received some questions from readers considering a guinea pig for a pet. So, I thought I’d write a post answering the frequently asked questions and also share a few things I’ve learned through our experience so far…
1. Consider Adopting
I would highly recommend considering adopting a guinea pig before heading to the pet store for a few reasons. When we were pet shopping, I posted in a local Facebook group to see if there were any families looking to re-home their pig — and within a day my inbox was filled with messages and pictures of cute guinea pigs around Charlotte looking for new homes for a variety of reasons (absolutely no judgement at all by the way!!!).
First, these families were able to give us “reference checks” before we committed so we were able to pick the one that sounded like the best fit for our family. Sprinkles (formerly “Sally”) came from a home with 3 small kids so we knew she was used to rambunctious kids, and she was described as quiet and cuddly (all boxes checked for us!). The owner was also able to tell us the brand and type of hay, pellets and treats she liked so we didn’t have to waste our money testing them all out.
Secondly, guinea pigs can be an investment on the front end. By the time you purchase the guinea pig (I think our pet store sells them for around $35-40), plus the cage ($70+), hay feeder, water bottle, house, bedding, etc. it adds up!! I think we purchased Sprinkles for $40 (maybe less, I can’t remember) and she came with ALL of those things, including a large supply of food and bedding. Oh, and if you are pet store shopping, be prepared for the sales associate to highly recommend purchasing guinea pigs in PAIRS of TWO as they are very social animals. And make sure you know which gender(s) you want — there’s a difference!
Lastly, you should know that a guinea pig lifespan is 4-8 years. If you’re not sure you want that long-term commitment, you can adopt an older pig to cut down on your commitment length. If that’s still too long, I suggest going with a hamster which has a lifespan closer to 3 years.
2. Bringing Your Guinea Pig Home
Guinea Pigs Need a Few Days to Adjust
One thing I didn’t know until we brought Sprinkles home is that you SHOULD NOT handle your pig for a few days. Guinea pigs need several days to adjust to their new environment (regardless of if they are coming home from the pet store or another home) and the best way to “bond” with your pig is to feed it. Sprinkles was absolutely terrified the first few days and finally warmed up to us and let us hold her for the first time about a week in. Which leads me to my next tip…
Learn The Guinea Pig Noises
I know this will sound crazy, but a really good tip I received from Sprinkles’ previous owner was to google and YouTube guinea pig noises. It took us awhile to figure out what each of Sprinkles’ noises meant. Guinea pigs make a ton of different noises and they all mean different things. When we first brought Sprinkles home she purred all the time which made me think she was happy…like a kitten. And then I spent an hour watching YouTube videos of guinea pig noises and learned that noise often means the piggie is in distress!!!
But the absolute cutest thing about guinea pigs aren’t the noises…it’s when they “popcorn.” Oh my goodness, I laugh every single time I catch Sprinkles jumping around. When guinea pigs are happy and roaming around, they will often bounce like popcorn popping. I’m not kidding, it’s the cutest ever.
3. Guinea Pig Diet
Guinea pigs eat a LOT. In fact, they require unlimited hay to graze on all day long, which means their hay feeder needs to be filled daily. I was astonished by the amount of hay Sprinkles was eating when we brought her home and was fearful we were “overfeeding” her.
In addition to hay, guinea pigs require pellets and fresh fruits and veggies — daily. Some of Sprinkles favorite fruits and veggies are romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, cucumber, blueberries, cilantro, watermelon and apples.
*Note: always check to make sure the fruit, veggies & herbs are safe to give your guinea pig before feeding. Some foods like iceberg lettuce, corn, avocado are unsafe for them to eat.
4. Cage & Bedding
We really liked the idea of giving our 5 and 6 year olds the responsibilities of caring for a pet. They swore up and down that if we finally agreed to get a pet, they would absolutely take care of it — no matter what that entailed…
Well I was unprepared for how often the cage would need to be cleaned…because guinea pigs poop a lot. And I mean a lot. A lot.
Unfortunately, cleaning the cage is actually NOT an easy task for kids. In fact, our original cage was such a pain to clean that I ended up throwing it away and building my own c&c cage using this storage cube kit. There are TONS of fun c&c cage options and configurations you can create. I highly suggest looking at Pinterest for inspiration if you want to build one yourself. Once I had finalized our configuration, I created a tray for inside the cage using corrugated plastic (the same material you see yard signs made out of) and duct taped it all together, reinforcing all of the corners to make sure there weren’t any holes.
Another tip I discovered was lining the cage with incontinence pads which has helped save me SO much cleaning time. I highly recommend doing this.
Guinea pigs love blankets and especially fleece for bedding. For awhile we were using a fleece blanket but it was kind of a pain to lay inside the cage and gross to clean so I switched to a fleece liner and it has been SO much better. The liners from GuineaDad are our favorite by far. We have a few of them and rotate them weekly. They are super soft, absorbent and the bottom is waterproof. And there’s a burrow pocket for Sprinkles to hide inside when she hears Thomas coming for her.
Since guinea pigs are prey animals, it’s super important that you provide a little house inside the cage for your guinea pig to hide in. We have two little homes for Sprinkles but her absolute favorite is the strawberry house! It’s easy to clean too. Once a week I run it through a “quick wash” cycle and then let it air dry.
While guinea pigs are super clean animals (and do not require baths), they make ginormous messes with their hay. And worse, they poop where they eat. Literally, they eat and poop at the same time and it’s so gross. And because they eat all day long…well, you can probably see why it’s so important to clean the cage often.
So I highly, highly, highly recommend creating a “kitchen” inside your cage to keep the food area separate from the play area. In fact, the kitchen can also serve as a liter box and guinea pigs can actually be liter box trained!! For our kitchen, Matt cut a little “door” inside a plastic bin. I line the plastic bin with a pee pad then add a thick layer of Care Fresh bedding (odor control, absorbent fluffy paper). The hay feeder hangs inside the bin for her to eat. Every 3-4 days I clean out the kitchen and add fresh bedding. And I clean out the entire cage (fleece liner, house, etc.) once a week. This is crucial for odor control and keeping the cage sanitary.
We’ve haven’t hired a pet sitter for Sprinkles yet, mostly because she’s pretty skittish around new people and we feel bad leaving her behind. So we’ve actually brought her on our vacations and weekend trips. For car rides, we use a travel carrier (lined with a pee pad and care fresh bedding) and once we arrive to our destination we move her to a spacious pop-up play pen which includes all of the familiar items from her cage — pee pads, water dispenser, hide-out house, etc. Matt is always super creative in setting up the water dispenser and kitchen.
5. Play Time
Guinea pigs are very social animals and require at least an hour a day outside of their cage to run around and explore. We actually let Sprinkles run around our family room a lot. She mostly hides under the couch from Thomas but can also be found “popcorning” around the kitchen. And if we’re outside, we let her run around in the grass (under supervision) or she’s on the back porch with us hanging out in a large plastic baby pool with lots of fresh fruits and veggies.
I know I’ve given you a lot of information to consider before getting a guinea pig and I’m sure I’ve talked most of you out of adding one to your family, but we really have loved Sprinkles. While it’s only been a few months, it does feel like we’ve had her forever.
If you ask me (which many of you have) if I would get another guinea pig all over again…the answer is…I’d probably go with a hamster instead, unless my kids were old enough to actually take on some of the cleaning labor. Guinea pigs are also super fragile so they aren’t the best pets for super small kids.
However, Sprinkles is SO cuddly and sweet and my kids are absolutely crazy about her. She is the first thing they run to when they arrive home from school and the last thing they check-on before going to bed. Every morning they rush to her cage to play with her and they haven’t lost even an ounce of interest.
Despite all the extra work Sprinkles provides me…I have to admit that I love that little animal. And it’s no surprise at all that I am her favorite family member too…
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