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Guinea Pigs/First Time Guinea Pig Owner


QUESTION: I have recently decided to get a guinea pig and am starting the process of purchasing the items (fish tank, lid, food, etc.) that I will need for the guinea pig. I am just wondering if it would be a good pet to have around with two cats. I intend to keep the tank on top of a piece of furniture where they cannot easily get into the cage but get up next to it if they tried. What is your advice on the two cats and the guinea being safe from being grabbed and eaten by the cats

ANSWER: Congratulations on your choice of a guinea pig. They are wonderful interactive pets.  

As for what you need:  DO NOT put your pig in an aquarium. It does not have enough proper circulation for a guinea pig. And it will not be an easy thing to clean. One of the more popular cages, and affordable, is a c & c cage made with the plastic cubes that you can purchase at places like Walmart. They are 12x 12 in squares and come in a pack. They are easily attached together and the advantage is you can make them as large as you like, and you have more flexibility as to the shape, etc.

The best thing to do is just search online. Type in images of c&c cages and you will see the possibilities.

You want a solid floor, no wire. Because of their body build they don't have enough of a base for their feet to rest on wire.  Rabbits have very large hind legs and can easily distribute their weight over a wire floor. Guinea pigs don't have that advantage. Standing on a wire cage floor will cause sores on the bottoms of their feet. So for this reason you need a solid floor base.

As for bedding there are a number of choices. Many owners use fleece as a bedding. The issue with fleece is that they will urinate on it and poo on it, leaving a soaking fleece blanket that needs to be laundered several times a week.  

Pine shavings are a cook choice. They are inexpensive and very absorbent. You can pick up the wet areas and just replace it in small amounts every day or so. However, it needs to be thrown out and fresh bedding put down weekly. If you can smell the urine, you have waited too long. So your nose will tell you when it's time for housekeeping.  

The cats should not bother the pig. A full grown guinea pig is about three or four pounds, so it's large enough not to be viewed as prey to your cats. However, I would still suggest you keep some kind of wire screen, etc. over the top of the cage just to discourage the cats from wanting to investigate. Their natural curiosity will get everyone in trouble. Not that the cats are being bad cats, they're just being cats.

For feed you want alfalfa pellets made for guinea pigs. Don't be tempted by the packages of pellets with all the colored fruit loop looking things in them. They are just eye candy for the owners and have no nutritional value. Give your pig a small dose of parsley, kale or romaine lettuce every day or two. Cavies do not produce their own Vit C so it must be added to their diet. Pellets that were packaged over 3 mo prior to your buying have lost most of the Vit C.  Rabbit food has no Vit C at all, as rabbits produce their own.

I have friends whose pigs love the chewable Vit C tablets. Mine would never eat them, but it's another alternative which is easily affordable. Do NOT put vitamin drops in the water bottle. They will not drink it.

Guinea pigs also love the parts of many fruits and veggies that we do not eat: things like the rind of a watermelon or cantaloupe. They like banana peels. Some like strawberries, others do not. The point is that you don't necessarily have to purchase special treats for your pig.  

Guinea pigs do not do well in heat. They get heat stressed quickly and can die within 20 min if left outside in direct sunlight. I know several people who purchase the small plastic swimming pools, cut out most of the bottom and put in on the grass. The sides will keep the pig contained and they love to graze on the grass.

I realize this may be more information that you requested, but as a first time owner I would hate to see you spend more than you need to in order to provide adequate housing. They also like a hiding spot. One in which they could hide in case the cats got too close.

Although pet stores sell expensive little houses for this purpose there are a number of very inexpensive means of providing a hidey hole. An oatmeal box with both ends cut out make a perfect house. You can go to Home Depot or Lowe's and get a 4 in diameter piece of pvc pipe that is used for sewer pipes or water lines. They will cost you less than $3 for a piece that is just the right size for your pig. It's also easily washable.

Good luck on your new purchase. If you have any other questions please don't hesitate.

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QUESTION: I know this may be a stupid question but when I went to Petco, the person I spoke with told me that a fish tank would be just fine so long as I got a wire mesh lid so that the tank wouldn't be so closed up as it would be with a fish tank lid. I am just trying to use something I already have so that I don't spend money unwisely. And I already have a 29 gallon fish tank that should (hopefully) be big enough and also safe enough so that the cats cannot get their curious paws in between the wires of a normal guinea pig cage and snare the poor guinea pig with their claws. I also saw the prices of guinea cages and they're between $50 to $100 just by themselves. I am not rich but I am not poor either. So it is a bit tough with finances for me thus why I am wanting to use the fish tank to try and lower the costs a bit. Please be patient with me if I ask any stupid or dumb questions. I just am a bit overwhelmed by all the costs to just get started.

ANSWER: There is no such thing as a stupid question, so please don't feel that way. I most assuredly I understand the financial concern because we ALL have them.

I did go online to look at the cost of c&c cages and OMG, you are right! It seems that they've become so popular that the cost has been driven out of reach for the average person. The use of the fish tank is ventilation. At Petco they have a special ventilation airflow that you can't see. They also clean those cages daily to prevent the buildup of ammonia that is a byproduct of urine.

I would suggest that if you want to use the glass tank you might consider putting a small fan near the top of the tank. You don't want to point it into the tank as the constant draft would be harmful for the pig. Position it s it just gently blows across the top. That way the fumes from the urine will be drifted away as they rise to the surface.

It will be a little more labor intensive as you will have to clean the tank more often than you would a more conventional cage. However, the lesser cost would be with the effort. Once a week you should remove all the shavings and wash the inside glass from top to bottom with a mild bleach or vinegar solution. Allow it to completely dry before you put in fresh shavings.

Be sure to use only pine shavings, not cedar. Cedar has oils in it that will emit odors that can cause problems with a guiena pig's respiratory system. If you have a feed store in your are you can buy a very large bag of pine shavings that will last you about a year for less than $10.

While you're cleaning the cage you can put the little guy in your bathtub where he will be safe and sound. And BTW, guinea pigs do swim! Of course I'm not suggesting that you plop him in a tub of water while you clean the cage, but during hot summer months you can put about 3in of water in the tub and let him have a bit of swimming time.

I hope this helps you out. Please feel free anytime to ask questions. People who don't ask questions make mistakes that could have avoided.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: That I can do. The fan thing I mean. I can get a tiny little table top fan and set it up so that it will blow over the top of the tank. And I was told that guinea pigs can be litter box trained with a guinea pig sized litter box. If that is so, would that mean I have to clean the tank weekly or could it stretch it to two weeks. And I would think my kitchen sink would be safer as my tub is just nasty as I live in an apartment complex and no matter how much I clean it, the pipes bring up nasty stuff when I fill the tub. I have Apple Cider Vinegar. Would that be suitable? I do not unfortunately have a feed store nearby. I live in the city. Also, I have a studio apartment so I dont have much space as far as separate rooms, save for my bathroom which has a door and my kitchen which is separated only but the tile and carpet meeting with a strip of metal tacked down with nails or screws. I did notice that the guinea squeaks and chatters a lot. Would that spark the predatory need in my male cat? My female cat I dont think will be an issue as Ive had her indoors since she was a kitten. But my male cat was a stray before he was picked up by my local humane society and before I got him. And he has already attacked a bird that got into my moms house by accident and had it in his mouth. If I get a wire mesh top, and put something heavy enough to prevent the cats from getting it off but not so heavy it breaks the lid, would that be enough to save the piggy? Also, can they have water bowls or would water bottles be better? I am going to be getting the items I need slowly, here and there, before I get the guinea pig. That way, it wont be so hard on my wallet. The items I was told was the following. If there is anything to subtract or add. Please let me know. Thanks. You are really being very helpful.

Wire Mesh Lid
Oranges/Bell Peppers
Water Bottle/Bowl: $4.00 - $5.00
Food Dish: $1.99 - $3.99
Chew Guard/Water Bottle Holder: $4.99
Food - Vita Prima: $9.99
Timothy Hay: $6.99
Bedding: $6.99 and up
Small Litter Pan: $2.99
Chew Blocks: $3.99
Guinea Pig: $40.00

Without demeaning the working knowledge of the people of Petco or Petsmart, I've never had any luck, nor have my hundreds of cavy breeder friends, with litter box training a guinea pig. Most of these employees have minimal experience with cavies, aka guinea pigs.

For several years guinea pig breeders campaigned with Petco and Petsmart stores to stop selling guinea pigs if they did not know how to properly sex them. The incidence of young sows being sold as boars and who were already pregnant was huge. They were housed with boars because the employees had no clue how to tell the difference. The stores did listen and now typically only take baby boars to sell.  

We dealt frequently with wholesalers, and they too were aware that the employees had little or no experience with guinea pigs. The entire country of cavy breeders were delighted that Petco and Petsmart stepped up to the plate and took responsibility.  They did not however, increase the working knowledge of their staff as far as proper care and housing. The pigs you find at their stores are provided by experienced breeders who have sold to these wholesalers and we did our best to see that the wholesalers where reputable and knowledgeable about shipping and caring for the pigs prior to them going to the pet stores.

Rabbits are easily trained to a litter box. Guinea pigs just go wherever their behind happens to be at the time. And this includes their food or water bowl. For that reason a water bowl is not recommended. What you need is a hanging water bottle. Buy the largest you can afford. On hot days they will drink a lot of water.

You also need to pay close attention daily to the food bowl. A stone crock is the best as it is heavy enough they cannot tip it over. Your pig will however, stand in the food bowl and pee and poo in it. If you are just topping off the food bowl every night, or it appears to have plenty of pellets, you need to run a finger through the pellets to be sure they are dry and eatable. Sometimes underneath the pellets the urine will have soaked through and what you are looking at is a feed dish soaked underneath what seems to be fresh pellets.

For years I have purchased my crock feed bowls from Dollar Tree. They may have some design flaw that makes them unacceptable to the stores who want to sell them for $6 or $7.  Dollar Tree sells them for $1.  You can't beat that bargain. Petco will sell the same sized dish at premium prizes. So it pays to shop.

Another option for cavy supplies (including cages) is a place in So Calif called KW Cages. They ship all over the world and they are the place most of us purchase our breeding cages from. They have water bottles much less expensive than your pet stores.

You will need some toenail clippers, again shop around. The dollar stores are the best place. As for chew blocks, don't pay for a piece of wood. Go to Home Depot or Lowe's. They often have small chunks of 2x4 pieces of wood for really CHEAP. In fact some of them will give those pieces away. They are perfect for guinea pig teeth.

You might also check your local animal shelter. They do occasionally have guinea pigs and they will not be $40. Go to the American Cavy Breeders Association  You might find that there will be a cavy show close to you. Cavy clubs are all over the country, and they love to have visitors to their shows. We take our baby pigs there to be sold to people for pets.

There is nothing wrong with these pigs, except that they may not meet the standard for showing. Most are sold for $10 or less.  There are often people who bring cages they can no longer use, or other supplies.  It's worth the effort to go, plus you will see breeds of pigs you never knew existed.  Breeds like Texels, Peruvians, Silkies, Teddies, Coronets. You will see colors that you didn't know about.

When you go to their website at, you can click at services, then clubs. Here's the information about the Secretary of the club.  MICHIGAN CAVY BREEDERS  Kelly Hansen ‐ Secretary  5729 Cutler Road
Bath, MI 48808
(517) 641‐4141

You can get information about upcoming shows, and also breeders who might be in your area. We typically sell our pigs that are not showable very cheap. A show pig may go for $40 but not a pet quality. You can also see pictures of all the 13 breeds of cavies on the acba site.  

I commend you for doing your homework BEFORE you purchase your pig. And by all means shop around. Don't just settle on buying all your supplies at Petco. They are not inexpensive at all. They get high dollar for their merchandise. I'm not criticizing them for that. They are in business to make money, and that's okay. But when you're on a budget, and who isn't, there are other options.  

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Pat VanAllen


As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.


Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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