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Sunday, 03 March, 2013 Featured in:
Guinea pigs are NOT related to pigs! They are true rodents and originally come from Middle and South America. But they DO have a few things in common with their hog friends: they make similar oinking sounds when excited or hungry (isn't that cute?!)... AND they are eaten in their indigenous countries not just by predators but also by us humans! In South America they even breed guinea pigs of larger size (up to 4kg, for goodness sake!) for this purpose.
But enough of that - let's look a bit more closely at the actual requirements for keeping these little fellas as pets (so put away your grill!).
- Guinea pigs are highly social animals, should never be kept alone, and can happily live in same- or mixed-gender groups. Do note, though, that if you choose to mix it up a bit with the genders, it's best to get the males neutered or you'll soon end up with many more little guinea pigs running around than you wished for. If you do have the chance to witness a guinea pig pregnancy, you'll see a gestation period that is very long (around 2 months) compared to other rodents (about 21 days) and because of this, guinea pig pups are born almost fully developed, with hair, teeth, claws and partial eyesight... and they're immediately mobile and eat solid food right away!
- Guinea pigs need to eat. Constantly. Always. This is because their intestinal tract has very little muscular activity, so they have to take in food in order to have "output". Get it? That's right - poop! Well, actually they pass two different kinds of stool, one of which they eat immediately after passing (yuk!), re-ingested to extract more nutrients. (So think twice next time your piglet wants to lick your face .) A guinea pig's diet should consist of fresh grass and herbs (their favorite!), hay and a variety of fruits and veggies. Commercial dry food does not necessarily have to be part of it, believe it or not.
- Guinea pigs are very poor climbers, so their enclosure should really be mostly flat... and therefore they also need more horizontal space than most other pet rodents. Different levels can be incorporated into their pens, but the ramps to access them must not be steep. They can also have exercise time outside their enclosure as long as it's safe and under supervision.
- Finally, guinea pigs come in all sorts of colours and coat-types, from shorthair to Abyssinians (ruffled coat with rosettes) and Peruvians (with straight long hair and very care intensive!), as well as Texels (curly long hair). If you're very fashion conscious, a guinea pig might just be for you!