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Guinea Pig FAQ, Version 1.2.2

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Archive-name: pets/guinea-pig-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Version: 1.2.2

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
  This is the seventh posted version of the guinea pig FAQ.

  A current version of this FAQ can be found:

  * In the newsgroups rec.pets, rec.answers, and news.answers (posted
    monthly)

  * On the World Wide Web at 
    http://www.princeton.edu/~ecrocke/html/gpfaq.html
    (This is the best place to look 'cause it has cool formatting :-)

  * Via anonymous ftp at
    rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/pets/guinea-pig-faq
    and at any other site where news.answers postings are archived

  * If all these fail, email me (ecrocke@princeton.edu) and I can mail
    you a copy.

  If you are reading it somewhere other than one of these places, it
  may not be the most current copy.  Try looking in one of the above
  places to get the latest up-to-the-minute revisions to the FAQ.  As
  of today, October 13 1995, this is the current version.

  New in Version 1.2.2  (7/95)
  --------------------
	Section 13: blurb on Home for Unwanted and Abandoned Guinea
	            Pigs

--

  Many thanks to Sandi Ackerman and Debbie Ducommun for their help and
  for lending their expertise to this project.  Thanks also to Dan
  Austin for suggesting some new topics to cover.

  Disclaimer: I'm not a vet, nor am I a breeder of guinea pigs.  I
  believe all the information in this FAQ to be correct, but I do not
  in any way guarantee its factuality.  I have compiled it merely
  because it seemed needed, and no one else had done it, not because I
  consider myself an expert.  Please treat this FAQ accordingly.

***************************************************************************
                         Guinea Pig FAQ
                           
                          Version 1.2.2
***************************************************************************


Subject: 1. Table of Contents 1. Table of Contents 2. Why would I want a guinea pig? 3. Where do I get a guinea pig? 4. What should I feed my guinea pig? 5. What sort of housing should I obtain? 6. What should I use for bedding? 7. Will multiple guinea pigs get along together? 8. What should I know about breeding? 9. What are the pros and cons of neutering? 10. My guinea pig has <...> symptoms. Is this serious? 11. Do I need to trim my guinea pig's toenails? How? 12. My guinea pig runs away from me. What can I do? 13. Where else can I get information about guinea pigs?
Subject: 2. Why would I want a guinea pig? As far as small pets go, guinea pigs are among the easiest to care for, and also rate high on the cuddliness scale. You will need to feed them and check their water daily, and change their bedding about once or twice a week -- somewhat less when they are small. Also, if they are confined to a cage, they need to be allowed to run around a larger area for exercise daily. Guinea pigs are ideal for (responsible, gentle) children because they tend to be sweet-tempered, pettable, and relatively easy to catch if they escape from your child's hands -- mice, hamsters, and gerbils, by contrast, are able to hide for weeks or more if they escape. They are larger than most rodents (about the size and shape of a large tennis shoe when grown), which makes them easy to find and to handle. If you are looking for a highly intelligent and sociable pet, you may be looking for a rat (seriously). If, however, you want a sweet, lovable furball who will sit on your lap to be petted for hours (well, minutes, anyway), a guinea pig may be the pet for you.
Subject: 3. Where do I get a guinea pig? There are basically four places to get guinea pigs -- from a breeder, from a pet store, from an ordinary guinea-pig owner who has had a litter of small guinea pigs, or from an animal shelter. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but a detailed discussion is not in the scope of this faq. To be brief -- reputable breeders often sell high-quality pets but they cost slightly more. Try to get recommendations from other guinea pig owners, or by asking on the net, before choosing a breeder. Pet stores are somewhat cheaper, but depending on the pet store, the guinea pigs are more likely to have caught a disease and may have been improperly cared for. Most people do not recommend purchasing animals from pet stores. If you can find an acquaintance giving away a litter, or selling them at a reasonable price, by all means go ahead -- this way you can be fairly sure of getting a healthy, well-treated baby, while probably not paying too much. Do check out your local animal shelter to see if they have guinea pigs -- you may be able to find a lovable pet and save a guinea pig at the same time. Whichever route you choose to go, make sure you choose a healthy- looking, energetic guinea pig with no signs of disease. If you go to pick him (or her...) up and he shows very little interest in the procedure, there's something wrong-- a healthy guinea pig will usually either run away from your hand or investigate it. Spend a few minutes with him before taking him home, to make sure the two of you get along and aren't allergic to one another.
Subject: 4. What should I feed my guinea pig? A guinea pig's main diet should consist of dried timothy hay (or another grass hay), supplemented by pellets and fresh vegetables. If grass hay is not feasible, a legume hay such as alfalfa may be substituted, although that should be avoided if possible because too much calcium can cause bladder stones. Whichever hay you use should be available at all times. If grass hay isn't available at your pet store---or even if it is, and you want something a lot fresher than what most pet stores sell---there are a couple companies that mail order hay. Sandi Ackerman reports that a person at PraireHay@aol.com delivers Brome, a grass hay, for $30.00 (shipping and handling included) for ten 16 oz bags. Also, several people (including me) have had good luck with the Oxbow Hay Company in Nebraska, which ships UPS. Three 15 oz bags of Timothy costs $11.55, including shipping and handling. You can call 800-249-0366 to order or to ask for more information. This is a family business and the number goes into their home, so you may get an answering machine sometimes even during office hours. It helps if you leave numbers where you can be reached both by day and in the evening. Use ONLY the plain kind of guinea pig pellets (without nuts and dried fruits, which are high in fat and not good for your guinea pig). If you are concerned about your guinea pig becoming obese, you should probably limit pellets to a small amount per day. They should also get a cup or two of fresh vegetables daily---aim for ones with high vitamin C, which guinea pigs need to keep healthy. Avoid iceberg lettuce (the pale lettuce that comes in heads and is the main ingredient in most American salads), since it has next to no nutritional value, and can cause gas and other more serious health difficulties. Other than that, most fresh vegetables and fruits that are safe for humans are safe for guinea pigs. A list of some vegetables with high vitamin C content is below, thanks to Dr. Susan Brown from America OnLine's "Ask A Vet". Keep in mind that guinea pigs need about 10 mg of vitamin C per day (20 mg for pregnant moms), so if you aren't giving them the appropriate amount of the high-C foods below on a daily basis, you will need to give vitamin C supplements. Crushed chewable C vitamins dissolved in the water works well for this. *** The following chart shows the vitamin C content in milligrams (mg) of 1 cup portions of selected foods. Vitamin C (mg) Turnip Greens 260 mg Mustard Greens 252 mg Dandelion Greens 200 mg Kale 192 mg Brussels Sprouts 173 mg Parsley 140 mg Collard Greens 140 mg Guavas 125 mg Beet Greens 100 mg Broccoli Leaf* 120 mg Cauliflower 100 mg Kohlrabi 100 mg Strawberries 100 mg Broccoli Florets 87 mg Spinach 60 mg Raspberries 60 mg Rutabaga 52 mg Orange 50 mg Cabbage (all leaves and Chinese cabbage also) 50 mg *Broccoli stem has 0 mg of vitamin C (Notice that oranges have less vitamin C than dark leafy greens!....stay with the greens for these little guys) Dr. Brown =============================================
Subject: 5. What sort of housing should I obtain? Any kind of cage with a solid bottom (not wire!) is okay. As for size, a rule of thumb is a _minimum_ of two square feet per guinea pig. If they are not allowed to run around the room for exercise on a more or less daily basis, they will need a lot more space to be happy and healthy. See next section for what to use for bedding. Bedding should be a couple inches thick, and should be changed when it looks soiled, usually once or twice a week. Since guinea pigs do not jump very high, you do not need very tall sides for whatever housing you provide. This allows you to be creative, and you can design a wonderful housing and play area for your companions. For a very easy basic kind of area, that you could add to later, you can use 4 - 2"x12" boards, nail them together at the corners and sit the resulting "frame" on a piece of linoleum remnant. And remember, the bigger the better. The litter/bedding can be placed directly on the linoleum. When it's time to clean the whole area, just pick up the "frame", sweep up the litter, and mop with vinegar. If that's the extent of your woodworking abilities, instead of building a small wood house without a floor (they like to have a dark place to hide), you can put a small litterbox, filled with bedding, inside a grocery bag. Guinea pigs are perfectly happy using that as a place to sleep and hide. (Although expect them to destroy the grocery bag within a week or so.) Or you can use a medium-sized cardboard box, cut out one side for a door, and line the bottom with litter. Another option is to allow the guinea pig free run of one or more rooms. Since guinea pigs instinctively will mostly confine their bathroom activities to safe "homes", you only need to put litterboxes where they are fed and given water (again, cardboard boxes work fine, although prepare to replace them every few months; I use an opened cage for the pellets, alfalfa, and water, and give fresh veggies in a cardboard box), and lay down cardboard in some of the darker corners. It also helps to block off couches and beds. Again, since guinea pigs don't jump or climb, it is only necessary to see that all wires and chewables are a foot or so off the ground. Remember to watch where you step! Guinea pigs are prone to following feet around, especially if the associated person is known to hand out vegetables. If you decide to go with a store-bought cage, I recommend the sort with a plastic tub on the bottom and a removable cage part on the top, because it's convenient and easy to clean, but any kind without wire flooring is okay. Wire flooring damages guinea pig feet, and if it is too widely spaced they will often break their legs in it. Try to avoid cages with wood on the bottom too, since urine will soak in and be impossible to remove. It's helpful to line the cage with newspaper before putting in bedding. You can use a cardboard box with the bottom side cut out (so that urine soaks into the bedding instead of pooling in the bottom of the box) for a hiding place. Remember that you need to make sure you have several square feet per guinea pig. You will need to buy food and water dispensers. For water, most people recommend one of those rodent bottles (available in pet stores) with a stainless steel tube coming down to drink from with a stainless steel ball at the end of it. Don't give water in a bowl (as one might do with a dog or cat) because it will get soiled. For the pellets and the hay, you can experiment with what works for your guinea pig. I've had some success with food dishes designed for parakeets, but your mileage may vary. Other accessories are optional. Some report that their guinea pigs enjoy parakeet toys, such as the mirrors with the bells in front. They also like to climb up very gentle slopes; make a climbing area out of bricks (this will also help keep the toenails short), or give them a pile of (clean) discarded clothing or an old sheet, as space allows. As long as they are given pellets, a salt wheel is not necessary, but it can't hurt, and lasts nearly forever.
Subject: 6. What should I use for bedding? There is considerable evidence that cedar based bedding is harmful to small animals. There are those who feel that pine shavings are also harmful, although this is more widely disputed. Sandi Ackerman (ackerms@belnet.bellevue.k12.wa.us) has some studies about the possible dangers that she is willing to give out. If you want to play it safe, there are several alternative beddings to use, made of aspen or recycled paper. Many pet stores carry aspen shavings (one major brand is L/M, which seems to be the main bedding/food supplier for most pet stores I've been in), and you can ask your vet or local pet store to order other beddings for you to try out. There is a list of some safe beddings that Debbie "The Rat Lady" Ducommun compiled for the Rat Fan Club. It has the brand names of the litters, the names of the companies that make them, and the toll free phone numbers for these companies. One of the beddings on the list can be ordered directly to the home, and the rest you can order through a pet supplier. This list is now being posted as a FAQ to the newsgroup rec.pets. If you can't find a copy on your site, you can email me and I will send you a copy.
Subject: 7. Will multiple guinea pigs get along together? Yes. Guinea pigs (unlike hamsters and some other pets) are sociable creatures, and are usually all the happier for company, although they may ignore their humans more as a result. If you don't have a lot of time to spend with your guinea pig, or are gone for much of the day, your guinea pig may be a lot happier if you get him or her a friend. Same-sex groups, of either sex, usually get along fine if given sufficient room, although from anecdotal evidence females seem to be slightly more reliable in this respect than males. A male and a female are naturally the best company for each other, but unless you want your female to be constantly making little guinea pigs, you will have to neuter one or both of them.
Subject: 8. What should I know about breeding? First of all, it's a good idea not to try to breed a guinea pig until you have found some responsible people who would like one of the offspring as a pet. Pet stores often treat small animals very irresponsibly, and you don't want to bring guinea pigs into the world that aren't wanted or will be mistreated. That in mind, there are a few caveats. A female should not be bred until she weighs 500 g, or is 4-5 months old. Also, no older female should ever have a first litter. Somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12 months, if she is childless, her hip bones will fuse such that she can not give birth naturally, and a later pregnancy will require a caesarian section. Therefore, if you plan to breed your female, or if you do not plan to spay her and the situation is such that she may become pregnant later on, you should probably see that she has at least one litter between the ages of 5 and 9 months. If an older female does accidentally become pregnant with a first pregnancy, you and your vet will want to plan on surgery to deliver the babies, otherwise she will likely die giving birth. In addition, do everything you can to avoid such an accident in the first place (for example, have your female spayed even if you think she won't be near a male), since a caesarian section is risky for both mother and babies. For more information, see _Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs_ by V.C.G. Richardson. The gestation period (time between conception and giving birth) for guinea pigs is approximately 60-70 days. Guinea pigs do not normally require assistance in giving birth. The young are usually in no danger from either parent, although you may want to remove the male right away, since the female is able to conceive again within the hour after giving birth. Litters can have between 1 and 8 little ones, but typically have two to four. The males of the litter should be separated from the mother and their sisters directly after weaning, since they are sexually mature shortly after. The babies will probably be weaned by the time they are about 3 weeks old. It is important to handle the babies soon and often, to socialize them to humans. Like other animals that are born precocial, guinea pigs form their social bonds shortly after birth, sometime within a matter of hours, so human contact is critical during this time to ensure that they establish strong bonds to people. Many people are under the impression that handling baby animals too soon will cause the mother to reject them, but this isn't true for guinea pigs. Lots of love and gentle handling and petting from the start will make the babies grow up more friendly, and less afraid of humans.
Subject: 9. What are the pros and cons of neutering? Guinea pigs of both sexes can be neutered, and in some cases should be. There is some evidence that neutering a female can reduce incidence of uterine cancer. Also, if you have an older female that may not have had a litter yet, she should definitely be spayed for her safety. There are no known health reasons to neuter a male guinea pig, although I hear that it can reduce their sex drive and cause them to stop mounting female guinea pigs, if that is an issue. The risk can be very small if you find a good vet to perform the surgery. You can begin by looking for "exotics" (read: not just cats and dogs) vets in the phone book. Or call ordinary vets and ask who they refer their serious guinea pig cases to. Call around, ask for recommendations, and don't be afraid to drive a long distance -- it's only once, and it could save your fuzzy's life to be at an experienced vet's. Ask any prospective vet how many guinea pig spays/neuters they have done in the past year, and what their success rate is. For a good vet, it should be well above 90%.
Subject: 10. My guinea pig has <...> symptoms. Is this serious? First of all, if there's any doubt about the nature of the disease, take your guinea pig to a veterinarian right away! See the previous section for techniques for finding a good guinea pig vet. Sometimes a simple medical procedure can clear up a problem that would otherwise be fatal. That said, here are some common symptoms with what illnesses they may indicate. Note: This is NOT intended as a replacement for a visit to a reputable veterinarian! The maintainer of this FAQ takes no responsibility for any misdiagnoses that might result from reading this section. Sneezing: Some sneezing is completely normal, just as with humans. However, if your guinea pig is sneezing all the time, or is sneezing a lot in combination with other symptoms, he or she may have a bacterial infection or other illness (see next). Sniffling, wheezing, constant sneezing, runny nose: Your guinea pig probably has a bacterial infection or other illness. Separate him (or her) from any other guinea pigs you might have immediately so they don't catch the disease. If it doesn't clear up on its own in a day or two, take him to a vet because he may need to be given antibiotics before he will get better. Make sure your vet never prescribes Amoxicillin, because it's deadly to guinea pigs and some vets don't realize this. If the vet prescribes any sort of antibiotic, you should give the guinea pig a supplement of lactobacillus acidophilus (you can find this in health food stores) or live culture yoghurt, so that the antibiotic doesn't kill the good bacteria in the stomach that enable digestion. Also, make sure he has plenty of water and that the room is kept at a constant comfortable temperature, neither too warm nor too cold. Blood in urine: This is a symptom that could indicate any of a number of diseases, some of which are extremely serious. Take him/her to a good vet right away! Diarrhea: If you have recently fed your guinea pig a new type of vegetable, or an unusually large quantity of fresh vegetables, that may be the cause. Try not feeding that new vegetable (or not feeding so many vegetables) for a day or so to see if the problem clears up. Whether or not his/her vegetable consumption has changed, if a day passes and your guinea pig still has diarrhea, take him or her to a vet right away! It doesn't take long for a small animal to dehydrate and die, so diarrhea is a very serious problem. If your guinea pig has been on an antibiotic, the problem may be enteritis, which just means that the antibiotic is killing off the digestive bacteria in the stomach. See sniffling section above. Scratching: As with sneezing, some scratching is completely normal. Guinea pigs spend most of their time grooming themselves. However, if the places being scratched are becoming raw or sore, or losing their hair, the scratching is probably excessive. Your guinea pig may have some kind of parasite, such as mites, or fungus, such as ringworm. Take him (or her) to a good vet, who should be able to run tests and find out what is bothering him. If your guinea pig is kept on a softwood bedding, like pine or cedar, he may also be scratching because he is allergic to the bedding. Try changing to a non-allergenic bedding like the ones on Debbie's list (see the bedding section) and see if this helps. Trouble walking (stiff joints or stumbling): This could indicate a vitamin C deficiency. Give plenty of the high vitamin C vegetables listed in the feeding section (even if you have to go out to the supermarket and buy them) and see a vet right away. Your guinea pig may need to get a C shot. Loss of appetite: See a veterinarian immediately. Being small animals, guinea pigs usually eat pretty much constantly and metabolize food very fast, so if an illness or other condition is preventing them from eating they could die overnight.
Subject: 11. Do I need to trim my guinea pig's toenails? How? Yes, you will probably need to trim your guinea pig's toenails, unless he or she does a lot of running around on bricks or concrete or other rough surfaces that will keep the nails short. Once the nails start getting long there is nothing but you clipping them to remedy the situation; the nails will eventually either curl back into the pad of the foot, crippling the guinea pig, or else break off and sometimes cause bleeding and infections in the process. You can clip the nails at home yourself or, if you feel insecure about it, you can have a vet do it the first time so you can see how it's done---although they may charge you a fair bit for this. You can use either a normal human nail clipper or the clippers with curved blades they sell in pet stores for trimming cat nails. The easiest way to do this is to have a friend help you, so that one of you can hold the guinea pig while the other trims the nails. If this isn't possible, some people recommend rolling your guinea pig up in a blanket or something, so he (or she) can't see and doesn't struggle, and turning him on his back in your lap so his face is still covered but his feet stick out. I've never tried this myself, so I don't know the precise logistics of it, but apparently it keeps them from putting up a fuss. The thing you have to be careful of is not to cut the quick, which is the pink part in guinea pigs with white nails. Just like in humans, the pink part shows how far the flesh of the toe extends, and the white part has no nerves. If your guinea pig has dark nails, you may need to use a brighter light source to see the quick, which should be slightly darker than the end of the nail. If you still can't see where the quick is, just cut the nails often and a little bit at a time and you should be fine. If you do accidentally cut the quick a little and it starts bleeding, dab a bit of hydrogen peroxide on the spot to help prevent infections. Try to hold him or her until the bleeding stops so that the site stays clean and the cut is given a chance to heal over somewhat. There are products---"Quick Stop" is one of them---that you can apply to the site to help stop the bleeding; these are helpful (but not necessary) in a situation like this.
Subject: 12. My guinea pig runs away from me. What can I do? It's normal for a guinea pig to be afraid of you at first, and some guinea pigs, depending on personality, are always a little shy. However, with patience and love, you can almost always make good friends with a guinea pig. The younger they are when you start, the easier it will be to gain their trust. The thing to remember is that you are very large and frightening to a guinea pig. Also, being picked up is _very_ scary, since guinea pigs aren't really climbing or jumping sorts of animals the way, for instance, hamsters are---they're used to having four feet solidly on the ground. It's much easier if you start when they're little, so that your hand can support more of the body at once. The best way to pick one up is to place one hand under the belly and lift, then as soon as they are off the ground, place another hand under the hind legs so he (or she) feels secure and supported. Put him in your lap---maybe on a towel so you don't have to worry about "accidents"---and pet him to your heart's content. Some guinea pigs also like being held standing against the chest, with the nose pointing up towards your face, or cradled in your arms at chest level. Try different positions, and you should be able to tell which one(s) your guinea pig likes by how restless they are. This is a good time to give fresh vegetable treats, so he feels positively about the experience! As soon as he begins to squeak or become restless, let him down. Besides the fact that he'll become enthusiastic faster if he isn't imprisoned on your lap, it also may be a sign that he's about to pee. Some guinea pigs never feel comfortable being picked up, especially if they aren't handled a lot when they're little. This doesn't mean that you can't have a good relationship with your pet, though, just that you have to relate to him (or her) where he's more comfortable, namely on the ground. The best time to do this is during play time, when he's let out to run around the room (this should happen every day, so they get enough exercise). Lie down on the floor, so you aren't so tall and frightening, and offer a piece of vegetable to your guinea pig. While he's eating it, reach forward slowly to pet him. If he runs away, let him finish his vegetable and try again later. It may take patience, but eventually the shyest of guinea pigs should sit still for you to pet him, and even come over to be petted. The more time you spend on the floor with him, the faster he'll get used to you. Also, the less you chase him around to pick him up the less afraid of you he'll be, so if your guinea pig lives in a cage, try to set up some sort of ramp so that they can get back into their cage on their own. If you put fresh vegetables in there, or just rattle around their pellets a little, I guarantee they'll go back into their cage without more forceful urging. Remember, the more time you spend with your guinea pigs, the faster they'll become friendly with you!
Subject: 13. Where else can I get information about guinea pigs? If you want more information of a rather technical sort about guinea pig health, you can try _Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs_ by V.C.G. Richardson. Also, check out Carlo "G.P." Ferrari's guinea pig site. In addition to containing some documents with information about guinea pigs, it has an archive of all the guinea pig related posts on rec.pets. If you have access to the WWW, you can point your URL to > gopher://131.175.57.1:70/11/varie/bpets/Cavie or, if your site has a gopher client, just type > gopher 131.175.57.1 at the prompt, and then follow the links to pets. There's also another WWW site with guinea pig information, as well as all sorts of other veterinary documents, at > http://netvet.wustl.edu/rodents.htm or, for the gopher server > gopher://vetinfo.wustl.edu:70/11n:/vet again, if you have gopher and not WWW, you can type > gopher vetinfo.wustl.edu Finally, the Swedish GP Club's home page resides at > http://www.stud.mdh.se/~ltd92fsk/clubs/smf.html If you are on the WWW, you can get to all of these through links from the WWW version of this guinea pig FAQ: > http://www.princeton.edu/~ecrocke/html/gpfaq.html by clicking on "Index for links to other gp related sites" at the end of the document. There's also a great gp mailing list that Carlo maintains. Once a day a digest is sent out of all the submissions that have been received that day, so it won't clutter up your mailbox. To subscribe, send mail to listproc@ing.unico.it with no subject, and the message body "subscribe gpigs <your name>"; e.g. "subscribe gpigs Emily". And last but not least, a woman named Lee Mahavier who runs a shelter for abandoned guinea pigs puts out a quarterly newsletter which costs $8 a year (the money goes to the shelter). The address is: Home for Unwanted and Abandoned Guinea Pigs 699 Creekview Dr. Lawrenceville, GA 30244 (USA) (404) 963-4755 I haven't had a chance to check out the newsletter personally, but it came highly recommended by several people. If there's any other information you think should be added to the FAQ, or other sites with guinea pig info I should mention, please write me (ecrocke@princeton.edu) and let me know.

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