Guinea Pig Care Basics: Cages, Diet, Grooming & More

Updated May 5, 2022
Brown and white guinea pig

Guinea pigs make wonderful, fascinating pets, but they do require a certain amount of attention to ensure that they remain happy and healthy. When given the proper diet, housing, and care, these little creatures can easily live for 5 years or more on average -- and occasionally much longer! Learning how to care for a guinea pig, whether you're a novice or an experienced pet owner, will help you keep your new pet healthy for their lifetime.

Choosing the Right Cage

Three pet guinea pigs

A single guinea pig needs at least 4 square feet of cage space. The more space, the better. Guinea pigs enjoy roaming and should be given plenty of space to do so in their cages. Because guinea pigs require a lot of fresh air, the cage you purchase should have plenty of openings for ventilation. A very deep litter pan should also be considered when grabbing your habitat to avoid your pet from kicking the bedding out of their cage.

Guinea pigs do not tolerate extreme temperatures well, so it's important to place your Guinea pig cage in an area with adequate temperature controls. Avoid placing them where they might be subject to cold drafts in the winter or in direct sunlight in the summer. They should be kept within a range of 68 degrees to 72 degrees Fahrenheit to be comfortable.

They can handle dropping down to a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit if they have ample bedding in their cage to snuggle in for insulation and warmth. They also do not care for excessive humidity levels, so you may need to keep a dehumidifier in the room with their cage. Monitor humidity levels with a hygrometer (which measures the amount of moisture in the air as a percentage, known as relative humidity) and maintain levels below 50 percent.

Although a grated floor may be easier to maintain, it isn't necessarily the best fit for your Guinea pig. A wire floor allows your pet's waste to drop through, but can also damage their feet. Guinea pigs also happen to be hindgut eaters. This means they will eat some of their droppings a second time in order to digest them fully. Therefore, they need some access to these droppings, making a solid floor even more ideal.

The cage should also be fully enclosed. Guinea pigs aren't very good climbers, but they do occasionally like to jump just for the joy of it, and it is possible for them to escape if their cage has no lid. A lid also protects the animal from other household pets and other environmental factors, such as your kids throwing a Nerf ball around the room.

Bedding Requirements

Guinea Pigs At Home

Do not use cedar shavings because the fumes will make your pet sick. Pine shavings can work, but many pigs and people are allergic to them. Instead, use safer bedding, such as shredded or recycled newspaper, Carefresh bedding, hay, or dried corn cob.

Cage Accessories

Female hand stroking guinea pig

You'll need to equip your pet's cage with accessories before bringing them home. A water bottle with a gravity-fed drinking tube is essential to keep your pet from soiling their water. Mount it on the outside of the cage with the tube inserted through the bars to prevent damage from chewing.

An attaching food dish is equipped with a screw that allows you to anchor the dish to the cage bars so your pet won't knock it over. A hayrack is highly recommended to add near their food dish. It offers a way to prevent Timothy hay from getting soiled and allows you to pull out blades as needed.

A hide-away can be placed on the opposite side of the cage. This will provide your Guinea pig with a place to stay when they want some peace and quiet or a nice nap. Some Guinea pig owners enjoy giving their pets an extra comfy place to cuddle in, and they'll definitely appreciate it, especially on colder days.

Guinea pigs sheltering

DIY Guinea Pig Cage

Some Guinea pig owners prefer to make unique environments for their pets instead of a standard cage purchased at a store. You can make a cage using an old dresser and some drain pipes to create a multi-level, unusual home for your pig. Another fun and inexpensive option is using Cubes and Coroplast (C&C), which can be arranged in any pattern that fits your room and can be easily connected with heavy-duty zip ties.

As long as the materials are safe for your Guinea pig and the "cage" is secured to keep out other pets, you can be really creative and use items like a child's dollhouse or PVC pipe and hardware cloth.

How to Clean a Guinea Pig Cage

It's extremely important to keep your pet's cage clean. Fumes from excess droppings and urine can make the animal very sick. You should plan a regular cleaning regimen for your pig's cage. First, scoop out your pet's main soiling area once a day. Most Guinea pigs will pick a particular corner that they'll use the most for this purpose. You should completely change the bedding once a week.

After you've emptied the bedding, wipe down the inside of the cage with a 50:50 ratio of white distilled vinegar and water to kill germs and odors. Don't forget to wipe the surface dry before refilling the bedding and putting your pet back in their cage.

Finally, wash the food dish and water bottle tube and nozzle with the same vinegar mix, and rinse and dry them thoroughly before you place them back in the cage.

The Right Diet for a Guinea Pig

Providing your pet Guinea pig with the ideal diet will ensure their good health and long life. Guinea pigs have specific nutritional needs that can lead to significant health problems if not properly met.

Choosing the Right Food

Guinea pig eating a carrot

The most important thing you need to know right from the outset is that Guinea pigs cannot synthesize vitamin C. Therefore, they must get it from the foods they eat, or their health will quickly deteriorate. Pet supply stores do sell vitamin C supplements for these animals, and your pet will especially love those C-fortified yogurt drops, but providing the diet outlined below will usually provide adequate vitamin C.

Guinea pig pellets are formulated with vitamin C. Rabbit pellets look virtually the same, but do not contain the added vitamin C. Do not feed your pet rabbit pellets, even though they are considerably cheaper because you'll set your little friend up for a health crisis.

Always buy your pellets from the freshest source you can find, because vitamin C deteriorates rather quickly. This reduces the amount your pet will receive from the pellets, regardless of what the package analysis says. As a rule of thumb, avoid purchasing your pet's pellets from a bulk bin where you can't be sure how old the feed is or if it's being rotated properly.

All Creatures Animal Hospital (ACAH) recommends limiting an adult Guinea pig to 2 tablespoons of pellets daily. Pigs under 4 months old should be allowed to free feed on unlimited pellets.

Provide Your Guinea Pig With Unlimited Timothy Hay

Pellets are most beneficial to young Guineas who are still growing, but they generally contain more protein and calcium than the average adult needs. Fresh Timothy hay is an excellent source of fiber and nutrients, and it should make up the bulk of your pet's diet. Chewing the long blades of hay also helps keep your pet's teeth from overgrowing. Your Guinea pig should have an unlimited amount of hay so your pet can eat whatever they want.

Adding Veggies and Fruits

Guinea pig eating strawberries

Fresh foods offer the best opportunity to supplement your pet's vitamin C intake in the most natural way. Some great food choices that contain significant amounts of vitamin C include dark, leafy greens, bell peppers, carrots, strawberries, and apples.

Always feed fresh -- rather than cooked -- fruits and veggies in order to preserve the vitamin C. Also, make sure you thoroughly wash everything before offering it to your pet. To avoid waste, divide the cup of food into several servings and feed a little throughout the day.

Guinea Pig Foods to Avoid

There are several items that might seem like they would be a good fit for a Guinea pig's diet, but can cause digestive issues for your pet. Some are even toxic to them. Do not feed your Guinea pig potatoes, beans, dill, flowers, rhubarb, tomato plants, iceberg lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, leeks, common houseplants, meat, or dairy products.

Grooming Requirements

Sheltie Guinea Pig on wooden floors

Your pet's grooming needs will vary depending on which type of coat they have. Keeping their cage clean will also limit the amount of grooming needed. In general, short-haired guinea pigs really don't need much brushing, but you can brush them once a week to remove loose hairs. Long-haired Guinea pigs need daily brushing and the occasional trim.

All Guinea pigs can benefit from having their nails trimmed twice a month. Just take off the sharp tips. All Guinea pigs will also occasionally need to have their hindquarters bathed to remove crusted droppings or urine buildup, with long-haired specimens requiring the most frequent bathing.

How to Trim a Guinea Pig's Nails

It's best to start trimming a Guinea pig's nails when they're young so they get used to the procedure, making it less stressful for both of you. You can use human nail clippers or purchase clippers at a pet store. Clippers that are made for cats or small pets are suitable.

You should also buy some styptic powder to have on hand in case you accidentally cut the quick, which will cause bleeding.

If you've never trimmed nails before, you need to learn where the quick is in order to avoid cutting it. It's easy to see where the tip of the toe begins under the nail if your Guinea pigs have clear nails. If you have a pig with dark nails, it's best to cut tiny amounts off the ends of the nail to avoid hitting the quick. It's easiest to trim the pig's nails if you have them sitting in your lap on something soft, like a towel or blanket. The pig should be sitting on your lap with their back toward you.

You can also use the "burrito" method, and wrap your pet snuggly in a towel or blanket with just their feet sticking out. It helps to provide something for them to focus on that will make them find this more enjoyable. You could give them a carrot or some apple slices to chew on while you give them their pedicure.

Hold one foot and gently use the clippers to cut each nail, starting with just a tiny amount at the end if this is all new to you. You'll find as you do it more often than you'll be more confident cutting their nails.

If you feel really stuck, ask your veterinarian to show you how to cut your Guinea pig's nails. Most veterinarians will be happy to show you or have a veterinary technician demonstrate the process.

How and When to Bathe Your Guinea

Guinea pig bath

Guinea pigs don't need regular baths, but they can benefit from one a few times a year or if they've gotten particularly dirty. It helps to start bathing them when they're young and pairing it with something nice, like a veggie or fruit treat, so they won't be as stressed by baths as they get older.

You will need Guinea pig-safe shampoo like Kaytee Squeaky Clean Critter Shampoo. If you have a large enough sink, you can bathe the pig there. Otherwise, using a large bucket or tub works best. If the sink or tub has a slippery surface, it helps to place a washcloth or a shower mat at the bottom so they don't slip and get scared.

Put some warm (not hot) water in another bucket or large bowl and then slowly pour small amounts of the water on the Guinea pig, staying away from their face. Using water this way instead of turning on the faucet is quieter and can be less stressful for the pig.

Use your hands to move the water around the fur to make it wet, being careful to avoid your pig's face. Then, put a tiny amount of shampoo in your hands and lather it, and then slowly work it into your pig's fur with your fingers.

Rinse your pig gently until the water runs clear. You want to make sure all the shampoo is completely rinsed out before you move on to the next step. Take your towel and gently dry as much excess water as you can from your pig. You may need to use a few towels with a longer-haired pig. You should also keep a comb with you and occasionally comb their hair if they are a longer-haired pig to prevent matting and tangling.

Using a regular blow dryer, place your Guinea pig on a secure surface, such as a bathroom counter, and dry their fur using the lowest available setting. Move your fingers through their fur to help it dry faster and use a comb or brush to prevent tangling. Make sure your Guinea pig is fully dry before placing them back in their cage.

Mental and Physical Care of Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are sociable animals who need to have environmental and physical enrichment to stay healthy and happy. Providing for your pig's behavioral needs will help them to live longer, as well.

If you're feeding your pet the diet described above and the cage offers adequate room, your pet will get most of the exercise they need. However, one or two exercise toys can provide some much-needed mental stimulation and exercise. A large running wheel or exercise ball gives your pet a chance to work off some extra energy.

Because Guinea pigs are so social, you might want to consider keeping two together to prevent loneliness. Just make sure they're the same gender, or you could wind up with an unwanted litter and a population problem. If you only have room for one pet, try to spend at least 15 minutes interacting with them at several points throughout the day.

Guinea Pig Sounds

One of the most charming aspects of Guinea pig ownership is the delightful noises they make. While they're definitely not loud pets, Guinea pigs still have lots to say. Common noises include a high-pitched whistling or trilling noise that they may make when they're aroused, such as if they're happy to see you approach the cage (especially if it's dinner time!) They can also make a hissing sound that indicates they are upset. This is usually done with a display of teeth and stiff body language.

Guinea pigs can purr just like a cat, but the type of purr can indicate different mental states. If the sound is low and the pig seems relaxed, this is a sign they are happy. If the purring has a high-pitched tone to it, accompanied by more agitated body language, this is a sign your pig is stressed or irritable. If the purrs happen in short bursts, this can indicate that your pig is worried and afraid.

Veterinary Care for Your Guinea Pig

Providing the right diet and proper cage conditions will keep health problems to the bare minimum in most cases. These animals don't require any vaccinations, but you will want to consult a veterinarian if you notice one or more of the following:

  • Overgrown teeth that don't align neatly together
  • Open sores, poor coat, or other skin problems may be a sign of scurvy
  • Unusual lumps or growths can be a sign of cancer
  • Sores on their feet, which is a sign of a common condition known as bumblefoot
  • Trouble breathing, which can indicate a respiratory infection
  • Diarrhea is common and may be caused by parasites or bacterial infections
  • Lack of appetite can be a sign of several conditions, including urinary problems, bladder infection, stress, and dental disease

Cost of Owning a Guinea Pig

Depending on your choices and any sales you find, expect to make an initial investment of about $180 to purchase your pet and their cage setup. After that, you'll spend about $45 a month on bedding, pellets, and hay, plus the cost of fresh fruits and veggies.

Veterinary care is rarely needed, but you should seek out a vet that treats rodents and find out the cost of the average office visit. If you feel you have room in your budget to handle these costs plus the time it takes to keep your pet's cage clean, you can provide all the basics your guinea pig will need to have a healthy life.

Guinea Pig Care for Beginners

Guinea pigs do have demanding care requirements, and overall they are not hard pets to care for, which makes them an excellent choice for children and beginners. They also are a wonderful pet if you live in a small space but still want an engaging and cuddly companion.

Guinea Pig Care Basics: Cages, Diet, Grooming & More