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5 Things You Need to Make Your Pet Guinea Pig Healthier and Happier

Reviewed for accuracy on March 18, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Having guinea pigs as pets can be a lot of fun, but these easygoing, cute creatures still need proper care and attention in order to thrive.

As a current or future guinea pig owner, you will either have the basic guinea pig supplies already—a guinea pig cage, guinea pig toys and guinea pig food—or you will be getting them soon.

But beyond just these basic supplies, here are five things you need to provide to ensure the health and well-being of your pet guinea pig.

Regular Nail Trims

Trimming nails is an important part of guinea pig care, but how often you need to do it depends on many factors.

As a general rule, active guinea pigs with plenty of toys will trim their own nails just by moving around, so you might not need to do it as often.

Even active guinea pigs, however, might need a once-a-month trim to keep nails at a healthy and safe length, according to integrative veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, owner of Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic.

Ask your veterinarian to show you how to cut guinea pig nails safely before you try for the first time. Just like dogs and cats, if you cut too close, the quick will bleed and cause pain.

If you're not comfortable trimming your guinea pig’s nails, then just call your vet and see if they might be able to help you out, Dr. Osborne adds.

“The more socialized and handled your guinea pig is, the easier and, more importantly, safer it will be the trim the nails,” says Dr. Osborne. And the more you interact with your guinea pig, the more social he will be.

Dr. Osborne explains that your guinea pig will love and appreciate the attention you give them during these grooming sessions, and it will help strengthen the bond between the two of you. “Some people even put the guinea pigs on a leash and take them for walks,” says Dr. Osborne. “Walking your guinea pig will drastically help wear down their nails, and it will not hurt them at all.”

“Animals that are not handled and left in their cages are generally more aggressive and sometimes considered mean when, in reality, they just want a little bit of love,” she says.

Greens Added to the Diet

In addition to commercial dry food, your pet guinea pig will appreciate fresh veggies as treats and an added source of vitamins.

“You do need to be careful when feeding your guinea pig fresh veggies, as some can actually be bad for him,” Dr. Osborne explains. She recommends avoiding citrus, onions, potato tops, beetroot and rhubarb leaves.

Because guinea pigs need a lot of vitamins and fiber in their diets, leafy greens are an excellent choice, according to Dr. Daniel J. Gray, DVM, from Gentle Vet Animal Hospital and Cat Care Clinic.

“The rule for greens is nothing on a head (iceberg lettuce or cabbage), and spinach should be used minimally, if at all,” Dr. Gray says. “Otherwise, most of the leafy greens sold in a grocery store can provide an excellent variety and vitamin source for your guinea pig.”

In addition, Dr. Gray says that veggies and fruits (carrots, peppers, apples) should be given very minimally and only as treats. “For example, the carrot tops are food, the carrot itself is a treat,” explains Dr. Gray.

Nutritional Supplements

Vitamin C is plentiful in the wild diet of a guinea pig, but you might need to add it as a supplement for your pet guinea pig. “Guinea pigs need low doses of vitamin C in order to avoid scurvy, just like humans,” says Dr. Osborne.

Vitamins come in several forms, including tablets, chews, liquids and drops. “Sometimes you have to see what your guinea pig likes best, as these all taste a little different,” says Dr. Osborne.

Dr. Osborne explains, “Some people find the vitamin C drops [that] you put in your guinea pig’s water change the taste and result in the guinea pig not drinking the water, which is not good; if your guinea pig likes the chews, then these are a good option for you.”

Fun Hiding Spaces

A guinea pig house, tunnel or other hiding spaces are essential for guinea pigs to reduce stress. “Guinea pigs are prey animals, meaning that they are programmed to fear being eaten by other animals,” explains Dr. Gray. “So when they are trying to rest or are feeling vulnerable, a place to hide can decrease their stress greatly and increase their quality of life.”

In the wild, guinea pigs travel in large herds and mostly graze on veggies throughout the day, says Dr. Osborne. “This means they are constantly going in and out of small, dark spaces looking for food and playing with other guinea pigs,” she says.

“When you give your guinea pigs tunnels and hiding spaces, this helps to simulate a natural forest environment to some small extent; the more opportunities for play and hiding they have, the healthier the mental health will be,” says Dr. Osborne.

Try a variety of sizes and shapes when it comes to hiding spaces, like the pyramid-like Kaytee woodland get-a-way guinea pig house and the Living World small animal tunnel.

A Variety of Toys

Toys are not only fun, but they can also provide mental stimulation to help your guinea pig stay happy and alert.

“When choosing chews and toys, I recommend getting a few of everything at first so you can see what your guinea pig likes and doesn't like,” says Dr. Osborne. The larger the variety of toys and objects your guinea pig has, the more his curiosity will be piqued, which means more mental stimulation.

Try a mix of hanging toys, like Kaytee Perfect Chews guinea pig toy, and moving items, such as the Niteangel small animal ball toys.  

When it comes to guinea pig toys, Dr. Gray points out that sometimes simple things tend to work better than fancy ones. “Some of the best toys for guinea pigs are items to destroy, like toilet paper tubes or sheets of paper.” He continues, “Toys that a human baby can use—[made from] hard plastic and too big to swallow—can also be good toys.”  

Avoid Dangerous Add-Ons

When setting up a habitat for your guinea pig, the two key things to keep in mind are to make it stimulating and to make it safe.

“Generally, most habitats that are purchased at the store are very safe for your guinea pig,” says Dr. Osborne. “It’s adding too many toys and accessories that can end up being dangerous, especially if they’re not designed for guinea pigs and can end up hurting your pet.”

When you purchase tubes or tunnels, Dr. Osborne recommends erring on the side of caution and checking the diameter of the tube. “Younger guinea pigs can get into smaller spaces than an adult can, and you don’t want yours to get stuck or hurt as he gets older and bigger,” Dr. Osborne says.

Dr. Gray also suggests avoiding guinea pig bedding that is heavily scented, like cedar chips. “Wood chips that are unscented can also cause problems, as little pieces of wood can get stuck under their eyelids,” says Dr. Gray. “The best bedding choices are fleece bedding, as long as they don't chew it up, or paper-based bedding, like Carefresh.”

By: Diana Bocco

Featured Image: iStock.com/svimes

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