Category: caring for your guinea pig

Routine health care

We are all familiar with the phrase “A healthy pet is a happy pet” – but there is probably also something to be said for keeping your pet happy in order to maintain its health. If you know your pet you will probably quickly recognise the signs that suggest it is not well.

A healthy guinea pig will have bright eyes, clean ears, eyes and nose and be interested in what is going on around it. Guinea pigs are constant grazers and should be seen to be eating for much of their time awake.

If your guinea pig’s weight remains constant then they are eating the right amount of food. You should be concerned if their appetite or water consumption suddenly changes or they suddenly start to gain or lose weight. When in good condition the coat should be shiny, soft and free of parasites.

Your guinea pig must be fed a healthy diet and allowed regular exercise.

The closer your guinea pig’s diet and environment is compared to how it would eat and live in the wild, the healthier and happier it will be. Giving them plenty of enrichment in also hugely important for their mental wellbeing.

A healthy diet is a balanced diet containing all the nutrients your pet requires.

Guinea pigs require a constant supply of hay and/or grass, and should be supplemented with fresh vegetables and a pelleted diet if you choose.

There are a number of measures that can help prevent your pet developing diseases. You should discuss the special needs of your pet with your vet.


It is a sad truth that the number of guinea pigs born every year is far greater than the number of good homes that can be found for them. As a result, thousands of healthy animals are destroyed and many unwanted ones are abandoned. Having your guinea pig neutered will help to reduce the number of unwanted animals and can also help to safeguard their health and welfare.

Castrating male guinea pigs is relatively common and the procedure can be performed by most vets. It is recommended that owners of male guinea pigs have their pets castrated from the age of 4-5 months of age. Spaying females is less common, but is does remove the risk of them developing cystic ovaries and uterine cancers which are common in female guinea pigs.


Guinea pigs do not require vaccinations.

Dental care

All rodents and rabbits have front teeth that grow continuously, so a high fibre diet of hay and/or grass is essential to allow the teeth to wear down naturally.

If you notice any signs of overlong teeth then your vet will be able to burr the teeth down and advise you further.

If your guinea pig has a poor coat condition, dull eyes, dirty ears, eyes or nose it may indicate that they are unwell. Changes in behaviour (a normally happy and affectionate animal may become grumpy and avoid human contact, preferring to hide away by itself), altered appetite or water consumption should also alert you to the possibility that there may be a problem.

Many guinea pigs show few signs of illness and simply lose weight. If your guinea pig is showing any these signs then you should call your vet!

Health checks: how to examine your guinea pig

In order to keep your guinea pig in the best possible condition, you will need to handle him daily, check him over for signs of illness and injuries. Because they are a prey species, guinea pigs are very good at hiding signs of pain and illness so it is important to know their usual routines and check them regularly.

Ensure you weigh your guinea pig on a weekly basis – any sudden unexplained loss of weight or constant loss of weight may be a sign of illness; some guinea pigs show no other signs of illness apart from this.

Get used to your pet’s character and personality! Many owners will describe their guinea pig as just not being themselves, so it’s important to get to know them as an individual so you can pick up signs of illness early.

General signs of pain and illness include:

  • teeth grinding
  • hunched appearance
  • squinting eyes
  • drooling
  • weight loss
  • fast breathing
  • reluctance to move
  • squeaking in pain

If you are unsure if your guinea pig needs to see a vet, it’s best to always call for advice.

The following conditions are to be considered extremely serious, and you should seek proper veterinary care immediately, even on an emergency basis if needed:

  • Not eating for more than 12 hours
  • Laboured breathing (which is sometimes noisy)
  • Bleeding from mouth, rectum or genital area
  • Inability to urinate
  • Inability or reluctance to move
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Diarrhoea that is watery and foul-smelling
  • Pregnancy complications: straining during giving birth, drooling, bleeding or lethargy
  • Severe fight wounds
  • Trauma from another pet or fox/wildlife
  • Lameness where they are unable to weight bare on the affected limb
  • Bloated tummy with reluctance to move and signs of pain
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Eye injury
  • A non-retracting penis in the male, which may appear swollen or blue

If you notice any of the following, then you should take your guinea pig to see your vet within the next 24 hours:

  • Reduced activity
  • Sniffles, runny nose or eyes
  • Persistent scratching, to the point it draws blood
  • Crying out when urinating, or blood in urine
  • Reduced ability to eat food, especially if accompanied by excess water intake or drooling
  • Soft droppings that are not formed
  • Minor wounds which are not actively bleeding
  • Lameness which is not improving with rest

For the following, you should take your guinea pig to see a vet soon or at least call a vet for advice:

  • Hair loss or excessive itching
  • Sneezing often
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in water intake (drinking more or less)
  • Weight loss
  • A lump which has appeared
  • Redness of the pad of the feet (can be severe and called Bumble foot)

A healthy guinea pig has bright, alert eyes with no signs of cloudiness or redness, and they should have clean noses and ears.

Coats vary in length and type, but should be shiny and there should be no bald areas apart from the inside of the front feet and behind the ears.

Droppings should be small and well formed in a tear drop shape and they vary from light yellow brown through to very dark brown depending on their diet. They should NOT be soft or stuck together

Urine varies depending on the amount of calcium they have eaten as this is excreted in the urine. The colour can vary from pale straw coloured, to white and also reddish-brown depending on diet

Guinea pigs are social and love food; they should be interactive, especially at dinner times, with their owners once they have settled into their home. They should be seen to be eating much of the day, and they can drink up to 100 ml per kg of bodyweight, especially in warm weather.

Feeding your guinea pig

Guinea pigs come from Central and South America and live in extended family groups in areas of long grass. They make runs or pathways through the tall vegetation and eat as they go! In an ideal world, we would keep our guinea pigs in an uncut hay meadow, but then we’d never see them… and the average back garden is not a hay meadow!

It is really important to give guinea pigs a diet that is high in fibre, as it would be in the wild. This means making sure that they have an unlimited supply of hay whenever they can’t be outside grazing on grass. Because hay doesn’t contain all the nutrients they need, guinea pigs also need to be fed a specially formulated concentrate food as well.

Guinea pigs can also be offered pelleted complimentary feed; be careful not to overfeed this as it can cause obesity and dental problems.

Your guinea pig can also eat fresh vegetables, leafy greens and herbs are best as well as bell peppers which are high in vitamin C. Vegetables should not exceed 10-15% of your guinea pigs daily intake. Try to avoid too much of the very watery vegetables like lettuce, especially iceburg lettuce, and sugary fruits which can cause an imbalance in the guts and potentially lead to health concerns.

Yes it is!

The approximate amounts they need is 10 mg of vitamin C per kg of bodyweight a day, but when unwell or pregnant they can need up to 30 mg per kg of bodyweight a day.

Signs of a lack of vitamin C (deficiency) start to show within two weeks if the diet is not adequate. Young guinea pigs become unwilling to move and may go off their food, this is due to pain in their joints and around their teeth. Adult animals also get joint and tooth pain. It is important to remember that a lack of vitamin C (‘scurvy’) will also make the animal more susceptible to many other diseases such as chest infections and skin disease. Scurvy also slows the rate of healing, so wounds may not heal as they should.

Many vegetables are high in vitamin C so ensuring your feed fresh vegetables on a daily basis and offering guinea pig pellets should ensure they are receiving their daily amounts of vitamin C. Vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C include bell peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, tomatoes and oranges.

Vitamin C is highly unstable in water and degrades in sunlight, so it is not advisable to add vitamin drops to water; it can also change the taste of the water and put your guinea pig off drinking it.

Guinea pig mixes generally contain about 1 g of vitamin C per kg. Even when the fresh mixes are properly stored in a cool, dry place, about half of the vitamin C content is degraded and lost within 6 weeks of manufacture. Ensure you buy smaller bags if you don’t have a large number of guinea pigs so that the bag is used up within a few weeks.

If you still wish to supplement with vitamin C it is advisable to purchase tablet forms of the vitamin and sprinkle this over your guinea pigs food daily.

Guinea pigs are constant grazers and you should see them eating throughout the day, they should be grazing on hay and grass.

Weight your guinea pigs on a regular basis to keep an eye on any weight loss or weight gain. Weight loss can be a sign of illness or a lack of nutrients and weight gain may mean you are overfeeding pellets or vegetables. If you are unsure of your guinea pigs body condition, then have them checked over by your vet.

In the wild some guinea pigs will chew on bark and twigs, however they do not need these to keep their front teeth worn down; a constant supply of hay and grass will keep teeth well worn.

Wooden logs and chews can be offered as enrichment in your guinea pigs home but are not essential.

Guinea pigs also enjoy chewing on branches from apple and pear trees.

When guinea pigs chew hair it is called ‘barbering’.

We are still unsure of the exact cause of this, but guinea pigs do mutually groom one another and it may stem from this, unless the barbering is severe then guinea pigs do need to be separated.

If a guinea pig is over grooming and barbering its own hair this may be a sign of stress, skin irritation or external parasites.