Living with a Guinea Pig

Many thanks go out to Amy Espie for providing this brochure to GPAN.

Learning the Language
Guinea pigs produce a wide variety of sounds and have a highly developed, sophisticated language. They murmur, gurgle, grunt, and coo to express contentment and comfort. They growl, grunt, and clack their teeth as signs of aggression. They also communicate using body language. They show aggression by swaggering from side to side and raising the chin. When they feel very happy and calm, they stretch out and yawn. They give a very loud high-pitched squeak, which sounds almost like a whistle, to summon their pig-friend or trusted human caretaker.

Give your pig time to adjust to her new home. When she feels confident enough to explore her cage, groom herself, and nap while you are with her, you can try offering her a small piece of apple or carrot from your hand. The best way to gain her trust and friendship is to sit or lie on the floor in a small, pig-proofed room or area. Allow her to approach you and move away as she pleases. Use treats to lure her onto your lap. As her trust in you grows, you can try petting her on the top of the head, then on her neck and shoulders. These steps may take a few days or a few weeks. Let her set the pace.

When you need to carry her, put one hand under her belly and one hand on top, making a firm, safe pocket. Or you can hold her with both hands against your chest in a "heart-to-heart" position. NEVER LET A YOUNG CHILD HOLD A GUINEA PIG UNLESS CLOSELY SUPERVISED. When squeezed too hard, the guinea pig may bite or become very still. A child can literally squeeze a guinea pig to death
without realizing it. This is a tragedy for both creatures. Guinea pigs jump when startled, which puts them at risk from being dropped by humans or grabbed by a dog or cat whose hunting instincts are aroused. Secure housing, a safe place to hide, supervision, and careful handling will prevent injuries caused by nervous jumping.

Lack of exercise and incorrect nutrition are common causes of illness and early death in guinea pigs. A pig who is kept in a cage 24 hours a day will become obese and withdrawn.

  • Give your pig at least a few hours each day of free run in a properly "pig-proofed" room. Put electric cords and other forbidden or dangerous chewables out of reach.
  • Give a high quality, fresh chow formulated specifically for guinea pigs.
  • Do not give feed that contains high-calorie treats such as nuts or seeds. Give her small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, which may be increased gradually.
  • Your guinea pig needs a fresh source of vitamin C. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and pea-pods are good sources of C.
  • Fresh water and fresh hay should be available at all times. Use a grass hay such as timothy. Alfalfa hay should be given as an occasional treat only, because it is high in calories and calcium.
  • Find a veterinarian who has experience with pigs. Don't wait till your pig is ill to do this.
  • Keep the temperature between 60-80oF. Avoid drafts and sudden temperature changes.
  • Bathing is unnecessary unless she has become dirty from a particular experience.
  • Check toenails and teeth regularly. Your vet can show you how to do this, and how to trim them if needed.
    And, most importantly,
  • learn what's normal for your pig, in terms of appetite, body position, daily routine, droppings, and energy level. The more familiar you are with her habits, the more quickly you will be able to note any changes, which could be early signs of illness. This is one reason why it is important to have an adult involved in daily care of the pig.

The Benefits of Spay and Neuter
Neutering ensures a longer, happier life for your guinea pig. Males become sexually mature at 2 months, females at 2 to 3 months. Males can be neutered at three months or older. Spay/neuter is essential for pairs or groups to live peacefully.

House training
Some guinea pigs can be trained to use a litter box. Spayed/neutered pigs are much easier to house train because they are not driven by hormones to mark territory with feces and urine. Even a neutered pig may never become fully house trained, however, so be prepared to clean up droppings and puddles. White vinegar cleans and deodorizes and is safe on most surfaces.

Use a shallow pan or litter box. Place plain clay litter, pelleted paper or grass litter, or shredded newspaper in the tray. Softwood shavings such as pine and cedar cause liver damage in small mammals and should not be used in litter box or as bedding. Provide one tray in the cage, and several others around the room or play area. A layer of oat or timothy hay on top will entice the pig and reward her for using the box. Replace hay daily. Dump litter and clean pan as needed, usually twice a week for one or two pigs.

The cage should be at least 31x31x17 inches. Line the floor with several layers of newspaper. Wire floors are dangerous for the delicate feet and legs of a guinea pig. Aquariums are not recommended because ventilation is inadequate. The cage should contain a litter pan, food bowl and water bottle, hayrack, and climbing and hiding areas, such as cardboard boxes or large mailing tubes. A child's playpen makes an excellent cage for one or more pigs, as long as no cats or predators have access. Cover the floor with straw or sea-grass matting, available at import stores. This is inexpensive, fun and safe for the pig to gnaw on, and easily replaced.

To prevent death by violence or pneumonia, guinea pigs should not live outdoors.

Your guinea pig should have several hours of playtime outside her cage every day. Guinea pigs are extremely inquisitive, and they love to investigate new toys and games. The best toys provide physical and mental exercise. You can create a safe fun playground from simple materials such as cardboard boxes, baskets and mats made of untreated straw or wicker, paper bags, plant pots, and children's building blocks.

Guinea Pigs and Friends
Guinea pigs are highly social by nature. They crave the companionship of their own kind. Please consider adopting two pigs, especially if the animals will be home alone much of the time. Your pigs will thank you, and you will enjoy watching the pair snuggle and groom each other. A female and male will get along very well--if at least one is spayed or neutered--as will two females. Two males may become friends if both are neutered. Guinea pigs and rabbits are also a good match.

Gimme Shelter!
Did you know that animal shelters have wonderful, healthy guinea pigs available for adoption. Save a life--adopt from your local shelters and
animal rescue groups.

Getting Started

  • Roomy cage
  • Litter box
  • Food bowl or feeder
  • Water bottle
  • Toys to chew

Running space

  • Pig-proofed areas/room(s)
  • Toys (chew & hide)


  • plain guinea-pig pellets, no added treats/seeds
  • Fresh water
  • Grass hay/straw for digestive fiber and recreational chewing
  • Fresh vegetables & fruit (add gradually)


  • Flea comb
  • Brush
  • Toenail clippers


  • Untreated clay or shredded paper litter (no pine or cedar shavings)
  • Pooper scooper
  • Whisk broom & dustpan
  • White vinegar (for urine accidents)
  • Hand vacuum
  • Chlorine bleach for disinfecting
  • Newspapers