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Caring for your guinea pig

Guinea pig eating a pepper

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!

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Vet examines a guinea pig

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.

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Cuddling a 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.

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Dental disease

A guinea pig with overgrown teeth

Dental disease

Malocclusion of the teeth (also known as slobbers) is a common problem in guinea pigs who are not fed the correct diet or who have jaw joint problems or trauma to the face. In guinea pigs, their front incisors and back molar teeth grow constantly, so if they are not worn down correctly (by constantly eating hay) then they can become overgrown. When the teeth become excessively long and not worn, then the back teeth can bridge over the tongue leading to the inability to swallow any food at all.

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Gastrointestinal conditions

A guinea pig

Sensitivity to antibiotics

Guinea pigs as a group are unusually sensitive to certain antibiotics, whether they are given orally or by injection. Potentially harmful antibiotics include ampicillin, penicillin, bacitracin, erythromycin, lincomycin, gentamicin, clindamycin, streptomycin, vancomycin and sometimes tetracycline. Interestingly, even certain antibiotics used topically may produce lethal effects.

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Miscellaneous health problems

Guinea pig with more than the usual number of incisor teeth

Miscellaneous health problems in guinea pigs

Two medical conditions of guinea pigs that demand special mentions are dental disease (teeth malocclusion) and pneumonia, therefore these are covered in separate factsheets. However, there are other medical conditions that affect guinea pigs that are briefly covered here. There are many new emerging diseases seen in guinea pigs so this list is not exhaustive and covers the most commonly seen diseases.

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An x-ray of a guinea pig with pneumonia


Pneumonia is one of the most common bacterial diseases of pet guinea pigs. A number of potential disease-causing bacteria may inhabit the respiratory tracts of otherwise normal guinea pigs.

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Owning a guinea pig

Pregnant guinea pig sow

Breeding from your guinea pig

The single most important breeding consideration is that female guinea pigs should be first bred before 7 months of age. If the first breeding is delayed beyond this time, serious (sometimes life-threatening) problems with delivery are encountered. Females should be first bred between 3 and 7 months of age, and males should be 34 months old at their first breeding.

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Guinea pigs being raised in the traditional way in Peru

Guinea pigs: a history

Guinea pigs are hystricomorph rodents (related to chinchillas and porcupines) that originated from the Andes Mountains region of South America. Traditionally, guinea pigs were used for ceremonial meals by indigenous people in the Andean highlands, and it continues to be a major part of the diet in Peru.

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Vet holding a guinea pig

Handling your guinea pig

Guinea pigs rarely violently struggle when they are being picked up but they sometimes make a "squeal of protest", which sounds pig-like to many people. Nevertheless, great care should be taken not to injure them when picking them up. Due to the size of their rotund belly, their spines and hindquarters should always be supported when handling.

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Indoor housing

Housing your guinea pig

Proper housing plays a major role in the maintenance of healthy guinea pigs. The well-being of the animals must be a primary consideration.

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Skin disease

A severe case of mite infestation in a guinea pig

Parasitic skin diseases

Lice and mites are the most common external parasites of guinea pigs. Lice are tiny, wingless, flattened insects that live within the hair coat; both the adults and their eggs are found attached to individual hairs. A mite similar to the scabies mite of people causes serious infestations in pet guinea pig.

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