INTRODUCTION TO CAVY CARE
Cavies make great pets for anyone. They require minimum space and are inexpensive to feed and keep. Cavies do not require vaccinations or registration and can be kept indoors or outdoors. Cavies are social animals and are best kept in pairs, preferably the same sex. Two males or two females are the most harmonious combination. Male cavies do not smell any different from female cavies and can often make the best pets as well as being more readily available.
Female cavies can breed from the age of 3 weeks, they should not be kept in a cage with a male unless you are breeding from them. Ideal breeding age is 5 months.
Healthy cavies have a smooth glossy coat,(unless they are rough haired types). They have bright eyes and run about freely. The cavy should feel solid and firm. There should be no sign of diarrhoea. Dry, thin dull coats, sores, walking in a hopping motion and scratching are signs of ill-health.
HOUSING-GET THE CAGE BEFORE THE GUINEA PIGS.
This is important. It is very hard to keep a guinea pig in a cardboard box for longer than a day, and dirty conditions will produce a sick guinea pig very quickly. Guinea pigs should be kept in a strong dog proof cage for their safety and protection from the elements.
Decide what type of cage you want and get it made or buy it before you collect the guinea pigs, you will then have time to set up the bedding, water bottle and food before the guinea pigs arrive. Changing homes is stressful for small animals, particularly babies, and the sooner they are settled into their new home and left in peace to explore it, the better.
If you see a guinea pig and have your heart set on getting that very one, ask the pet supplier to hold it for you until you get the cage set up, most pet suppliers will be only too happy to oblige.
Ideally you will have bought two guinea pigs that already know each other of about the same age, however if that wasn’t possible and you have two from different places there will be a settling in period while the guinea pigs work out the pecking order (who will be the boss) and it can seem as though they are fighting. This should sort itself out within the first couple of days and no-one should be injured, if it doesn’t and one is being bullied, contact the cavy club for advice on ways to help them get along.
Guinea pigs are vegetarians. They need a balanced diet of fresh greens and a chaff based dry food or a guinea pig pellet as a staple food. Make sure you ask what the guinea pig is used to eating, and try to buy the same sort of food. Changing foods should be done gradually to avoid stomach upsets, and some guinea pigs will refuse to eat pellets if they are used to a chaff based mix.
WATER AND FOOD CONTAINERS
Get a water bottle that hangs on the wire of the cage. This is far more hygienic than bowls, which become full of wood shavings and droppings within a short space of time. Use a heavy or non tip style food container. Baby guinea pigs have an annoying habit of climbing into the food bowl to feed; this can tip the bowl over either trapping the guinea pig underneath or just spilling the food onto the ground to be trampled on.
Cages should be set up using a thick layer of newspaper to line the sleeping section
(this makes it easier to remove the soiled bedding at clean out and insulates the sleeping section as well as absorbing urine- very important if you use straw for bedding) Then fill the newspaper about an inch deep in wood shavings or about two inches of straw. Don’t use shredded paper, fabric or Lucerne hay as bedding.
HAY – Oaten or meadow hay should be fed at about a handful per day. It will also serve as extra bedding in winter, but will be quickly eaten. Lucerne hay should only be used for pregnant or lactating sows as its calcium content is too high for everyday usage.
It is not necessary to have a guinea pig cage on the grass, if you want to have it on a stand or table, you can pick a little grass for them and put it in the cage as a treat.
BABY GUINEA PIGS
If you are buying baby guinea pigs you will have to take special care. Baby cavies should be at least 4 weeks old before being sold. Bring them straight home and get them settled as soon as possible. Baby guinea pigs should not be handled for too long, they need to be able to get to food and especially water at frequent intervals, they do not stand up to the stress of handling nearly as well as adults and can suffer dehydration very easily. Baby guinea pigs are often very jumpy and being held is stressful, so take them slowly, increasing the handling time, as they get older. Like kittens and puppies, they need plenty of rest and time to relate to other guinea pigs in peace. If they become very stressed they won’t eat and that can cause tooth problems and stomach upsets. Diarrhoea as a result of stress can be fatal in baby guinea pigs.
For young children, cavies over 6 months old are recommended as they are quieter and less fragile.
VEGETABLES AND VIT C
Baby guinea pigs have high requirements of Vitamin C. Ensure that they get a variety of vegetables daily. Be very careful feeding iceburg lettuce, even adult guinea pigs can only tolerate small amounts of lettuce; it is better not to give it to them.
Usually the off cuts from preparing your own meals will be sufficient for two guinea pigs, if not, you can sometimes get green outer leaves, corn husks etc from the green grocer.
CATS AND DOGS
Keep your new guinea pigs away from other animals. Cats and dogs will be very curious, but it’s not much fun for the guinea pig. Baby guinea pigs look and behave like mice to cats, and one bite is usually fatal. Older animals are safer but don’t tempt fate, keep them separated. Guinea pigs can die from heart attacks when badly frightened, even if they are not actually touched.
Remember when you bring your new guinea pig home that every thing is new to them, so give them time to settle in and keep handling to a minimum for the first few days.
If you have any questions about purchasing guinea pigs or recommended hutches or feeds, contact a Cavy Club in your area.
For a first time guinea pig you will need:-
Food bowl (non tip)
Pellets or guinea pig mix
RECOMMENDED VEGETABLES FOR CAVIES
Cabbage (in small amounts) Carrots Peas/beans (fresh only) Celery and tops
Corn and all parts of husk Apples Beetroot (fresh,not tops) Spinach
Cucumber Pumpkin Bock choy Pear
Parsley Oranges Chokos Grapes
Cauliflower incl leaves Broccoli Turnip Chicory
All types of melon incl. Skins Fresh picked grass (beware of any sprayed with chemicals)
HOT WEATHER CARE
Cavies are very susceptible to heat and can deteriorate rapidly during the warmer months of the year.
Click on the link below to view a very helpful article published in a past edition of Cavy Capers