Guinea pigs can make great pets, and by following these simple tips you'll be able to make sure that they're safe and happy.
Like all pets, guinea pigs need exercise, mental stimulation, environmental enrichment, and the ability to express normal behaviours.
They also need the company of other guinea pigs.
A social species
Guinea pigs need to be kept with other compatible guinea pigs, in groups of at least two.
There's lots of evidence that guinea pigs benefit from social interaction and that they need to be socialised early in their lives.
Make sure that either they are desexed or that both animals are of the same sex, to avoid unwanted litters.
When introducing new animals, carefully monitor them for aggressive interactions (male guinea pigs in particular are more likely to tolerate each other without fighting if introduced at a young age).
Once they've formed a bond, it's important that they are not separated.
Even if one guinea pig needs veterinary treatment, their companion should stay with them as this will help them both to be less stressed.
Guinea pigs shouldn't be kept with rabbits - the two species have different needs and don't make compatible companions.
Rabbits can also pass on certain bacteria and parasites to guinea pigs, and rabbits often bully guinea pigs and can injure them, particularly with their strong kicks.
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It's important to give your pet guinea pigs an environment where they can express normal behaviours, including walking, running, tunnelling, exploring, playing, stretching horizontally, retreating to a shelter and hiding, foraging, chewing, gnawing and jumping.
Make sure you give your guinea pigs enough space.
We recommend as large an enclosure as possible, with a minimum of 2500 square centimetres of usable floor space for guinea pigs over 450 grams, with an additional 900 square centimetres for each additional guinea pig weighing over 700 grams. We have some detailed guidelines available on our Knowledgebase.
They should ideally have access to a safe outdoor area where they can graze on grass (although make sure the grass hasn't been sprayed with weed killer or any other chemicals).
They must be protected from the sun, rain, wind and possible predators.
You can make your guinea pigs' environment varied and interesting with different levels and areas for them to explore, by using things like ramps and boxes.
You can even make a 'forest' out of polar fleece material strips tied to the roof of their enclosure, so the strips dangle down and your guinea pigs can push and run through their fleece forest!
You can also provide guinea pigs with toys like balls made from plastic, untreated willow or dried grass, and small stuffed toys, ensuring there are enough toys for each guinea pig to have at least one of their own at any time.
A shredded paper pile can provide burrowing, chewing and hiding opportunities - as well as a comfortable bed!
Cardboard boxes or wooden branches from non-toxic trees that haven't been sprayed with pesticides will entertain and help wear constantly-growing teeth.
If you're buying products for your guinea pig, choose carefully - unfortunately some of the toys and accessories marketed and sold for guinea pigs, such as wheels and leashes, are unsuitable and can be harmful.
Keep your guinea pigs' enclosure interesting by rearranging the items or swapping new ones, and remove any items that are becoming unsafe or soiled.
With these simple tips, you can provide an interesting, varied and safe environment for these sociable and complex little animals.
We have these and more tips on caring for guinea pigs on our Knowledgebase.