Is a Guinea Pig the Right Choice for Your Family?

Every morning Cookie the guinea pig greets her caretaker Carla Holusha by standing up in her cage and demanding a cranberry. The ritual began when Cookie’s cage mate got cranberries to help with a urinary tract problem.

“If you’re late with the cranberry, Cookie will just stare at you until she gets her treat,” said Holusha, founder and president of North Jersey Guinea Pig and Hamster Rescue.

Cookie, one of more than 30 guinea pigs available for adoption through the rescue group, has quite the personality. When not busy greeting visitors, she enjoys pushing around her little plastic house or joining a cage mate in a game of tug-and-war with a leaf of lettuce.

March is Adopt-A-Rescued-Guinea Pig Month and the perfect time to remind families to choose a rescue over a pet store when adding an animal companion to the family. Not everyone is aware that dogs aren’t the only victims of pet mills. According to the HSUS kittens, ferrets, rabbits, birds and small pets like hamsters and guinea pigs are also churned out in deplorable factory-style conditions by dealers who sell them to pet stores.

cookieavailable-for-adoptioCookie has a fun personality and is available for adoption at the North Jersey Guinea Pig and Hamster Rescue. 
Photo courtesy of Carla Holusha 

Like all animals, guinea pigs end up in rescue for a variety of reasons including:

  • Families not prepared for the commitment of time and money involved in caring for these pets.
  • An impulse purchase when a child pleads for the pet only to quickly lose interest a few weeks later.
  • Allergies to pet dander or hay, which is a required food for guinea pigs.
  • Relocation to a new apartment that doesn’t allow pets.

What to Consider Before Adopting a Guinea Pig

  • First and foremost, guinea pigs must be seen as part of the family and not just the child’s responsibility. It’s important that parents are as invested in the care of the pet as the children and are willing to commit to this care for the life of the animal. In general, the lifespan of a guinea pig is 4 or 5 years although Holusha has cared for guinea pigs that lived to 6 or 7 and recently adopted out a 9-year-old.
  • Baby guinea pigs are not a good match for children. Because of their size, they are easy to drop or step on and are constantly on the move. Children do better with 2 to 3-year-old guinea pigs who are calmer and more likely to enjoy being held and petted.
  • Guinea pigs of any age are fragile and don’t react well to being dropped or squeezed. While children 5 and younger may have the best of intentions they can easily hurt a guinea pig. It’s extremely important that young children do not have access to the guinea pig without parental supervision.
  • Guinea pigs make good pets for children 8 and older. They are gentle animals that are fairly easy to handle and many enjoy sitting on a child’s lap while he or she is watching TV or doing homework.
  • Holusha recommends purchasing a minimum cage size of 32″ by 20″ for a single guinea pig, 36″ by 20″ for a pair of females and 39″ by 20″ for a pair of males. Cage accessories include a wooden or plastic house, food bowls and a water bottle with holders and a sleep sack or cuddle cup. “Ideally, you should obtain the largest cage you have room for,” Holusha said. “Many pet stores sell starter kits with cages that are smaller than a cat’s litter box, and guinea pigs don’t have enough room to exercise in these.”
  • If being adopted into a multi-pet household, guinea pigs need to be protected from predators—certain dog breeds pose a threat to guinea pigs.
  • Guinea pigs shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures below 60 or above 75 degrees. They are sensitive to cold and have weak lungs, making them susceptible to heat stroke.
  • A guinea pig’s diet includes the proper balance of timothy hay, pellets and fresh vegetables. They require unlimited access to timothy hay to aid their digestion and limit the growth of their teeth.
  • Despite popular belief, medical bills for guinea pigs are not low just because they are small animals. They are considered an exotic species and not all veterinarians know how to treat them. Guinea pigs require the use of special instruments as well as special antibiotics and anesthesia. They can have dental problems, bladder stones, upper respiratory infections—lots of conditions that can become chronic and the cost of medical care can grow quickly. Poor health in a guinea pig often stems from genetics due to overbreeding or inbreeding Holusha said.

So should you adopt a guinea pig? Definitely yes, if you’ve done your research and still feel that these cute pets are a good fit for your household.

“I absolutely adore guinea pigs—they make the most beautiful little sounds and have 14 different vocalizations,” Holusha said. “They are sweet charming animals and are so much fun to watch.”

You can research guinea pigs available for adoption at a local rescue through petfinder.com.

The Humane Society of the United States provides more information on keeping guinea pigs as pets.

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46 comments

Marie W
Marie W19 days ago

Thank you

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Marie W
Marie W19 days ago

Thank you

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Jaime J
Jaime J6 months ago

Thank you!!

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Carole R
Carole R6 months ago

They are so cute but it is true that you need to know how to properly care for them. Just like any pet.

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Vincent T
Vincent T6 months ago

thanks

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Louise R
Louise R6 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Leo C
Leo Custer6 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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KS G
KS Goh6 months ago

Thanks for the article.

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Sandra V
Sandra Vito6 months ago

Thanks

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Ellie M
Ellie M6 months ago

no

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