New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2006

Guinea Pigs: The Perfect Family Pet

by Steve Sehr

Would you like to adopt a warm, furry creature, but your landlord won't allow a dog or cat? Here are two popular candidates from the rodent family who might appeal to your companionship needs.

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We’ve all seen those cute, furry creatures in the pet store. I mean the round ones with the little legs. You know - the guinea pigs. Many of us actually had guinea pigs as pets when we were young. But how many of us know much about these wondrous little creatures, and how much love they can bring into a household? We rescued one piggy named Sweetie, who was found close to death in a store cage. The veterinarian saved her, but she was left with permanent lung and balance damage. She has almost died three times in the seven months we’ve had her but she has a tremendous will to live. She has bonded to us and strengthened our belief in miracles. Everyone around her including the veterinarian and his staff has been affected by her spirit.

GUINEA PIG HISTORY

Guinea pigs, or cavies as they are also known, have lived in South America for thousands of years. The Peruvian Indians bred them as food. Guinea pigs served as medical instruments, too. A guinea pig was held over an ill person like a magic wand. Whatever part of the body the guinea pig squealed over was considered the source of the problem. Sadly, guinea pigs were also sacrificed to the gods as a means for the people to give thanks.

When South America was conquered by the Spanish in the 17th century, the Spaniards brought these little creatures back to Spain with them. The royal households favored them as pets and eventually bred them into many colors and hair-types that closely resemble what you see today.

GUINEA PIG FACTS

In the wild guinea pigs live in herds and are highly social animals. Even though they interact well with humans, they are happiest when kept in pairs (non-mating of course). Guinea pigs live to be about six years old. They are docile creatures, who would much rather sit in your lap and watch TV than do anything else. One mailman we’ve heard of goes home every night, sits with his guinea pig and just relaxes. He says being with his piggy makes the world seem right. Guinea pigs rarely bite, but can be skittish when you try to pick them up. This is their normal defense mechanism and is not a sign of their relationship with you.

Guinea pig babies are called pups. After a gestation period of about 70 days, the mother gives birth to between one and five well- developed babies. Much like horses the babies are able to walk within hours. They also have their eyes open and their permanent hair color at birth. They nurse for about four weeks and can eat solid food in about three to five days. After four weeks the babies should be removed from the mother. You don’t want the males in the litter to impregnate their mother unintentionally.

GUINEA PIG CARE

Guinea pigs are not difficult to care for, but they do require some specialized supplies. Since they do not climb, they need lots of room to stretch out. A cage should be no smaller than 48 inches long to house two piggies. You can find cages on the Internet from Marchioro that fit the bill, or you can go to www.cavycages.com to learn how to build your own very cost-effective cage. The cage should contain a wood box for them to hide in and to chew, a water bottle (16 ounces) and a dish or feeder for food.

Guinea pigs use their cage as a bathroom so you will need bedding. The best beddings are paper based such as Carefresh or Cell-Sorb. Aspen shavings are also acceptable. Never use cedar or pine since these woods give off vapors that are toxic to a guinea pig’stheir lungs.

Guinea pigs need their own pellet food. Buy fresh guinea pig pellets to insure that the Vitamin C is fresh. In addition to pellets they need an endless supply of timothy hay. They also love green leaf veggies such as romaine and parsley and fruit such as apples, oranges and melons.

Guinea pigs love to be held. Holding them will also allow you to feel them for lumps and bumps. Check their eyes and nose for discharge and weigh them every two weeks on a kitchen scale. Guinea pigs are good at hiding illness until it is severe. You need to be observant about their behaviors and note any deviations. Identify a good guinea pig veterinarian before you bring your pig home, and take your pig to the veterinarian at the least deviation from routine behavior.

Guinea pigs should be neutered or spayed, not bred. There are way too many homeless pigs in the world already!

WHY ADOPT A PIGGY?

Please do not get guinea pigs as pets if the family is not committed to them. Pet stores still carry guinea pigs, but many times the pigs are sick when purchased. As with puppies, there are “farms” that raise rodents for the wholesale trade. Our first large scale rescue was from a group of 150 pigs found in California. At a good rescue the guinea pigs are quarantined for more than three weeks before being released for adoption. Many times they are already paired up with a compatible cage mate so they can be adopted as a pair. A rescue can help you with answers, support and encouragement. We have even given nail cutting lessons a year after an adoption. Maybe if people stopped buying store animals, the stores would stop selling them.

There are numerous web sites where you can learn about guinea pigs and their care. www.guinealynx.com and www.cavyspirit.com are the two best sites for providing up-to-date information.

Our site www.saveacavy.com has rescue pigs available and other helpful information. Or you may call us at Save a Cavy Guinea Pig Rescue at 505-681-5166 for questions or inquiries. Our rescue is dedicated not only to finding homes for guinea pigs but also to educating the public on the joys of guinea pigs. We have rescued guinea pigs for the past three years and found homes for over 100. We started rescuing because we wondered where the unwanted guinea pigs were going. When we found out there was no specialty guinea pig rescue in New Mexico, we knew we needed to do it. The satisfaction of seeing the pigs in new homes, and getting feedback from new owners about how wonderful the pigs are, make all the work worthwhile.

Steve Sehr runs Save A Cavy Rescue, based in Rio Rancho. He can be reached at (505) 681-5166 or steves@saveacavy.com. His website is www.saveacavy.com


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