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Guinea Pig Veterinary Care and Husbandry

Guinea pigs are among the cutest pets that people own. They are members of the rodent family and originate in South America. They are also known by the name "cavy" which derives from the scientific name Cavia aperea. Guinea pigs are born fully haired, eyes open and ready to run. They make great pets for adults and children alike and enjoy the human-animal bond that develops between owners and their pets.

Housing
Guinea pigs are very active pets so buy the largest cage possible. There are cages that are specifically made for guinea pigs that do not have wire on the cage bottom. This is an important feature as guinea pigs can get their feet caught in the wire and break a leg very easily.

Fresh bedding should be used and changed 1-2 times weekly, depending on the number of pets you keep. Carefresh is an excellent product for this purpose. It is a newspaper-based bedding that is very soft and absorbent. Cedar and pine shaving should be avoided because the wood products can cause eye and feet irritations, as well as upper respiratory problems.

Guinea pigs enjoy playtime and run and jump with obvious joy. They like tossing toilet paper rolls and even some small dog toys around. Providing tubes to run through and little houses to hide in help keep your pet content.

Feeding
Guinea pigs prefer using a water bottle rather than a bowl if given the choice. Water bowls also tend to get full of litter and debris quickly so keep this in mind when purchasing your equipment.

Hay should be fed in abundance each day. Timothy, alfalfa, oat, sweet grass, and meadow grass are all very good and depending on the time of year, some if not all will be available. One important side note to remember: alfalfa is the "candy bar" of hays. Too much alfalfa can cause urinary tract problems because of high calcium, so feed this type of hay sparingly.

Guinea pigs have a unique dietary need. Because they can’t synthesize vitamin C, their diet must be supplemented with this vitamin. If they do not get enough vitamin C, they can develop scurvy. By feeding small amounts of fresh dark greens and fruits, your pet will have a well balanced diet. The darker the green vegetable, the higher the vitamin C content. Guinea pigs also like oranges that are full of this vitamin too.
Pelleted foods can also be offered as a treat. ½ cup given daily should be adequate.

Diseases
The most common problems we are presented with here at our hospital include hair loss and teeth problems. Hair loss can be caused by several health problems. If your pet’s fur contains dandruff-like flakes, he may have fur mites. Lice are another common problem in guinea pigs so frequent brushing and checking his hair coat is essential. Your vet will suggest taking a skin scraping and checking under the microscope for parasites. If these pests are present, your vet will treat them accordingly.

Teeth problems are usually noticed by the owner when the pet stops eating. Drooling is another sign of dental problems and your pet’s teeth should be checked by the vet. Because guinea pigs have so much excess skin in the mouth area, the doctor must use a specialized instrument to look at the molars in the back of your pet’s mouth. If the teeth are not wearing evenly, they can grow points that dig into the guinea pig’s cheeks and gums which make eating very painful.    

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