Is a Guinea Pig Right For You?

Is a guinea pig right for you

Ten-year veteran rescuer Vicki Palmer Nielsen of Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue in Stacy, Minnesota, spends a great deal of time educating prospective adopters, especially people new to cavies. Some people complain to her that they didn't know guinea pigs would be so much work and that they don't have enough time to care for them. She finds that even carefully screened adopters do not always truly understand what it's like to live with guinea pigs. "I've had more adopted guinea pigs returned this last year than any other year," she says. Nielsen stresses that guinea pigs are not low-maintenance pets. Here are some points to consider:

Level of care
Daily care and feeding are time consuming, and bedding and hay are messy. Cavies also require routine nail clipping, regular grooming and occasional ear cleaning.

Lifetime cost
Low initial cost is deceptive. The expenses of food and bedding, not to mention health care, mean guinea pigs can be surprisingly costly pets. A cavy may live as long as 10 years, though the average is five to seven, so one must consider adopting a cavy to be a moderately long-term commitment.

Cavies and children
Cavies can be good pets for children over the age of six when parents supervise their handling and care. A small child cannot be allowed to carry a guinea pig (cavies have small bones and falls can be deadly). Because noticing changes in a cavy is so important, an adult must be involved in day-to-day care and have a strong commitment to the animal, as well. Thinking they are adopting a cavy for their child, adults often become the primary caretaker and may grow to love and appreciate cavies themselves.

It's not unusual to discover a variety of pets share a cavy household. Most pets can coexist if care is taken to ensure the guinea pigs' safety. Never leave a guinea pig unattended in the presence of a dog, cat, ferret or any other predatory animal. Some dogs will kill cavies if given an opportunity so to prevent heartbreak, consider a resident dog's basic temperament.

Cavies in the classroom
Many people believe guinea pigs and classrooms don't mix. The best arrangement is a pair of same sex cavies that are the teacher's personal pets, returning home with her at the end of the day. Intermittent visits to the classroom are preferable to daily trips.

Lyn Zantow maintains an informational cavy care website and active message board at She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her two guinea pigs, Nina and Snowflake.

Reprinted from ASPCA Animal Watch, Spring 2004 Vol. 24, No. 1, with permission from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 424 East 92nd Street, New York, NY 10128-6804