Have you ever seen the "Eat This, Not That" book? Well, I'm going to write this blog with a similar theme. As a rescue group, we tell people a lot of what NOT to buy, which I will do here, but I also want to supplement it with what TO buy (or make!) for guinea pigs. I will do one for rabbits in a future blog!
In our adoption questionnaire, we ask if the potential home has purchased any supplies for a future pet, and so often the answer comes back that they've purchased a "nice big cage" that "comes with everything". Chances are, if you bought it at a pet store, and it supposedly comes with everything you need, it is not a nice big cage. Here is a typical example that makes every guinea pig rescuer cringe:
Best thing you can do - return it to the store. If you can't return it, you could use it as a (very) temporary quarantine or transport cage. It is far too small for one, much less two guinea pigs, and we only adopt out piggies in same-sex pairs (or bond to your current piggy).
So, as a rescue group, what kind of housing DO we want to see your pet in? Our FAVORITE kind of guinea pig housing is what is commonly known among guinea pig people as a "C&C" cage - short for "cube & coroplast". They are relatively inexpensive and simple to build, and if you don't want to go around collecting the materials yourself, you can buy C&C cage kits here: http://www.guineapigzone.com/c-and-c-cages-guinea-pigs. An excellent "how-to" site (the original C&C site) is http://www.guineapigcages.com/.
For a lot less money than you would spend on a commercial cage, you can have an appropriately-sized, infinitely customizable cage. The possibilities are endless! It's a lot of fun to design your piggies' habitat! Here are some examples from our volunteers:
Surprised at the lack of wood shavings in those habitat photos? None of us with the rescue actually use them. So first - what NOT to use. We do not want to see guinea pigs housed on cedar, pine, or corn cob bedding. Cedar and pine (non-kiln-dried) contain harmful aromatic oils that can be toxic, and corn cob bedding can be harmful if ingested.
Safe litters include aspen shavings and Carefresh (recycled newspaper bedding). However, to save on money and mess, all of us here at the rescue use fleece as bedding. I was skeptical until I tried it, and I'm never going back! The basics: make sure you have washed the fleece fabric a few times (and don't use fabric softener or dryer sheets) - this helps the fabric to better wick urine away. Start with a layer of newspaper at the bottom - this will absorb urine that is wicked through the fleece. Next, place a layer of towels. This also helps absorb the urine. Lastly, place a layer of fleece on top. The fleece stays dry, while the urine is soaked into the towel and newspaper layers. To clean, just brush the fleece off, replace the newspaper, and launder the towels & fleece. Click here for a forum thread with great information.
So here's the real "eat this, not that" section. First, I'll start off with some photos of products we really don't want to see your guinea pig eat:
"Fiesta-type pellets" - full of seeds and other garbage that is NOT healthy!
"Fiesta-type" treat sticks - TERRIBLE for your guinea pig!
Okay, what DO we want to see your guinea pig eat? First off, UNLIMITED AMOUNTS of grass hay (timothy is generally considered the staple). Alfalfa is okay for very young pigs, but its calorie content is much too high for adults (and it contains lots of calcium). Hay is the most important part of your guinea pigs' diet.
Next - good quality, plain, timothy-based pellets. Oxbow and Mazuri are examples. They should be fresh - look at the expiration date. Vitamin C (which like us, guinea pigs cannot manufacture on their own) breaks down over time. A good guinea pig pellet will contain vitamin C.
Here is a toy that we do NOT want to see your guinea pig use:
So what kind of toys CAN you give your guinea pig? Often, their favorite toys are the cheapest - empty cardboard tubes or paper bags stuffed with hay are usually a hit! You can also give them willow balls to chew and roll around, plastic balls to nudge, and tunnels to run through and hide in! And if you have a single pig, please consider adopting a friend! They are social creatures, and do best with another of their own kind (same-sex, no breeding here!)
Confused? Have questions? Need advice? We are here to assist! You can also check out great sites such as Cavy Madness and Guinea Lynx for excellent care information. Thank you for taking the time to read - clearly you are interested in giving your piggies the best life possible!