Guinea Pig Care: Beginner’s Guide

Learn everything you need to know about how to care for guinea pigs, from their diet and habitat to their social needs.

Skylar dePolo

9/3/20234 min read

Is a guinea pig the right pet for you?

If you have the time and space required to care for guinea pigs, they will make excellent pets. From their cute floppy ears to the noises they make, a guinea pig can make you smile every day. Since guinea pigs are such delicate creatures, it is important to know how to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.

Guinea pig personality

Guinea pigs are social animals, and can become depressed, and even sick, from loneliness. Guinea pigs typically do best in pairs or small groups. They should only be housed with other guinea pigs, not other animals. If you only have one guinea pig, be sure to hold them for at least 30 minutes every day, and keep their cage in a room that you are often in. Guinea pigs are very friendly, rarely bite, and love attention. In some countries, it is even illegal to own only one guinea pig.

Skylar dePolo

What do guinea pigs eat?

Guinea pigs have specific dietary needs that need to be met in order for them to remain healthy. Hay should make up the majority of a guinea pig's diet. An unlimited supply of fresh hay, such as timothy, should be easily available to your guinea pig all day, every day. A small amount of dry pellets should also be provided daily. Young guinea pigs, up to six months of age, need slightly different vitamins and nutrients than adults (six months and over). For young guinea pigs, an alfalfa based pellet should be provided, while adults should be given timothy based pellets. Guinea pigs need fresh veggies every day. A lack of Vitamin C can cause serious health issues in guinea pigs. Parsley and cilantro are excellent sources of Vitamin C for guinea pigs on a daily basis. Fruit should only be given to guinea pigs 2-3 times a week, (feeding a slice of orange once a week will not meet their Vitamin C requirements). Make sure to thoroughly rinse any fruits or veggies before feeding them to your guinea pig. Fruit should only be given in small quantities, and should not be given to them every day.

Daily fresh foods:
  • Parsley

  • Cilantro

  • Carrots

  • Butter lettuce

  • Red leaf lettuce

  • Green leaf lettuce

  • Bell pepper (no seeds)

  • Spinach

  • Romaine lettuce

Occasional fresh foods (2-3 times a week):
  • Kale

  • Strawberries (no leaves)

  • Apple (no seeds)

  • Blueberries

  • Grapes

  • Watermelon (no seeds, no rind)

  • Mango (no pit)

  • Celery leaves

* I give my guinea pigs a handful of spring mix, several large pieces of parsley, and a baby cut carrot every day. No more than 3 times a week, I provide an apple slice, several blueberries, or a strawberry (no leaves!) as a treat. Occasionally, I feed small amounts of bell pepper, kale, or watermelon.

Guinea pig habitat

A single guinea pig needs at least 7.5 square feet of space. Add 3 feet for every additional guinea pig. Guinea pigs need a wooden hut or plastic igloo to give them a place to feel safe and secure. In addition to a sleeping area, guinea pigs need an eating area and a play area. Their hay basket should always be full, and one bowl should be dedicated to pellet food, while the other should be for fresh food. Don't forget to include a water bottle or weighted bowl. Guinea pigs' teeth are constantly growing, so chew toys (such as wooden blocks made for guinea pigs) should be provided in their play area, and anywhere they like to chew their cage. Tunnels are also a fun way for guinea pigs to play and interact.

What type of bedding is best?

If you use bedding in your guinea pig cage, use a dust-free paper bedding. Do not use wood chips/shavings. If there are any chips in it, they could get stuck in your guinea pig's feet! This is because guinea pigs do not have any fur on the bottoms of their feet like bunnies, or padding like dogs, there is only skin. The dust from shavings could cause respiratory problems for your pig. You should NEVER use aspen for guinea pigs. A soft, dust-free paper bedding is safe, and provides guinea pigs a soft material to snuggle and burrow into. A safe alternative to paper bedding is fleece cage liners. You can buy (or make) cage liners with multiple layers; the bottom layer should be waterproof, the middle layer should be absorbent, and the top layer should be soft and dry quickly. Using fleece by itself is fine, you just may need to clean it once a day as opposed to once or twice a week like you could do with something more absorbent. You should always do a full cage cleaning once a week, or more often for multiple guinea pigs.

Do's and don'ts of guinea pig exercise

Do: Provide a safe space on the floor for your guinea pig(s) to run. If providing free roam time, make sure to block any areas they could fit into (and get stuck), move any cords/wires out of reach, move any other animals that could scare/hurt your guinea pig into a different room, and always supervise. Alternative to free roam: Provide playpen time. (Even better?) Attach a playpen directly to the cage, allowing your piggy to run around whenever they want!

Don't: Put a wheel in their cage or them in a ball. Guinea pigs have fragile bones and a different bone structure than other rodents, so being in a wheel can severely damage their backs.

Don't: Leave your guinea pig unattended while on the floor.

Do: Keep an eye on them during out of cage time to ensure they do not get stuck anywhere or chew on/eat anything that could be harmful to them.

Should you get a guinea pig?

Guinea pigs are very delicate and social animals. If you can provide the proper care, food, housing, and attention that guinea pigs need, they could be a great pet for the whole family.