Preloved This is the Preloved logo mark which shows a symbol shaped to represent a speech bubble and the letter P with a love heart symbol cut out of the center. The words 'Preloved' are represented along side the logo mark. Preloved This is the Preloved logo mark which shows a symbol shaped to represent a speech bubble and the letter P with a love heart symbol cut out of the center. The words 'Preloved' are represented below the logo mark.
Animals

A Guide to Guinea Pig Behaviour and Hygiene

A Guide to Guinea Pig Behaviour and Hygiene

Most guinea pigs, young or older, will wriggle or try to run away when you want to pick them up. This reaction is natural to them; although you can socialise with them and help them to feed from your hand and sit on your lap they will always remain slightly weary of you, a potential ‘predator’.

Guinea pigs can be suitable with children but they must be supervised at all times to prevent them being squeezed or dropped.

When choosing your guinea pigs consider going for mature adults that are used to being handled for young children rather than starting with babies. Young guinea pigs can be extremely fast and easily squeezed or drop whereas a mature adult will sit happily on your lap eating some treats.

Never allow a child to carry or walk around with a guinea pig in their arms, always encourage them to sit on the floor with a blanket on their lap for the guinea pigs to sit on. This way if the guinea pig moves there is no risk of a fall injury.

Can guinea pigs bite or be aggressive?

Guinea pigs are generally very placid animals and aggressiveness to their human companions is exceptionally rare.

When mixing guinea pigs or if a bonded pair start to fight there can be a risk of injury to yourselves if you intervene without the use of a towel or tunnel to separate them.

Signs of aggression during a mix or a bond brake down could include:

  • Continual chattering of teeth
  • Rearing up at each other with open mouths
  • Chattering of teeth and regularly walking to the side with the rump in the air.
  • Constantly attacking the face or rump of an individual
  • Signs of injury/ blood

If you see this behaviour with your guinea pigs it is extremely important that you separate them and seek advice from your local rescue. If your guinea pigs have any fight injuries they must visit a vet promptly as they are very prone to infections around a fight wound.

Guinea pigs are naturally sociable creatures; they should always be kept in pairs or small groups.

guinea-pig-208438_1920

Guinea pigs are social animals, keep them in pairs or small groups

Suitable combinations are:

  • Two or more sows of a similar character e.g. confident, shy – a strong character may bully a sky piggy.
  • Two boars, care must be taken not to mix two very strong characters as they may fight. Often a slightly calmer male pig will be more suitable and accepting of a strong character.
  • A neutered boar with one or more sows. Females often seem more relaxed when they live with a neutered male.

Signs of acceptance during a mix could include:

  • Loud squeaks and following each other
  • Feeding close to each other
  • Grooming one another’s face.
  • Males will often mount and scent a submissive male or a female; they will also make a gentle rumbling sound.

Guinea pigs sounds and body movements- what they mean.

Squeaks when food is being given

This is everyone’s favourite sound, often if one guinea pig starts announcing that food is imminent, all other guinea pigs close by will join in. The guinea pigs put all their energy into this long and loud squeak and really open their mouths wide and push their head forward for best coverage and success in gaining that looming treat!… its unmistakable.

Chirping squeaks

This sound is commonly heard with young piglets or very positive mixes where one piggy will be quickly following the other about not wanting to leave their side or when a mail is preparing to mount.

With young piglets this is the typical sound they make when following mum about and enjoying grazing on fresh food with her.

Rumbling and bottom waggling

Often not a great behaviour to witness as it often leads to teeth chattering and imminent fighting. However some very keen castrated males will sometimes show this as a little dance prior to attempting to mount although they are often rejected with a quick nip to the face or rump by the
female or male companion.

guinea-pig-1212698_1920

Males will try to assert dominance, but it shouldn’t go too far

Teeth chattering

This behaviour is very much related to an agitated guinea pig, often it is their last attempt to worn off danger or potential companions before launching into a fight or biting. If this behaviour is seen often with a pair of piggies they are not a good match and will need separating. In a few cases pigs will also do this to humans, a review of your planned attempt to handle/ picking up technique is wise as it is a rare a pig feels the need to do this.

Low husky scream

This isn’t a very common sound, it can be heard in piggies who feel at risk from the companion guinea pig or a piggy who wants to be left alone because it is in pain. However, some elderly guinea pigs can loose the level and tone in their squeaks so it can come out in a more husky tone, this piggy will still look alert and happy though.

Scent marking

This is typically a male behaviour and commonly seen during an introduction or with a very dominant male. They will be rushing around and then suddenly really lower their rump and rub their genital area along the ground. This action will release the glands located in the anus and scent mark the chosen area as their territory.

Raised hackles, standing head tall with mouths open

This is another behaviour typically seen during fights; the guinea pigs will start to size each other up by standing on their front tip toes and raising their heads. They will arch they head back and open their mouths to show their teeth, serious fighting is imminent. If this behaviour is spotted and a fight brakes out it is extremely important that you check around each guinea pigs face paying particular interest to the mouth, jaw and lips for bite wounds. These will need cleaning correctly as soon as they are located to prevent infection.

Coughing

This is one noise that often really makes people jump and worry that the piggy is choking, in most cases the pig has got over enthusiastic with their hay or grass munching and a piece has tickled them. It should only last a few seconds and the guinea pig then gets back to the business of eating!

Guinea pig hygiene – cleaning their home

Your guinea pigs home will need ‘skipping’ daily by poo picking any really dirty corners and replacing with fresh clean bedding. You will then need to do a full clean once a week as a minimum although this may need to been done more often throughout the winter when their run time is reduced.
Remove the guinea pigs and fully sweep out and wipe down their home and easy to clean enrichment items with pet friendly disinfectant.

Wooden enrichment can be washed down with a brush and hot water or replaced.

Hutches and shed floors can be initially lined with vinyl to give you an easy to clean and wipe surface under the bedding.

Guinea pig bedding

Image Credit: Wood Green – Use fleece or hay as bedding; make sure you clean the cage at least once a week

Bathing & grooming your guinea pigs

Guinea pigs should ideally be bathed twice a year to help prevent skin issues & keep long coat pigs clean and fresh.

Gorgeous Guineas is the best for guinea pig skin care products as most shop bought products have harsh chemicals and will not resolve a skin issue.

Bathing

  • If you haven’t bathed guinea pigs before always have someone to help as some guinea pigs new to bathing might try to make a brake for it like a bar of soap!
  • Always place a small towel or bath mat on the floor of the sink for the guinea pigs to grip onto.
  • Have several jugs or a shower head at baby temperature ready.
  • Do not sit the guinea pig in water as this will not wash away the parasites or fungal spores.It must be running water.
  • Wet the guinea pig hair first, you can use your hands or a sponge to wet the face. Once done apply the shampoo and really work it in all over the body, leave on for the suggested time as per the product recommendations.
  • Place the guinea pig in a plastic carrier with a clean towel and leave the shampoo to soak for the suggested time.
  • Once soaked rinse off well and towel dry the guinea pig as much as possible, if the weather is cool or the piggy has to go back outside always dry them with a hair dryer on a medium setting and add a towel in the enclose for them to snuggle into that evening.
  • Always clean their enclosure before putting the guinea pig back in to avoid re-infestation.
piggy bath ed

Image Credit: Wood Green – Place a towel or flannel in the sink so your guinea is comfortable during bath time.

Grooming

Short hair guinea pigs will not require grooming, however long hair breeds may need regular clip ups. Guinea pigs hate being brushed so the best approach is to trim any matts and bath them in GGs posh and go which will soften off any greasy knotty hair solving the need to brush.
Long hair breeds general matt around their rump area and between their legs, these will need checking every couple of weeks. It is wise to give long hair breeds a haircut around this area to keep it short again reducing the risk of matts and overheating in the summer.

piggy shampoo groom ed

Image Credit: Wood Green – Long haired guinea pigs will need regular grooming and mats cut out

Nail clipping, is it really that scary?

Once your guinea pigs reach around a year old they will need their nails clipping every 4-6 weeks. Ideally it is best for you to learn how to do this at home to avoid unnecessary stress through traveling to a vet. The image demonstrates where to clip the nail even if the nail is black and the blood vessel not visible, if you are relatively new to nail clipping you will need one person to carefully hold the guinea pig as demonstrated and the other to clip.

Most guinea pig rescues will happily give you a lesson if you want support on your first go.

PicMonkey Collage

Image Credit: Wood Green – Ask for help when cutting your guinea pigs toe nails if you are not confident to handle them at the same time

Male guinea pigs

Sadly most male piggy owners do not realise that they can need a little extra care and observation. Males over a year old will need to have their penis extracted by gently pushing down above the skin that is exposed and cleaned every few months similar to a horse. This area is prone to a build-up of cheesy like discharge which can eventually prevent your guinea pig from passing urine normally.When cleaning the area use some damp cotton wool to wipe it away.

Grease gland

all piggies have a grease gland but many dominant males develop a particularly over active gland that secrets a tar like substance that builds up on the hair where a tail would be located. For these males they will require the area to be clipped and kept clean every few months as it can harbour a fungal build up.

Impaction

is quite common in males over the age of three, more common in males 5+. Impaction in most cases develops in entire males who have large testicles or who are very inactive. The weight from the testis pulls down on the anus muscles weakening them. As the pellets pass through the guinea pigs gut and into the anus they become backed up as the piggy is unable to push them out. You will notice when turning the piggy over that the anus is bulging with a large smelly ball of poo. This will need rolling out to relieve the piggy, some piggies can recover from this if they
are given a higher fibre diet and encouraged to exercise lots in a grass run etc.

Some piggies may need ‘emptying’ once a day and with increased exercise may completely recover. Others may not do so well and require ‘emptying’ several times a day. If this is not done the piggy will decline very quickly.

UTIs

Both males and females are prone to cystitis and stones, keep an eye out for your guinea pig regularly being wet and smelly around the back end, small amounts of blood in urine or a single painful squeak when toileting. A piggy friendly vet or rescue will happily give you advice and support
with both issues.

Neutering

Neutering guinea pigs especially females can come with many complications, therefore there are very few vets willing to do so unless it is a treatment for another illness. Males can be castrated and this is the most suited option if they will not pair with a male and need to be paired with females. Neutering a male guinea pig will not affect their behaviour like it can with some species and therefore it is not recommended as a solution to a fighting pair of males. It is extremely important you choose a vet who specialises in guinea pigs and other small pets over a ‘general vet’ to maximise the chance of a smooth recovery.

Marie has also written about caring for your guinea pig in winter. We also have another article written by Guinea Pig Welfare which discusses which is the best habitat for your furry friend.



Marie Pavaday-Pillay

Marie Pavaday-Pillay

Community User

Marie joined Wood Green, the animals charity, almost 14 years ago starting as a work experience student.
She quickly discovered that small pets where her passion and went on to manage the department for just over 12 years.

In this time she has worked alongside many other organisations, held talks at large scale events and taken part in many TV opportunities to promote up to date care for these species.
Marie is now the Behaviour & Training specialist for small animals on behalf of the charity.