By Laura Doering
It’s easy to see why children are attracted to guinea pigs. Their big heads and forever-inquisitive look combined with an enthusiastic appetite for greens (punctuated with a squeal of approval!) certainly makes them animated and adorable. But guinea pigs are also inclined to freeze or flee when uncomfortable with a situation, so patience and respect is a must. The question to explore here is whether a guinea pig can be the right fit for a family with children (and vice versa!).
Reasons To Get A Pet Guinea Pig
Let’s look at what makes a guinea pig, also referred to as a cavy, a potentially good family pet. Economically speaking, a guinea pig typically costs less to feed and house compared to dogs and cats — yet, like those pets, they can be friendly and sociable.
“Cavies are an affordable companion for children and families,” said Eric Stewart, executive director of the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), which is dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of both the domestic rabbit and cavy. “They require inexpensive equipment and care while also being alert and engaging pets.”
Of course, a guinea pig is deserving of the same veterinary care afforded to any other pet companion, so the adults in the family need to be willing and able to provide such care should the need arise.
A well-socialized guinea pig can also be an engaging and lovable pet, one that Stewart points out relishes attention and will even squeak and whistle to get it. He emphasized that guinea pigs are social animals, which makes consistent interaction and attention a priority, especially for a family with one guinea pig. One way to tell if your guinea pig is happy is if he breaks out the guinea pig’s signature happy dance, known as “popcorning.” This involves running and then making a sudden jump into the air and landing on all fours — like a popcorn kernel bursting open.
Care And Considerations
There are concerns, however, that families need to address before welcoming a guinea pig into the home. First and foremost, the guinea pig should be considered as the family’s pet, and with that comes diligent supervision by the adults in the household to ensure the guinea pig’s health and well-being, especially when it comes to handling. A young child might not completely grasp the concept of being gentle.
“Even though cavies are easily handled, it is important to note that no child should be left unattended with an animal,” Stewart said.
Adult supervision will also ensure that the family guinea pig is fed appropriate foods and not overfed treats, especially treats meant for people, which children need to understand. A good family bonding activity can be to create a laminated menu of acceptable food/treats (which the kids can draw illustrations of) to post near the guinea pig’s cage. This can be used to check off food items, noting the time it was given, so everyone can keep track of the guinea pig’s food intake.
According to Stewart, guinea pigs require vitamin C supplements to their diets because, like people, they cannot manufacture vitamin C.
“Cavies benefit from both the commercial pelleted diet in addition to fresh greens.” He also pointed out that guinea pigs have a reputation for playing with their water. “Be prepared to clean up after wet bedding if they decide to play with their water bottle,” he noted.
Stewart said that guinea pigs prefer warmer temperatures, more so than many other animals, and are susceptible to colds. The right cage placement, therefore, can make a guinea pig happier and healthier; namely, they should be protected from cold drafts and blasts from air conditioning, as well as cooler outdoor temperatures.
Grooming a guinea pig is a bit different than that of the small animal companion they often get lumped together with in terms of care — the rabbit. According to Stewart, guinea pigs can be bathed occasionally, while rabbits generally cannot.
“Be certain to use a safe pet shampoo without harmful chemicals or fragrances,” Stewart cautioned.
Establishing some essential house rules from the onset can go a long way in setting up a guinea pig for success. One vital rule is safe handling, which Stewart said includes always supporting the guinea pig from below and holding the pet close to the body so that the guinea pig feels secure. Other house rules to incorporate include:
- Children should ask an adult for permission before feeding the guinea pig treats.
- Children should not place objects in the guinea pig’s environment without first getting an adult’s OK.
- An adult or older child with guinea pig experience should be present whenever the guinea pig is permitted to run freely in a room.