By Patricia Knight
Guinea pigs (also known as “cavies”) are definitely adorable — and there is more to them than meets the eye. When keeping their first guinea pigs, pig parents find that these pets are beyond cute, but cavies do need to be taken seriously. If you do so, you will be rewarded with a little friend you never expected. As guinea pig owner Laura Vriezelaar said, “It has been better than we expected!” Vriezelaar works with Texas Rustlers Guinea Pig Rescue.
Rewarding Little Pets
Many petkeepers don’t realize that guinea pigs make great companions. Guinea pig mom Danielle Kolaczewski who works with Critter Corral Guinea Pig Rescue experienced this firsthand. At one point, Kolaczewski became sick and had to stay in the hospital — during which time she lost touch with some of her friends from school. Her first guinea pig, Fire, helped to fill the void. “Fire stepped right in and became my best friend.”
“Piggies,” as they are affectionately called, have much more personality than one might expect — in fact, guinea pig owners always comment on their character. Sabella Hess-Dziabczenko works with Orange County Cavy Haven and spoke of her first guinea pig, Mina, “I was pleasantly surprised by how sweet and gentle she is.”
Piggy personalities come out not only when they interact with humans but also when interacting with each other. Tammy Raabe, owner of CavyMadness.com, keeps her guinea pigs in a herd and noted the group dynamics. “There was always an alpha piggy, and when one pig was sick, the others tended to sleep next to her to keep her warm.”
The Learning Curve
Just as there is more to guinea pig personalities than is obvious at first glance, there is also a bit more to their care. Michiko Vartanian, whose first guinea pigs were Ethan and Hobbes, said, “There is a lot more to cavy care than meets the eye, and it’s a steep learning curve.” Vartanian is with Orange County Cavy Haven.
Hess-Dziabczenko admits that when she first took in Mina, she did not completely know about the special care guinea pigs require. Since then, she has had more than 13 guinea pigs. “I have learned so much about proper care,” she said.
Once you learn, you can feel confident about being a good cavy parent. Kari Morgan has learned a lot since she started caring for her first guinea pigs, Vodka and Kahlua. Her cavies now have healthier treats, more comfortable beds and accessories in their cages. “We never stop learning new things about them,” she said. Morgan works with Orange County Cavy Haven.
Compatibility with other animals is another area where guinea pig parents have made discoveries along the way. Caroline Lane describes life with her first guinea pig, Jeeves. “Jeeves used to live with a rabbit called Jenkins, and I know now that this is really not a good idea, and guinea pigs should not live with rabbits.” She noted that Jenkins was gentle with Jeeves — Jeeves even slept draped across Jenkins’ neck — but she also said that they were lucky, as a rabbit could unwittingly harm a guinea pig. Lane runs Piggles Guinea Pig Rescue.
Health And Hygiene
Piggy parents cite grooming and health as the next big challenges when keeping these little ones. Some guinea pigs, such as the longhaired breeds, need more grooming. “The hair grows continually, so they must be brushed regularly, preferably daily,” Lane said. “There are also hairless breeds, called skinny pigs, but they also have extra requirements in terms of temperature and skin care.”
As for health, it is important to keep a check on your guinea pig’s well-being. Dawn Johnson had a heartbreaking experience with her first pig, Tucker, who passed away at the young age of 6 months old. “It is a constant vigil to keep watch over their health,” she said.
Like some other small animals, guinea pigs tend to hide their symptoms. For petkeepers wanting to treat their animals as soon as a problem comes up, this is difficult. Vartanian described guinea pigs as “a bit high-maintenance” in terms of early warning signs. “By the time a cavy shows his symptoms, it may sometimes already be too late.”
All of the guinea pig parents mentioned have taken in additional guinea pigs since their first cavies, and some have even become involved in piggy rescue. Their most common piece of advice is to do research before taking in a cavy — good advice for any new pet.
Kolaczewski said that cavies actually “require a lot of work and are delicate.” She also noted their need for lap time and floor time. Raabe echoed this idea, mentioning that cavies really do need attention every day. “It takes a commitment to give them the affection, touch and stimuli they need to be happy and healthy.”
Worth The Effort
So are guinea pigs worth the effort? Most guinea pig keepers would answer with a resounding “Yes!”
“You have to see the work that is associated with taking care of them as a privilege, not as a chore,” Vriezelaar said. And while it is not difficult to keep a guinea pig, they deserve both more credit and care than most people realize.
“Even though they are small, they can fill your life with love,” Morgan said. “Our four little piggies are our treasures.” And that definitely sounds worth the effort.
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