Four seems to be the magic number of animals this year. We were down to four for a couple of months when Ogden died in July. The addition of Sirbie in September brought us back up to five. Last night we went back down to four. We had our little ZoŽ put to sleep. She was seven and a half years old. Life expectancy for a guinea pig is 3-7 years.
ZoŽ had dropped 20% of her weight in a matter of a couple of months. We had a lot of tests run on the little girl a week ago and found out that the poor thing had dozens of little ailments. Nothing was too major but the little things did add up. I had to administer fluids under her skin for the last week and give her a couple of different medicines. She was a pretty good little patient (she loved to suck up her medicine all by herself) but the doctor warned us that if she stopped eating, even for just a couple of days, she wouldn't live. Jeff and I discussed that when ZoŽ stopped being her happy little self, that would probably be a good time to let her go.
ZoŽ stopped eating Sunday morning. She was also lying in her cage in what looked to be a very comfortable position. Her arthritis was probably not letting her lie down properly. When I looked at her cardboard house, I noticed she hadn't chewed on it at all (it had been in her cage for several days and it should have been gnawed pretty well by then). I then took her out of her cage to pet her and kiss her nose (something she loves) and as I did so, she chattered her teeth angrily at me. While some guinea pigs do this all the time out of fear or annoyance (anyone remember her cranky little mate Gideon?), this is something ZoŽ has never done before. She was not happy.
Jeffrey decided not to wait for ZoŽ to go downhill on her own. He didn't want to see her suffer. We took her to the emergency clinic and had her put down. Unfortunately, we couldn't be with her in her final moments due to the way gpigs have to be put to sleep (they have such tiny little veins). My one comfort is knowing that she's with her pal Ogden now. The two of them used to sleep side by side when she was a baby. We'll probably try to bury her next to him.
Whenever I drive by a dead animal on the road, I always say, "Say hi to Oggy. He'll show you around Heaven." As I held ZoŽ in my arms before we drove off to the vet, I told her to be sure to find Oggy because he'll show her around Heaven.
What does a guinea pig eat? Just about anything. For starters, they eat pellets which can be purchased at pretty much any pet store. I've even seen the pellets at grocery stores and Target and Kmart. There are many varieties of pellets - from the very simplistic green pellets to the pellets mixed with dried fruits and veggies. Basically, the only thing that is the deciding factor between types and styles of pellets is price. The basic green pellets are fairly cheap but once you start adding the dried fruits and veggies, the price starts to jump. Nutritionally, they are all about the same. Our guinea pigs like the added fruits and veggies but they'll happily eat the green pellets without the additives, too. Place about half a cup of pellets in a small ceramic bowl and leave in the cage. I recommend a ceramic bowl because they'll eat plastic. Of course, metal works, too, as long as it's stainless steel. They'll pee on it and rust it very quickly, if not. Pellets should be given about twice a day. My guinea pigs love to toss their bowl around the cage so it's hard to tell just how much they actually do eat. If they tip over the bowl, they'll scour the cage looking for the dropped pieces. They're like little vacuum cleaners.
Besides pellets, guinea pigs also eat hay. There are a number of varieties of hay and each is just as good as the other. Our pigs like both Timothy and Alfalfa hay so we vary their diet. Unlike the chinchilla, mixing up the hay doesn't seem to upset their tummies. We give them a handful in the morning, a handful in the evening and a handful right before bed (ours).
Finally, guinea pigs are great little garbage disposals. They'll eat almost every vegetable imaginable plus a lot of different types of fruits. They like celery, cucumbers, peppers (red, green, yellow), carrots, radishes (especially the leaves), broccoli, cauliflower, broccoflower, and zucchini. You may want to stay away from lettuce, however. It gives them gas... They also like apples and pears. I've read that they'll eat just about anything, although I've noticed our pigs are not fond of fruits because they're typically wetter than most veggies. The cedar chips that line their cage then get all over the fruit. Don't bother using your ordinary garbage disposal. Your pigs will eat the veggie scrapes! They love the tops of carrots and radishes! I refrain from giving them the stems (of like peppers) and seeds. Warning: Poisonous Foods!! Do not give your guinea pigs beans or potato peelings! These foods can kill your pig.
You can feed your pig the veggies twice a day. Ours like to squeak as soon as we walk into their room to tell us they're hungry. You don't need to chop up the veggies too much. You can even just place a whole carrot in their cage. They'll gnaw through it. I do, however, tend to put in enough for two (or what have you) in the cage. We have two pigs who will fight each other if only one carrot is given to them.
Guinea pigs drink water so make sure they have a filled water bottle. Ours go through water very quickly so we have to fill it daily. Just a little note: guinea pigs are very noisy. You may want to attach a thin sponge to the back of the water bottle hanger (if you have a metal hanger and a glass cage). Make sure that it doesn't hang below the water bottle or the pigs will munch on it. Also make sure that's not too thick that it impairs their drinking. The reason I recommend sponging their bottle is because they like to snap the bottle back against the glass (metal on glass makes quite a deafening noise). It's kind of cute at first but after ten minutes of drinking and smacking the bottle, it gets a little loud. The sponge helps cushion the bottle and lessens the pressure on your ears. :-) Water bottles and their hangers can be bought at any pet store. Make sure you get the appropriate sized water bottle for your cage - don't just buy a guinea pig water bottle because you have a guinea pig. Your cage may not be tall enough to handle a guinea pig bottle. The difference between hamster water bottles, guinea pig water bottles and rabbit water bottles is just plain size.
A Piggy's Pillow
Where should your pig live? If you live in a warm climate, you may want to go for the wire cage - just make sure to keep it away from drafts. If you're like me and live in a cold climate, you'll probably need an aquarium. Also, if you have other critters in your house (like a dog or cat) you may also want to consider an aquarium. This will help protect your little piggies from paws protruding through the wires... We have two pigs so we have a 50 gallon tank. Make sure to get the tank top! Our cat used to sit on the top and look down at the pigs until one day his big ol' butt broke the screen and he fell into the pigs' cage. We now have a metal slated top (like ones used for bookshelves).
Now that your pigs have a home, what do you fill it with? You should line the bottom of the cage with wood chips. The lining should be about two inches deep. It really doesn't matter what type of chips you use - cedar, pine, oak. Again, your typical pet store should carry this. Buying the big bulk compressed chip bag is always best, provided you have a place to store it. You'll probably want to clean the cage every four or five days. They get kind of stinky otherwise.
Once you've lined their cage with some wood chips, you would think that they would be happy, huh? Not exactly. You see, they like to get away from it all, just like the rest of us. They like privacy, especially when sleeping. To accommodate them, you can place a cardboard box (with a couple of "doors" cut out) into their cage. Just keep in mind that they like to chew and within a week or two, the house will be barely standing. You can also use wood houses. The pet stores sell wood tubes that have been cut in half that make pretty good houses. In this case, houses built for hamsters are indeed built for hamsters. They are way too small for adult guinea pigs. They do sell plastic tubes for ferrets (I think they call them ferret tunnels) that work for guinea pigs. They are very similar to hamster tubes/tunnels, except (of course) they're bigger.
Just how cuddly is a guinea pig? Well, like humans, it depends on the pig. Sela, our first female pig, was very friendly. She loved to be picked up and held. She would sit for hours on my lap without making a fuss... or a mess. Gideon, on the other hand, bites. He makes it very clear that if you pick him up, you'll regret it. He likes to hiss and chatter at me. Zoe is very skittish and does not like to be picked up, either. She's terrified of people.
Now that all of that is said and done, pigs can be "trained" to be friendly. You just have to show them that you have no intentions of hurting them. When you first buy your pig, place it in the cage immediately after the cage has been prepared. Let the pig sniff you (he may nip at you - be forewarned!). For the next week, make no attempt at picking him up. Simply let him sniff you. Also, do not feed the guinea pig any veggies or fruit (be sure to supply plenty of pellets and hay, though). Pigs love veggies and fruit. The next week, after the pig is familiar with your scent, feed the pig a small carrot from your hand. By only feeding the goodies from your hand, the pig will come to associate your scent with the reward of a fresh vegetable/treat. Simply hold the carrot out (make sure to tuck in your fingers or the pig might think that's part of the snack!) and wait for the pig to approach. Let him eat the carrot from your hand. Do this every day for two weeks. After the two weeks are up, let the pig crawl into your hand (without the goodies) after the snack has been finished. Eventually, he will try to climb into your hand. If he doesn't do this right away, relax. He will. After about a month of sniffing and goodies, the pig will come to trust you. It is then that you can attempt to pick up the pig. At first the pig may run to the other side of the cage and squeal in fright, but relax and try again. Don't rush this step. Eventually, the pig will let you pick it up. Be careful when holding him - one hand under his rear and one hand on top of him to keep from jumping up.
What's with all that noise?
Guinea pigs are, well, noisy. They like to squeal and grunt and rustle about. They are not for the tender-eared. Gideon, our male pig, has an annoying habit of picking up his bowl and tossing it against the glass whenever it's empty. Your pigs will come to learn that your presence means food is a possibility. They will squeal as soon as they see you and will continue to do so until you leave the room. Once you have left, they are then free to talk amongst themselves. They hold little grunt and squeal fests. When they are afraid or angry, they'll hiss and chatter their teeth as a "back-off" command. Gideon also likes to make what I call a machine gun noise. I've only heard the males make this "rat-a-tat-tat" noise. Then, if their squeals weren't bad enough, they also like to "redecorate." They like to push their house and food bowl around and then, of course, there's the clinking sound of the water bottle in use. But don't get me wrong, I love my pigs. Their sounds, however, I could do without some days.
The Battle of the Sexes
If you have a boy pig and a girl pig in the same cage and you don't let them watch tv, you'll get babies. Or so, at least that's what I've found. If you don't want babies but you do want your pig to have a companion, you should get two female pigs. They get along fairly well. Do not get two males. Once they reach a certain age, they will be constantly fighting. Of course, if you do opt for a boy and girl, you can always have the pig fixed. That doesn't come cheap, though, and is slightly risky. We had a male pig that died during his operation.
So ya decided to get a boy and a girl? Then, one morning you awake to find not two pigs in the cage but six, seven, or eight! But let's back up a bit...
The gestation period is about 10 weeks long. You probably won't even notice it until about the last three weeks or so (depending on the size of her litter) when her sides start to bulge. When the babies are born (which normally is a fairly "easy" process), they will have fur and their eyes are open. Also, they will be eating solid foods a few hours after birth. Of course, mom will still nurse them for about 5-8 weeks. If you opt to give them up for adoption (whether to a friend, a pet store or a school or whatever), the babies can safely leave their mother around 6 weeks of age. The size of the litter varies, too. Typically, there are four or five babies in a litter, however, Sela gave birth to just one once. Of course, there can be six, seven, possibly eight in a litter, too.
One important note about babies - you may want to separate the girls from the boys for most hours of the day once they reach about four weeks old. This includes moms from sons and daughters from dads. "Incest" is very common among guinea pigs and although is not "toooooo" terrible, it does start to mess up the gene pool. Make sure you give the boy babies enough time with mom (several times a day) in order to nurse.
But how do I tell the boys from the girls? It's kind of simple. Just from plain sight, it's very hard to distinguish the sexes. Very gently press on their tummies (right where you would think a belly button is). If it's a boy, the penis should pop out.
Once the babies reach about 6 weeks old, you may want to consider... adoption. Pet stores are normally fairly willing to take the babies. You probably won't get any money from them but you may be able to work out a deal where you get a bag of pig pellets in exchange for the babies. Also, check around your neighborhood for possible adoptions. Local schools (although some schools would appreciate it if you provide a small cage and some initial bedding and food) might take a baby for a classroom pet. Finally, there's always the humane society/shelter. Believe or not, they take guinea pigs. If you do decide to keep one or two - even the whole litter - you are going to need to keep the men from the women...
Well, that's about it. Now it's time for you to take on the role of being a pig momma or pig daddy.
Well, after all that, do you believe that I'm a somewhat expert? If not, click here. This will take you to a page that contains a bunch o' links for other people's pages that you probably won't consider an expert, either. You are such a cynic :-)