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This Little Piggy Went "Wheek, Wheek, Wheek"
Member Name: sandemp
Advantages: Wonderful, gentle, loving pets
This Little Piggy Went "Wheek, Wheek, Wheek"
*This review is long, but it is a guide to choosing and looking after the most wonderful of pets and I've tried to be as comprehensive as I can.
**I am not an expert, all the information and advice in here is based on my experience as an enthusiastic "Mummy" to a total of six piggies over the last decade.
If you're looking for a small pet to join your family then forget hamsters, pass the gerbils by and seriously look into the sweetest, friendliest, funniest members of the rodent family that go by the common name of Guinea Pigs. Right at the outset, I'm going to admit that I'm severely biased in favour of these gorgeous little animals as I'm completely in love with my four. Life just wouldn't be the same without the chorus of wheeks and squeaks that greet us every morning and the chirrups of contentment as they tuck into breakfast. While we have other pets in the house the piggies are most definitely mine and now I'm going to share my experience of looking after and loving them along with a few tips and hints for caring for your very own piggies.
==A Bit About Piggies==
The title Guinea Pig is a bit of a misnomer really, as Guinea Pigs are neither members of the Porcine family (pigs) nor from Guinea. Guinea pigs are actually fairly large rodents that originated from South America, where they are kept as a food source. Although they are now completely domesticated there was a time in the far distant past that they were found in the Andean region of South America (modern day Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia). It is thought that Guinea Pigs were first domesticated around 7000 years ago and that they were first brought to Europe around 1550 and quickly became favourite exotic pets among the upper classes and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I. (Source Wikipedia).
Guinea Pigs are reasonably large rodents weighing in at approximately 700-1200g (1.5-2.5lb) and measuring 20-25cm in length. This makes them much larger than hamsters, mice and gerbils that share their class but smaller than most rabbits. Looks-wise they have quite a large head, long oval body, short legs and a stub for a tail. Their closest relatives are the Capybara, which are the largest of all rodents, and the likeness is particularly noticeable in young babies. Guinea Pigs are also known as Cavies (especially by serious breeders), which is derived from their scientific Latin name, Cavia Porcellus (with the Porcellus meaning little pig).
Guinea Pigs are social, herd animals who should at the very least be kept in pairs. In the wild they would live in small herds comprising of a male, several females and their babies. In my opinion it is verging on cruel to keep a single Guinea Pig (other than if it has a medical reason for being kept isolated) and this is a belief that is shared by the lawmakers of Sweden, where it is illegal to sell a lone Guinea Pig unless the buyer already owns others. As pets Guinea Pigs can be kept in pair, threesomes or even larger groups, if cage space allows. Two or more girls (sows) can happily be housed together, or two boys (boars) or a girl and a spayed male. What I would never advise is housing an unfixed male and female together as babies (pups) will almost certainly follow.
As far as pet rodents go, Guinea Pigs are long-living with an average life-span of five to seven years. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the oldest recorded Guinea Pig lived to the ripe old age of 14.
For further information on Guinea Pigs and their history, I would recommend running a search on the internet, the Wiki page seems to be particularly informative.
==A Home Fit For A Piggy==
Before even looking for some piggies to share your home, I would suggest taking some time to think about where and how you are going to house them. Firstly do not even consider housing a Guinea with any other breed of rodent, especially not a rabbit. Smaller rodents such as hamsters and gerbils may be aggressive towards the more peaceful Guinea Pigs and housing them together may increase the risk of your piggies getting respiratory and other infections, let alone the fact that they have totally different housing needs. There are a multitude of reasons why you should never house a Guinea Pig with a rabbit, the first of which is that even a small rabbit has incredibly strong back legs and rabbits tend to kick out when startled. Those kicks can cause bruises on adult humans, so imagine the damage they would do to the far more fragile Guinea Pig. Then there's the fact that rabbits and Guinea Pigs have different dietary requirements and then rabbits can harbour diseases that can kill a Guinea Pig. So never house a Guinea Pig with a rabbit, I wouldn't even let them play together and used to get really upset at a large pet shop chain who displayed Guinea Pigs and rabbits together.
Although it is technically possible to house Guinea Pigs outdoors in hutches, this is not something I would recommend. Firstly, Guinea Pigs are very social animals that thrive on attention from their human friends, they love interacting with their humans and just wouldn't get the same bond kept outside. Then most hutches are just not really suitable for keeping piggies in, they're not really big enough or the ramps are too steep or they have wire mesh on the bottom (wire mesh and piggy feet really don't mix). But the most important reason I wouldn't house piggies outdoors is the weather, piggies really don't tolerate draughts and cold winds well and prefer a fairly constant temperature that is impossible to achieve outdoors. At the moment we have outside temperatures of -1 and two inches of snow on the ground, I really wouldn't be happy to keep my piggies outside in that.
So we're agreed that piggies are best housed indoors, so let's take a look at the different cage options available. An increasingly popular housing solution for piggies is known as C&C (cubes and Coroplast), although I've never tried this method myself it is interesting and involves building your own cage using wire cubes and the board estate agents make their signs from. This means you can build the cage to fit the available space exactly and be as inventive as you wish. There are lots of excellent websites to guide you through this process but my favourite is http://www.guineapigcages.com/.
When looking for a home for piggies the old adage that size isn't everything really doesn't count, as far as cages goes bigger certainly is better, your piggies certainly will appreciate as much space as possible. Before buying the cage decided where you are going to place it, which should be somewhere away from droughts and where your new babies will be able to see all the comings and goings. Then you need to buy the biggest cage that you can afford and will fit into that space, taking into account the minimum recommended floor space. The website above gives some very good information on minimum floor space, but for two piggies the bare minimum you will need is 0.7m square, which equates to approximately 120cm by 60cm.
When researching cages you may see many advertised as being suitable for guinea pigs or you may be told that a smaller cage is suitable, but from experience I can tell you this is simply not true. When we bought our latest piggies we were told the Ferplast 60 was suitable for a pair of piggies, but it was simply too small, it may be suitable to house one piggy in an emergency but not two. If you're looking at the Ferplast brand then the 120 is the minimum. When looking at cages you also want to make sure that they are easy to clean and have good access. A lid or roof is not really that necessary as Guinea Pigs don't tend to jump, but a nice deep base is a must.
While you're buying your cage, it's a good time to stock up on everything you will need to furnish it. I tend to line the base with newspaper and then add a thick layer of wood shavings and pile hay at one end. As you're going to be buying a large cage, you will need a lot of wood shavings and it's important you buy wood shavings rather than sawdust as sawdust can cause respiratory problems. I find it far more economical to buy my wood shavings in bulk, rather than those piddling little packs you can get for £1 (I need three of those each big cage clean out). I tend to buy my wood shavings from Pets At Home, paying £9.49 for approximately 11kg which lasts a couple of months. You will also need some hay, which piggies will eat as well as using it as bedding and to play with. You need to make sure that the hay is good quality and check that it's the right type. The bulk of the hay should be made from Timothy grass and with piggies under a year or pregnant you can add some of the richer Alfalfa hay. Again you will need a lot of hay and while it is cheaper to buy it in bulk, you do want to make sure that you will be able to use it in a fairly short timeframe so that it is as fresh as possible. Once more I buy this is bulk as four piggies can go through 1kg in as little as a week.
As well as bedding you are going to need a few other bits and bobs to furnish the cage. You will need at least one water bottle (which may have come with your cage) but two is even better as it will help prevent squabbles. The best bottles to get are the clear plastic ones that have a metal ball type valve. You will also need at least two food bowls (one for dry food and another for wet) and ceramic bowls are the best as they are not only nibble proof but are also heavier meaning they are less likely to go flying during lap time. Your piggies will also appreciate a variety of toys including nibble blocks and toilet roll inners.
The final items on your shopping list are some hideaways for your piggies to snuggle in when they're feeling a little nervous, insecure or just tired. There are lots of different types available including tunnels made of wood, tubes made from plant fibre and plastic igloos. Try to make sure that you buy enough so there is at least one per piggy and I think it's nice to buy a variety, with some that can be gnawed on and some that are easy to clean. Oh one more thing, if you are planning on allowing your piggies to enjoy the garden then you will also need a run, preferably one that is enclosed so that the piggies are safe from predatory animals such as cats and dogs.
==Choosing Your Piggies==
Before I go into choosing your piggies, I'm going to categorically state that the very best and most humane place to find your new pets is a rescue centre. There are lots of piggies that deserve a second chance and by going to a rescue centre you are not only giving these piggies a new lease of life but you can almost guarantee that you are getting the sex you expect and won't end up with babies. But most people will do what we did and fall in love with the piggies in a pet shop, so I'm going to go into that aspect.
First thing's first, is the pet shop clean? If the answer is no, then look elsewhere. Are the piggies kept in a clean enclosure with companions of their own sex, with lots of space to run around and plenty of places to hide? No, then go elsewhere. Are all the piggies alert, do they all look healthy? No then go elsewhere. Is there a member of staff that is willing to talk to you about your prospective babies, who seems to know what they are talking about? No, then go elsewhere. Are the piggies housed with other species such as rabbits, do any of them have runny eyes or noses, is there any sign of loose motions? Yes, then go elsewhere (after informing a member of staff).
Once you're happy that any piggies are likely to be healthy and have had a chat with a member of staff about their requirements it's time to choose your new babies. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sexes, but it's never a good idea to buy a boy and girl (and I would hope that a pet shop will refuse to sell this combination. With a pair of boars, there's the advantage that unless you are mis-sold a mixed pair you won't get the surprise addition of some baby piggies in the following months, but from my experience there is a slight chance that they will fight for dominance and males do tend to smell a little more as they mark their territory. With females, they are a little smaller, are less likely to fight and smell a little, but there is always the chance that one (or more) is pregnant when you buy them.
When choosing your piggies don't just take looks into account, try and watch them for a while so that you can get an idea of their personalities. Just like us all Guinea Pigs have different personalities, some are timid, others aggressive so try to find ones that suit your lifestyle. If you have plenty of time coaxing the timid piggy that's hiding in the tunnel to trust you, then you may find that very rewarding. But if you have a boisterous toddler in the house, then it's not really fair on that timid piggy. Another factor that's totally dependent on your life-style is which breed of Guinea Pig you buy. Some Guinea Pigs have very long hair that needs daily brushing, if you don't have the time for this then don't buy one. Other Guinea Pigs are short haired and only need occasional brushing and bathing, these are far easier to look after.
Once you've chosen your piggies ask if you can hold them, so that you can check their eyes and noses for discharge and maybe even check the sex (I'll go into that bit later). Then, when you're absolutely sure that these are the piggies for you, pay for them and they should be given to you in a secure cardboard box that is lined with a little of the bedding from the enclosure and it's time to take your new babies home after asking what food they have been fed up to now.
When you get your piggies home, they are likely to be a little scared, seeing as they've just been uprooted from their friends and taken on a journey in a box where they are shaken about with every step. So they are going to need a little while to settle in. If you haven't already done it, now's the time to furnish their cage. So wipe it out with pet safe disinfectant, line the base with paper, add a layer of wood-shavings, pile in some hay and fill any hayracks, fill the water bottles, add any toys and fill the food bowls. Once the cage is ready, put your new friends in their new home and then allow them to settle in. That first day it's best to disturb them as little as possible, just make sure they have enough water and food and get on with normal life around them.
On the subject of food your piggies will need three different types, hay, dry food and fresh, wet food. Hay will form the biggest percentage of what your piggies eat, they go through an amazing amount as they munch, play and sleep in it. As they belong to the rodent family, Guinea Pigs' incisors grow continuously and by constantly munching on hay they wear these teeth down If they didn't do this, their teeth would over-grow, which could lead to infections or even starvation. You will also need to supply your piggies with a good quality dry food. It's best to at least start with the same food that they were fed at the pet shop or shelter as they can react adversely to sudden changes in diet. If you do want to change their food, then this should be done gradually by mixing with the old type. When buying Guinea Pig food always buy a food that is specially formulated for them as just like us Guinea Pigs cannot store or make vitamin C and their food normally has this added. I would also recommend buying nuggets rather than muesli as Guinea Pigs can be selective feeders and by leaving the bits they don't like they would not have a balanced diet.
The final aspect of their food is probably every Guinea Pig's favourite and that is fresh vegetables and the occasional bit of fruit. Due to the facts that they can't synthesis their own vitamin C and their teeth are constantly growing, Guinea Pigs need a lot of fresh vegetables in their diet, not only this but they adore their veggies. Just like us, all Guinea Pigs have their own favourites, so it may take you a while to discover what yours like, but some different foods you can give them are : Bell peppers, kale, tomatoes, red lettuce, red cabbage, Savoy cabbage, baby sweet corn, peas, pea shoots, carrot, apple and banana. If you know your lawn hasn't been treated with weed killer or fertiliser and isn't a "cat toilet" you can even cut grass and dandelion leaves for your piggies. There are a few fresh foods that you shouldn't feed them though, these include iceberg lettuce, potato, beans and rhubarb. In this house the absolute favourites are coriander and parsley, my girls will do almost anything for these. The real rules of thumb though are : if it's not good enough for you, it's not good enough for piggies, fruit should only be given in small amounts and any left-overs should be cleaned up regularly. A really good guide to different foods you can feed you piggies can be found here http://www.aracnet.com/~seagull/Guineas/feeding.ht m
Once you've discovered they favourite foods, taming piggies is a fairly easy business, the way to their heart really is through their stomach. With the girls it took less than a week for them to be feeding out of my hand and even coming up to me as soon as I opened the cage. I started this process by simply holding a stalk of coriander through the bar of the cage and waiting for one of them to come to investigate. As soon as they took some I put the rest of their vegetables into the cage. The next day I repeated this process with the cage door open and continued with this until I didn't even need to open the cage door before they were waiting for their treat (not very patiently I might add). Now the pair of them associate both me and the cage door being opened with a treat and are only too willing to come to me, even if I'm just walking past. As soon as I'd gained their trust, I starting picking the girls up and holding them for short periods, which steadily increased and now they'll happily sit on my lap to be stroked and even allow me to carry out some basic health checks.
Once your piggies are settled in you'll start to see just what it is that makes them such wonderful pets. They're loving and will often welcome you with little chirrups and wheeks of joy, they'll purr as they sit on your knee being tickled behind the ears, they'll whistle when they see you coming and literally jump for joy when they hear the fridge door open. They're scatty and will run laps round their cage, chasing each other, popcorning (jumping for joy) and chattering away before curling up together for a nap. They love attention and respond to it with real affection, giving kisses and cuddling up on your knee for a doze. And they rarely bite or scratch, my girls have never bitten anyone.
As with any pet you do need to take some measures to ensure that they are as healthy as possible. The first thing to do is ensure that you have registered with an appropriate vet. Not all vets will treat Guinea Pigs, you need to make sure that the vet deals with exotic pets. Then you need to make sure that you have an emergency fund just in case treatment is needed. I'm a firm believer that if you can't afford the vet fees then you can't afford the pet, at the very least you can put a small amount away each week in a savings account to cover any emergencies.
Ensuring your piggies have a good balanced diet goes someway to reducing the risk of health problems, with plenty of Vitamin C rich foods. As does keeping the cage clean, you should spot clean the cage daily removing the worst of the poo, wet bedding and left-over wet food and give the cage a full clean at least once if not twice a week. Water bottles should also be cleaned and re-filled daily. When spot cleaning, you can check if there are any loose motions or blood in the urine. It's also important to visually check your piggies on a weekly basis and some sources also recommend weighing them.
I usually take the opportunity to check the piggies over after a cuddle, I check their eyes and nose for discharge, make sure their teeth aren't overgrown and check their nails. While clipping their nails isn't particularly difficult, I would recommend that you ask your vet to show you how it's done. Should your piggy be less active than usual, eat less or give you any sign that it's unwell, then I'd recommend getting it seen as soon as possible as Guinea Pigs can go downhill very quickly. But don't panic if you see your piggy eating it's poo, Guinea Pigs produce special poos that they eat to recycle essential vitamins and gut flora.
No matter how big their cage is, piggies will also require regular floor time to exercise. In the warmer weather this can take place out of doors in a purpose built run, which also allows them to have a munch of fresh grass. Just be careful that the grass has not been treated with chemicals or used as a toilet (by cats or dogs) and make sure that the run is regularly moved to prevent your lawn getting a bald patch. In the colder weather floor time will need to take place indoors and you will need to ensure the area is piggy proof (no wires). I generally cover the area with an old duvet cover, add some hay and toys and then let the girls play in the hall.
I would never, ever deliberately breed Guinea Pigs, nor would I recommend that anyone else does, but as accidents do happen I am going to briefly cover the basics. Firstly, pregnancy is very dangerous for Guinea Pigs over a year if it is their first litter. The female Guinea Pig's pelvis fuses at this age if they haven't had a litter and so pregnancy can kill them. Even in ideal circumstances there is a risk of up to 20% that a pregnancy will have a less than happy outcome, with a risk of still birth or maternal death.
As I said there are sometimes accidents, when we bought our girls we didn't realise that one (and probably both) was pregnant. The first we knew about it was waking up in the morning to find four Guinea Pigs instead of two. Pregnancy in Guinea Pigs lasts an average of 63-78 days and the female can get pregnant at just four weeks old. Litters can vary in size from one to six pups, with the pups being born fully furred, eyes open and able to eat solid food. Our Mummy piggy, Sooty, gave birth to two pups, who were adorable mini piggies. As the females can become pregnant at four weeks and the males are sexually active at three, any babies need to be separated at three weeks old. Sexing babies is a little difficult, but can be done from birth. With girls the private parts form a y shape and with boys it's a line and you may be able to pop the penis out. From first examination we have a boy and girl, but I'll be checking again at three weeks.
Another hazard with the babies is that they are just so cute that you'll not be able to part with them. They are tiny balls of adorable fluff and there's no one that will be able to love them just as much as you do. You do need to make sure that the babies are growing well and the best way of doing this is to weigh them regularly. You can also handle the babies from day one, meaning you have the chance to ensure that the babies are extremely sociable and used to being handled.
==My Girls (and Boy)==
Before I finish up I thought I'd just introduce my girls and boy :
First there's Sooty, she's the proud Mummy and has jet black short hair. She's got the sweetest personality and is the first with her nose up to the cage bars for a kiss in the morning. She was also the first to take food out my hand and the first to come for a cuddle. Sooty's an amazing Mum, she seemed to know exactly what to do and is fantastic at allowing the babies to roam the cage while still being there for them.
Sweep is Sooty's cage sister and has a variable brown and black short coat. She's a lot more timid than Sooty but is starting to enjoy cuddles. Sweep's nose was really put out of joint when the babies arrived and she couldn't understand why Sooty didn't want to run laps with her, but she's a lot happy now all four of them run laps.
Zig is one of the babies, we think she's a girl and she's jet black with a little flash of white on her belly. Zig is a bit of a daredevil, who loves to explore and can't sit still for a minute. She especially likes her food and will sometimes sit in the food bowl so Mummy and Aunty Sweep can't get any.
Zag is the other baby, we're pretty sure he's a boy and he's a real Mummy's boy at that, he follows her round the cage as if he were on a lead. Zag is adorable and he knows it, with his black and tan fur, white stripe and little tuft on his head. Zag is going to be very sad when he has to leave his family, so he is going to visit the vet to get his bits seen to.
When the four of them are in the mood the will run laps chasing each other round the cage, sending shavings, hay and food bowls flying as they call and jump in the air with glee. Then there are the times when they all cuddle up and chatter to each other, no day or even moment is the same with this mischievous four and I love them to bits.
I hope this has been some use if you're thinking about adopting some Guinea Pigs, as I said at the beginning, I'm not an expert, but I really love my piggies. They give me pleasure every day, are really entertaining and really the gentlest creatures you could imagine. They are also loved by my 22 month old son, who is allowed to stroke them and hand feed them veggies (but not pick them up). In fact they are loved by my whole family and visitors and I can't recommend them enough as a house pet.
Summary: Wonderful pets that deserve all the love and care you can give.
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