Although guinea pigs do not require vaccinations, yearly check-ups including a dental examination by veterinarian is essential. Dental disease is common especially if their diet is low in fibre. Worming every three months is recommended using a product that is safe for guinea pigs like ‘Puppy and Kitten’ worming syrup. Guinea Pigs can also get fleas, mites and occasional ticks. A product like Revolution Puppy/Kitten is excellent for protection again fleas and mites.
Sexual maturity occurs very early in guinea pigs being at two months in females and three months in males. When your guinea pig reaches sexual maturity they can either be de-sexed or separated. Birthing difficulties are common in guinea pigs. Other common problems include skin mites, bladder/urethral stones and respiration disease. A guinea pigs life span is four to eight years.
Guinea pigs are herbivores and as they cannot produce their own vitamin C, it is essential they receive this in their diet. A high fibre diet of 70% grass, (or high quality grass or oat hay), 30% a variety of vegetables (broccoli, spinach, parsley, kale and tomatoes). Carrots and other fruits can be given occasionally as they are high in sugar. Avoid celery and lettuce as they are of little nutritional value. Good quality grass hay pellet diets can be used for up to 10% of the diet. Guinea pig and rabbit “seed muesli mix” is not appropriate as it is high in sugar and very low in fibre. Food and water need to fresh, so change daily. Rhubarb leaves and potato peelings are toxic to guinea pigs. Store their food in a dark cool place as UV light degrades vitamin C.
Guinea pigs who live outdoors need protection from the extremes of heat and cold. Housing can be made from plastic or untreated wood. Your cage size should be at least 70cm x 70xm for one guinea pig and a concealed area is also important so they can feel safe and secure. Avoid mesh wire on the floor; their bedding should be made of soft pine non-treated wood shavings. Saw dust can cause respiratory problems and cedar shavings can cause skin irritation. Good ventilation and at least weekly changing of the bedding is needed to prevent respiratory infections from build-up of ammonia from the urine. Guinea pigs also need access to sunshine and exercise.
Guinea pigs are social animals, herd animals and prefer company of one or two other guinea pigs. This does not affect their bonding with you; it just allows them to be happier when you are not interacting with them. If you have a male and female together make sure one or both is de-sexed to prevent unwanted litters, de-sexing the male is an easier procedure; however if two females are fighting de-sexing one of them will help them get along. The sexing of guinea pigs is quite difficult therefore it recommended that your veterinarian does this.
Calicivirus vaccination is required at 4-5 weeks of age, then every 6 months for life. De-sexing is recommended, especially for female rabbits to help prevent unwanted litters and also to reduce their chance of uterine cancer later in life. Sexual maturity in rabbits can occur as little as 15 weeks old.
Brush daily to remove excess hair is recommended as they are prone to hairballs. In some cases, regular clipping of the bottom may be needed. Regular handling will also help to keep them tame and enjoy human company. Rabbits need regular external parasite control (eg revolution) from fleas, lice, ticks and ear mites. They also need internal parasite prevention (revolution will do this also) from worms.
These include Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays. Rabbits should not be fed Lucerne (alfalfa) or Clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium. Grass or grass hay is paramount in providing sufficient fibre for gastrointestinal health and encouraging chewing for long periods of time for healthy teeth.
Provide plenty of fresh leafy greens and vegetables. As a guide feed around two packed cups of leafy greens per kg body weight per day. Some examples are vegetables such as broccoli, beet/carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, bok choy, dark leafed lettuce varieties and herbs such as parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, and mint. Aim to keep feeds and feeding habits consistent. Any changes to the diet must be made gradually (over a 2-3 week period) to minimise digestive upsets.
Offer treats if you wish in small quantities (1-2 tablespoons per rabbit per day). Examples include most fruits, root vegetables such as carrot and sweet potato and capsicum. Use high quality commercial rabbit pellets with a minimum crude fibre >18% (Indigestible fibre content >12.5%) may be offered in small quantities only, but not let them form the main part of the diet. Avoid cereal/grain mixes and do not feed the following: cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals, chocolate or any garden plants that are toxic to rabbits.
Rabbits that live indoors can be litter box trained, which needs to be cleaned out daily. Rabbits that live outdoors need protection from the extremes of heat and cold. They are extremely sensitive to heatstroke and temperatures above 26ºC should be avoided. 18-22º C is optimum. If they live in a wire hutch, at least half of the bottom needs to have soft material to prevent foot trauma. A concealed area is also important so your rabbit can feel safe and secure. Rabbits also need protection from mosquitoes, therefore fine flyscreen around the cage is necessary. Infected mosquitoes carry a disease called myxomotosis, this affects the rabbits with swelling of the ears, eyes and mouth which leads to death. Rabbits should have at least two hours outside of the hutch every day for exercise.