Adopting and Caring for a Pet Guinea Pig

Guinea Pigs
Lianne McLeod

If you are considering getting a guinea pig, you will need to know the basic facts about them. While guinea pigs make great pets for children and adults alike, consider whether they are right for your household. Beyond choosing based on appearance, learn how to select a healthy animal.

The Latin name for guinea pig is Cavia porcellus. This is why they are also called cavies (with the singular being cavy). Females are called sows, males are called boars, and babies called pups. Hairless varieties are called skinny pigs.

The Appearance of Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are approximately 10 inches long and weigh 2 to 3 pounds. They have a rounded, stout body with no visible tail, although a few tail vertebrae can be felt under the skin.

There are a variety of breeds with different coat types and color patterns. The most commonly found breeds are the American (short smooth hair coat), Abyssinian (short coat with "swirls" called rosettes), and Peruvian (long-haired). A wide variety of colors are seen among these different breeds.

Before You Decide on a Pet Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are social animals and you should consider keeping a same-sex pair so they have someone to socialize with. A pair of females is your best choice, as a pair of males may be prone to fighting (especially if they are not neutered).

Consider these other guinea pig characteristics:

  • Lifespan: They are a moderately long-term commitment with an expected lifespan of around 5-7 years, although up to 10 years isn't unheard of.
  • Housing: They need a large cage, but fortunately, it is easy to meet their needs with a ​homemade cage.
  • Noise: While usually quiet, guinea pigs can call out pretty loudly and be active both day and night.
  • Temperament: Guinea pigs may be nervous at first but rarely bite and generally become very tame with frequent handling.
  • Children: They usually make good family pets, but make sure children handle them gently.

Where to Find Guinea Pigs

Pet stores are a common source for pet guinea pigs, but they should only be purchased from a store if the store/staff are knowledgeable about guinea pigs, keep them in clean housing with a good diet, and handle the guinea pigs regularly. Look for stores that house males and females separately to avoid a surprise litter.

Breeders are your best option if looking for a show-quality pig, a specific breed, and even pet-quality pigs. A good breeder will make sure the babies are socialized well and handled from an early age.

Shelters have guinea pigs more often than you might think. This is a great way to give a guinea pig a second chance at life. Guinea pigs from shelters might be a little more skittish at first if they were not handled much while they were young, but most will settle down in their new homes once a routine is established.

Choosing a Guinea Pig

Whatever the source, make sure the guinea pig you choose is healthy, well-socialized, easy to handle. Use these tips:

  • The guinea pig should be alert and active.
  • Avoid a guinea pig this panicky when handled, especially if it does not relax quickly.
  • Avoid a guinea pig that is overly quiet and calm (it may be ill).
  • Avoid a guinea pig that is either overly skinny or grossly overweight. The body should be firm and rounded.
  • The nose, eyes, ears, and rear end should be clean and free of any discharge.
  • The coat (fur) should be full and soft.
  • Check the skin for flakes or redness and be on the lookout for any signs of parasites such as lice (they are often noticeable behind the ears in the bald area).