By Erica Radhakrishnan Hospital Administrator, BVS


Some scientists conduct research looking for associations between pet ownership and pet-parent health.  While definitive evidence has not been concluded, some studies correlate owning a pet with improved physical wellbeing shown through healthy-heart metrics like lower blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and healthier body weight; as well as improved psychological and emotional health factors such as a reduction in stress, loneliness, and companionship.  A significant proportion of these studies look at these relationships in only cat and dog owners.  Unfortunately, a variety of factors like apartment restrictions, costs, allergies, and time commitment may prevent some people from adopting a dog or cat.  This should not deter them from reaping similar health benefits and consider pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, birds, or fish.  These wonderful creatures can provide a lifetime of love and companionship.

Guinea pigs, rabbits, and hamsters are small mammals and options, if you would like a furry friend, but have one of the restrictions mentioned above.  Please note that even though they are small, they require both an initial investment and ongoing expense.   Basic information about the care and needs of guinea pigs will be described below.  However, it is important to further educate yourself about the behaviors and needs of these mammals before adoption to determine if they will make the best pet for you. 

Guinea Pigs

Average Life Span:  5-6 years

Size:  1.5 to 3 pounds

Diet:  Guinea pigs are herbivores.  Find out your guinea pig's diet before adoption.  If possible, continue to feed your pig the same diet.  Over time you can supplement their diet with other veterinarian-approved vegetables and fruits.  Like other mammals, guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin C but need it for a healthy life.  Most guinea pig pellets contain the daily requirement of vitamin C.  In addition to vitamin C-rich pellets, it is important that your guinea pig has a fresh supply of timothy or orchard hay to chew.  This will help prevent overgrown teeth or misalignment.  Access to a fresh supply of water is also a must. 

Housing:  You can find a variety of commercial guinea pig cages at your favorite local pet store or online.  Guinea pigs cannot jump high enough to escape most enclosures.  Therefore, creating a custom "C and C Cage" might be a fun option.  It is also possible, like childproofing your home, to "pig proof" a designated room for your pet.  Even if you choose to house your pet in a cage, out-of-cage time is critical for mental enrichment and exercise.  The space you decide to use needs to be free from danger.  Things to consider when selecting a location to house your guinea pig are electrical hazards, drafts, temperature, and avoiding exposure to direct sunlight.

Furnishings and Husbandry:  In addition to a safe space, your guinea pig will need a few "creature comforts."   Use paper-based bedding or litter to line your guinea pig's home.  This will protect their feet from the hard surface.  Avoid using cedar or pine shavings, as oils from these materials can irritate your guinea pig's respiratory tract and make them sick.  Provide clean food bowls and a sturdy water bottle.  Be prepared to clean these items regularly with warm, soapy water, as guinea pigs can be a bit messy.  After all, the word pig is in their name.  A hideaway structure may be the perfect addition to their enclosure, as they like to hide.  Last, but not least, be sure to clean your pig's shelter regularly.  They will be quite smelly if you do not and could become ill from an unsanitary environment.