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Guinea Pig Health

**IMPORTANT** This page is for informational purposes only.
It should never be used to replace veterinary care of your guinea pig.

Anatomical and Biological Characteristics:

  • Guinea pigs have compact bodies and flat faces, and all teeth are open rooted (continually grow).

  • Body weight:
  • male 900-1200 g
  • female 700-900 g

  • Rectal temp 99-103 degrees F
  • Life span 4-6 years
  • Respiratory rate 40-110 breaths/min
  • Heart rate 250-350 beats/min

  • Reproductive Information:
  • Male guinea pigs are called boars and females are called sows.
  • Puberty 3 months (450-600 g)
  • Gestation 60-72 days
  • Litter size 2-5
  • Weaning age 14-21 days
  • Birth weight 70-100 g

  • Sows should never be bred the first time before approximately 7 months of age. No nest are built. Delivery occurs usually within 30 minutes with five minute intervals between births. Guinea pigs orphaned during the first four days of life may be given ground guinea pig pellets soaked in cow's milk.

  • It is highly recommended that the boar and pregnant sow be separated prior to and after birth.
  • Housing:

    Guinea pigs are best housed in open-top bins (walls at least 10" high) or in cages with solid floors because wire floors may injure limbs. Bedding (wood shavings or shredded paper) is used, as are hopper feeders and sipper tube bottles. All must be cleaned often. They should be kept away from drafts, chills, excessive heat (over 85 degrees F), temperature fluctuations (maintain between 65 and 75 degrees F), and other environmental disturbances. They may be housed in groups, but will establish a pecking order.

    Restraint :

    Guinea pigs are restrained by supporting the chest with one hand (placed under the chest) and the rear quarter with the other hand. Grabbing a guinea pig over its back may inhibit respiratory movements.


    Guinea pigs are strict herbivores and cecal fermenters, as are rabbits and horses. Food intake is not controlled by calories ingested, but by bulk consumed. They require special amounts of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium. Therefore, feeding table scrapes should be avoided. Guinea pigs should be fed a feed prepared specifically for the species. It should be supplemented with a source of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Food containing ascorbic acid should not be used 90 days after the milling date without supplementing with vitamin C. They require 10 mg/kg daily and 20 mg/kg if pregnant. Vitamin C may be supplemented by:

    1. One 250mg tablet crushed and added to 250 mLs of drinking water (changed daily)

    2. Feed the following amounts of foods (to provide 10 mg/kg) daily
      1. 1\3 ounce turnip greens
      2. 1\2 ounce parsley
      3. 1 ounce broccoli florets
      4. 1 and 1\2 ounces of orange or cabbage

    A commercial pelleted guinea pig diet containing 18 to 20 % protein, 4 % fat and 16 % fiber is highly recommended. They will consume approximately 6 g of food and 10 ml of water per every 100 g of body weight per day. Rabbit pellets are NOT the same, and should not be given to guinea pigs.

    Common Conditions:

    Common problems in guinea pigs include vitamin C deficiency, respiratory infections, abscess, skin mites, overgrowth of premolar teeth, cystitis and bladder stones.

    Barbering is another condition common in guinea pigs, this is when a dominate (alpha) male chews the hair off of the back of a subordinate animal (may lead to skin infections).

    Hairballs: They lose weight and stop eating. The feces are smaller size. Prevent this by offering laxatone twice weekly.

    Malocclusion of teeth: Teeth keep growing into the opposite gums and cause abscesses and infection. The animal loses weight and cannot eat. Check teeth every other month for proper length.

    Hair loss: Caused by mange, ringworm, fleas and ticks, etc. Can also result from a serious form of rodent viral cancer. See your vet immediately, especially if accompanied by loss of appetite and constipation.

    Diarrhea: Caused by a myriad of viruses, bacterial infections and internal parasites. This problem needs veterinary attention in order to avoid dehydration and death.

    Hind leg fractures or paralysis: They drag their legs and do not want to move. This is mainly caused by a deficiency of vitamin C during pregnancy or by trauma.

    Pregnancy toxemia: Loss of appetite in pregnant or lactating pigs. Needs immediate attention by a vet.

    Kidney disease: Often terminal, common in older guinea pigs.

    Public Health Significance:

    A few organisms that infect or inhabit guinea pigs are potentially zoonotic, but these organisms are seldom associated with human disease. Special precautions should be taken if housed with an immunocompromised individual. These organisms include Salmonella, Campylobacter and Sarcoptes (mites).

    Allergy to guinea pig dander is another frequently reported condition in people handling guinea pigs.

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