If you're looking for a small companion or two, guinea pigs -- also known as cavies -- can fill the bill. Available in long- and short-haired varieties, in a range of colors, these gentle animals make good pets for older children. With good care, expect your guinea pig to share your life for five to eight years.
How to Care for a Guinea Pig
Feeding Guinea Pigs
While you should provide your pet with a quality commercial guinea pig food, he needs more than that to thrive. Guinea pigs always should have a supply of good timothy or grass hay to chew on. The hay fiber not only keeps the intestinal tract moving, but it helps wear down the cavy's continuously growing teeth. Offer your pet small amounts of fresh lettuce, kale or spinach daily, removing any uneaten food by the next day. Guinea pigs appreciate small fruit treats, such as blueberries or apples, a few times a week. Your guinea pig should always have fresh water available.
Guinea Pig Housing
The ASPCA website recommends at least 8 square feet of floor space per guinea pig in a cage, noting that social rodents like the cavy prefer living with a companion. A suitable guinea pig home must have solid rather than wire flooring, as the latter contributes to cavy foot issues. Bed down the cage with newspaper, paper-based litter, timothy hay or aspen shavings. Avoid cedar or pine shavings, as the oils in the bedding can cause respiratory problems. Change the bedding several times a week and give the cage a thorough weekly cleaning. Give your pet places to hide by providing plastic or cardboard tubes -- although he'll chew up the latter fairly quickly. Guinea pigs originate in the warm climates of South America, so they do best in an environment with a temperature ranging from 65 to 79 degrees. Keep your pet's cage out of direct sunlight and away from drafts.
Exercising Your Guinea Pig
Let your guinea pig out of his cage every day for some play time and exercise. You must supervise your pet when he's out of the cage, because cavies are natural-born chewers. It's best to let your pet exercise on wooden, tiled or other floors without carpeting, keeping him away from any electrical wires.
Guinea Pig Health
Like all pets, your cavy requires an annual examination by the veterinarian. Many dog and cat vets don't treat smaller pets, so find a veterinarian specializing in exotics. Your vet will check your cavy's mouth at the annual visit, as dental disease is common. If necessary, he can file down the teeth. If you keep more than one guinea pig, it's a good idea to have your pet spayed or neutered. While male and female guinea pigs make the most compatible pairs, they're also the pairs that have babies. Guinea pigs can reach sexual maturity as early as 6 weeks of age.