Domesticated in South America for thousands of years, guinea pigs have become one of the most popular companions for humans – especially children. To raise further awareness of these cute cavies, Guinea Pig Appreciation Day is celebrated each year on the 16th of July.
Guinea Pig History
Guinea pigs (also known as cavies) originate from South America and it is believed they were domesticated as early as 5000BC. This is evident from statues and art depicting guinea pigs in a variety of forms throughout South American culture.
Being very popular with the Incas, guinea pigs were frequently found living in and around people’s homes. After Spain discovered the region in the 1530s, these adorable rodents were brought over to Europe by the Spanish. Soon after, guinea pigs’ popularity increased further owing to their curious ways, endearing nature and ‘potato shape’!
Originally, only the wealthy were able to afford them. Their exotic animal status, meaning purchasing and taking care of them was costly. It is believed that even Queen Elizabeth the First was an early guinea pig owner – helping to make them even more fashionable.
Today, guinea pigs hold the title of one of the world’s most popular rodent pets.
Despite being popular, guinea pigs are quite complex creatures and require more attention than many other pets. As RSPCA expert, Dr Jane Tyson, explains: “Sadly guinea pigs, along with other small companion animals like rabbits and hamsters, are very misunderstood. They can be seen as a great ‘starter pet’ for children but they actually have very complex needs, with a varied diet and access to plenty of space needed to ensure their welfare. We do see instances of abandonment and neglect every year.”
So, how should we best take care of our small fluffy friends?
Guinea pigs are sociable herd animals and need constant companionship, therefore they must be kept in pairs or groups. It is also important to handle them every day – helping them to gain trust and feel comfortable.
Large enclosures with lots of space, either indoor or outdoor, are essential. Ensure that all guinea pigs have access to a secure run (with a lid) in the garden so they can spend time in the sun and on the grass. Ensure, however, that there is adequate shade, water and places to hide. Guinea pigs do not cope well in cold weather, so they must be kept warm – ideally bringing them inside throughout the winter months.
Food and Drink
Guinea pigs require regular access to clean water and food. The staples of their diet are:
Hay – this aids their digestion and helps keep their continuously growing teeth in good condition.
Vegetables – guinea pigs are vegans, so feed them accordingly! They can’t synthesise their own Vitamin C, so it must be provided in their diet via vegetables. A Vitamin C supplement can also be added to their diet if necessary. Popular vegetables at feeding time are salad leaves, cucumber, carrots, celery, spinach, sweetcorn and blueberries.
Long haired guinea pigs need to be groomed regularly, and all pigs need regular nail clipping. They also have the propensity to suffer with dental issues, due to their teeth constantly growing. If teeth are misaligned or too long, this could lead to the inability to eat properly and subsequently starvation.
Ensure their enclosure has plenty of things to gnaw on, such as wood, sticks and cardboard. Not only will this help keep their teeth in check, but also provides interest and entertainment for them.
Pets Corner, located at Peterborough One Retail Park, is an ethical pet store chain, with the main area of business being specialist natural pet foods, accessories and treatments. Pets Corner have a variety of products and services to ensure your guinea pigs are in pawfect health.
Head in-store this Guinea Pig Appreciation Day to find out more.