Guinea pigs are small animals with big personalities. Since they spend most of their time in a cage, many pet owners assume they're simple to care for. Yet, there are some intricacies in caring for these fun little animals, and if you don't provide proper care, your guinea pig may end up in the vet's office—or worse. Here's a look at common care mistakes that guinea pig owners tend to make.
Mistake: Feeding rabbit pellets
Rabbit pellets may look just like guinea pig pellets, and your guinea pig may gladly eat them. But rabbit pellets, and also all-purpose pellets marketed for rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters—are not the best dietary choice for your guinea pig. Rabbits make their own vitamin C, so it's not included in foods made for them. Guinea pigs do not make vitamin C; they need to consume it in their diets. So, if you feed your guinea pig rabbit pellets, he will eventually become vitamin C-deficient and develop scurvy, a condition where the gums become infected, the teeth fall out, and the immune system fails. Feed your guinea pig a pellet made specifically for guinea pigs. Make sure the label specifically states that it contains vitamin C.
Mistake: Using cedar shavings as bedding
Cedar shavings do a good job of covering pet odors, which can get pretty intense if you don't clean your guinea pig's cage every few days. But those same cedar oils that make the shaving smell good can also irritate your guinea pig's respiratory passages, leading to asthma and sneezing. Aspen shavings are a much safer choice as they do not contain any irritating oils. Paper bedding also works well.
Mistake: Not letting the guinea pig run
Guinea pigs can spend most of their time in a cage, but they do need to get out and run now and again. If they don't get enough exercise, they can easily become obese, and just like in humans, obesity can lead to diabetes and heart attacks. So, get in the habit of letting your piggy out to run for a half hour or so every day. He may be hard to catch at first, but once he gets used to having this freedom, he'll be more willing to let you catch him when it's time to go back to the cage.
In addition to following the tips above, make sure you take your guinea pig to the vet for checkups every year. This way, if he does develop any health issues, you can be sure they're caught early.