"Hi Mom," came the timid voice on the phone. "I was wondering if I could get a guinea pig." Here it was. Kaitlyn was out with my mom for a Nana/Kaitlyn date and they had gone to PetsMart, of course. Kaitlyn is an animal lover, as is my mother. I get it! I am, too! Or I was, once. Growing up, I had all sorts of pets. I always had several pets, and for most of my growing up years, I had dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish, lambs, horses, AND hamsters or gerbils--all at the same time. My sister added goats to that mix, but I will never claim them. I loved animals.
Being a mom has moved that focus and love, however. I still think animals are great and all, but my focus is on my children. We have some pets, and those are enough for me right now. I have plenty to take care of with children, the animals we already have, and all of the other stuff that comes with being an adult. I did not want another animal to take care of right now.
"If you get one, you have to be the person who takes care of it. Not me. At all. Just you." I replied. "I will! I will!" I took a deep breath. She is nine. Nine is old enough to take care of a pet independently. Nine is old enough to do the research to know how to care for the pet. I do love the responsibility that is learned when a child cares for a pet.
"Nana will buy it and pay for all of the stuff." Kaitlyn went on.
Well, they drove a hard bargain. I gave my consent, much to their surprise!
So Kaitlyn came home with a guinea pig. You might remember my list of pets. I had a lot of different animals, but a guinea pig was never one of them. I figured it would be very similar to a hamster.
Guinea Pig Disposition
While a guinea pig has similarities to a hamster, it is infinitely more friendly. A guinea pig is a pet that knows the people in the home and gets attached to certain members. A guinea pig is smart enough to know who is walking by, and to someone who commonly feeds the guinea pig, it will "whistle" (though I would describe it more like braying) at that person. It is quite fascinating.
Once Kaitlyn got her guinea pig home, she noticed he seemed sad. She did some reading and realized a guinea pig is a social animal and prefers to have company. Her guinea pig had a friend at the pet store, so the next morning, she and my mom headed right in to get the friend. He was much happier once his friend got home.
Guinea pigs are nice and friendly, though can be very shy. You will want to be sure to spend time holding and petting your guinea pig consistently so he will become comfortable and familiar with people. Guinea pigs are very much individuals with distinct personalities. One of ours is very easily scared, while the other is quite friendly. A guinea pig is a rewarding pet because it knows you and it has a distinct personality. I would say it is a very family-friendly pet.
Guinea Pig Difficulty
A guinea pig is rated as an easy pet to care for. I would disagree with that. It is one of the most high maintenance pets I have had. A guinea pig has specific diet needs. A guinea pig likes a wide variety of foods, but they can't eat just anything. There are lists. Guinea pigs need vitamin C daily (which is usually in guinea pig food). They also need hay basically at all times. You will need to hold your guinea pig regularly in order to help it be tame. They can be very stinky if you do not keep the cage cleaned regularly. They are pretty sensitive to temperature and light.
A guinea pig is not like a fish, hamster, or gerbil. I would say those are easy. Rabbits are easy. Even cats are quite easy.
They are not as high maintenance as a dog, however. So compared to a fish, a guinea pig is hard. Compared to a dog, a guinea pig is easy. And a guinea pig has more personality than a fish, and it will also cuddle.
My nine year old daughter can take care of the guinea pigs by herself. She doesn't need my help to clean the cage, clean the piggies, or feed them. She can chop food herself. She can brush them out and give them dry baths. The one thing she can't do alone yet is clip their nails.
Guinea Pig Reward
The difficult thing with any pet that is "easy" is that it is usually also not very rewarding. A hermit crab might be easy, but it isn't going to be a pet that shows you personality and gives love back. A fish can be easy, but you won't typically be too attached to a fish.
A guinea pig will be a pet that is very rewarding. It will reciprocate a lot of that effort and it will help your child like it even more. Remember back when your baby first smiled at you? You had gone probably 4-6 weeks taking care of your baby around the clock. You loved your baby immensely, but when that first smile came, it was lot a shot that boosted you up. It made all of those long nights more than worth it. That smile gave you some love and appreciation back from that sweet little one.
Having a pet that reciprocates will do the same for your child.
Guinea Pig Cost and Supplies
The initial setup will vary based on how much you are willing to purchase, but I think it is safe to say you will need to plan on about $200 to get the guinea pig(s), cage, water bottle, bedding, and food. Here are the basics you will need (affiliate links below):
- Cage: The one we got is not on Amazon; we got it from PetsMart. Some features ours has that I like is that it is on wheels, so it is easy for Kaitlyn to move the cage to clean where it is. It has a removable pan for the bedding so she can easily remove just that pan and clean it out well. It also has an upper level. This is where she gives them food, so the food is separate from the rest of the cage. It also gives some more square footage and it gives a cozy feeling. The guinea pigs love to hang out under the upper ledge.
- Bedding: According to the people at PetsMart, this is the best bedding option for guinea pigs. It is all natural. It is supposed to be the bedding that does the best job at eliminating (or preventing) bad odors. Kaitlyn completely changes out the bedding each week. She also thoroughly washes the bedding tray each week with soap and water. Not all bedding options are safe for guinea pigs, so do your homework before choosing a different option.
- Water Bottle: Many cages come with a water bottle. Ours did not. Be sure to check that and get one if your cage doesn't come with one. Our water bottle is made of glass, which is super nice because guinea pigs like to chew. It just helps ensure the water bottle does not get destroyed. Also pay attention to the size of the bottle. If you have two guinea pigs, you will want a bigger bottle.
- Food: Make sure you get food that has vitamin C in it. If you do not, you will need to get vitamin C tablets made for guinea pigs. We like this Oxbow brand for pellets. Be sure you get the right food for the age of you cavy (that's another word for guinea pig). You will also need to feed your guinea pig hay and grass regularly. Guinea pigs also like fresh fruits and vegetables. They can't have fruit daily and they should have a variety of vegetables, so not the same one every day. Luckily the internet exists. There are TONS of printouts available, and I have a lot on my Pets Pinterest board. I made a sheet for Kaitlyn that included what she needed to do each morning and each evening, as well as lists so she could track the fruits and veggies she gives her piggies. Here is a PDF version. The good news is that guinea pigs can have some of what you are having most days, and though they eat all day, they don't eat a huge quantity, so it doesn't take much more than you are already purchasing.
- House: Again, some cages come with a built-in house, others do not. If yours does not, you will want to get a house for your piggie. They need someplace to hide out when they are feeling scared or nervous. Just know they will chew on it. We got one made to be chewed on.
- Hay Feeder: Guinea pigs need hay regularly, and a hay feeder is a great way to give it to them without it getting all over the cage. We have a hay ball. It works. I am sure the other types of feeders work, also. The cage you get might have a feeder, so check that before buying a separate feeder.
- Grooming kit: You will need a way to groom your guinea pigs. You can use brushes you already own and you can share your nail clippers. Or you can buy a kit.
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- Toys: Guinea pigs are smart, and smart animals need things to do. Toys can act as a boredom buster and as a way to file down teeth. Guinea pigs have teeth that grow constantly, so they need things to chew. Note that balls and wheels are NOT made of guinea pigs. They can hurt your piggie.
- Vitamins: When my mom bought all of the stuff for the guinea pigs, she didn't realize the food was fortified with vitamin C, so she got some of these tablets. The piggies loved these and found them to be a special treat. Guinea pigs can be trained and are intelligent, so these can be used as rewards in training if you want to train your piggies.
- Apple wood sticks: Again, guinea pigs like (and need) to chew and something they love chewing is apple wood. Just make sure you have something in the cage for the piggies to chew on.
- Carrier: This is super handy for when you need to transport your guinea pigs. We have had to do it to get the piggies from our house to my parents' house when we went out of town. Kaitlyn also uses it each day to transport them outside for some outside time. I went with this one since it wasn't fabric, so it can be easily cleaned if they pee or poop inside.
- Outdoor cage: My mom had an outdoor cage she hadn't ever used (apparently she was thinking of getting rabbits. My dad was thrilled to give us this cage to get the idea out of her head. Haha!). It is nice for them to have some outside time each day. They are sensitive to temperature, so you don't want them out when it is too hot or too cold. You also want to be sure they are safe from predators. Ours is not open top because we have birds of prey all around our home and we also have cats who are good hunters. It is open bottom so they can eat grass all they want.
- Mat for under cage: Our vacuum kept getting clogged up from hay all over the floor. I did a couple of things to help this. One is I moved the hay outside, so when Kaitlyn fills up their hayball, she has to go outside to do it. This has helped with the mess immensely. Another thing I did was purchas this kitty litter mat. The cage sits right on it. So things that get kicked out of the cage to on the mat. Kaitlyn can move the cage, roll up the mat, shake it out outside or in the garbage can, and put it back down. It is very helpful for containing the mess.
- Salt Lick: I see some conflicting information on whether a salt lick is good or not for guinea pigs. We have always had one, and when they ran out, they were very vocal about it.
The reoccurring costs are the food and the bedding. You will need to get a new toy now and then, but not that often. Salt licks are probably 4 times a year for two piggies.
A guinea pig is a friendly pet that is very rewarding. It isn't really any more expensive than any other pet to purchase and get the set-up for it, but it will cost some money. It is easy enough for a preteen to take care of independently. I would recommend it as a pet for the family who is ready to take on the general responsibility.
A pet adds work and time to the day, and you might be like me and not ready to add more to your plate right now. If you have a child who is able to care for the pet on her own, however, it will do a lot to help her learn how to care for others, which is so valuable in helping her learn to become a great parent some day.
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