Guinea Pig Awareness Week

by Claire Brash

This last year has seen a boom in “pet popularity” as many have had more time to devote to them. This has led to a massive rise in prices and, unfortunately, increased puppy farming practices. But a pet doesn’t have to be expensive to be equally rewarding.

Blessed as a child to have an “animal-friendly” home, and lucky enough to continue that life with my own family, I can say that I have honestly had just as much enjoyment from cheeky ferrets, a rescue bunny, fancy mice, rats, acyloxyls, and budgies (to name but a few) as I have had from expensive puppies and kittens.

This year, March 22–28 marks the first Guinea Pig Awareness Week. I loved having “pigs”, and they make wonderful pets.

Do your research though. They are herd animals and need company, and the joy comes from watching their interactions and habits. They have their own language (which sounds initially like a group of excited schoolgirls squeaking and chattering), but you will soon learn to “speak pig” (there are some great videos on YouTube).

They sleep with their eyes open, pee on each other when they are really cross, and eat their own poo! They can seem mean to each other and “piggy-back” to assert their dominance, freeze like a statue when they sense danger, or jump like “popcorn” twisting in the air when they are just too happy to keep still. They purr when they get a favourite treat, lick your fingers to say thanks—and will even come running to your voice.

Training takes time and patience as they are a prey species and loathe to be picked up until they trust you. You will need to use tunnels to lift them and start training slowly, by letting them come to you. You will also need a good indoor run, measuring about half a square metre per pig, and plenty of hiding places (they do not climb so it can be low). They need hay all the time, in addition to leafy vegetables and herbs, and a little pelleted food. They love an outside run for grazing, too, if you have a garden.

They hide their illnesses like all prey animals, but regular weigh-ins and careful observation will help you judge their health status. Snuffles, bald patches, and teeth problems are the more common reasons that I see guinea pigs at work, but it’s rare for them to need the vet if you are careful and do your homework.

As with all pets, the pleasure comes from observation, knowledge, and the build-up of trust which comes with time (something we have plenty of at the moment, so make the most of it). Enjoy your pets whatever they are.

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