They can whistle and squeal, are very sociable and you never get tired of watching them use their teeth to mash up food: Guinea pigs are considered rather uncomplicated pets. And the pandemic seems like the perfect time to get one.
In Europe, demand for guinea pigs has definitely been on the rise. "Many families have time now. The kids are home more often and need to be entertained," says guinea pig specialist Andrea Gunderloch, who works for a guinea pig shelter in Germany.
However, the groups are warning that if you’re planning to adopt a guinea pig, there are some things to keep in mind. After all, the rodents may be small, but they also have some demands of their own.
Guinea pigs need company
An especially important aspect: Just keeping one guinea pig isn’t species-appropriate at all – they should be kept at least in pairs. "Guinea pigs are highly social and very communicative creatures," says guinea pig breeder Niklas Kirchhoff.
Gunderloch's shelter only allows people to adopt at least three animals. Experts recommend getting several neutered bucks or one neuter with several females. In all-female groups, one of the females often takes on a "male" leader role.
Guinea pigs can be kept both outdoors or indoors. Outside, there should be at least four of them, says animal welfare expert Elisabeth Preuss. "Because then they can warm each other better in winter."
Conventional cages aren't suitable
The little rodents are capable of living outside all year around, for example in a spacious pen. When keeping them in the house, it’s also important to provide them with a pen that is big enough. The cages that can be purchased in pet shops are not suitable, experts say.
Gunderloch recommends a self-made enclosure of at least 2sq m. Four boards and a base of pond liner are a good starting point, she says.
In the enclosure, the animals must be able to find shelters that have at least two openings allowing them to avoid each other in case of conflicts.
This all sounds high maintenance, but once you have a suitable pen, keeping guinea pigs is uncomplicated, Gunderloch says. However, a common problem is the diet, because the rodents have a sensitive digestive system.
Taking care of guinea pigs
Guinea pigs only digest their food when more is coming, the expert explains. Therefore, hay and water must be constantly available.
Moreover, since guinea pigs, like humans, cannot produce vitamin C on their own, herbs and vegetables such as peppers, fennel, cucumber and dandelion should also be part of the menu. Be cautious with fruit, however, because of the high sugar content.
Hester Pommerening, spokesperson for the German Animal Welfare Federation, thinks that guinea pigs are not necessarily the ideal pets for children.
Unlike dogs and cats, they cannot defend themselves, but lapse into a kind of rigor mortis in threatening situations.
Preuss, however, does believe that guinea pigs are generally suitable for children, as long as parents are aware that they are responsible for the little animals’ well-being.
The rodents can certainly become tame, she says. “But you need time to gain their trust. And even if that worked, they don’t like to be cuddled and carried around.”
With good care, guinea pigs can live for six to eight years. It is also important to know who will take care of the animals when you go on holidays, Preuss says.
If you decide, after careful consideration, that guinea pigs are just the pets for you, you can buy them from a reputable breeder, but there are probably lots at nearby emergency agencies and animal shelters that would surely be happy about a new home. – dpa/Fabian Busch