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Guinea Pig Husbandry

Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), which are also known as cavies, originated from the Andes mountains of South America where they were used by the Incas as a food source and sacrificial animal. Dutch explores introduced cavies (as pets) to Europeans in the 1500's.

Basic Facts

Guinea pigs usually live 4-5 years, although some pets that are well cared for may live for 7-8 years. Females are known as sows, males are called boars, and the young are called pups. Their teeth grow continuously.


Normal body temperature is 99 F to 103.1 F.
Gestation period (time from becoming pregnant until giving birth) is 58-72 days (average 63 days). Litter size can be from 2-5 pups. The pups are born fully furred with open eyes and teeth. Weaning occurs at 14-21 days of age.

Guinea pigs reach sexual maturity around 3-4 months of age. Females must be bred by 7 months of age, or the pelvic size will be too small to deliver without a cesarean section. Even if bred before 7 months of age, dystocia (problems giving birth) is a common problem with Guinea pigs, often requiring a cesarean section to deliver the pups.


Each Guinea pig needs at least 2 square feet of floor space. Females can be housed together. Boars must be housed separately, as they will fight. Cage walls should be at least 10 inches high to prevent escapes. Flooring should be metal or plastic and padded with newspaper and pine shavings. Bedding must be kept dry. The environmental temperatures should stay between 65 F and 75 F with 70% humidity.

Handling & Restraint

Guinea pigs are gentle and rarely scratch or bite. They have no natural fear of heights so must be held very securely to avoid them jumping out of your arms. If scared, the Guinea pig may whistle or “scream”.

Health Concerns

No vaccinations are currently available for cavies.
Cavies are very susceptible to pneumonia. It is common for them to catch it from other ill Guinea pigs, rats, rabbits and dogs. Ideally, Guinea pigs should be housed separately from those animals. Your cavies should never be allowed to be around another ill cavae, especially one with a “cold”. New cavies introduced to the home should be isolated for at least two weeks before introducing them to your pets to see if any signs of illness might occur during that time. It is very difficult to cure cavies of this problem, so prevention is the best approach.

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