Julie Morris, ASPCA senior vice president for community outreach, named March after these small furry friends “… to encourage future adopters to think of shelters and rescue groups first!”
Here at East Padden, we treat guinea pigs, also known as cavvies, several times each week for reasons ranging from appetite loss and lethargy, to spay and neuter surgeries. These pets are commonly adopted out of businesses such as Petco or PetSmart into families who have every intention of providing them with a safe and happy home. Sadly, these pet’s pre-adoption lives are rarely ideal, and sometimes do not satisfy their basic needs to thrive. Pocket-sized pets sold by these large corporate businesses are initially raised in breeding facilities before being transported, sometimes cross-country, to retail stores to be sold.
In 2016, an undercover investigation by PETA spurred a federal investigation into a small animal breeder contracted with Petco, called Holmes Chinchilla Ranch and Other Small Animals Inc. Both PETA and the USDA found that some pets were contained in plastic bins or overcrowded cages and deprived of food and water, leading to frequent sickness and even death. You can view the video taken inside the breeding facility by an undercover PETA employee here. Warning: this video is very graphic.
Although this is likely not the case for all small-animal breeders for corporate pet stores, it does speak to the importance of adopting pets from shelters, rather than from large-scale breeders. Dr. Tracy Thompson here at East Padden says she favors adoption from rescues over purchasing.
“People will purchase guinea pigs for young children. Then when the children lose interest in a month or so, the parents discover that they are not interested in caring for the pig without the child’s interest, and surrender the pig to the humane society,” Thompson says. “They are waiting for their forever homes!”
So, you want to adopt a guinea pig?
The very first step prior to adoption is ensuring that you are ready to provide the necessary environment, diet, and time required to keep your cavy happy and healthy. According to the ASPCA, the average annual cost to care for one guinea pig is $635. However, Dr. Thompson recommends that if you are going to adopt one, you should consider adopting a second, as guinea pigs are social creatures and thrive best when they have a friend.
“They can reproduce quickly and gender identification is difficult in young guinea pigs,” she warns. “So, keep them separate until you know their gender, or have had them spayed or neutered.”
East Padden does offer spay and neuter services for guinea pigs, although the most common reason we see these types of pets is for illness related to improper diet. According to Dr. Thompson, guinea pigs require an 80 percent hay diet, and lots of vitamin C. Hay aids in digestion and helps keep guinea pigs’ teeth filed down. Without it, their teeth will continuously grow and can lead to improper alignment, pain, and infection. Without vitamin C, cavvies can develop scurvy.
“Symptoms include poor appetite, swollen, painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move, poor bone and teeth development, and spontaneous bleeding especially from the gums, into joints, and in muscle,” Dr. Thompson says.
Guinea pig owners should also avoid feeding foods high in starch, such as beans, corn, nuts, cakes, cookies, cereal, grains, and bread. These foods can create a serious imbalance in the normal bacteria in the intestinal tract and lead to potentially fatal disease.
“Although very small amounts of these foods can be tolerated, guinea pigs can get ‘addicted’ to them to the point they don’t want to eat healthier foods,” Dr. Thompson says. “Therefore, it is best to just avoid them all together.”
In addition to food, the environment is key to providing your guinea pig with a happy and safe home. The ASPCA put together a guinea pig supply checklist to help aid future owners in preparing for their new family members.
Guinea Pig Supply Checklist:
- Solid-bottom cage with wire cover or plastic bottom “tub” cage, with 4 square feet of cage space per cavy
- Guinea pig pellets, made with timothy or orchard grass
- Cage bedding (aspen or hardwood shavings, timothy hay or processed paper products)
- Small, heavy food dish
- Grass Hay
- Bricks, rocks, cardboard boxes, plastic pipes & other safe toys
- Medium flower pot or covered sleeping box
- Brush and comb
- Attachable water bottle with a drinking tube
- Unpainted, untreated piece of wood or safe chew toy
It is important to give your guinea pigs playtime outside of their cage. But keep in mind, guinea pigs are small, fast, and love to chew.
“Guinea pigs can chew on electrical cords when given time to roam around the house, so close monitoring is crucial,” Dr. Thompson says.
Once you have the supplies required for your new family member, the next step is adoption!
We are fortunate to live in an area with several options for adopting cavvies. In addition to The Humane Society, Portland Guinea Pig Rescue and Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue each foster guinea pigs that are looking for the right family. Both websites even offer descriptions and photos of piggies who are available to adopt right now. Some can be adopted individually, while others are only adoptable in pairs due to their established relationship with each other.
Dr. Thompson recommends an exam upon adoption and a wellness exam every six to twelve months to ensure that your pet is healthy. If kept healthy and cared for properly, guinea pigs can live to be up to 7 years old!
For more information on caring for your guinea pig, visit The Humane Society website, or give us a call at (360) 892-1500.