What’s in a Name?
One of the better pets for younger children is the Guinea Pig. It should be pointed out that these are not a “pig” but belong to the rodent family, and they are not from Guinea! There is a lot of folklore about how they came about to be called Guinea Pigs, but no one is certain. One theory is that they sold for a guinea in England (about 3 weeks’ wages at that time!). Another is that even though the animal was brought to Europe on boats from South America, at that time, these boats would cross the Atlantic until they reached the bulge of Africa, which happens to be near Guinea, so there may have been some confusion to where they originated. In many languages, they were also called “sea pigs,” as they served the same function as real pigs on long boat voyages but were easier to keep. I suspect some of the first “pet” Guinea Pigs were the result of them just looking too cute! The three most common breeds are the short haired Smooth-Coat, the tufted/swirled hair Abyssinian, and the Peruvian with its long coat that hangs down and makes it look like a moving shag rug.
Just How They Like It:
Guinea Pigs are large enough to be easy to handle (and find), but not too large to cause trouble. Their disposition makes it easy to get them used to handling, and, with supervision, they can be let loose in a room. Be aware that they like to chew on everything, so watch and/or remove exposed electric cords! Speaking of chewing, the teeth of a Guinea Pig continuously grow, so it important to give them “chew toys” and treats to wear down their teeth. Guinea Pigs also like “hideouts” and to have enclosures for sleeping, so be sure to include tubes or pots for them to use. Ideally, you want about 4 square feet of area to let them roam about in their home. Also plan on letting them run free in the room as part of their play time with you. Guinea Pigs are social animals, so it is usually best to keep at least two together, though unless you want a population boom, keep all males or all females. A solid bottom cage with lots of ventilation makes the best home and helps to prevent heat stroke for our furry friends. Regular combing may be required to prevent knots. Although, Guinea Pigs themselves are rather fastidious about keeping clean and will groom themselves. While they can be trained to use a litter box, most of the time they will pick a particular corner for their elimination, making it easier to remove daily in between total cage cleanings. You want to avoid cedar or pine litter and use a litter based on paper/cellulose or corn cobs. The standard Guinea Pig pellets are an excellent staple food, but you will want to offer treats like fresh fruits, corn, carrots or peas to supplement the diet. This will also ensure they get enough of the Vitamin C they require but cannot produce. Offering the treats is a great way to get them used to their handlers, and soon they will be squeaking with joy every time they see you in anticipation of more treats.
Just How You Like It:
The gentle disposition and size of the Guinea Pigs make them a great first pet for younger children to learn the responsibilities of taking care of a pet, without overwhelming them with duties. Guinea Pigs generally live 5 to 7 years, though a well maintained pet Guinea Pig may easily live to be 10-12 years old. They enjoy their interaction with their handlers but do not require too much time or constant attention. They are easily confined to a small area and can be easily fed by non-handlers when needed. Lastly, Guinea Pigs are somewhat comical in behavior and rank really high on the “AAHHHHH” cuteness scale.