Cleanliness vital for 'fragile' Guinea pigs to enjoy stress-free lives
Most people like to keep clean by taking a daily shower or bath. The same goes for Guinea pigs. 'I bath my Guinea pigs every day in a very shallow bowl with lukewarm water and a small drop of shampoo - to get them clean underneath and rinse them. They seem to enjoy it,' says Josee Colley, who owns two long-haired Guinea pigs named Fluffy and Curly.
Another part of their regular care includes changing the bottom of the cage - lined with pulp paper and newspaper - every two days. 'They are a lot of work, but they are very cute. They really sound like little pigs that make a kind of snorting sound,' Colley says. 'We play with them every day. They run around on the sofa, sit on our laps and love to be picked up.'
Colley had another Guinea pig that developed a lymph node infection. She booked him for a HK$3,000 operation, but two weeks after the surgery the animal died. 'I tried to save him, but it did cost a lot of money,' she says.
Vet Hugh Stanley, at Dr Hugh's Veterinarian Hospital, agrees smaller animals are difficult to treat. 'Guinea pigs are cute, but they are very fragile. When they get sick, they are difficult to successfully treat,' he says. 'The treatment itself is stressful. I may only see the sick ones, but deaths seem more common than other species.'
In preparing bedding for Guinea pigs, the vet stresses the importance of proper materials. 'Guinea pigs are prone to infections on the skin of their feet, so don't have any hard plastic or wiring,' Stanley says.
As many owners use wood shavings, towels, straw or newspaper, Stanley recommends Carefresh paper pellets that are extremely absorbent to prevent any skin conditions from arising. 'They defecate and urinate everywhere - in their water bowls and bedding, so you need to clean out the bedding at least once a day.
'If not, their feet can become red and have abscesses. Then they are reluctant to walk, stop eating and then all types of secondary problems occur because their appetite goes down.'
When it comes to dinnertime, owners can feed their little furry friends a variety of foods and vegetables, Stanley says. The basis of the diet should be unlimited 'good quality Timothy hay', which is high in fibre. For younger, growing Guinea pigs, the vet recommends alfalfa hay, which is high in calcium and protein. Also on the menu should be two to three Chinese soup spoonfuls of Timothy-based pellets that are enriched with vitamins and minerals. For foods with a bit of crunch, Guinea pigs can munch on fresh green leafy vegetables, such as bak choi, choi sum, red and green peppers, watercress, kale, lettuce and small amounts of fruit, including apple and strawberry.
'Fruit is fine, but not too much because of the high sugar content. They can get gassy, bloated and obese. It's a problem,' Stanley says. 'And you should give them a vitamin C tablet every day. If they won't eat the tablet, then syringe feed it to them [with vitamin C drops].'
The most common health problem for Guinea pigs is gastrointestinal upset, Stanley says.
'Their stomach and intestine can stop working. It could be stress related or because they got the wrong bacteria in their stomach, making them very sick,' he says. 'Or it could be from dirty food. Always give them food that is fit for human consumption.'
During the summer heat, watch out for a quick change of temperature in your home.
'They are very susceptible to heatstroke and humidity,' Stanley says. 'Theoretically, they should be in a temperature between 17 to 24 degrees [Celsius], but if it's 17 degrees and then suddenly 24 degrees that could be a problem.'