Five Common Care Mistakes Among Guinea Pig Owners

Your guinea pig is your furry friend, and you'd never want any harm to come to him. Sadly, many well-meaning guinea pig owners unknowingly make care mistakes that could compromise their pets' health. To ensure your squeaky companion stays healthy and strong, avoid these common care mistakes.

Letting nails get too long.

For some reason, when people guy guinea pigs, the pet store owners often fail explain that their nails will need regular trimming. In the wild, guinea pigs wear down their own nails when they scamper across rocky ground, but on beds of comfortable shavings and soft carpets, your guinea pig's nails won't wear down. If they get too long, they could grow into your guinea pig's foot, causing pain and infections. Too-long nails can also lead to painful foot deformities.

To trim your guinea pig's nails, have a friend hold your guinea pig still while you position the nail in a human nail clipper. Make sure you're only removing the tip of the nail. You don't want to cut too close to the toe where the quick, a blood vessel, is located. If you accidentally clip the quick, dip the nail into a little cornstarch to stop the bleeding.

Not feeding a vitamin C–rich diet.

Unlike rabbits and hamsters, guinea pigs cannot make their own vitamin C, so you need to make sure you provide enough of it in their diet. Without enough vitamin C, your guinea pig may develop respiratory infections and dental problems. Guinea pigs need about 10 - 30 mg per day of vitamin C. Pellets made especially for guinea pigs (not rabbits or hamsters) often contain vitamin C, but it can leach out of the pellets as they sit. Thus, the best way to ensure your guinea pig gets enough vitamin C is to feed him a little fresh produce each day. Oranges, spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, and strawberries are all high in vitamin C, and most guinea pigs enjoy these foods. Experts recommend giving about one cup of produce each day. This should meet your guinea pig's vitamin C needs and other nutrient needs.

Bedding with cedar shavings.

Cedar's strong scent masks guinea pigs' odors, so a lot of owners choose it as a bedding. Unfortunately, it's not a safe bedding choice, as it gives off phenol compounds that can cause irritation to the respiratory tract and in some cases, liver damage. (Phenols are an irritant.) Aspen wood shavings are a much safer choice because they don't give off these irritating compounds and are less dusty. Manufactured, pelleted bedding is also a safe choice, and many contain pet-friendly, odor neutralizing compounds.

Using cages with wire bottoms.

A cage with a wire bottom seems convenient. The mess falls through the metal mesh, making it easy to clean the cage. Unfortunately, guinea pigs can get their feet caught in the wire, leading to life-threatening injuries and broken limbs. Only use cages with solid bottoms for your guinea pig. Cleaning might take longer, but at least you know you won't wake up to a guinea pig with a broken foot.

Not providing a chew toy.

Guinea pigs' teeth grow constantly, and they need to chew on hard items to keep their teeth worn down. Otherwise, the teeth might become overgrown, causing painful sores and difficulty eating. Many times, if a guinea pig starts losing weight and avoiding its food, the teeth are to blame. Teeth problems can be largely avoided by giving the guinea pig a chew toy in its cage. A plain block of pine wood will do. (Just make sure the wood is untreated.) Chew toys from the pet store also work well. While your vet can trim back teeth that have overgrown, this condition is still painful for the guinea pig and it is far better to prevent overgrown teeth than to fix them after the fact.

Guinea pigs who become ill don't always recover, so it is far better to prevent illness than to wait until it occurs and try to treat it. If you're able to avoid the mistakes above, your guinea pig's risk of illness and injury will be much lower. For more care tips, contact a vet or check out websites like

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