If you live in a small space and you’d like a pet for yourself, a child or a senior citizen, it may be tough to decide whether you can manage a cat or dog. It can be physically demanding to clean up after cats and dogs and you need ways to cover care if you have to be away.

A guinea pig can be a wonderful small pet for someone who needs an easy-care animal that can work well with little space or can be cared for by someone who would be challenged by a more complex pet.

Guinea pigs are a type of rodent from the family Caviidae, so some enthusiasts call them “Cavies.”  Since they are imported to North America they are considered exotic pets by most veterinarians, but they are much easier to care for than other exotics. Many exotics that are popular today are cute, but they are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, require very special diets, will need specialist veterinarians and have many special needs.

Guinea pigs do have a few special needs, but they fit well in a household of humans. They don’t like very high temperatures and they can get dehydrated in hot and humid conditions. Luckily, most pet owners already live indoors and prefer their homes to be a comfortable temperature, so a guinea pig can live in a climate-controlled home just fine.

Other than the temperature issues, Cavies are not prone to very many unusual diseases. Their teeth should be checked regularly since they do need routine dental care. If they are kept in cool and fairly dry conditions, visit a vet occasionally for a dental and general checkup, most Cavies will live a normal lifespan. Healthy guinea pigs have long lifespans for small rodents.

On average they can live 5-7 years and some even live longer. It’s not unheard of for a guinea pig to live past ten. They can eat a basic diet purchased from a pet store and supplemented with appropriate fruit and vegetables. The one thing to keep in mind is that Guinea pigs are messy and their cages need very frequent cleaning. If you aren’t up for that, they may not be the right pet for you, but this is true of most small pets.

Guinea pigs do need a reasonable amount of space as adults, but it’s still far less space than a loose domestic pet in your home. An ideal guinea pig enclosure should be chew proof (not soft plastic or wood) and then enjoy room to play. Pet stores sell nice wire cages that are 8 square feet and that’s enough space to put bedding, food, and have a play area. Guinea pigs will make use of 2 levels if they are available.

Guinea pigs are shy at first, but with frequent gentle handling, they become very affectionate pets. Since they are larger and easier to tame than hamsters or gerbils, they can be good for older children. As long as you spend daily time with your guinea pig, it will come to recognize you and enjoy being petted and handled.

They do make a high pitched squeal when they are frightened or excited, so some people mistake that as a sign that they are naturally very nervous. In reality, they are not. The squeal will scare away a potential predator and they may also squeal briefly with excitement when they see you coming. Overall, though, they are really fairly quiet and friendly small pets.

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