3 reasons guinea pigs are the perfect offbeat apartment pets

March 10 | Guest post by Lindsey
GUINEA PIG? Uh uh, I'm a unicorn!
Photo by: cit_thmcCC BY 2.0

I've had all kinds of pets over the years — from cats, to goldfish, and everything in between. My first pet as a kid was an orange-and-white guinea pig named Rodney (who turned out to be a girl). No matter how many other animals I've loved since then, I've always come back to guinea pigs. They're a little more interesting than your run-of-the-mill hamster (in my humble opinion), and have a hell of a lot of personality. Best of all, they make a great addition to apartments or rental homes where it might not be feasible to adopt non-caged pets like dogs or cats.

Here's why…

1. Having a guinea pig is like taking care of a miniature cow

Or a garbage disposal. Guinea pigs are grazers, and each pig eats up to a pound of hay weekly. I have four pigs, and go through two 10-pound boxes of hay every month. Holy cow!

My favorite part of my morning routine (okay, afternoon routine — hi, night owl here) is walking into the pig room and hearing demanding squeals as I make my way over to the hay bin.

So, why do they eat so much hay? Is that normal?

Guinea pig in the hole
Guinea pig teeth! Photo by: tambakoCC BY 2.0

Pigs are rodents and their teeth never quit growing, just like hamsters and mice. Long-strand grass hays like timothy hay or orchard grass hay have high silica content. Silica is hard and it wears down your pig's teeth during the grinding motion of chewing. A steady supply of timothy hay does way more for your pig's dental health than a wooden toy carrot or any other chew toy you can grab at the pet store.

Also, pigs are pretty big foodies. Honestly, they never stop eating, unless it's to poop or sleep. (And sometimes, pooping doesn't even stop them. Why take a break when you can poop and eat at the same time?)

That being said…

guinea pig
Photo by: mksystemCC BY 2.0

2. You have someone to share your dinner with

Hay is important, but it isn't the only part of a balanced guinea pig diet! Each guinea pig in your life should eat a cup of fresh vegetables every day. They can eat many of the same veggies that you do — just make sure that you offer them raw, and not cooked. Some staple veggies include:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Boston leaf lettuce (this stuff is guinea pig crack!)
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Bell peppers (offer these every day, please — guinea pigs can't synthesize their own vitamin C, and bell peppers are an awesome source of that)
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
Guinea Pig x Lynette
Photo by: jonolistCC BY 2.0

3. They're more apartment-friendly than dogs, and just as people-friendly

Guinea pigs are seriously outgoing little dudes, once they get to know you. When I enter the room where the cages are, there's immediately four eager little faces poking through the cage bars at me, and four little voices clamoring for attention. Guinea pig cuddle time is at least as awesome as puppy cuddle time, and I would argue that it's even better!

Guinea pigs do require a pretty decent amount of space — the minimum for a pair is about eight square feet (about 48" x 24"). Plenty of people build open-concept cages out of household materials, which lets you build around your home's footprint and create a guinea pig home that's suited for your lifestyle and theirs.

And if you don't live in an apartment, feel like building something crazy, and aren't pressed for space? Feel free to go nuts. I built a SIX FOOT LONG cage for one of my pairs recently, and IT IS GLORIOUS.

19.04.2012 - A Tribute to Tufty by Lily
Photo by: jlhopgoodCC BY 2.0

Guinea pigs are great offbeat apartment pets, what are you tips for keeping them in apartments or small dwellings?

  1. My first couple pets were guinea pigs 🙂 Mocha and Pickle. If my apartment didn't allow cats I probably would have gotten a guinea pig.

  2. My favourite thing about piggles is that they are little compost piles. If you're chopping up fruits and veggies for your meal, you're already preparing pig food. While there are some of each you should never feed them, the list of things a ninny pig can eat is LONG AND AWESOME.

    We made our cage outta this with a bottom made out of corrugated plastic. Mango was a nervous chewer and liked to chomp at the plastic way more than wood or hay (ughhhhh whyyyyy) so we had to make bumpers to keep her from getting at the edges. Your piggie will probably vary.

    2 agree
  3. I cannot get past the fact that this guinea pig looks like he's wearing a butt dildo on his head. Just me? Anyone else?

    7 agree
      • I think it’s the lack of pointy end! I’ve seen some spectacularly designed “modern and chic sculptured cat scratching posts” that were so totally butt plugs, because of the flared base. Love our brains.

  4. My Mom loves guinea pigs, and we had pairs of them through my whole childhood, from when I was 5 until I was in university. Sometimes guineas can live up to 7 years! Mom kept them in a fairly large cage (about 2' X 5'), but would set up a daily "run" for them in the living room (furniture pushed back, all cracks blocked off, old sheets down on the ground) so that they could run around and hide in boxes for an hour or so. In the summertime, she would also take off the top part of the cage and set it in the grass outside so the guineas could feel grass under their feet (and eat it, of course… their favourite snack). This was always a supervised activity to keep the guineas safe from predators.

    When in their cages, the guineas were kept well-supplied with fresh fruits and veggies, as well as lots of treats and cardboard etc. to nibble on. Cages were cleaned several times a week (my job when Mom was out of town). Most of our guineas weren't that cuddly, except for one from the first pair, who would lie on a towel on someone's chest for hours, snuggling up under their chin.

    The guinea's names:

    – Bearcub (rex with black fur) and Explorer (orange and white, the cuddly one)
    – Cocoa was adopted (aka rescued from neighbours) while we still had Bearcub and Explorer, but the first two were territorial so Mocha had her own cage. Brown and cinnamon colouring.
    – Mama and Baby (practically named when we couldn't decide – salt and pepper abyssinians)
    – Mocha and Cow, two large, tri-coloured males (all other guineas were females)

    And these pets were kept at the same times as dogs, hamsters and fish!

    Fond memories. Guineas are so cool and like OP said, have crazy little personalities.

    2 agree
  5. When it comes to food, dandelion leaves are another huge hit. You can just collect them for free and they'll be gobbled right up.

    2 agree
  6. I want to have guinea pigs in my home so badly, however my husband is really not loving the idea. I will have to live vicariously through everyone else.

  7. We have loved our guinea pigs over the last dozen or so years – only the last year have we been in an actual house. They have been amazing and wonderful. The only problem is their short life span. We have had as many as five at a time over the years and are now down to our last one. The only thing I would add to the wonderful information above is to please be ready to get them vet care and not treat them like "pocket pets" that just expire (which I would not recommend doing with any animal). They are giant personalities in small, adorable cuddly little packages – but they can be pretty fragile, too.

    4 agree
  8. I had guinea pigs a a child, we let them roam the back garden. It was a gorgeous sight to watch these mini cows grazing in the grass, but they never really did learn how to be particularly affectionate (probably our fault for not handling them enough).

    My one tip regarding guinea pigs would be to not keep their cage where you sleep. I once crashed at a friend's place after a party, and slept in the room where they'd hidden the guinea pig hutch. I barely got any sleep that morning when the slightest movement from me would cause the little guys to jump and dash in panic. 😛

    Oh, and don't keep males and females together unless you want babies (cute as they are). And when you inevitably do end up with babies, make sure you don't keep the mother and her children together for too long…or else you end up with more babies.

    • More anecdotal than scientific evidence, but with small prey animals, like rabbits or guinea pigs or rats, if you have one of them they are likely to bond with you well. If you have a few of them, they’ll form stronger bonds with each other than with you. Handling from a young age and lots of other factors obviously influence this too, but this is something many many pet owners have told me as a vet nurse, and I’ve noticed a lot myself with my own animals.

      I have also enjoyed watching them graze like cows…. it’s the movement of the jaws that make me think of cows (otherwise cows are definitely less scampery than gpigs). It’s all that back teeth grinding up the cellulose action. So cute!

  9. Rabbits are an amazing option for similar reasons. Especially if you have successfully litter-trained and socialized them.

  10. I second the make sure you vet good advice. Find a vet who loves pigs and get to know them well. They'll help heaps.

    I had a foster pig baby I called esteban (right after the life aquatic came out) and he was so outgoing. His mama passed away birthing his siblings, and they didnt make it either. Turns out baby pigs are almost self sufficient. After 2 days he was eating hay and would just launch himself at me as soon as I opened his cage door. He and my ratties were lovely apartment friends together. Roaming the carpets for passed out people from the night before on various couches and floor areas. Leaving tiny raisins if unwatched. Haha.

    1 agrees
  11. PEEGS!! First post I encountered and this cool site I just discovered.

    I'm down to two (6.5 & 7.25 years, respectively) boys. I'm looking for a pair of girls for them, but it's a challenge.

    Snacks: cob corn. They'll even eat the actual corn, too, if there's nothing else left. You can even quarter the (uncooked) cob itself (the long way), for extra crunchables.

    Psychology-wise, they seem more similar to horses than cows, to me. Same social structure. Same "OMG IT'S GONNA EAT ME" default. Toy horse saddles are even the right size, sometimes. 🙂

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