Deciding whether a cavy is the right pet for you

16 Jul

I’m personally a long-time fan of cavies, and sometimes I find myself falling back on the default assumption that a cavy could be a perfect pet for anyone. But while cavies are versatile, lovable pets well-suited to many homes and personalities, they are not for everyone.

Responsible pet ownership means avoiding impulse buys. If you are considering a cavy for yourself or for a gift, please take some of the following thoughts into consideration.

Your Cavy’s Needs

Any time you consider adding a pet to your family, the first and foremost thing on your mind should always be the needs and demands that come with that animal. Fortunately, guinea pigs are relatively simple creatures with few expectations beyond the basics of food, water and shelter. They will not need as much attention as a dog, as cavies are generally more self-sufficient than canines, and unlike cats they have no inclination to roam and terrorize neighboring species — or your new curtains. Cavies are content to remain in their pens, undisturbed.

This isn’t to say that cavy ownership requires no responsibility on your end. You will still be responsible to ensure your pet has constant access to fresh water and an appropriate diet.  You must clean its cage at least once a week. Cavies also require a specialized, climate-controlled environment; they are less heat tolerant that humans and most other domestic animals. Unless you live in a cool, dry climate that is free from dramatic seasonal changes, you will need to keep your pet indoors most if not all of the year. Keep in mind while contemplating your purchase that you will need to provide a large, single-story enclosure for your cavy, and that the room you keep it in should be kept at temperatures below 80 degrees for optimal health.

If you choose to purchase a cavy and can provide for these needs, remember that a cavy is a three- to five-year commitment. In fact, some cavies, though rare, some cavies have been known to live as long as nine years.

Your Family’s Needs

The needs of your human family trump the needs of desired furry friends. For example, though guinea pigs are generally allergy-friendly creatures that don’t put off oils or chemicals that can irritate sensitive individuals, they do require hay in their diets, and their bedding can be very dusty. If you have severe allergies or asthma in your family, a cavy may not be the pet for you.

Cavies are generally great pets for children, but if you have very small children, you may choose to wait a few years. A child’s hands need to be large enough to fully support a cavy before she can safely handle the animal without injuring it. Young children should not be allowed to handle a cavy without supervision. And if you are considering a guinea pig as a pet for your child, remember that as the adult, the care of that animal ultimately falls to you if your child fails to provide adequate care.

Pets you may already own should also be taken into consideration. I have kept cavies with both cats and small dogs and have never had any serious issues. However, cats and dogs are predators, and cavies are prey animals. Though an adult cavy is generally too large to interest a small house cat, a large dog may get too friendly with a small pet. Even if your other pets are small, if they are allow to roam the house freely, be sure to keep your guinea pig in a pen that is not accessible to your other pets.

Finally, remember that guinea pigs are not free. Food, bedding and other miscellaneous supplies are all ongoing expenses. Please do not purchase a cavy if you are not able to provide for it financially while also adequately supporting yourself and your family.

For more information on choosing cavies as pets, please see the following additional articles:

Which makes a better pet — a boar or a sow?

Guinea pig personalities: does breed make a difference?

3 Responses to “Deciding whether a cavy is the right pet for you”

  1. Val July 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Also, in most cases, it’s best to get a pair.

    I disagree on the allergy idea, but some breeds are more scurfy and dandruffy and sheddy than others (Abyssinians, this means you!!!!!!). Do Teddy Bears and Texels have the kind of dandruffiness issues that the other breeds have in varying degrees, or are they like poodles and other “hypoallergenic” dog breeds? The problem with guinea pig dander is that if you are allergic to what guinea pigs eat (mainly hay), then you will be allergic to guinea pig dander. I’m super allergic to them (and yet have six of them in their cages presently lined up on my bed for lack of space elsewhere). I’m more allergic to alfalfa than to timothy, so the transition from mama/baby pig food to big pig food (I ❤ Oxbow Cavy Cuisine; please send Cavy Performance, my herd chomps through 5 lbs./ week at $48/month). The big advantage though is that I can contain them and control where they shed.

    They may not go after your curtains, but I've had boars who discovered a carpet seam and were fond to rip up individual pieces of yarn from the carpet…one…at…a…time.

    Be wary with dogs and cats though. What is "playing" to a dog or cat can be a cardiac-arrest-inducing experience for a cavy. We've had one fright death of a young cavy I gave to a friend, and one grisly attack fatality by a dog my sister was sitting. Bear in-mind that terriers were bred to kill creatures that look much like cavies. Best advice I can say is to make sure the pigs are safely enclosed in an area with a secure door on the room (the door at my sister's house didn't close securely and the dog threw himself into it and got through), and that all children understand why that door needs to be closed. I've been renting rooms and sharing houses for years. If there are cats or dogs or toddlers in the house, there is a lock on my door.

    Additionally, they still need to go to the vet sometimes. I usually end up with about $100-$300 in vet bills in a year (depending on who needs to go, how many others need to go with, what's wrong, and how many follow-up visits are needed). They will need to see an exotics vet, not a dog/cat vet. It's not a super huge thing, and sometimes you get a pig who never needs the vet, but it is a consideration.

    • EmaPen July 18, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Long-haired breeds like Texels tend not to shed as much as short-haired breeds. I would generally recommend long-haired guinea pigs over short-haired guinea pigs if you are allergic. However, the coat of long-haired guinea pigs can become a repository for allergens if they are not kept clean. In my experience, both Teddies and Abyssinians shed horribly.

      For those with allergies or asthma, it is always important to remember before bringing a pet home that there is no truly hypoallergenic pet. All animals, unless somehow kept in a perfectly sterile environment, will pick up pollen, dander, dust and other allergens in their coat. Some pets, like cats, actually excrete oils to which certain individuals react poorly. I say that guinea pigs are somewhat hypoallergenic in that they don’t produce oils that might irritate a human, but that does not exclude them from the dander issue. I imagine the same truth applies to poodles and hypoallergenic breeds of dog, but I’m not familiar enough with dogs to speak as an expert on that particular issue.

      • Val July 18, 2013 at 10:00 am #

        I think the difference with dogs is that the dander doesn’t derive its protiens from hay.

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