A little guide to guinea pigs and grooming

Why choose guinea pigs?

Guinea pigs make wonderful pets, even for children as young as 5 years old. Adult guinea pigs weigh 2 to 4 pounds, which makes them easier to handle than larger pets, and if given good care they may live 5 to 7 years. a

Guinea pigs also have very good temperaments. They are not as likely to bite as hamsters, mice, gerbils, and other rodents kept as pets. They also do not have the annoying, strong, musky odours for which other rodents are known and they are not particularly inclined to climb, jump, or chew.

Guinea pigs are strictly herbivorous, which means plant-eating. They have a continuous breeding season, though they do not breed as often as other rodents. At birth, guinea pigs can see and hear, have a full coat of hair, have teeth, and are able to walk and nibble at food within hours.

Before bringing a guinea pig home, you'll want to make sure it's the right one. Although this is usually a choice of the heart, here are a few tips that will help guide you through the selection process.

But, which breed of guinea pig to choose?

Probably the most important thing you need to decide is how much time you have for grooming. This will help determine which breed of guinea pig you should choose with their distinctive characteristics of markings, texture, type, size, and coat pattern. At present, there are 11 recognized breeds of guinea pigs.

American Guinea Pigs

The American guinea pig is the most common breed available. It is also the easiest to groom, with a short and smooth coat that lies close to the skin. Grooming is as simple as rubbing its hair from head to rump with your hand.

Abyssinian Guinea Pigs

The Abyssinian guinea pig is not as common as the American. The coat of the Abyssinian is short but wiry and has a distinct growth pattern - its hair grows in whorls and ridges that stick out from its body. The whorls are called rosettes. On a good, showable Abyssinian, these rosettes require some special grooming procedures that can take a little time.

Peruvian Guinea Pigs

A Peruvian guinea pig has a long, smooth coat. Its hair grows from the shoulders, parting down the middle of its back and spreading over the sides and rump and over its head and face. If you can't tell the front from the back, you're probably looking at a good Peruvian. The Peruvian's long hair takes a great deal of time to care for even when the guinea pig is still young.

Silkie Guinea Pigs

The Silkie guinea pig also has a long, smooth coat, but its head and face are not covered by its long hair, and there is no part down the middle of its back. The Silkie needs to have its hair wrapped often and to be bathed and blow-dried.


Teddy Guinea Pigs

The Teddy is a very popular breed of guinea pig. It has a short wiry, kinky coat that sticks out from its body. Its coat has a very plush feeling, much like a good stuffed teddy bear. Routine grooming of this breed is as simple as rubbing the hair backward from rump to head, but deep cleaning with combs and brushes takes more time.

White Crested Guinea Pigs

The White Crested guinea pig has a short, smooth coat much like the American, with a single white rosette on the forehead. Grooming a White Crested is similar to grooming the American, though a little extra care is needed for the single rosette.

Satin Guinea Pig Breeds

There are also American Satin, Abyssinian Satin, Peruvian Satin, Silkie Satin, and Teddy Satin breeds of guinea pigs. Satins are just like the above-mentioned breeds, except that they have a hollow hair shaft that gives their hair a wonderful sheen. Satins' grooming needs are the same as their like named non-Satin counterparts.

Guinea Pig Crossbreeds

Crossbreeds are guinea pigs whose parents are of different breeds. Crossbreeds do not reproduce young with their distinct characteristics of markings, texture, type, size, or coat pattern. Crossbreed guinea pigs may have long hair, short hair, or an unusual combination of hair growth.

Grooming Your Guinea Pig

Why is grooming guinea pigs important?

Grooming is as important to the health of your guinea pig as proper diet and safe living quarters. Even the cleanest cage will not help a guinea pig through shedding as much as a good combing or brushing. When a guinea pig is shedding, it is losing hair so that new hair can grow in its place. Combing, brushing, and, in some cases, bathing are the only ways to really get your guinea pig clean.

When should you groom your guinea pig?

You should groom your guinea pig on a regular basis. When and how much you groom depend on the breed and on the individual guinea pig. Long-haired breeds require more grooming than short-haired breeds, and some guinea pigs keep themselves cleaner than others.

You'll groom more often when your guinea pig is shedding. If you are overzealous and bathe or comb your guinea pig too often or too much at one time, its coat may lose its density. Of course, as you get to know your guinea pig, you'll be able to judge when it's time to groom.

Guinea Pig Toenail Clipping

The toenails of your guinea pig must be kept short to prevent them from breaking off or curling under as they grow and poking into the footpads. Nail clippers made for humans, dogs, or cats may be used for trimming your guinea pig's toenails, depending on which you feel most comfortable using. Have some styptic powder handy and ready to use in case you cut a nail too short.

Hold your guinea pig on its rump or back close against your body or in your lap. Get help the first time you try clipping nails and until you and your guinea pig are comfortable with the procedure.

Before you cut a nail, look very carefully through the nail for the quick. The quick is a bit of flesh inside the nail; it has little blood vessels running through it and appears pink in colour. The quick is very easy to see when the guinea pig's nails are white or clear. To find the quick in a dark-coloured nail, hold a good, bright light behind it.

Do not cut the quick! If you do accidentally cut the quick, place some styptic powder on the nail immediately to stop any bleeding. Give your guinea pig a little rest, then finish clipping the nails.

Bathing Guinea Pigs

Place a towel in the bottom of the sink or dishpan and add 3-5cm of lukewarm water. Place your guinea pig's rump in the water first. Hold the forelegs and chest out of the water at all times. Gently pour water over the shoulders, back, and rump. Then add a little tearless shampoo and work up a good lather. Work small sections at a time, cleaning the hair from the body outward. On long-haired breeds be very careful not to tangle the hair.

When you are satisfied your guinea pig is clean, rinse thoroughly. For long-haired breeds, continue with a tearless conditioner. Follow the directions on the conditioner and then rinse twice thoroughly.

Place your guinea pig on a large bath towel. Pull the towel up around your guinea pig and rub gently to get most of the water out of the coat. Place your guinea pig on another towel to finish drying with a blow-dryer. Use the low setting (not cool, cold, or hot), keep the blow-dryer 10-15cm away, and keep moving it around the coat to prevent your guinea pig from getting too hot.

When drying long-haired breeds, use a metal wide-tooth comb to separate and comb the hair as you dry. It's especially important to keep your guinea pig away from drafts after a bath. Make certain your guinea pig is completely dry before putting it back into its living quarters.


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