When choosing a guinea pig, looking at a few simple things can help ensure that your new pet is a healthy one.
Time Required: 10 minutes
- Look at the overall body condition - a guinea pig should be neither fat nor skinny, with no swellings or lumps and bumps.
- Guinea pigs should be bright and curious in attitude and never lethargic.
- The guinea pig's coat should be well groomed (full, fluffy and smooth looking), with no bare patches. Avoid guinea pigs with bald patches or red patches of skin. Also check for soiling around the rear end, as this may indicate a problem with diarrhea.
- The eyes, nose, and ears should be clean and free from discharge. Check the fur around the eyes and nose for signs of wetness, staining, or crusts.
- Try to get a look at the teeth, they should not be overgrown and should be well-aligned. Also, check for wet or matted fur on the chin.
- Observe the guinea pig's breathing, which should be quiet and not labored, with no wheezing, clicking, or gurgling noises.
- Watch the guinea pig move around - it should have no signs of lameness, stiffness, or reluctance to move around.
- Look at the guinea pig's surroundings. The cage should be clean, with good access to fresh food and water, and not overcrowded. Guinea pigs kept under good conditions will be less stressed and have less exposure to disease.
- Observe how the guinea pig reacts to people -- many might be skittish at first but ideally, try to pick a guinea pig that is relatively calm about being approached and okay with being handled. Always make sure the guinea pig is active and alert, though -- a lethargic guinea pig may seem really agreeable just due to the lethargy!
- Try to find out the age of your guinea pig, and adopt one that is as young as possible (around 6 weeks old is the youngest a piglet should head to a new home).
- If any of the guinea pigs in the same cage (or same shelter, breeder, or store) seem ill, resist the temptation to adopt from there (if it is contagious your guinea pig may be next and there may be possible heartbreak ahead).
- Make sure males and females are separated. Familiarize yourself with the differences between males and females, and if the source doesn't separate them or seems unsure about the gender of the guinea pigs, move on. It is best to avoid the possibility of surprise litters, especially in very young guinea pigs (they can become pregnant by about 4 weeks old, but this would be extremely dangerous for the mom-to-be).
- Try a shelter first -- there are many guinea pigs who need a second chance at a forever home
- If you go to a breeder, make sure they are breeding for specific goals such as temperament and health. If you go to a store, make sure you can handle the guinea pig before you buy, to do a quick health check and assess its temperament.