5 Tips: How to Keep Your Exotic Pet Cool

Small animals deserve hot-weather tips too.  Sometimes we forget about them, because most of them come from deserts or tropics, and they don’t always show their discomfort.  If you’re warm, odds are your exotic pet needs a reprieve from the heat as well.  Even when it’s cool outside, direct sunlight can overheat pets.  Check out these five easy tricks to keeping your exotic comfortable in extreme weather.

 

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Oops: We’re Having Guinea Pig Babies

Congrats!  You have guinea pigs!  But now that they’ve been home for a few weeks, it seems like one keeps getting bigger…and bigger…and maybe a little wider, too.  Uh oh.  Someone’s pregnant!  What should you do next?  Here a few quick tips to get through the hardest weeks of small animal ownership.

Oops - Guinea Pig Babies! How to prepare for surprise babies.

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Best Guinea Pig Bedding

Guinea pigs make amazing family pets.  They are not known for intelligence, but they are cute and make fun sounds.  One of the hassles of keeping small animals is that they require bedding or litter throughout their cages.  I’m going to outline the most common options and the pros and cons.

Shavings

Shavings are the typical go-to bedding for the average guinea pig.  They are available in cedar, pine, and aspen.  Cedar, because of the oils found within, can cause respiratory and kidney disease.  Pine also contains oils that may cause disease.  Aspen does not contain oils so is considered safe.   Other options, like recycled newsprint, are also available.  Personally, I hate using shavings.  They are messy and get all over the place.  They kick up easily and hold moisture, making the cage smell.  They need tending daily to stay clean.  However, shavings can be purchased at most supermarkets and all pet stores.  Shavings also compost well, so will help out your garden.

Fleece

Fleece took off as the bedding of choice for many guinea pig owners.  Fleece is cut to fit the cage, then hemmed.  Multiple layers are placed under the dirtiest sections of the cage, and change frequently.  Fleece bedding can match the décor of the room, or a holiday theme.  There are two major downsides to fleece.  The first is that they must be washed regularly.  If your home does not include a washing machine, you will be forced to carry dirty fleece to the laundromat.  If you have access to a washer, the cost savings are significant.  Also, some guinea pigs chew fleece bedding.  This can cause major emergency health concerns to their digestive system.

Feed Pellets

Some guinea pig keepers bed their pigs on pelleted food.  Cost-wise, rabbit pellets are inexpensive, and suitable for guinea pigs.  Pellets hold less moisture than shavings, and are compostable.  Pigs will eat soiled pellets, and changing litter is a heavy chore.

Pine Pellets

While investigating the possibility of using feed pellets, I came across pine pellets.  Horse owners use pine pellets as stall bedding, which makes them very inexpensive for the quantity needed.  When purchasing pine pellets, I assumed that if the oil danger was present, it would affect horses—which have much more significant costs. I found pine pellets to work very well for my pigs.  Once the pellet gets wet, it disintegrates into something that feels like dirt.  The pellets create some dust, but no more than shavings.  The bedding is stirred daily, which encourages evaporation of liquids.  I used a dust pan to stir the dirty pellets out and clean pellets in.  A 50lb. bag would last four weeks with four pigs, and the odor was minimal.

Other Options

Some people choose to keep their pigs in cages with mesh bottoms, much like rabbits, but guinea pigs have much smaller feet and can become seriously injured on mesh.  Guinea pigs should never be kept on mesh.  While available, corn cob bedding expands when wet and when eaten, can cause blockages.  No matter which bedding you choose, it’s important to establish that your guinea pig will not eat whatever bedding you choose (except, of course, pellets.)

Should we get a guinea pig?

Selecting a new pet should never be a quick decision.  Pets require significant investment of time and money, as well as space within your home.  Often people consider rodents easier than cats and dogs, but they require specialty care to live a full life.  Before you decide to get a guinea pig, decide if they are the best fit for your family.

Health

Guinea pigs require little veterinary care.  They require vitamin C supplements in their diet, but otherwise they are relatively healthy.  Like all small mammals, they require a draft-free environment and consistent temperatures to prevent respiratory infections.  Accidents represent one of the biggest risks to their health.  It’s important to find a qualified veterinarian before you need one, and have money set aside to cover the bill.

Habitat/Cage

Guinea pigs require a rather large space for a rodent, though they do not require as much space as most rabbits.  They should have about three square feet or more per pig, and need good bedding.  The cage must be cleaned thoroughly and regularly.  However, the task is no more unpleasant than cleaning a cat box and has a much lower odor.

Social/Emotional/Intelligence

Guinea pigs require company.  Most guinea pigs benefit by living in pairs or groups.  Make sure to separate males from females as they breed frequently.  However, they are not known for their intelligence, so escapes are rare.  Several years ago, I kept a trio in a kid’s wading pool with no additional barrier.  Also, as they have very short legs, they do not climb.

However, they make excellent family pets as most guinea pigs would rather escape than bite.  They become attached to their humans and tolerate other pets in the home, so long as the other pets are not predatory.  They do sometimes pee or poop on people who are handling them, but are easy to handle.

Finally, they talk.  They quickly learn what food sounds like in your home, and call out if they want food, or even think food might be possible.  They purr when you scratch just the right spot (ear, or under their chin), and certainly develop individual personalities.

Care & Feeding

Guinea pigs require a more specialized diet than some other rodents.  They must receive Vitamin C in their diet, which can be added as drops to their water.  They require timothy hay daily, and guinea pig pellets.  They also must have fresh veggies daily.

Cost

Overall set-up costs can be as low as $15 and upwards of $300, depending on the quality of cage and cost of pigs.  Pet stores charge $30 to $50 per pig, but often people offer them free for adoption.  They can live in cheap Rubbermaid containers, specialized cages, or large custom-built enclosures.  Bedding costs $5 to $30 per month, depending on your choice.  Feed costs, including fresh veggies, about $20 per month per pig, or less.  Emergency veterinary care represents the most expensive portion of their cost.  Having savings is critical in an emergency.  Guinea pigs do not typically require routine veterinary care.

What kind of home suits a guinea pig?

  • Other pets do not hunt the guinea pigs. Cats and dogs are fine IF they respect the pigs.  (Mine did.)  Avoid getting guinea pigs if dogs and cats in the home routinely hunt mice, rats, or moles.  This is not a safe home for a guinea pig.
  • All humans in the house handle the guinea pig gently. Small children must not have unsupervised access to the guinea pigs.
  • The family occasionally wants to go away for a day or two without having to board the pet. Guinea pigs can last a day or two without seeing you—but expect a big racket when you get home.
  • You have space for a large cage in a room that you do not sleep in. They are not as loud as other rodents at night, but a light sleeper would not want them in the same bedroom.