Guinea Pig Care

Looking for a pet that’s gentle and lovable but doesn’t require the run of the house? Then you may want to consider a guinea pig. Guinea pigs are one of several small, domesticated mammal species commonly known as “pocket pets.”

While we’re not sure how they got their name, guinea pigs have been bred for more than 400 years. They descend from wild porcupine-like rodents of South America and are called “cavies” (a shortened form of their Latin name) by many breeders and owners. A guinea pig’s claim to fame is that it is the only domestic rodent with no tail.

With good care, guinea pigs live up to 12 years, with about six or eight years being the average. By learning all you can about your new pet; providing him with a clean home, a nutritious diet, and expert veterinary care; and giving him lots of love and affection, you can help Piggy enjoy a healthy, happy life.



Choosing a guinea pig

Before welcoming Piggy into your home, it’s a good idea to read up on guinea pigs and their care. Also, find a veterinarian in your area who is comfortable treating guinea pigs; not all of them are.

Your new guinea pig should be at least six weeks old before bringing him home. Guinea pigs can already breed at this age, so be sure not to keep a male and female in the same cage unless at least one is neutered. (Check with your veterinarian for more information about getting your pet spayed or neutered.)

Guinea pigs come in a variety of colors and coats from which you can choose. They may be a solid color, or a combination of two or three colors. Their coat may be short, long, silky or whorled. There are even hairless guinea pigs! If you choose a long-haired guinea pig, be prepared to help him groom himself by combing him once every two or three weeks.

Guinea pigs should have regular veterinary exams. At your first visit, have your veterinarian show you how to clip Piggy’s nails, which will need to be done every two weeks or so. He or she may also suggest having your pet’s teeth trimmed regularly, as well.

The most common health problem seen in guinea pigs are colds that result from drafts, dampness or temperature fluctuations. While we don’t think of colds as being too serious, Piggy’s cold can quickly develop into pneumonia, so it’s important to have him examined by your veterinarian as soon as you notice signs of illness. Also, if your pet stops eating, have him seen immediately by the veterinarian, as this can be life-threatening.



Guinea pigs rarely bite or scratch, but they can be messy-scattering food, water and bedding all over their cages. Their vocabulary includes about nine sounds, from whistling to purring to squealing. They are most active at dusk and dawn, but easily adjust to the routine of your household. Guinea pigs can be fun to watch. They like to explore new settings, but if scared, they’ll either freeze or scatter in different directions.



Guinea pigs are social animals and can live with others of their kind in the same cage, but be sure that enough space is provided for each animal. Partitioning the cage is suggested to provide each animal with separate sleeping quarters. Male guinea pigs should not be housed with young ones. If you notice any signs of aggressiveness between guinea pigs living in the same cage, separate them at once. Some guinea pigs will engage in “barbering,” or chewing on each other’s hair. This is not usually an aggressive act, but rather may be due to boredom, excitement, a hereditary behavior or perhaps a dietary deficiency. If the barbering becomes stressful or harmful to one or more of the guinea pigs, however, you should provide them each with their own home.

Piggy’s cage should be at least 18 inches high, 24 inches wide and three to six feet long with a solid floor (wire floors are irritating and can lead to foot or limb problems). Be sure to place the cage in an area free from drafts, chills, extreme heat and sudden temperature changes. Also, keep your new friend in a quiet area with few disturbances. The cage may or may not have a roof to it; if not, be sure that the walls are high enough to prevent escape, and that no predators (mainly other household pets) can reach into it. The lower three inches of the walls should be solid-this prevents bedding and food from being scattered outside, yet still allows the guinea pig to see what’s happening around him.

The cage should be easy to take apart and clean. Make sure it’s well-ventilated (no glass aquariums!), with no sharp edges or corrosion and no small openings that can trap Piggy’s feet or limbs. The cage should also offer your pet a place to hide (see below for objects that you can put inside to make life more interesting for him).

You’ll also need to provide at least two inches of bedding for your new friend. Shredded newspaper works well. Whatever type of bedding you use, it must be nontoxic, nonabrasive and inedible, as well as dust free and absorbent. Also, make sure no sharp objects are mixed in it. The bedding should be easy to form into nests and tunnels, as well, since guinea pigs like to nap and hide in these. Sawdust should never be used, and while cedar chips are a popular bedding choice, they do tend to make your guinea pig’s coat a bit reddish in color.

To keep your pet’s home clean and safe, change the bedding daily. Once a week, thoroughly wash and disinfect his cage with a solution of one ounce of bleach mixed in a liter or quart of water. Be sure the cage is rinsed well and completely dry before adding fresh bedding and putting Piggy back inside. Rinse feeders and waterers every day, too. And keep your friend’s home dry, as dampness can cause illness.



In addition to spending quality time with Piggy, help keep him entertained by giving him objects to play on. Try adding one or more of the following to his cage:running wheels, escape tunnels (PVC pipe-wide enough so that Piggy can’t get stuck in it, of course-makes a good tunnel), ladders or plywood boxes (to climb on). On mild days, you can supervise him in a safe, outdoor pen (with shade always available), and you can make an indoor playpen, as well, to provide him with more room to roam. Your friend would also enjoy exploring a closed room now and then, under your watchful eyes, of course.



Guinea pigs are strict herbivores. They should be fed a complete, pelleted diet made especially for guinea pigs that contains at least 16% crude protein. The pellets should not be fed more than 90 days after their milling (check the bag or box for the milling date). Also provide small amounts of grass hay, and supplement Piggy’s diet with a source of active ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), such as a handful of cabbage or half a handful of kale (washed and fresh) or a quarter of an orange. Because guinea pigs can’t produce their own Vitamin C, you should add a Vitamin C supplement to their water as well – a teaspoon of Vitamin C liquid to 12 ounces of water. The water will need to be replaced daily, however, as the Vitamin C will lose its potency rather quickly.

In addition to the above, the following fruits and vegetables-fresh, washed, and with seeds or pits removed-can be fed as treats:

-pea pods

Also, dandelions, grass and wild clover can be picked from your yard (but only if you’re sure they’re free from pesticides and herbicides) and offered to Piggy, along with oats or graham crackers. But no more than 10 percent of your guinea pig’s diet should be made up of foods other than the pellets. And to be sure he doesn’t have a bad reaction to a new food, offer only one new food to Piggy at a time.

Don’t feed powdered food; it just gets wasted, and the dust from it can gather around Piggy’s mouth and in his nose and cause health problems. No table scraps or other animals’ food, either! These, too, can cause health problems resulting from an unbalanced diet.

To prevent obesity and nephrosis (a disease of the kidneys) in older animals, decrease the amount of pelleted food offered and supplement with more hay. In these aging pets, hay can constitute up to 25% of their diet.

Food and fresh water should always be available. Mount feeders and waterers to the cage walls to avoid spills, and only use water bottles with metal sipper tubes, as Piggy will just chew up plastic tubes.

Guinea pigs commonly ingest their own feces, so although you may be disgusted to see such behavior, don’t be alarmed! This is normal and provides them with proteins and vitamins.



To keep your guinea pig as healthy as can be, take time every day to examine him for lumps, cuts, fleas, ticks or lice. If Piggy displays a hunched or huddled posture, he could be injured or sick. Guinea pigs are prone to abscesses under their chins, too, where their lymph nodes are. Other common signs of illness include diarrhea, weight loss or excessive weight gain, inactivity, not going to the bathroom, nasal or eye discharge, hair loss, incoordination, or limping. If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away to get your friend back on the road to good health.

When handling your guinea pig, be sure to pick him up carefully to avoid injury or discomfort. Use one hand to support him under the chest, and the other hand to support him under the hindquarters. Never grab him over his back, as doing so can inhibit his breathing. And, of course, such a small pet can be easily injured if dropped, so be careful!


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Ferret Care

Popular because of their small size, their playfulness, and their friendly disposition, ferrets can be great companions. They do however require a lot of care and supervised attention.

Members of the Mustelidae family, ferrets are related to minks, polecats, weasels, and otters. It is believed that ferrets were domesticated 2,000 years ago in Europe when they were used for hunting small game or controlling rodents. Domestic ferrets should not be confused with the North American black-footed ferret, which is an endangered species.


How to choose a ferret

Ferrets are very dependent upon their human companions for survival. Because ferrets require continuous care and supervision, potential owners should evaluate their ability to commit. The commitment is long term since the lifespan of ferrets is six to 10 years.

Ferrets may not be the best pet for families with small children. Although ferrets are very social animals, they may bite or nip if mishandled. Never leave a ferret and a small child alone together. Ferrets generally get along with dogs and cats if they are introduced carefully, but they should not interact with birds, rodents, or small reptiles.

When selecting a ferret from a shelter, a pet store or a breeder, choose one that is bright-eyed and alert. The presence of crusty eyes or nasal discharge that is full of mucus indicate illness. If you handle a sick ferret, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly so as not to infect yourself or the next batch of animals.

Whether you select a male ferret, known as a hob, or a female, known as a jill, you should get a spayed/neutered ferret. Breeding is not recommended. Most ferrets from farms or pet stores will already be altered. If not, it is best to have the ferret altered at the age of six months. Neutering is a must for jills because they can develop aplastic anemia when in heat if they aren’t breed. The result could be death. Altering a ferret may actually improve its disposition since it will not be as aggressive or territorial.



Ferrets, like dogs and cats, are susceptible to rabies and should be vaccinated. They should also be vaccinated for canine distemper virus which can be fatal. Consult your veterinarian for recommended schedules. Ferrets are not immune to health problems, and should receive regular preventative health care through regular check-ups.



Ferrets are carnivores and therefore require a high meat protein diet. Quality cat or kitten foods may be used or specialty ferret foods are recommended. Water is needed at all times, and is best served in a bottle since ferrets may enjoy playing with water in a bowl. Food should be available at all times. Fruits and vegetables may be used as treats on occasion.



Bathing is recommended once or twice a month and can be used to relieve itching due to dry skin or fleas. Never dip a ferret into water. Bath water should be warm but not uncomfortable to human hands. There are several ferret shampoos on the market. Begin behind the neck and lather up onto the top of the head and under the chin. Be careful not to get water in the ferret’s eyes or nose. Shampoo the ears massaging the suds in before moving on to the rest of the body. General ear cleaning to remove wax build-up may need to be done weekly or monthly with an ear wash depending on the ferret. It is also important to check for ear mites on a regular basis. Symptoms include a coffee-grind type of discharge and as well as scratching at the ears and head. After rinsing, rub the ferret dry with a towel. A cream rinse or conditioner can also be used. Blow drying is not necessary since ferrets will dry on their own within ten minutes.

Nail trimming is recommended at least every other week. If left unattended, a ferret’s nails will splinter, get caught in bedding, in carpet, or on cage wire and be pulled out. Nail clippers or cat claw trimmers will work fine. Trim nails to within an eighth or sixteenth of an inch of the quick, the pink part of the nail. A drop of Linatone, a vitamin supplement, may be used as a treat to hold a ferret still while trimming.

Ferrets should also have dental care. Have a vet check for possible cavities, excessive plaque or tartar build-up.Home cleaning can be done with a cloth and baking soda. Do not use human toothpaste. Your veterinarian can supply you with finger brushes and flavored, digestible pastes that may make brushing an easier task.



Ferrets require a lot of freedom and exercise, but should be caged when not directly supervised. A clean cage will help make maintenance of your ferret easier. Wire cages are best and should be a minimum of two ft. x two ft. x 14 inches for one ferret provided the ferret has plenty of play time outside the cage. For multiple ferrets or if playtime is limited, a larger cage is better. Spacing on the bars must be such that the ferret can’t escape. A blanket or towel will serve as a comfortable place for your ferret to curl up and sleep while a litter pan placed in one corner will serve as a relief area. The cage may be kept indoors or outdoors. If kept outside, shade should be provided to avoid heat exhaustion. Supplemental heat is needed if temperatures fall below the freezing point. Inside the house ferrets should be caged when not directly supervised. Owners should “ferret proof” at least one room in the house for play time. Eliminate loose boards, open drains or air ducts or other holes that ferrets will investigate.



Ferrets will jump, run around, slide, do somersaults and play games. They are very curious and like to investigate just about everything. The best toys for ferrets are those made of hard plastic. Don’t give them anything that can be pulled apart when chewed. Ferrets may nip or grab onto people with their teeth during play. A loud, firm “NO” is the best disciplinary action. You may also try making a noise maker out of an aluminum can and coins. The rattling noise is disturbing and, combined with the “NO” can be used to correct negative behavior.


This information was compiled by AAHA from materials supplied by the Shelters That Adopt and Rescue Ferrets, The Humane Society of the United States, Ferret Adoption, Information and Rescue, the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Merry Crimi, an AAHA member veterinarian.

Bird Care

Bird Care Sheet (pdf)



Cage: Ask your veterinarian as different birds need different cages. Here are some must-haves:

-The cage must be big enough for your bird to stretch his/her wings and fly
-The cage must be made from nontoxic (nonpoisonous) material
-The cage base must be so hard that your bird can’t ruin it by chewing

Cage location:

-Make sure the cage can’t be knocked over or fall
-Put the cage in an area like a family room, so your pet can be around everyone – birds are very social
-Avoid drafts and kitchens. Kitchen fumes like burnt Teflon from a cooking pan can kill a bird.
-Use non-colored newspapers with soy ink, paper towels, or brown paper
-PerchesGet both fat and thin perches – like manzanita branches. This helps birds exercise their feet and prevents pressure sores.
-Never use sandpaper perches, they will hurt your pet’s feet.
-Large birds like Amazons or African Grey Birds need a freestanding perch outside the cage.


-Get both fat and thin perches – like manzanita branches. This helps birds exercise their feet and prevents pressure sores.
-Never use sandpaper perches, they will hurt your pet’s feet.
-Large birds like Amazons or African Grey Birds need a freestanding perch outside the cage.

Food dishes

Must be attached, so they can’t be tipped over


Birds like mirrors and other toys. Make sure all toys are made from nontoxic material.



-When you get your pet, take it to a veterinarian for a check-up. Choose one that specializes in birds, called an accredited avian veterinarian.
-Your pet should see a veterinarian at least once a year and when you think it might be sick
-Have your veterinarian show you how to trim your bird’s wings. If you do it wrong, you could clip a “blood feather” and hurt or even kill your bird.




-Birds need a balanced diet — with food from all the major food groups
-Birds are one type of pet that benefits from eating many “people foods”
-Birds must have fresh fruit and vegetables daily


-Never feed your bird a “seed-only” diet
-Never feed your bird houseplants, avocado, cherry pits, rhubarb, apple seeds or raw milk products



Many common household items can hurt or even kill your bird. These include:

-Overheated Teflon cookware
-Tobacco smoke
-Lead paints
-Scented candles or incense
-Chemical cleaners
-Aerosol products
-Some houseplants


Regular care


-Clean cage of any droppings
-Change water once or more if needed
-Provide fresh fruits and vegetables, and remove food after a couple hours
-If your bird is hand-tamed, take him/her out to play for at least an hour each day


-Breakdown and clean cage with mild soap and make sure you rinse off all the soap.


-Ask your veterinarian to recommend a disinfectant cleaner that you can use to clean the cage each month.


-Birds, like all pets, should see their veterinarian each year.


Information about taking care of your bird provided by Dan Jordan, DVM, Animal Avian Hospital of the Village, Houston, Texas.

Box Turtle Care

Box turtles are one of the most common reptile pets in the United States. With proper care they are long-lived, with life spans of 30 to 40 years and perhaps much longer. Unfortunately, they are among the most neglected reptiles in captivity because most people do not know how to care for them properly.


Housing. Twenty-gallon aquariums are the minimum size for box turtles. Consider larger aquariums, make larger cases out of plywood, or use concrete mixing containers available at most hardware stores. The bigger the enclosure, the better. The bottom of the cage should be filled with a humid substrate (bedding material), such as medium to large wood chips mixed with peat moss or a sand and soil mixture. Drier substrates promote skin cracking and poor health. Substrates need to be scooped out on a weekly basis. A hide box that the turtle can get under and out of sight is important. Many turtles prefer to keep in them. Loose leaf litter can be spread in the cage as well.


Temperature. The indoor care should get no colder than 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) at night and gradually warm to 21 to 27 degrees Celsius (70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day. A 75- to 100-watt incandescent bulb with reflector can provide a warm basking area at one end of the cage between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius (80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Lights should be turned off during the night, so supplemental heat from heat tape or heating pads also should be provided under one-half of the cage if temperatures drop below 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit). Hot rocks do not work well for turtles.


Water. An easy-to-clean, shallow water dish, big enough for the turtle to get into, should always be available. Water should be no deeper than the turtle’s chin when its head is partially retracted. Turtles prefer to defecate in their water bowl, so it should be cleaned several times per week. Juvenile box turtles are often much more aquatic than adults. Box turtles drown in deep water, such as a swimming pool.


Feeding. In captivity, chronic nutritional problems are typical for most box turtles. Nutritional diseases can be avoided by feeding a well-balanced diet that is continually varied. The following is one recommended diet; items listed in bold print are box turtle favorites and often entice finicky turtles to eat. Keep in mind that different species have different dietary preferences.

50 percent animal or high-protein foods Examples include: earthworms, crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, slugs, snails, whole-skinned chopped mice, baby mice (pinkies). Other protein options include vitamin fortified chows, but they should be limited to less than five percent of the total diet because of the high vitamin, fat, and protein content. All dry chows should be soaked in water for 30 minutes to soften them. Avoid cat food, however, because it is too high in fat and protein for reptiles. Do not add multivitamins to foods that are already vitamin fortified. Feed a wide variety of animal and high-protein foods, not just a few of these items. Insects are calcium deficient and should be fed enriched diets dusted with powdered calcium carbonate, lactate, citrate, or gluconate just before offering them to the turtle.

50 percent plants: 25 percent fruits and 75 percent vegetables
25 percent fruits Fruits are tasty but mineral deficient, so they must be limited. Turtles are fond of tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, plumbs, oranges, nectarines, figs, melons (remove seeds), bananas, mangoes, and grapefruit.

75 percent vegetables Varied vegetables include dark leafy greens, kale, cabbage, spinach, red leaf or romaine lettuce, dandelions (leaves, stems, and flowers), bok choy, pak choi, broccoli rabe, squashes, sweet potatoes, carrots (shaved not chopped), mushrooms.
Wash fruits and vegetables and chop or shave all items into bite-sized pieces. Some species, such as ornate and Gulf Coast box turtles, are not fond of vegetables. Mixing vegetables well with other foods will often encourage consumption.


Box turtles have a continuous need for foods rich in vitamin A. Liver (in whole mice) is an excellent source of vitamin A, as well as rich yellow or dark orange vegetables and dark leafy greens. Steaming (not boiling) hard squashes makes them much more palatable and easier to chop.

Adults should be fed three or more times per week in the morning and juveniles daily. Every feeding to every other feeding, lightly dust food with calcium carbonate, lactate, citrate, or gluconate. Every two to four weeks, dust food lightly with multivitamins if vitamin-fortified foods are not eaten. Oversupplication with multivitamins is not healthy. Feed as much variety as possible to ensure a healthy balanced diet.

For finicky eaters, try some of their favorite foods and keep in mind that box turtles are particularly attracted to red, yellow, and orange foods. Live, moving food will often stimulate feeding as well.

Box turtles are most active in the early morning or late afternoon, when it is not too hot, so these are good times to try to feed them. Rainstorms often increase activity; thus spraying the cage with water can stimulate appetite.

When you find something they really like, mix it heavily into the salad and then gradually decrease it over a period of weeks. Bad dietary habits can be difficult to overcome and often require months to correct. Continue to offer foods even if they are not eaten initially. As the turtle adjusts to a varied salad, it will gradually increase dietary diversity.


(Excerpted from Essentials of Reptiles: A Guide for Practitioners by Dr. Thomas Huntington Boyer, 1998 AAHA Press.)

Rabbit Care

Rabbit Care Sheet (pdf)


-A solid-bottom cage. Don’t get a wood cage, because rabbits chew wood.
-Small to medium rabbits need a cage that’s at least four feet wide, two feet deep and two feet tall. Double the size for a large rabbit.
-Ceramic or metal food bowl only. Bunnies chew plastic.
-A water bottle that attaches to the cage. These are cleaner than water bowls.
-Chew toys like wood blocks or lava rocks. Bunnies’ teeth never stop growing. They need to chew daily.
-Timothy hay only. Never use alfalfa or wood chips (especially cedar!). These cause serious health problems.
-A digging area filled with Timothy hay. Rabbits love to dig!
-A pet carrier
-Pelleted rabbit diet
-Soft grooming brush
-A litter box – if you want to train your bunny. It’s pretty easy to do!


-A veterinarian that treats “exotic pets” will be more comfortable with rabbits
-When you get your pet, take it to a veterinarian for a check-up
-To prevent health problems, females should be spayed and males should be neutered when they are at least four months old.
-Your pet should see a veterinarian once a year and when you think it might be sick
-You know your rabbit best. If he/she seems to be acting strangely, call your veterinarian.


4 steps to litter box training

1. Place a litter box in one corner of the cage
2. Fill the box with litter
3. When your bunny pees or poops, move the soaked hay or poop to the litter box
4. The smell will cause your pet to use the litter box


-Rabbits under six months: can eat all the pellets and vegetables they want
-Rabbits six months and older: 1/8 to 1/4 cup of pellets per day per five pounds of body weight, and two cups of vegetables per six pounds of rabbit
-All rabbits: can eat unlimited timothy hay


Never let your pet eat:
-Salty food
-Alfalfa hay
-Cedar chips
-House plants


Handling rabbits
Rabbits get hurt easily. Pick your pet up carefully and support his/her hindquarters. Your parents should always be around when you hold or play with your bunny. When you take your rabbit out of his/her cage, always watch him/her. If left alone, rabbits will chew and destroy anything.


It’s best to keep your rabbit indoors. Your pet wants to be around you and your family. They could also be harmed by predators like coyotes if left outdoors. Rabbits are very sensitive to heat. They should be kept in temperatures less than 80 degrees F. You may want to move them down to a cool basement in the summer if it’s too hot.


More than one rabbit?
Avoid adopting two males. Males usually fight. If you decide to adopt more than one bunny, get two females or a neutered male and a female.

Regular care


-Feed your bunny pelleted rabbit food, timothy hay, dark green and orange vegetables (see below for guide)

-Take your bunny out and play with him/her no more than 20 minutes a day
-Remove any uneaten vegetables or fruit


-Clean the cage and litter box using bleach. Mix one part bleach to ten parts water and rinse thoroughly.
-Brush your bunny twice a week. Brush daily during “shedding season” in the spring and summer.


-Take your bunny to the veterinarian for a check-up
-When your bunny turns six years old, he/she should go twice a year to the veterinarian


Information about taking care of your rabbit provided Monique Weldon, DVM of accredited Coal Creek Veterinary Hospital, Centennial, Colo.