Guinea pigs are quickly becoming a very popular pet across the United States and internationally. With their easily handlable size for children, their personable friendly attitudes and their laid back temperments, they make wonderful family companions.
So you've talked it over with the rest of the family, and you've decided that a guinea pig will fit into your lifestyle and determined that you want to be responsible for it's health and wellbeing for the next 8 years. Where do you go to find one? There are a few places you can find your new pet. The obvious first answer to most is to look in their local pet stores. Other folks might wish to contact a breeder. Another less known location would be your local rescue shelter, and these days there are even cavy or rabbit rescuers. Let's go over each and determine what is best for you.
There are basically two types of pet stores, the larger chain type stores (we have Petco and PetSmart here in Seattle, WA) and the smaller, individually owned local stores. The chain stores usually hire people that we all too often find are not knowledgable in the animals they are selling. As a general rule, and yes there are many exceptions, these stores are not the best for buying your pet. They tend to have their animals in improper caging, to be sold with the incorrect products or supplies, and sometimes, we've even seen incorrect information on the cage or being given by the sales associates. Not someplace I'd recommend the new owner go to. The smaller stores also do have some of these problems, but not on the same scale as the larger stores. Now, where do they get their guinea pigs?
The larger stores buy their pigs in bulk. This means, they go through a broker to get a lower price on a larger purchase. Typically, a broker charges about $6 a cavy, sometimes up to $8. When a pet store chain buys 100 animals or more, they get a 'price break.' A smaller store can't sell this many animals, so they either breed their own cavies, buy from the broker in smaller quantities or take in cavy babies from customers. Often these cavy babies are from pigs sold pregnant, or the customer has some some backyard breeding, often between pigs of different breeds.
What's the deal with the broker?
Brokers are just that, animal distributers. The one I worked for had a reptile department, a fish department, a plant department and a small animal department. They get shipments of everything in nearly daily, and did not have room or time to quarantine anything. Many animals were received and dispersed on the same day. Needless to say, many animals coming in from many different places were exposed to many different pathogens. Without proper quarantine practices, many different animals become sick very quickly. The average gestation for upper respiratory ailments in guinea pigs is 3-5 days from exposure.
When the broker sends out the pigs to the pet store, the pet store should quarantine them for a minimum of a week, 2 weeks is best. Even if your pet store is a smaller store and they don't go through a broker, it's best if they breed their own pigs there, so you can determine that they are not exposed to other animals.
Breeders can be an excellent source of information. They have hands on experience with their charges, and many have learned about their cavies over decades. They are often more helpful with daily ailments and lower cost, at home treatments than your vet will. One benefit of going to a breeder over a pet store is that you can truly talk to a specialist in the field of cavy care. You often can also see the parents of your new pet as well as know it's exact birthdate, which is nice for the kids. You can see the environment where your piggy was born and spent it's first few weeks. You can also ensure there is less stress on the animal with less shuffling, and this will often result in a healthier animal. Most of the time, you can also obtain a pedigree with your pet, which isn't always needed, but helpful if your child wishes to participate in a 4H program,or some other program down the line.
Although primarily dogs and cats are relinquished at county and city shelters, often times they do get in rabbits, birds and other small animals. It's a good idea to check up on this, since many animals relinquished by their owners might not have the option of finding a good home, and are euthanized instead. Animals are relinquished for many reasons, the first and foremost reason is that the children in the home become tired of them and the parents do not wish to take over the responsibility of caring for the piggy. I'd be happy to help you find a shelter in your area.
Many folks are doing 'rescue' now. There are two types of rescues, one is people who buy sickly animals from pet stores, or buy from a pet store that sells it's guinea pigs as snake food, and people claim to 'rescue' the pig from that fate. Another type of person rescues animals from shelters who aren't finding homes for the pigs. Yet another type of rescuer is the person who rehomes piggies (a family can't care for the pig, piggy isn't getting enough play time and they want it to go to someplace where it will get the time they feel it should, or somebody has become allergic to the pig). In my mind, this isn't a rescue, it's a rehoming or foster situation. A true rescuer deals with abandoned animals or takes a large number of animals from a 'puppy-mill type irresponsible breeder, or takes in very ill animals and turns them around to adoptable animals. I know of several people across the country who not only foster piggies and rehome them, but also rescuers and transporters. Together, we can find you a piggy of your own to love.
Now that you know WHERE to look for a pig, let's talk about WHAT to look for in a healthy well adjusted piggy. You want a piggy that's preferably older than 4 weeks, as that's the age when most will wean successfully. Check your piggies eyes carefully, there should be no discharge, crustiness, and no film over the eyes. The eyes should be clear and bright. You want to check your piggy's rump, and make sure that there is no sign of diarrhea. Check your piggy's breathing. Is she making any clicking or rattling noises? If so, this could be an initial sign of pneumonia, a very serious disorder in any piggy. Check your piggy's nose, it should be free from any discharge, film, or crustiness. If your piggy sneezes or coughs, stop and listen. This again is one of the first signs of pneumonia. Is your piggy in good weight for it's size and age? Not thin or looking malnourished? Lastly, check your piggy's coat condition. It should display an even coat, no bald patches or missing hairs, which could be the sign of mites or lice.
When you bring your piggy home, allow them to settle in for 3 days before really attempting to handle them. Give them a box or a wooden house to hide in, they are going to be nervous and scared with all the new noises and sounds and smells in your house, and they won't recognize what is safe and what is dangerous yet. As a survival instinct, they are going to be afraid of everything initially, don't get angry with them, this is how they would survive in the wild. Be quiet, gentle and move slowly when you feed and water your pig and care for it. After 3 days, you can bring your piggy out of its' cage and handle it. Be sure to handle them consistently, quietly and gently so they get used to you. Feed a good treat, such as a piece of apple, romaine lettuce or carrot with your fingers, so your pig learns to associate you and your hands with with good, nummy things. Give them time, most settle in within about 2 weeks and start coming to the front of the cage to greet you and to whistle for attention or treats.
Lastly, enjoy your piggy! Eight years may seem like a long time now, but it's a lifetime to the piggy, and really isn't so long when you look back, fondly remembering a life companion who's passed far too prematurely. They can be wonderful companions, full of bright cheer on days when you need it, and good snuggle bugs during nighttime movies. They can be a child's great friend, when supervised responsibly.
Please let me know if I can answer any of your questions by emailing me .
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