Our pets become a part of our family to the point that we start to treat them as valued members.
However, we tend to forget that even though some make excellent pets, they originated from the wild.
Understanding how they survived the elements and thrived in herds can help you as a pet parent.
The habitat that guinea pigs prefer is forests, savannahs, and bushy areas.
The domesticated guinea pigs are not found in the wild but their sister species can be.
As social animals, they like to remain in herds, prefer the company of other guinea pigs, and are active during dusk and dawn.
You will not be able to find cavies living in the wild now as the species has been completely domesticated.
However, by getting to know how they lived and survive out in the open you can give your pet guinea pig a better and more fulfilling life.
Here are some facts that you should be aware of:
Preferable Diet and Habitat for Guinea Pigs
Just like their domesticated counterparts, wild guinea pigs prefer a vegetarian diet and in the wild, they feast on hay, grass, clovers, and even flowers.
As social animals they live in family groups in burrows they dig themselves and they are most active in the early morning hours and when the sun goes down.
Wild guinea pigs usually live in smaller herds that are made of one male with three or two females.
Common Threats for Guinea Pigs in the Wild
As small and defenseless animals, these rodents face several threats in the wild.
Many are hunted by wild cats, wolves, coyotes, owls, and other predators that are bigger than they are.
This includes people who captured to breed them as pets to the point that there are no documented wild pigs left in the wild.
In the past, people in the Andes would use them as disease detectors by passing them over an ill person’s body.
If the guinea pig squeaked the part where they squeaked was taken as the source of the disease.
Wild guinea pigs have an interesting way of communicating with one another. They use a range of noises which make up their language- so to speak.
Besides the obvious squeaks, they also make purring, chirping, whining, and whistling sounds to communicate.
Plus, each sound means different things.
For example, they use low grunts to welcome guinea pigs they are familiar with.
The docile ones bow their heads and make a rumbling noise to show submission for a dominant and larger cavy.
Similarly, they use chutts during a hunt and whine once it ends.
They also squeal and squeak to alert others of danger and use whistles or chirps to communicate over long distances.
Guinea pigs usually huddle together for security and warmth and prefer to live in small groups.
If they grow in number, they form subgroups to reduce the population in a particular area.
Reproduction and Longevity
Since this animal is almost extinct in the wild, information about its native mating habits is scarce.
As pets, their reproduction is dependent on their owners. For instance, you can have one boar for two sows or vice versa and breed them.
Before mating, the male will sniff the female and mark her with their urine to deter other males.
They are incredibly territorial and would get into fights with other males who tried to mate with their mates.
Male guinea pigs or boars are old enough to mate when they are 60 to 70 days old and females are ready to do so when they are 67 days old.
The latter can conceive 3 to 4 times a year for 16 days at a time. Plus, mating usually takes place at night.
When the pups are born, they are almost independent because females provide only limited care. While they can lose weight because of this neglect at first, strong pups can survive to adulthood.
These animals can live for 8 to 14 years depending on the quality of the care they receive but they rarely survive for more than 3 years in the wild.
How to Improve Your Pet Guinea Pig’s Chances of Survival in the Wild
If you are ready to get a guinea pig of your own the good news is that you don’t have to search in the wild.
Your local pet store or shelter should have a variety you can choose from. However, as you may have guessed by now, these are far from strong animals.
If you want to ensure your pet cavy lives for at least a decade you need to keep the following things in mind:
Make Sure They Have a Proper Diet
Guinea pigs are herbivores but they are not picky when it comes to the type of food they like.
You should expose your pet to a variety of options so they can get sufficient nutrients.
This includes grass or hay which should make up at least 80% of their diet. Don’t give them alfalfa.
It’s a legume, not a type of grass, and is too high in calories and calcium to be good for cavies.
If their diet is predominantly alfalfa your guinea pigs will get fat and get bladder stones as well.
You can use the fibrous hay variety for nursing or pregnant cavies to help them with digestion.
However, make sure that you give it in moderation. It should be just enough to ease bowel movement and produce vitamin B and amino acids.
Handle With Care
One of the reasons why these rodents make excellent pets is their sociable and curious nature.
A domesticated guinea pig will willingly approach a hand that is put in their cage to scoop them out without attacking it.
However, remember that they are small and fragile animals so you need to handle them with care.
When you grab one, cup it under the rump with your other hand so you are cradling the guinea pig in your palm.
Your other hand should be around its middle to keep it steady. Use both hands so the cavy is not dangling when you pick it up or can slip and fall.
If you took good care of your guinea it should be a bit heavy so you have to be extra careful when handling them.
If you drop one, it will land on its incisors and get seriously injured.
At first, your pet may try to escape but chances are it will not bite so don’t panic and drop it! Once it realizes you mean no harm, it will get used to your touch and presence.
Take Them Out In A Safe Space
There is only so much space in a small cage.
Your guinea pigs need exercise just like any other animal so you should take them out and allow them to roam around.
However, not just any place will do. Prepare a space where they can stretch their legs without getting hurt or scared.
A safe space is one that does not have any wires and cables they can chew on, is free of other pets that they don’t get along with (such as dogs) and is clean.
Plus, make sure that all of the doors are closed in the area so your pets don’t try and make a run for it.
If you take them out in the yard, don’t leave them unsupervised!
An eagle or a predator such as a coyote or a fox can make off with them otherwise. Plus, your cavies can try and dig up flower beds and your vegetable garden if they are left to their own devices.
Groom Them Regularly
Guinea pigs like to remain clean and will often groom themselves to maintain their coat.
However, they can get dirty pretty quickly so you will have to give your pets a hand.
Rather than bathing them, spot-clean their coat with a wet and clean cloth or unscented wipes.
Depending on the breed you get, your cavy may grow gorgeous locks of hair. Use a stiff-backed brush to untangle knots.
If you have the hairless variety, rub some lotion on their skin to prevent dryness. Just make sure that it is free of toxins and has aloe in it.
Additionally, clip their nails at least once a month so they can move about freely. Don’t clean their teeth though.
They are supposed to be that yellow color so you can leave them. However, if you think you cannot trim or clean your pet yourself, ask a vet to do it for you.
A healthy guinea pig should have clear eyes, a soft and clean coat of fur, and should eat/drink regularly.
If yours seems lethargic or has stopped eating, take it to a vet immediately. Book regular checkups so you can ensure your pet can live for years.
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