Choosing a small pet is a big decision. Although their needs differ, hamsters and guinea pigs require equal amounts of planning. Where will the enclosure go? Is there enough space? Who is going to carry out the daily feeding and weekly cleaning? Can you afford all the equipment – and all the food the pets will nibble through?
Small mammals of the rodent and rabbit families may all look cute, fluffy and vaguely similar, but there are important differences in the needs and personalities of each species. There are two broad groups – animals that spend all their time indoors, such as hamsters; and those that spend part of their time outdoors and therefore need runs and tunnels, such as the guinea pig.
Hamster keeping – simple, but brief
There’s no doubt that hamsters suit people who want a pet that can pretty much look after itself. But it’s important to have some kind of interaction with your pet, otherwise there’s little point in having it in the house in the first place.
The defining feature of the hamster is its nocturnal lifestyle. This means hamster owners only get to interact with their furry friends in the evening, or early in the morning. Waking them up in the daytime will only make them confused and irritable.
These night-time habits mean that bedrooms are not the ideal location for a hamster cage. Busy little hamster feet, squeaky hamster wheels, rattling water bottles and gnawing rodent teeth are the kinds of sounds guaranteed to disturb a good night’s sleep. This is an important consideration for a child – if the hamster cage is not going to be in the bedroom, will it still be appreciated and looked after?
The answer might still be yes, if the kids are happy to interact with the hamster just before bedtime. The animals can be hand-tamed, and perhaps half an hour each day is exactly what the children are looking for. They can replenish the food and water each morning before school while the hamster settles in for another day’s deep sleep.
But if your kids want a pet who sticks around during the day, a hamster isn’t the best choice. With a lifespan of just two years, their pet won’t be around for very long, and children may feel they hardly had time to get to know their little friend.
Guinea pigs – garden lovers
Guinea pigs require lots more attention than hamsters, and that’s what a lot of pet owners are looking for. Getting to know a pet GP takes time, as they are nervous little creatures, but once you’ve gained their trust, you have a friend for life.
Children will have a real sense of being part of the animals’ community. There’s a lot to be done in GP upkeep, including replenishing hay – lots and lots of it – and chopping up veg for the food bowl. Hutches, runs and tunnels need weekly maintenance. If you have a good tunnel system such as the Zippi as part of your set up, the animals can freely move between their hutch and one or several runs or playpens at their own will. Watching the animals in action will give everyone hours of fun.
A guinea pig that is well taken care of can easily live for five to eight years, so it’s a long term commitment that shouldn’t be entered into lightly.
Guinea pigs are active in the day time, so their waking, eating and sleeping patterns match those of their human neighbours.
10 questions to decide: Hamster or Guinea Pig?
Still undecided? Answer the following questions, and then total up your score, H vs. GP. The higher number reveals the ideal pet choice for you!
1. Is someone around during the day to look after the pets?
Yes – score 1 GP
No – score 1 H
2. Is the pet for a child?
Yes – score 2 GPs
No – score 1 H and 1 GP
3. Do you have some space in the garden for an enclosure or run?
Yes – score 1 GP
No – score 1 H
4. Does anyone in the household have a pet allergy? (This may mean keeping the pets outdoors)
Yes – score 2 GPs
No – Score 1 GP and 1 H
5. Do you want to keep just one pet?
Yes – score 1 H
No – score 1 GP
6. Is someone prepared to prepare fresh veg each day for the pet?
Yes – score 1 GP
No – score 1 H
7. Do you only have room for a small cage?
Yes – score 2 Hs
No – score 1 H and 1 GP
8. Is the pet owner ‘late to bed, late to rise’?
Yes – score 2 Hs
No – score 1 GP and 1 H
9. Is the cage within earshot of your bedroom?
Yes – score 2 GPs
No – score 1 H and 1 GP
10. Are you looking for a pet as a long-term companion?
Yes – score 1 GP
No – score 1 H
More GPs than Hs, or the other way round? Either way, you will hopefully now have a firmer idea of which pet will best suit you and your household.
Guinea pigs have many little ways of showing how much they love you. They may not be as obvious as dogs or cats in this respect, but once you know the signs they’re actually quite easy to read.
Your Guinea Pig Likes Being Held
GPs are timid creatures by nature, so it takes a lot of confidence for them to come to you for stroking or holding. You can interpret that confidence as affection. To reach this stage you need to hand-tame your pet with care and patience. Once they’ve built the trust, they’ll bond with you. They won’t approach everyone in this way – it’s just you they love!
Your Guinea Pig Likes Being Hand-Fed
It will take a little while to reach this stage. Rather than holding a tasty treat in your hand and hoping for the best, it’s best to train the guinea pig in stages. Leave a little trail of treats, and call to your pet gently. Eventually they’ll make it to your hand, and once they’ve become accustomed to this contact, the special bond between pet and owner will be complete.
Your Guinea Pig Follows You Around
By nature, a guinea pig wants to hide from humans, freeze on the spot or run away. It’s a sign of affection when they become so comfortable with you that they happily follow you around. Even if there’s no treat waiting for them, at this stage in the relationship they’ll stay with you simply because they like you and you make them feel safe.
Your Guinea Pig Doesn’t Bite!
This may sound like an odd demonstration of love, but it’s actually a sign that your pet feels very comfortable in your presence. If the GP is in any way afraid or nervous, it will bite if you try to make contact. There are ways of getting round this nervous reaction; and before you know it, the instinct to bite will have been replaced by an urge to nibble your toes…!
Your Guinea Pig Nibbles You, Very Gently
Yes, nibbling is a sign of affection! It’s something these animals do to each other as part of their grooming and bonding. Nibbling your shoes or finger ends will come naturally, once they’re comfortable with you. It’s very different from a bite – so don’t simply stick a finger into the cage hoping for a nibble and getting a nasty surprise instead!
Your Guinea Pig Climbs On You
When a guinea pig loves you, you become one of its favourite ‘safe places’. Sit down with your furry friends and they will climb into your lap. Lie down, and they will climb onto you and explore.
Your Guinea Pig Comes To Say Hello
When your guinea pigs first arrive, they will run for cover when you approach their enclosure. Familiarity takes time and patience, and you have to lead the taming process yourself in a hands-on way. Start by holding your guinea pig correctly and comfortably. Continue with a bit of treat-training, and they’ll soon be running to greet you whenever they see you approach.
Your Guinea Pig Responds To Your Voice
Guinea pigs can’t recognise their own names, but they can come to recognise your voice. You should talk, quietly and gently, from the moment you first get them. Always chat to them during hand training and feeding. They will soon come to associate that voice with all that love, and will love you back by coming when you call – no matter what you actually call!
Your Guinea Pig ‘Talks’ To You All The Time
You’ve been talking to them constantly, and they will soon return the compliment. A Guinea pig that chatters to you is very happy indeed in your company.
Your Guinea Pig Just Can’t Stop Playing!
A happy affectionate Guinea pig will dance around your feet, or will perform what is known as ‘popcorning’. This involves jumping in the air, and then running in circles, turning, and repeating the whole wonderful exercise. What better way to demonstrate love than with a good helping of popcorn?
If you’ve ever needed to get inside your Zippi run to refresh food and water, or pick up your pet, you will likely have noticed the smaller openings make it difficult to reach inside, and removing a whole panel is rarely worth the hassle. The Zippi Locks have been designed to solve this problem.
Available in varying pack sizes to suit your needs, the Zippi Locks allow you to replace clips between mesh panels on three straight edges of any panel you wish to open up.
The Zippi Lock encases the edge of two mesh panels and secures them together in the same way as a run clip, however, once unlocked both mesh panels are still held in position until all locks are opened to lift open the panel you wish to use as an entry point, without it collapsing into your run and endangering your pets.
You can even use multiple Zippi Locks to convert adjoining panels of larger runs so you can open up a larger door or run roof. Simply follow these handy diagrams to see how many Zippi Locks you need to create your desired run opening.
With this improved accessibility to your run it is much easier to reach or climb in to feed your pets, tidy and clean the run floor and accessories, pick up your pet to take out of the run, or play with them inside. Making it easier for adults and children to access the run and play with their rabbits and guinea pigs inside ensures pets get as much playtime as possible to be happy, healthy and closely connected to you.
The Zippi Locks are durable, predator resistant and super simple to operate – even little hands can do it! The integrated safety button requires you to push and turn simultaneously in order to open the lock, making it harder for unwanted visitors to gain access.
Watch the Zippi Locks in action in this YouTube video…
The new Zippi Locks are now available online, from £2.75 each.
Guinea pigs are fun, quirky companions for people of all ages and make fantastic pets. Though small, these little animals have bags of character and very distinct, individual personalities. If you’re thinking of bringing some guinea pigs into your home, you’ll be rewarded by conversational squeaks, affectionate nuzzling, and the comical sight of your pets devouring hay and vegetables like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re already an owner, then you’ll know firsthand what enjoyable and easy pets they are to look after.
If you are thinking of getting a guinea pig here’s a checklist of everything you need to keep your new pet happy and healthy!
1 – A friend
Guinea pigs are very sociable animals, and will need to live together with a friend, or else they will get very depressed. Siblings of the same sex is normally the best combination, but males of different ages normally get along well as long as there are no females around. If you’re planning to keep a male and a female guinea pig together and don’t want plenty of guinea pig babies you must make sure to get the male castrated.
2 – A safe and dry house
Your guinea pigs will need a hutch to live in, even if you intend to keep them in your home. Whether you opt for a modern hutch like our Eglu Go Guinea Pig Hutch, or a traditional wooden hutch is up to you, but which hutch and run you choose, and where you keep it, requires some careful thought.
A good hutch is vital to a guinea pigs’ wellbeing. It’s their home, and where they’ll spend the vast majority of their time. Well-made hutches provide a secure environment for your guinea pigs to sleep, socialise, and exercise, and a good hutch can last you and your pets many years, especially if you invest in a solid, robust model.
The Eglu Go Hutch is the simple, stylish, straightforward way to keep pets. Suitable for two to three guinea pigs, this will make a wonderful home for your new friends. It has been designed to enable your pet guinea pigs to express their natural instincts, offering them a fun environment that will make them feel really at home.
3 – Space to run around and play
Guinea pigs love exercise and space to play, so they need to spend time in their run each day. If your guinea pig hutch has a run attached, like the Eglu Go Guinea Pig Hutch, simply open the door to the run when you bring your guinea pigs their food in the morning. If your hutch doesn’t have a run attached, then it’s a good idea to give your guinea pigs an opportunity to stretch their legs each day by purchasing a standalone guinea pig run. If your run is outside then, weather permitting, your guinea pigs would like to be be put out there each morning and brought back each evening. Take this opportunity for a cuddle!
You can enhance their living space by providing Guinea pig activity tunnels linking hutches to runs and playpens. It’s a practical add-on that appeals to the animal’s instincts too – in the wild they are wary of open spaces, darting for cover under a bush or in a grass tunnel, whenever they sense danger.
The Zippi Guinea Pig Tunnel System is custom made with all this in mind – something that keeps the Guinea pigs happy at an instinctive level, while providing a practical addition to your set up, and bringing hours of fun for the family. The Zippi’s Guinea pig burrow pipes connect all the different areas used by your pets. Its Guinea pig hutch connector is suitable for whatever house you have provided for your pets – whether that’s The Eglu Go Hutch, a traditional wooden hutch, or something you’ve put together yourself. It connects very handily to The Zippi Playpens and Runs and The Omlet’s Outdoor Pet Runs.
4 – Food and Water
Guinea Pigs need constant access to food, so make sure you refill their dry dry food bowl twice a day. Fill their hay rack and cut up some fresh fruit and veg for them to munch on. Be sure to keep their water bottle nice and fresh, too.
Guinea pigs will eat virtually anything! As well as grass in the summer, they can be given a variety of wild plants such as dandelions, plantains, chickweed and milk thistle. When wild plants are not available they can be given vegetables, herbs and fruit. The key is to introduce as many different fresh foods when they are young, as they may be reluctant to try something new as they get older. Do however stay away from potatoes, onions, raw beans and beetroot, as well as anything bloating.
Hay is another important daily component of their diet. Only the best quality hay should be fed, and it should not be either dusty or mouldy. If you have somewhere to store it, it is often worthwhile to buy a bale from a farm, of a quality that would be fed to horses. As well as eating it, they will snuggle under it for warmth. Straw should not be used; it has no nutritional value, and the sharpness of its stalks often causes eye injuries as the guinea pigs burrow around in it.
5 – Vitamin C
The most important fact to know about guinea pigs is that, like us humans, they need a daily intake of Vitamin C. This can be provided by providing a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Most good guinea pig dry mixes now also contain vitamin C. Carrots and Broccoli are great sources of vitamin C, and a carrot a day keeps the vet away!
6 – And finally……..a routine!
Guinea pigs soon get used to a routine, and will reward you with welcoming squeaks as soon as they hear you open your back door. It is important to check on your guinea pigs at least twice a day, in the morning and evening. However guinea pigs love human company and the more time you can spend with them the happier they are.
Last month, the Danish championships for guinea pigs were held in Copenhagen. The championships were hosted by Dansk Marsvineklub (The Danish Guinea Pig Association). The association’s purpose is to spread knowledge about the animals, and how to best care for and feed them and shows are held throughout the country where members meet up and exhibit their animals.
There were 3 main classes:
Pure bred: Judged by the standard for each breed, for example whether the hair is properly coloured, if the eyes and ears are large and are placed correctly etc.
Pets: All animals are welcome and emphasis is placed on the animal’s general condition, well-being and temperament. Denmark is known for the best pets throughout the Nordic region. We will return to this point…
Juniors: A class for exhibitors under the age of 15. Same requirements as for the pets class, however, here emphasis is also placed on the interaction between children and animals and the child’s knowledge of the daily care
In addition, there are also some “for fun” competitions:
Dress up competition
WINNER OF THE DRESS UP COMPETITION
The winner of the dress up competition was 5 month old Bluebells Teddiursa who was dressed as a dinosaur!
Here’s some of the other dress up entries!
WINNER OF THE CUCUMBER-EATING COMPETITION
How did you prepare for this competition?
“The animals feel safe with us – this is the theory. They feel so safe when we’re standing down there at the table. So they come to us and because they know we’re there and looking after them, they just dare to sit and eat and relax. Even the little one there who’s 2 months old, he was number 3 in the competition. We were number 1, 2 and 3 – and that happens almost every time. We take the guinea pigs up and feed them every day, they’re real pets! So you could say that we are practicing every day.”
This family (mother and two sons) were number 1, 2 and 3 in the cucumber-eating competition this year. The boys are both 14 years old, so it’s the final year that they’re allowed to compete in the junior class. Next year they have to compete with the pets. How do they feel about this?
“Well we’re already allowed to compete with the pets now – it’s only the adults that can’t compete with the juniors.”
The family has only once returned home from a guinea pig show without the cucumber-eating rosette.
“This was in February. Their favourite guinea pig was ill and they decided that she should be allowed to compete in the cucumber competition one last time, even though they knew she probably wouldn’t win it.”
Meet Badger and Melanie, our Pets of the Month for June! These adorable Guinea Pigs belong to our Omlet Graphic Designer, Jen.
She got Badger from a pet shop 2 years ago and Melanie was from a rescue centre a year later, they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Jen said she was looking for a pair of pigs but felt too guilty leaving Badger in the pet shop after buying his brothers Oink and Pearl so she bought him too.
“Badger tended to get bullied though so we decided to separate him from the others and buy him a girlfriend.”
“Badger is a bit pathetic and makes a terrible fuss about things but is very affectionate, Melanie is rather quite and content but does put Badger in his place when he is flapping and annoying her.”
Here at Omlet HQ we find it quite difficult to tell them apart (is it Badger on the left…?) but Jen said that it’s easy to tell the difference as Badger squeals all the time. He’s also very smooth despite his hair lying in the wrong direction whereas Melanie is wirey, fuzzy and big.
They like hay and green vegetables and spend the majority of their time climbing up a ramp in and out of their hutch and jumping onto the roof of their sleeping pods. SO CUTE! <3