This last year has seen a boom in the popularity of pets as people have had more time to devote to them. This has led to a massive rise in prices and unfortunately increased puppy farming practices, but a pet need not be an expensive puppy or kitten to be equally rewarding.
Blessed as a child to have an “animal friendly” home and lucky enough to continue that life with my own family I can honestly say that I have had just as much enjoyment from cheeky ferrets, a rescue bunny, fancy mice, rats, axylotyls and talking budgies to name but a few.
March 22-28th 2021 marks the first Guinea Pig Awareness Week. I loved having “pigs”. Guinea pigs make wonderful pets. Do your research though. They are herd animals and need company, and the joy comes from watching their interactions and habits. They have their own language which sounds initially like a group of excited schoolgirls squeaking and chattering but you will soon learn to “speak pig” (great videos on YouTube). They sleep with their eyes open, pee on each other when they are really cross and eat their own poo! They can seem mean to each other and “piggy-back” to assert their dominance, freeze like a statue when they sense danger or jump like “popcorn” twisting in the air when they are just too happy to keep still. They purr when they get a favourite treat, lick your fingers to say thanks and will even come running to your voice. Training takes time and patience as they are a prey species and loathe to be picked up until they trust you fully. You will need to use tunnels to lift them and start training really slowly, by letting them come to you.
You will need a good indoor run measuring about half a square metre per pig and plenty of hiding places (they do not climb so it can be low) They need hay all the time and leafy vegetables and herbs along with a little pelleted food. They love an outside run too for grazing if you have a garden.
Like all prey animals they hide their illnesses, but regular weigh-ins and careful observation will help you judge their health status. Snuffles, bald patches and teeth problems are the more common reasons that I see guinea pigs at work, but its rare for them to need the vet if you are careful and do your homework.
As with all pets the pleasure comes from observation, knowledge and the build-up of trust which comes with time. Something we have plenty of at the moment so make the most of it. Enjoy your pets whatever they are.
Article by Clare Brash MRCVS, photos of Monkey and Raisin, guinea pigs belonging to Vicky Williams MRCVS.