Busting Common Guinea Pig Myths

Written by Lucas Stock

October 14, 2022🞄

Myth #1: Guinea pigs can live in a small cage.

This is completely incorrect! Many enclosures sold at retailers that are said to be “guinea pig friendly” are far too small. Typically, one guinea pig needs 7.5 cubic feet of enclosure space to remain happy and healthy—the number of cubic feet increases for every additional guinea pig.

While it used to be more common to keep guinea pigs in glass-sided enclosures, this is no longer recommended, as these enclosures do not provide enough ventilation for their sensitive respiratory systems. Enclosures should provide plenty of single-level space for your pet to run, sleep, eat, and use the restroom in different areas of the enclosure, and should provide plenty of ventilation. Make sure the enclosure you provide has at least one spot to hide per guinea pig and allows for easy access to food and water at all times.

Even if you provide all the above for your guinea pigs, keep in mind that no enclosure provides enough space for your guinea pig to get an appropriate amount of exercise. Make sure you are setting time aside daily for your guinea pigs to safely roam outside of their enclosure, whether this is free-roaming or with a large playpen. Read more about how to pet-proof your home.

Myth 2: Only male guinea pigs are aggressive.

While it can be more challenging to pair male guinea pigs together due to dominance, females can also be just as aggressive with established or potential cage-mates. If personalities clash pairings may not work, regardless of your pets’ biological sex.

Pairing guinea pigs can take time and knowledge, and even with this knowledge, same-sex pairings can sometimes have fallings-out for various reasons outside of anyone’s control. Some rescues have found that paired a neutered male guinea pig with a female guinea pig can help increase the chances of a successful pairing (never put an unaltered male with a female). If you have questions about getting your guinea pig a friend, be sure to reach out to local guinea pig rescues for their advice and help for a long-lasting bond!

Myth 3: Guinea pigs don’t need to see a veterinarian.

While some health issues can be prevented by a healthy daily diet, guinea pigs are prey species—this means that they will “mask” their illness, or hide any signs that they are sick, until they are so ill that they can no longer hide it. Because of this, it is recommended that guinea pigs go to an exotics veterinarian at least once, ideally twice, a year for check-ups. Any time you suspect illness in your pet, they should be seen by a veterinarian. This is because part of their “masking” behavior includes masking signs of pain for as long as possible.

Signs that your guinea pig may need to see a knowledgeable veterinarian include:

  • Trouble or reduced eating
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Sudden aggression or stark personality changes
  • Reduced or complete loss of stool and urinary output
  • Runny stools
  • Dry, flaking, or scabby skin
  • Hair loss
  • Heavy breathing
  • Remaining hunched in a corner

All pet parents should regularly set aside funds for their pet’s veterinarian funds for both scheduled and unexpected visits. They should also make sure that they have an established relationship with a veterinarian before an emergency occurs. 

Read more about this topic

Myth 4: Guinea pigs are starter pets that teach children responsibility.

While it used to be common to purchase guinea pigs as a way to teach children responsibility, it needs to be understood that these animals have more complex needs than we previously understood. While they are small, guinea pigs live complex lives that have specific dietary, social, and husbandry needs. No animal should be viewed as a starter animal, nor should they be the sole responsibility of a child. Most children cannot understand what to watch for when an animal is sick, nor can they be expected to be the sole caretaker of another living thing when they do not yet have the ability to care for themselves.

If your child is interested in getting a pet, make sure that the animal’s enclosure is set up in an area of the house where all family members frequent—avoid keeping them in the child’s bedroom. Make all facets of caring for the animal—feeding, providing fresh water, playing, and more—a family event where more than one person participates to help ensure that the animal receives consistent care.

Guinea pig with red eyes

Myth 5: Guinea pigs with red eyes are physically ill or mean.

As with other animals that have a ruby-eyed variant, there is an unfortunate stigma against ruby-eyed guinea pigs, and especially ruby-eyed guinea pigs with white coats.

Some guinea pigs have ruby, pink, or red eyes simply because their eyes lack the pigmentation that their brown-eyed guinea pig buddies have. Because there is no pigment, light reflects the pink tissue behind the eye back to the viewer.

Generally, ruby eyes do not affect the ability of a guinea pig to see their surroundings, and ruby-colored irises do not directly point to any kind of illness or to a particular temperament. Due to the stigma that red-colored eyes carry, however, many wonderful guinea pigs available for adoption are passed over simply due to their eye color.

Keep in mind that there is more misinformation out there—these are only 5 out of many more myths. If you ever have any questions or concerns about your guinea pigs, it’s always best to reach out to a veterinary professional who specializes in exotic animal medicine, or a rescue that specializes in caring for guinea pigs.

We’d like to thank Asheville Guinea Pig Rescue and Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue for their help in creating this blog post! Both rescues have many guinea pigs looking for forever homes—and both rescues are a wealth of knowledge for potential fosters and adoptees. We’d like to encourage those who found this article informative to show your support for these two amazing organizations.