Pet column: Big love for small spaces |

Pet column: Big love for small spaces

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Often referred to as “pocket pets,” there is a wide range of responsive, loving small domesticated animals to perfectly fit the lifestyle of families living in apartments or small homes without yards. These pets include guinea pigs and March is national Adopt A Guinea Pig Month. It just happens that one is available at the El Dorado County Animal Services shelter now.

A guinea pigs, also called a “cavy,” can be purebred and shown for prize ribbons. There are 13 recognized breeds with short, long and curly coats in a variety of colors. They range in size up to 3 pounds. The gentle pets originated in the Andes mountains of South America and wild varieties are human food. Expected life span is seven years, longer with good care and proper diet. Since they are awake during the day, guinea pigs are available for play and cuddling when the family is. Guinea pigs are social and form attachments with people and other animals. Like other small pets, guinea pigs are easy keepers in some ways, but they are fragile and not simply “starter pets” for children. Guinea pigs are lifted up with one hand wrapped around the shoulders and one hand supporting the back of the body. To avoid dropping their pets, children can be taught to sit on the floor while they’re holding them.

A delightful aspect of sharing life with a guinea pig is hearing the wide variety of sounds which signal hello, a cat like purr of contentment, and the special chirps and squeaks and whistles which reflect the personality and communication style of individuals. They like to run and chase. When excited, guinea pigs perform a dance-like move called “popcorning” which can be circles or little jumps. Guinea pigs are intelligent, can be taught to walk on leash, be trained for agility, and can learn tricks.

Guinea pigs, like humans, lack the enzyme that produces vitamin C. They need vitamin C from fresh fruits and vegetables like kiwi fruit, tomatoes, oranges, carrots, broccoli, and kale. A vitamin C supplement can be added to water. Fresh, high-quality commercial pellets or feed blocks formulated for guinea pigs provide the most complete nutrition. Pellets are made from seeds and grains ground together in the right proportion to provide the proper protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Seed mixes do not make good staple diets. Healthy treats are supplements of fresh fruits and vegetables three to five times per week. The fiber they need is best provided with Timothy Hay. All food needs to be stored properly and used promptly so that the Vitamin C does not lose its strength. Basically healthy, sick guinea pigs usually suffer from malnutrition — not disease.

Like rabbits, guinea pigs teeth grow constantly. The teeth are naturally trimmed by providing tree branches or specially made chewing blocks for regular self dental care. Fresh water is best provided in a sipper bottle hung from the side of the cage so it stays clean. The sipper tube should be made out of metal or heavy plastic so that it can’t be chewed or shattered.

Guinea pigs love toys, especially ones with bells. Plastic tunnels, wheels, hollow rolling balls with latching lids, and other specially designed and readily available toys create exercise gyms. Safe toys are made out of metal or durable plastic so they can’t be chewed and swallowed. Pet guinea pigs’ habitat must be no smaller than a 1-foot-by-2-foot space. To protect lungs and brain, cedar shavings should not be used on the floor of the cage. The best choice is soft wood scuh as aspen, shredded paper, hay or commercial bedding pellets. With sensitive ears, guinea pigs can be startled by loud or unexpected noise. They also need a box or tunnel retreat for hiding, resting and napping.

There are many guinea pig lover web sites. One of the most fun for all things guinea pig is Explore how the best things can come in small packages, including love.

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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