Pet parenting 101: Guinea pigs are cute, furry friends who love to chat

Pet parenting 101: Guinea pigs are cute, furry friends who love to chat

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If you really, really want a pet, consider a guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are, I think, one of the best possible pets. They are small, sociable, chatty and usually very friendly. 

The animals originate from the grasslands and Andes mountains in South America - and in Peru, people actually still eat them! In the rest of the world, though, they make fabulous friends. 

Hidey holes are winners

Guinea pigs are very active animals and need enough space to stretch out comfortably when lying down, stand fully upright on their back legs and, most of all, to run. 

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In terms of housing, bigger is always better. Guinea pigs love tunnels and hidey-holes to explore. They're amazing to watch scuttling about and, almost like a jet ski, raise themselves up high on their legs before starting a sprint!

Coming from the cold mountains of South America, they have strong bodies and warm coats to keep them cosy. But their thick fur means that they can easily get too warm in the heat of Hong Kong. They could fall ill and die. So make sure you keep them indoors in the summer and well away from direct sunlight.

Surprisingly chatty

The biggest surprise for new owners of guinea pigs is usually the range of amazing, chatty noises that they make. A chat with a guinea pig is enchanting - both to watch and listen to. 

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Guinea pigs are always my first answer when people ask me what pet they should get.

Guinea pigs are noisier than you think.

Far-from-naked babies

Baby rodents are usually born blind, naked and pretty helpless. But guinea pig babies are quite amazing. They are born as fully furred, little copies of their parents.

Although, like all mammals, they need milk from their mothers, guinea pigs also eat solid food almost right from the start of their lives. 

Something to chew on

Like all rodents, the teeth of a guinea pig grow throughout their lives. It is vital that they have something to chew on to keep them short and neat. Giving them untreated wooden toys and branches is ideal. 

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Wild about grass

Providing the right diet is vital for the good health of all animals. In the wild, guinea pigs are grazing animals and eat virtually nothing else but grass and leaves. 

As pets, the best way to copy this diet is to feed them lots of fresh hay every day. The fibre in this hay will help keep their delicate tummies in tip top order and all the chewing will keep their teeth in good shape.

Humans and guinea pigs are both very unusual in the animal world: they cannot make vitamin C in their bodies. Just like us, it is important they have vitamin C in their diet. The best way to do this is to feed a small amount of guinea pig pellets each day. Foods designed for rabbits or hamsters don't always have this important nutrient and can lead to problems. 

Fresh green veggies, like broccoli, pak choi and cabbage, are another good source of vitamin C. But citrus fruits, such as oranges, are not good as they can cause diarrhoea and upset tummies. 

Michael Bradley is a vet with Stanley Veterinary Centre, and also works with local Hong Kong wildlife, as a consultant for groups including Ocean Park Conservation Foundation. He has kept almost every sort of pet over the years.

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Kerry Hoo

16:30pm