Tonawanda News

April 1, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Guinea pigs -- an Easter miracle!

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The strong smell of pig urine in my bedroom is a warm memory. 

The rustling of the treat container or anything that sounded similar would elicit high-pitched squealing. She lived in a Rubbermaid container that was about 4 feet long, a foot and a half long and a foot and a half tall. 

Her name was Clue, after a male Disney character — it’s hard to determine the gender of a guinea pic — and she was one of my first endeavors into genetics.

Seventh grade was my first look into real genetics. I learned about hybridizing peas, dominant and receive genes and how to make a Punnett square of genetics, but I wanted to see it firsthand.

Lucky for me, my science teacher had a male guinea pig.

This wasn’t just any guinea pig either, it was a Peruvian. Peruvian guinea pigs have long silky hair and look like the end of a mop hovering over the floor. Their hair is so long you can’t see their legs so they appear to float on by. I forgot his name, but he was light grey with white streaks.

My pig, Clue, was an Abyssinian, which have short cowlick hair, which create fluffy tufts of patterns. She was black, white and tan. The third most popular type of guinea pigs are smooth-coated, which as the name suggests, means they have short, shiny hair.

I kept my teacher’s guinea pig at my house for a few weeks over Christmas break and then again during a January break to increase the chances of Clue becoming pregnant. I waited but there were no signs of her getting bigger. Her behavior didn’t change and it seemed like she didn’t increase her diet. It seemed like I had to try again.

It was a bit strange that Clue had not become pregnant as guinea pigs, like your ordinary rodents, reproduce quickly. 

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Guinea pigs can live five to seven years and are good starter pets for older children. There are a few things to remember, though, when considering to adding one to your family.

Unless you have proper permanent homes for your pig’s offspring, do not mix males and females because you’d eventually end up with more babies. 

Guinea pigs can be social and having two females living together in harmony is quite common. If you would like two males, getting them young and from the same litter is recommended.

Guinea pigs can weigh up to a couple of pounds — a little smaller than most rabbits — and a 4-square-foot enclosure per animal is recommended by the ASPCA. A solid floor, compared to wire, is required and lining it with newspaper and then shavings makes for a quicker clean up. Aspen or hardwood shavings work well. Healthy pigs are quite active and cardboard tubes, boxes, flower pots, rocks and pet store wooden blocks are essential accessories.

Fortified guinea pig diets are available at pet stores as well as grocery stores and these can be the bulk of their diet. Fresh vegetables and fruit can also be added. Hay should be available ad lib and can be hung in a hay rack or offered in a box, hay cubes or hay mat. Pet stores have a lot of options for small mammals including timothy or alfalfa hay or orchard grass. 

Guinea pigs can’t produce their own ascorbic acid so vitamin C must be provided to them through their diet. Vitamin C is important for proper growth and health. Store-bought guinea pig pellets are a good source of vitamin C, although some researchers say that after six weeks of being on the shelf, up to half of the vitamin C can dissipate. Keeping the food under 71 degrees and using it after 90 days of production will help keep the vitamin C levels high. In addition to the hay that is provided, kale, dandelion and mustard greens, parsely, red and yellow bell peppers, and broccoli are excellent sources of ascorbic acid.

If you are interested in caring for a guinea pig, they are sadly easily available on craigslist as unwanted pets or at adoption centers. Enclosures are around $35, with food $75 per year and toys around $25 a year. 

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As for Clue, the guinea pig, she gave birth to two babies on Easter morning. They were entirely cleaned, bouncing around, squealing, eyes opened and a fifth of her size. There was no blood to be found and it was a complete surprise. It was an Easter miracle. Instead of looking half like their mom and half like their dad they were the same colors as Clue and had medium cowlick hair.

Genetics, go figure.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to birdbehaviorconsultant@yahoo.com, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.