Friday, February 27, 2009

Piggie Cam: Hidey House Confidential

At 8 weeks of age, the piggies were still too skittish for me to film them up close, so I started turning the camera on and placing it in the cage. I don't always get the best angle but it is fun to see life from their vantage point.

Notice how they hide sideways in their tunnels when there's human noise, and then resume play when the coast is clear. And despite their skittishness, there's always time for popcorning!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Piggie Cam: How the cage used to be

This footage shows a few early blunders:
-we have removed the Snack Shack after learning that they are made from sawdust and honey (and a few other things). Anything edible for the piggies to play with should be made of foods they are actually meant to eat! It was a kind gift for their housewarming but unfortunately turned out to be a pet store cash grab.

-lots of piggie owners like the pigloos but Harmony and Kazula are so wild in their play that I worried about them hurting themselves running in and out. While they are young and wild, we're sticking with soft/fabric hideys.

-the round husk hut was not used until I added a fleece pad inside for comfort and secured it to the cage wall. After doing that, they designated it as the The Loo. Funny and tidy, I must say.

-this is our ramp in its early stage. You'll notice the piggies don't run up there. They only started using it when I covered it like their tunnels. Then, it was playtime, people!

-while they are playful and popcorning (happy), I still can't come close at this point or they hide. By ten weeks, I could approach them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Piggie Cam: Kazula in time lapse

I accidentally set the camera to time lapse while filming Kazula. The funny thing is, it doesn't look that different from regular footage: she's very fast when she'd doing laps and playing!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

8 weeks - cage improvements & first wheeks!

When we got our piggies, we got some pet store sales advice that turned out to be wrong/not helpful. I know this won't come as a surprise to many of you who love animals and realize that sales come before proper care and knowledge at a lot of these stores.

We were told that one big water bottle would suffice. I knew from my reading that the piggies would probably get enough water from their veggies if they were hearty eaters (they sure are!), but I also noticed that they never touched the water bottle. After some reading I learned that it would be wise to have at least two water bottles: and small ones at that: the size of their little mouths. The big water bottles are way to big right now.

The piggies had been drinking from a shallow water dish. To switch them to the bottle, I placed the dish beside the small water bottle spout for a few days. This got them investigating the water bottle. Eventually I removed the water dish (which was interfering with their lap-running route) and now just provide fresh water daily with the two bottles (big and little). I rarely notice them taking a drink. They seem to be satiated from their wet veggies, but I'll always keep the bottles there just in case.

Cage Improvements: Moving Up
You cannot explore without admiring all the two-level cages. We added a 2x2 grid loft and built an access ramp from double-thickness corrugated plastic. Because we are taking the laid back approach with our pigs, we didn't want to force them to use the ramp or loft so we left it to their initiative.

One day I was cleaning up and discovered Kazula on the second floor. She had braved it up the ramp but evidently did not yet know her way back down. It was kind of sweet and sad at the same time.

I thought about it a while and it occurred to me that because they were so hidey and enjoyed their tunnels so much, I should try making the ramp like a tunnel.

Ta-da! As soon as I added a ramp roof, they were up and down that baby like nobody's business! The loft became a favourite play place. I will post some videos that show the new loft.

First Wheeks!
Around 7-8 weeks old, our piggies got their voices. We had only heard very faint chatter from them up until this point, but suddenly one day when I was getting hay from the bag, Kazula did her first wheek. It was so sweet in her little baby voice. She did it a few times that day and by the next day Harmony was wheeking too. They are still so young so their voices are fairly soft. I imagine there will be some major wheeking in our future.

By the end of week 8, they knew to wheek whenever someone opened the fridge (which is located in eye-shot and about ten feet from their cage). Whether they are hungry or not, if they're not napping, they wheek for the fridge. Very optimistic, these piggies are!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Piggie Cam: Skittish but playful

While filming this, my daughter was preparing food in the kitchen. Notice how they flee at every sound.

Also note the Law of the Piggies:
Never enter an occupied hidey.

Piggie Cam: Morning Workout Video

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

7 weeks - switch to fleece bedding

I spent much of the first week reading everything I could about how to care for these two little sweeties.

I knew we had not chosen the right setup because in the first few days I would find Harmony in the pigloo and Kazula balled up in a corner of the cage with no where to go. I felt terrible. My searches led me to, where I discovered a lot of valuable information.

1. You can use fabric such as fleece in guinea pig cages. I had assumed they would chew it. Mine do not. This means you can line the cage with washable fleece instead of using commercial, disposable bedding. Our piggies were scaring themselves in the cage because when they would try and run and play, their feet would slip on the bedding and make a noise that frightened them. The day we switched to fleece, their level of contentment and playfulness transformed. They haven't had a day without popcorning (jumping for joy) since.

2. You can sew hidey houses and other accessories your piggies. This is my territory! I've always loved to sew (never with instructions, just intuitively) and I have a lot of leftover fabric from my hand-dyed fabric business, so this opened up a whole new world. Piggies can use hidey houses, piggie beds like cats use, hammocks suspended slightly off the cage bottom, and stuffed toys to drag around.

3. Each piggie needs their own hidey house. This doesn't mean one always uses the same hidey, but there always has to be at least one available for each pig. I felt terrible in our first week when I found Kazula balled up in a corner of the cage because Harmony had taken over the hidey house. And it wasn't Harmony's fault: she is definitely much more skittish and really needed to hide. But Kazula needed a warm safe place to hide too.

I set to work immediately and transformed the cage. I found fleece blankets at the thrift store and I had a supply of old towels.

Fleece Bedding
-bottom layer is newspaper
-middle layer is towels
-top layer is fleece blanket, cut to the floor size of the cage

I noticed that some cavy slaves (piggie owners) choose to have a bathroom area at one end of the cage with disposable bedding and then a fleece area. I suspected that our two girls might cling to a familiar area and avoid the fleece so I decided to go all-fleece. I also would rather wash fleece than buy and throw out Carefresh.

Our piggies p&p (pee and poop) where they eat, so I put extra towel and newspaper under the fleece in that area. We designated one end of the cage as the kitchen/bathroom and that has worked out really well. The hay determines where they p & p. They always go in the same areas so clean up is predictable and simple.

Diet and Nutrition
There is a very helpful list here [] of what guinea pigs can eat and how often. People sometimes think they can have the same diet as hamsters and rabbits and this is not the case at all. Think of the food chain: if any one type of animal had the identical needs of another, the chain would not work. We stick to the recommendations on the list, and wish that we all treated our own bodies with the same care!

This week (week 7) I introduced parsley. They had been having the usual hay and pellets, as well as romaine, carrot, and celery. Kazula came and sniffed the parsley and then ran for her life! I've noticed that whenever I change something in the cage or offer a new food, one piggie will check it out and then go tell the other about it. You can actually hear them chatting about it. Then the second pig will come have a look. They're really curious animals. It reminds me of my (dearly departed) cats who would also investigate anything new we would bring into the house, and usually end up sleeping in whatever box or shopping bag was associated with it. Piggies are so sweet.

On this day, Kazula had a funny response to the acute scent of the parsley, ran and told Harmony. Harmony was still extremely skittish at this point but she still came and had a nibble. And then gobbled up the whole thing. Parsely is still Harmony's favourite food, though each day seems to have different tastes. Kazula is a romaine girl. Though I feed both of them a variety of veggies.

I notice they gobble up the easy-to-chew foods first (romaine and parsley) and then come back to the 'working foods' like carrot, celery, red and green peppers, cucumber, and so on. Zucchini is a least favourite and often doesn't get fully eaten.

Introduction to the new fleece bedding
The day we switched them to fleece bedding was really memorable. They ran around completely uninhibited and popcorned (guiena pig talk for jumping for joy) like we had never seen before. I also sewed a couple of fleece tunnels, lined with a synthetic fabric meant to be like sheepskin (they are about 12" long and the openings are approximately 6" in diameter). They loved their tunnels immediately. That night they each slept in a relaxed position for the first time since we had them. I glanced in to see Harmony with her arms (are they called arms?) and legs spread wide, head relaxed on a fold of the tunnel. Bliss!

The piggies never chew the tunnels but they do monkey around on them: sometimes they jump over them or climb on top of them, squishing them down. But then they run inside and plump them back up with the tops of their heads! So cute. I think it's a fun game for them. I'm going to post some videos showing their hidey tunnel monkey business.

Between the fleece bedding and the comfy hidey tunnels, I felt like we were finally on the right track. Next came the loft and ramp....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

6 weeks- new arrivals

Our two female guinea pigs, Harmony (left) and Kazula were adopted at approximately 6 weeks old, which would place their date of birth around January 1, 2009.

Since we got them, we have learned a lot about providing the best care for them, but this will outline how we started, some errors in judgement and improvements made. We didn't know much about guinea pigs (besides all the myths that people repeat)so we decided a good starting point is to base all decisions on health and safety first.

Size and Appearance
We were told the piggies were from the same litter but I found this disputable from the get-go. Harmony is short-haired and round, Kazula is long-haired and skinny. Harmony's instinct is to run and hide. Kazula's instinct is to walk away backwards to get away. There's lots of other differences as well. Not to say all piggies from the same litter should act the same: what siblings do? But there seemed to be fundamental physiological differences that made me suspect different litters. The hair differences seem obvious but I have no idea if that can happen in one litter. They also have very different responses to a variety of situations. But who knows? They are certainly bonding very well.

Both piggies were about palm size when we got them. They had more length than that but you rarely see it because they're usually hunched in a ball if they're visible. I don't have a scale yet but I they were certainly lighter than a small apple. Tiny and so dear!

Prior to their arrival, I built a 2x5 grid open top cage with corrugated cardboard insert. The actual cage size is about 30" x 72". It's a lovely, large space that allows them to run around and play. Gone are the days (or they should be) of confined spaces with painful wire tray bottoms and poor air circulation. I feel like I owe Snowball, the school guinea pig we took care of for the summer after Grade 2 way back in the 1970's, a very big apology for a whole bunch of reasons. All living creatures deserve better. And hopefully, when you know better, you do better.

When piggies are full-grown, they can have lower grid walls around their cages, but our wee babies became such wild jumpers in the first few weeks, leaping for joy during playtime, that I opted for tall, protective sides around the cage for now. Kazula is so light, when she jumps with excitement, she can actually leap right over their hidey houses (6-8" off the ground). I'm pretty sure when they're plump and older, the leaping won't be nearly so vigorous. But for now, the cage is a sort of playpen.

We hadn't heard about the benefits of fleece fabric as bedding yet so we initially used synthetic fluffy bedding (Carefresh). It's quite expensive and not compostable. I was very pleased to switch to fleece bedding which is both very comfortable for the piggies and washable. The leftover hay (from feeding) and poops and newspapers go in our composter. More on this later.

We purchased a plastic pigloo for them to hide in until we could find something more appealing (to both them and us). Later I learned a big lesson about hidey houses: one is not enough. And because both piggies are such wild runners and jumpers, I was a little worried about having too many hard surfaces in the cage. But we started with a pigloo....

Both pigs were very skittish upon arrival, though Harmony was much more wary than Kazula. In the first few days, we would rarely see them, as they would remain hidden from sight. They would venture out to play but I couldn't get close enough to take photos or movies for the first two weeks or so. I only got the photos at top because they had no voices when we got them so they weren't yet able to express their displeasure with being picked up with a WHEEK. We had big changes at 8 weeks and then again at 10 weeks (as I'm writing this), where they became much more trusting of us.

Food - Diet and Nutrition
We purchased a bag of Timothy hay and knew to provide unlimited hay. Before we smartened up with the hidey houses, Harmony would use the pigloo and Kazula would hide under the hay. Big hint: each piggie needs its own hiding place, plus an extra one that they can share.

We also purchased guinea pig pellets with vitamin C. Piggies are to eat hay, pellets, specific fresh vegetables and some occasional fruits, and have unlimited water (through a water bottle) each day. They are not to have any nuts or seeds, cooked foods, animal products (meat or dairy) or anything else. They are herbivores. I like this because their diet is a lot like mine and their poops are completely inoffensive.

It's very disturbing to see the guinea pig 'treats' sold in pet shops and grocery stores. Most are made entirely of things that piggies are not ever supposed to eat. You really have to read every label and when in doubt, don't buy it!

P & P
While we had the synthetic bedding, they seemed to pee and poop in random areas. This all got sorted out when we switched to fleece (more on this later). In short, the hay eating area is a natural spot for peeing and pooping, which actually makes things very organized and fairly easy to clean.

Initially, my daughter would pick them up to have a little cuddle. Harmony would try and hide up on her shoulder in her hair because she was so nervous. Kazula was more accommodating but still obviously uneasy about it. Everyone dreams of having the wonderfully affectionate and non-skittish piggies you see on YouTube videos, but this is something that develops over time, and for some piggies may not happen at all.

After some research, we decided to tame them on their own terms. We would only pick them up if we really had too, and we'd simply get them really familiar with us as we went about our daily business, tending to the cage and simply living our lives. I'll discuss this more as the weeks go by. The goal was to get them so comfortable with us and trusting that they would approach us for both food and affection. If they turn out to be skittish for life, it won't be because we jolted them into it. It will simple be their true natures. We're hopeful that with continued time and patience, both piggies will learn to trust us and enjoy our company.

Are Guinea Pigs suitable pets for kids?
Not really. Though these piggies belong to my 11 year-old daughter, I assume primary care. They are much more labour intensive than cats or fish, but I also find it very soothing and rewarding. But because of their skittish natures and the caution required when handling them, I really wouldn't ever want to see a young child in charge of one.

I've also found that I seem to be the one in the family with the desire to spend a lot of time with them each day. I take my time cleaning the cage and feeding them so they can simply get familiar with me and warm up to us. I always have fresh veggies ready in the fridge so anyone can offer them a little snack and a chat. But young kids: no. Find another pet.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Piggie Cam: Kazula in time lapse

I accidentally filmed Kazula the guinea pig in time lapse. Funny enough, she moves so fast it's not that different than the usual. She's 8 weeks old in this footage.

Piggie Cam: The East Wing

The east side loft in our guinea pig cage is a favourite hangout. Here Kazula and Harmony are 10 weeks old. The use the husk hut as a loo and one of them is usually sleeping in the fabric hidey tunnel. At 8 weeks, they still would not approach me. Now they come close when called.

Piggie Cam: Coming when called

At ten weeks of age, Kazula and Harmony now seem to recognize their names and come when called.

Piggie Cam: Food Cam

While Harmony is not aggressive with Kazula, she will snatch her food away whenever Kazula isn't paying attention.

Piggie Cam: Kazula in the loo

When I secured their husk hut to the wall and added soft fleece inside, Kazula and Harmony immediately christened it as The Loo.

Piggie Cam: Kazula loves the bridge

The piggies love to race up their ramp and run across the bridge. This entertains them every day. This footage show how Kazula enoys being called by name and is learning the 'downstairs' command/request.

Piggie Cam: Hand Feeding!

Two weeks earlier, we couldn't imagine the piggies warming up to hand feeding. But here we are. Both Harmony and Kazula now seem to enjoy it, and sometimes even prefer it over self-serve veggies.

Piggie Cam: chat, purrs, and popcorning

At 9 weeks old, Kazula and Harmony were still too skittish for closeups, so I turned the camera on and placed the camera in the cage. Here they do a lot of chatting, purring, and some popcorning.

Piggie Cam: Home in transition

This early footage of our piggies at 8 weeks old shows a number of things we have since determined are not safe or useful in a guinea pig's cage. We have improved the cage with fleece bedding, soft hidey tunnels, created a kitchen / bathroom area, covered the ramp, added a second loft area...You get the idea. You can't do too much in the name of piggie happiness.

Piggie Cam: Hidey House Confidential

At 8 weeks old, Harmony and Kazula are still too skittish for me to take photos or film of them at close range, so instead I set the camera and place it on the floor of their cage. In this video, they are playing and popcorning until the threat of humans passes by....

Piggie Cam: Skittish but playful

At 8 weeks old, the piggies are still too skittish for me to stand nearby with the camera, so I resorted to standing back or leaving it running on the tripod. Here you can see them popcorning and playing but fleeing whenever the kitchen sound become too much.

eli the popcorning bunny

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