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!

Cage
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.

Bedding
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.

Security
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....

Skittishness
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.

Handling
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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi - I have a new blog at www.guineapigruninfo.com.

    Its all about making or buying a guinea pig run according to their needs and has references you can click on to go to relevant pages from specialist guinea pig experts, animal charities and a whole page on adopting a guinea pig. None of the articles are paid advertising.Would you like to check me out re: a blogroll link exchange?

    ReplyDelete

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