Guinea pigs, or cavies as they are also known, originated in the Andes in South America. They were introduced into Europe in the 16th century where they became popular as pets because they are generally docile, affectionate and relatively easy to care for.
They have a long lifespan compared to some small animals, living for 4-8 years on average. The longest lived that has been recorded was just under 15 years.
There are a number of factors which will determine how long a guinea pig lives for, and just like any pet their life span will be dependent mainly on how they are looked after.
They will need decent housing, exercise, appropriate food and affection.
Housing and Exercise
There are a variety of guinea pig hutches available, and the first decision to make is whether to keep your guinea pig outside or indoors.
Keeping your guinea pig outside
Be aware that guinea pigs can more easily stand cold temperatures than very hot. Nor do they like wind or draughts. You may want to buy a portable cage to bring your pet inside in extreme weather conditions. Also if outside the hutch will need to have a cover to protect against rain and secure locks against predators such as foxes.
The hutch will need to be roomy so the animals have space to run around.
It is possible to buy two tiered hutches such as the Woodland Luxury Hutch (pictured) so that the top level can be used for sleeping and keeping warm and the bottom level for feeding and exercise.
However, guinea pigs are not particularly agile or good at climbing so they may need some encouragement to use them!
Like children all animals need some toys to stop them getting bored.
In the exercise area it is good to provide things such as tunnels or tubes for the animals to explore. They will also need something made from natural materials to chew on, such as balls, as their teeth are constantly growing and they need to do a lot of gnawing!
The lower area will also be for feeding and a hay rack will keep hay for eating clean and separate .Sturdy bowls will be needed as guinea pigs can be rather clumsy and tend to knock things over. Water will need to be provided in a bottle clipped to the side of the hutch and changed daily.
Keeping your guinea pig inside
Advantages of keeping your pet inside are that you will see them more often, you can check on them, play with them and ensure they are warm and dry. The main disadvantage is the need to have a big enough space. Also guinea pigs do not like a lot of noise so if this is a potential problem you may wish to keep them outside or in an outside building.
Diet is an important factor in how long guinea pigs live for, as with any animal a healthy and nutritious diet will extend their life expectancy.
Hay is the main food of guinea pigs, good for their teeth and digestion.
Special nuggets which have minerals and vitamins should also be provided . In addition small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, celery, apple and spinach will provide vitamin C which , like humans, guinea pigs cannot store so need a supply to stop them getting scurvy.
Don't be tempted to try and give too much variety as guinea pigs can be reluctant to try too many different foods. Clean water should be provided daily.
Care and Attention
A guinea pig should have at least one companion but do not put males and females together unless the male is neutered. Be sure to keep the hutch clean changing bedding and water daily and removing faeces.
If you have any concerns about your pets it is wise to consult a vet. Apart from scurvy, guinea pigs can get abscesses, diarrhoea, infections by lice, mites or fungus as well as other infections. Be on the look out for any hair loss, eye problems or changes in behaviour.
Guinea Pigs can live for a number of years with clean, secure, dry and warm shelter, exercise, and with a good diet and care and affection your guinea pig should live a healthy and happy life.