Animal Farm - apartment style
September 9, 2008 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Thinking of a guinea pig as a starter pet for a 5 year old. We have two cats already - any insight into how they might all get along ?

Any experienece with guinea pigs with or without cats would be appreciated.

Posting for a friend.
posted by AuntLisa to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This article is the best I've seen on kids and guinea pigs.

They are high-maintenance pets. They require fresh vegetables, so you have to shop for the guinea pig a couple of times per week. You really need two of them for them to thrive. The space that they need is really huge for such a small animal. They are also very loud, so keeping them in a child's bedroom is a bad idea.

I have had a guinea pig, an abyssinian female that lived to be 8 + years old. She was sweet, and she loved to swim, and we had a big garden so it was easy to get her the fresh veggies during the summer. They can be great pets but they are definitely more for the committed pet owner.

And yes, you will have to keep your cats entirely separate from the guinea pig. Unless you have very lazy cats, they will see it as prey
posted by Ostara at 2:50 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ack, the article didn't post.

Here is it.
posted by Ostara at 2:51 PM on September 9, 2008

Good choice for someone who is young but responsible and very interested themselves. A guinea pig was my first pet- we already had a family cat. The cat and the guinea pig were frequently in the same room at the same time, but the cat evinced no interest in the guinea pig when he was in his cage, and when he was out of the cage being played with on the floor, would occasionally sniff each other but not be all that interested.

It was a good pet for me to start with- small, relatively easy to care for.

I purchased my guinea pig from a breeder and used mostly my own allowance money. Let me put in a word for NOT purchasing guinea pigs from pet stores: gp's are sensitive creatures who thrive in quiet environments with lots of hiding space and socialization.

Many/most of the guinea pigs I see in pet stores are crazy. I used to breed guinea pigs for 4H (as a kid) and only once did I get a guinea pig from a pet store- he lived 1/2 the length of my other gp's and was almost impossible to hold. He was also the only guinea pig who ever bit me, in 10 years with gp's and probably two dozen animals.

A well-socialized guinea pig should be ok with getting picked up- this usually means he grew up with humans stroking/feeding him and will be good with children. A poorly socialized gp will be bad with kids, impossible to hold and alternatively terrified and trying to escape. A quick clue that they are poorly socialized is if they scatter and you have to chase them around the cage to pick them up.

Find a local breeder through 4H and go from there. Once you have your GP, get him a big cage so he has plenty of room to play, and (this is critical) somewhere to hide. He needs his privacy and will really appreciate it. A shoe box with a door cut out is fine. The other important thing we had was a cage "skirt" or diaper. When the gp's go racing around their cage, they often kick up the pine shavings and send them flying all over the floor. I made a very simple skirt made of a large piece of fabric with elastic to anchor it around the cage and it meant that clean-up was a snap.
posted by arnicae at 2:54 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have two cats, who have lived with a rabbit, a foster cat, fish, and a variety of guinea pigs, none of whom still live with us) Cats, as you are probably well aware, are extraordinarily curious about living things, and will almost certainly be sticking their paws into any occupied cage. Guinea pigs are frightened easily and will run as quickly as possible to the opposite end of their cage, so as long as there is no unsupervised interaction I wouldn't worry. You can witness photographic evidence here.
posted by mkb at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2008

Guinea pigs are freaking adorable and make an awesome squeaking noise like all the time, and these have these little hair whorls that are also adorable.

Cats are born and bred small-furry-thing hunters and mutilators. This is true even of the most cutesy-wootsy cats. The cats will constantly want to kill the guinea pig and the guinea pig will be highly stressed by the cats. Cats are highly patient, enjoy puzzles and enjoy torturing/playing with their prey. They will spend hours figuring out how to get to the guinea pig and will enjoy tormenting the thing from out of reach until access is obtained. You will need to keep the cats completely separated from the guinea pig at all times, like different rooms with a closed door in between.

Please make sure your friend understands that just because an animal is small and is sold for 20-40 bucks at the pet store does not mean it is easy to take care of or (worse) disposable. It is a living thing and will require frequent adult attention. If it gets sick it will require a vet's care and that can be expensive, and vets that work with rodents are sometimes hard to find. Also with cats and a 5 year old, there will probably be the inevitable day when the child takes the guinea pig out to play, leaves it out and then wanders off forgetfully, only to return to his or her room to find the cats have snuck in and had their fun.
posted by skallagrim at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2008

I've never had guinea pigs and cats simultaneously, but I know a lid on the cage is required. Cavy Cages is a great website for getting started with building a cage (much better for the pets than most store bought cages), and addresses the issues of cats and other animals. Their forum is also a pretty handy resource. (I adopted my two current cavies through their adoption service, Cavy Spirit.

On preview - Ostara hits on all the good points. Cavies are loud as babies but mellow out somewhat over time. They aren't as low maintenance as people may think, but are more social than a hamster- they like human attention. They could be a nice starter pet, but it does require some commitment.
posted by kendrak at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2008

I'll add that it is entirely dependent on your cat's personality. Our guinea pig would waddle up to our cat (probably around 10 years old at the time) and be more curious in the cat than the cat was of the guinea pig.

The cat didn't really pay much attention to the guinea pig, including nothing near "prey" and would eventually walk away if the guinea pig walked up. The cat was otherwise frisky.
posted by asterisk at 3:19 PM on September 9, 2008

Seconding the recommendation for Cavy Cages - the C&C cages are fantastic.

I think that guinea pigs are not a good starter pet for a kid so young. They're social animals, and they're far happier living with at least one other pig than they are alone. They also require a lot of space for such a small animal - about 7.5 square foot at a minimum for one pig.

Also, they have long life-spans. The pigs I've known have lived about 6 or 7 years, and it's not unheard of them to live even longer. Is the kid/parent ready to make a commitment to care for the pig for that long?

I would recommend that your friend read the Care Guide from Guinea Lynx. She'd have a better idea of the kind of care/maintenance required, and from that, work out whether or not they're a suitable pet for her kid.
posted by spockette at 3:35 PM on September 9, 2008

Years ago, I had a guinea pig for a few months, while living with 2 cats. The cats never did anything to really harm the piggy: When I had her out of the cage to putz around on the floor the cats just watched her intently from a short distance. Problem was, though, they were always watching her intently. They would spend hours just sitting in front of her cage, staring. Occasionally reaching out to touch the cage with a gentle paw. I think that made poor piggy a bit neurotic and eventually she started hooting nonstop - day and night - a constant piggy din. I figured it was from nervousness resulting from the continual feline surveillance, and decided to rehome her with a family that had another guinea pig she could commiserate with. So in short... no your cats probably won't hurt the piggy, but the piggy will likely develop some anxiety problems if your cats are as curious as mine.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 3:39 PM on September 9, 2008

Guinea pigs are a lot of work, but they're very cute and fun to have around. A good resource on care can be found at Guinea Lynx.

I agree with skallagrim, the parents will need to put a lot of time in to care for the piggy. Guinea pigs need a wide variety of vegetables, weekly floor time for exercise, cage cleaning, nail-trimming (which is a pain in the ass and most of the time requires two people), etc. A child that is too young may not be able to handle some of these responsibilities, and parents might not have enough time to deal with them. They are adorable, sweet creatures, but I'm not sure they would be good for a 5-year old.
posted by extramundane at 3:39 PM on September 9, 2008

"Starter pet" really rubs me the wrong way. It sounds disposable. Really, little creatures in cages can live as long, and are generally more maintenance, than the average dog or cat. A pet should be for the whole household, and the whole family needs to feel invested or involved, because a five year old alone should not be the only one responsible for the animal.

I grew up with guinea pigs, mice, rats, rabbits, chinchillas, cats, dogs, goats, horses, ducks and chickens. I would definitely not get a pet for any five year old unless they had demonstrated a willingness to responsibly care for something for years- up to eight for guinea pigs. That seems like a tall order to me. However, adopting a family pet seems entirely doable. Definitely read Ostara's link. One thing that we had to regularly take the piggies to the vet for was teeth trimming- they continue to grow all their lives, and having wood chew blocks wasn't enough to eliminate regular vet visits.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:40 PM on September 9, 2008 [4 favorites]

Ostara and Spockette are right on -- guinea pigs really aren't "starter" pets for little kids. My husband and I have 4 of them right now, plus one cat, and they do require a lot of work, regular vet checkups, a nice big cage to run around in ( is a fantastic resource), proper food (the crap you can get at Target and places like that isn't at all good for them, check out for diet and medical information), a steady amount of timothy hay to eat and nest in, a supply of fresh veggies every day...

Not to say they aren't totally worth it, though! They bond very strongly with their humans, and with each other. They're social animals, so they really thrive in pairs. (Three of our boys live in the same cage, but the fourth is too aggressive and has to live in an adjoining cage.) We built their cages out in the living room -- piggies prefer to be in a room where people spend a lot of time (i.e., a kid's bedroom isn't a great spot...). They love to sit on us, cuddle up on our shoulders, and they all have their own unique personalities and quirks. And they are unbelievably cute.

Our cat doesn't bother them at all -- she touches noses with them when we're petting them, and has gently licked their heads and nuzzled them. We don't have a lid on the cage -- she's never shown any interest in jumping into the cage.
posted by sarcasticah at 4:41 PM on September 9, 2008

Okay. Five-year-olds are great. I love five-year-olds. I don't think they are capable of taking care of or owning their own pets - the few that aren't too high-maintenance and too expensive (almost everything, from everything four-legged and furry to reptiles and fish) are too fragile for small, occasionally clumsy fingers (invertebrates).

So basically, the question your friend needs to answer for his or herself is, do they want guinea pigs? Because if they like the adorable little dudes and are willing to commit to that 8-10 year lifespan, then they should do the research and go for it! I'm sure plenty of people with cats and cavies can be found to give advice. Just, what they need to keep in mind is that even if the 5-year-old names the pig(s), plays with them and occasionally helps with small chores, the primary caretaker will be the parent, and they need to be interested and engaged in the animal(s) or it won't go well. Please (to the friend directly) do not be the parent who dumps their small child's bunny/puppy/cavy on craigslist because the kid got bored and you can't be bothered, because that's so unnecessary and cruel.

Speaking of which, many people don't realize that guinea pigs can be found outside of pet stores - if your friend decides to go for it, s/he could try the above-mentioned craigslist, local animal shelters, or petfinder!
posted by bettafish at 4:48 PM on September 9, 2008

Watch out.
When my son was in second grade, he was allowed to bring the class guinea pig home for the Christmas holidays. He brought along the cage, the water bottle, the whole shebang. We placed the cage on top of a wall unit, at about hip height. It was a hassle for the entire visit.
Every time the door to the room was open, our indoor-outdoor cat would bolt for the wall unit, land on top of the cage and stretch-out, Snoopy-style. Purring loudly, he'd peer down into the cage, thinking "Mmmmm, dinner." Luckily, school was back in session before the cat figured out how to get into the room without a human bearing witness to an animal sacrifice.
posted by Newstuffoldstuff at 6:08 PM on September 9, 2008

I had a cat who would climb into my pigs (when I had them) open top cage and sleep with them. Never once attacked or otherwise threatened them. I think it just depends on the individual animal.

Pigs are a lot of work though.. I honestly thing more than a dog and definitely more than a cat. All the points above apply.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:47 AM on September 10, 2008

*I honestly think..... nice work fingers.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:47 AM on September 10, 2008

Another vote for dependent on the cat.

I have 3 guinea pigs and one indoor/outdoor cat. The cat still catches mice but clearly recognizes the guinea pigs as pets in the household. He has never tried to stalk them or otherwise hurt them. The guinea pigs are sometimes out and running around. At that point, the cat will watch them because they are moving but otherwise not be too interested. The only conflict seems to be a battle for affection. I have a pig that is undergoing some medical stuff and requires a lot more of my attention. Whenever I have the pig now in my lap, the cat comes along and tries to climb onto my lap too. Two of the guinea pigs are quite used to the cat, and will quite literally climb over his sleeping form if he is lying in the way. The cat will either wake up and move out of the way, but more likely than not by the time he's woken up, the pig has already climbed over him. The other guinea pig is terrified of the cat, but he is also the one scared when water drips from the sipper bottle. It can work.

Guinea pigs are unbelievably cute and charming, but they do require an intense amount of work. Consider the following:
Diet - very specialized and quality foods with limited availability, needs fresh vegetables every day, needs vitamin C, needs good quality hay
Grooming - nails need to be trimmed, teeth may need to be trimmed regularly, if back molars need to be trimmed, you're in trouble. Long-hair pig? Get used to trimming, bathing and combing.
Health - there is a reason that guinea pigs were so widely used in testing for humans; they are susceptible to human viruses and colds
Exercise - even with a large cage, guinea pigs need time that they can run free. Do you have a room that can be pig-proofed?
Litter - Some pigs can be litter-trained, but none that I have had (or at least never fully.) They will just go where they please. And they go a lot. Their urine can also be quite damaging to wood floors.
Social - Pigs need to be housed with a friend. Then the questions are females or males? Mine are males from the same litter, and recently I have had to separate them. That means more cage space. Even still to get them socialized to humans they need to be handled everyday.
Lifespan - Even though other posters are stressing their *long* lifespan, I find them too short. Are you prepared to say a goodbye to your pet that may come sooner than you think?

These are just some of the regular everyday concerns of owning a guinea pig. That being said, I have had guinea pigs since I was 10 years old when I got 2 for my birthday. (That is almost 25 years ago!) They can be fun, fulfilling, friendly pets but do require a significant commitment.
posted by typewriter at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2008

We had a guinea pig as an office pet, and cleaning out that cage every day was not the most popular task. A five year old won't do it, so the parents will have to. They need to be ready and prepared. That being said, I loved our little piggy, and he sure was cute scampering around the office and squeaking a greeting when one of his buddies came by to give him a veggie treat.
posted by Mavri at 10:22 AM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great information - I've passed it on to my friend. meFi has come through again as an amazingly informed, helpful resource.

Oneirodynia, please don't be concerned about my wording. I think my friend is clearly trying to make sure that everyone, including the pigs, are likely to be happy in the situation before they dive in. Since we live in apartments, I think when she says "starter pet" she really means something small enough to live in an apartment and not need to be walked.
posted by AuntLisa at 11:34 AM on September 10, 2008

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