Monday, March 31, 2014

When to Enjoy Spring Weather with Your Guinea Pigs

The sun is shining, the grass is getting green, and spring is in the air!

Before we get ahead of ourselves with taking our guinea pigs outside, lets talk about when the appropriate time is for them to be outdoors.  It's easy for us guinea pig lovers to want to run our guinea pigs outside with the first sign of green sprouts and sunny skies, but it may not be a good time for your guinea pigs just yet.  If it isn't, don't worry!  Give your guinea pigs lots of fresh veggies and some fruits, and they'll be just as happy.

First, it's important to know that guinea pigs are best suited for indoor temperatures in the 65-75°F range to remain healthy.  There are beautiful days when outside temperatures are within this range, and you can enjoy the nice day with them.  Many times there are days that are too hot or too cold, and we're still want them to enjoy the outdoors.  I don't recommend it, because guinea pigs are very susceptible to getting upper respiratory infections that are difficult to treat.  They must be treated by a vet with specific prescription antibiotics that are safe for them.  Also, guinea pigs can't survive in hot weather.  When the temperatures get warm, they cannot sweat, so they are susceptible to deadly heat strokes.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to take your guinea pigs outside.  First, will you be able to be with them at every moment?  It is important that you be with them to protect them.  If you cannot, you need to have a very secure pen to keep them in.  I say this because there are many outdoor predators that can make a quick snack out of a defenseless guinea pig, and it isn't the predators' fault when you put the guinea pig in their environment.  Raccoons can open latches and tear through weak screen such as chicken wire, as anyone with chickens knows.  Hardware cloth is the safest heavy duty mesh to use to construct a pen, and I suggest 1/4" hardware cloth so that snakes and minks cannot fit through the holes.  It should be covered too - providing your guinea pigs with shade and keeping hawks, eagles, etc. from snatching your pet.  It's a very real risk that sadly does happen, even to small dogs.

If it's a little bit chilly, but you choose to have your guinea pigs outside, be sure the grass is completely dry and take a snuggle sack or blanket out for them to burrow in so they do not become chilled.  Keep an eye out for runny or crusty eyes and noses, as this is a sign your guinea pig is getting sick and needs a vet's attention.

If it's getting warm outside when you choose to take your guinea pig out, have plenty of water available and a small shelter for shade for them - even an ice cream tub upside down with a hole cut in it can make a guinea pig shelter for a little outdoor foraging time.  I would even poke a few holes around the sides, near the top of it for ventilation before letting your guinea pig use, if it's warm outside. A drill could make these holes really fast and easy.  Click here to see ones made from Easter egg buckets.

It's best to use a basket that guinea pigs cannot jump out of, or a carrier to transport them outside if you have more than one guinea pig.  This also makes it easier to bring them back in, especially if you're bringing them in before they're ready!

Not the idea way to transport guinea pigs.
A box may work if it's large enough to hold them all, and they can't jump out.

I also recommend you have a puppy playpen or something of that effect to put around you and your guinea pigs, even while you're out there with them, especially if you have more than one guinea pig.  Can you imagine what would happen if an unexpected loud noise suddenly happened and spooked your guinea pigs?  Or a random dog came running up?  Your guinea pigs may bolt in all different directions, and I can't imagine anything more scary than deciding which of my boys to try to save first.  It's always better to be prepared than sorry. 

Remember that guinea pig tummies can be sensitive to foods they haven't had for some time, so when introducing them to the outdoors for the first time in months (or ever) make the time outdoors brief, especially if you find the temperatures are not ideal.  I suggest reading here too, for some information on plant safety. Keeping these things in mind, you and your guinea pigs will enjoy many beautiful days outdoors together!  ❀

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Guinea Pigs - Taming and Bonding

I have mentioned how important cage placement is when making a guinea pig part of your family.  Proper cage placement will help them bond with you, as described here.

In addition to cage placement, there are other things you need to do to bond with your guinea pig.  I frequently hear how mine are so cute, calm, tame, or something similar.  While I always appreciate those compliments of my guinea pigs, I want others to understand that my guinea pigs are not unlike any other guinea pig.  I've had them each less than a year, they were all separately adopted as adults, from less than stellar circumstances.  They just happened to be in need of homes at the time I was ready to open my home to guinea pigs, and I couldn't be happier that I found them.

First you need to understand guinea pigs to know how to bond with them.

They are not perfect.  Sometimes they still get spooked and run from me - this is a common reaction of an animal that has instincts that tell them they are prey.  When they see hands coming down from above to swoop them up and away, this could mean death for their wild relatives if a hawk is coming.  Moving your hands toward them from the side instead of from above can help.  Even our spoiled little house pets still have these instincts.  These times are rare, as I've earned their trust, but you do need patience.  They're very social, so having a companion is importat, which you can read about here.  Also, they do have potty accidents sometimes when they are being held or out during playtime.  We prepare for this by having towels, diaper pads, or something under them.  They're a little animal with a fast digestive system and they just can't help it sometimes.  

It's important to know guinea pigs have great hearing and sense of smell.  Use it to your advantage.  Keep your guinea pigs where you frequently see them and talk to them every time you walk by.  It makes them learn to love the sound of your voice.  When they learn to love the sound of your voice, they will come up to you when you talk to them, especially if you have some veggie scraps.  They smell those veggies coming and get so excited!  (Click here for ideas if you aren't sure what types of foods to feed them.)  Feed them the veggies from your hand.  After a lot of talking and feeding, you'll surely become their favorite person.  

You will need to hold your guinea pigs - a lot - for them to get used to being handled.  As I've said many times before guinea pigs become what you invest into them.  You must make time to talk to them multiple times everyday and hold them daily to get them used to it.  It helps to use an extra cage cube, sheet of cardboard, or something similar as a little divider to put around them when they're in a corner.  While talking to them sweetly, you can calmly reach down and pick them up, supporting their rear end well.  This keeps you from chasing them all over the cage.  They will be scared, but they'll be much less frightened if you are able to calmly get them without all the chasing.  Talk to them while picking them up with a happy tone.  

Once you have your guinea pig ready for your lap, here are a few tips:
1.  Hold them individually until they're used to it.
2.  Have a towel handy to hold them on your lap with.
3.  Make lap time peaceful, calm, and rewarding for the guinea pig.  Until the guinea pig is used to being held, don't allow small children to hold them.  It also is overwhelming to have a lot of children crowding around them.
4.  You want to make this experience really positive, so give them their favorite veggies while holding them, like a piece of carrot.
5.  Talk to them kindly and pet them.
6.  If they are too scared to eat the veggies and will not relax, keep the lap time short at first, to around 5 minutes.  If are content, still limit the time to 15 minutes the first few times out of the cage.
7. Last but not least be patient!  This process takes time for progress and you must work with them daily.  Don't give up.

In the end, it comes down to this: A happy guinea pig will make the best pet.  Do your best to enrich their lives, and they will do the same for you.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

DIY Recipe: Cavy Crunches

DIY Recipe for Cavy Crunches

Rather than purchase treats that are full of who-knows-what unhealthy ingredients, I make my own barley based organic goodies I call "Cavy Crunches" for my guinea pigs.  They smell so great you'll have to resist eating them.  :)  My guinea pigs love them!

I purchased all the ingredients below at my local organic store. Here's my ingredients list as follows:

  • 1 cup barley flour
  • 1/2 oat bran
  • 1/3 cup Oxbow guinea pig pellets
  • 1 banana
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/2 green apple
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 bunch of fresh dandelion greens
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Water as needed (usually about 1 cup)

I take the 1/3 cup of guinea pig pellets and put them in a bowl with around 2/3 cup of very hot water. I let them sit so all of the water is soaked up and the pellets are softened.

I put all of the fruit and fresh greens in a food processor with 1/3 cup water, blending until smooth.

I then put the barley flour, oat bran, softened guinea pig pellets, molasses, and olive oil in a bowl and mix them very well.

Then I add in the fruit and greens from the food processor and stir well again.  If it seems unusually stiff, a little bit more water can be added, but be careful not to add too much.  It should be sticky to roll out like cookie dough.

I then lay out the mixture onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper and pat it out until it's a pretty even thickness of about 1/4".  (A rolling pin would come in handy.)  I then use a knife to cut them into pieces, although I've used a round cap before, and thought about making other types of shapes...

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, but if you make them thinner, they won't take as long.  Check frequently to make sure they do not burn and are hardened to the touch.  Then shut off the oven and let them cool in the oven.   They should be fully dried and crispy when you remove them from the oven - this will keep them well preserved so they will not mold. (I let them sit in the oven to cool overnight.) Then, put them in your cookie jar and they're ready to share with your guinea pigs!  :)