Guinea pigs are very sweet, very funny little animals that make excellent pets for twenty-seven-year-old quite anti-social women.
I know, it’s weird. I’m weird. At least I don’t dress them up.
It was Panda who stole my heart while I was lunch-breaking in the pet shop back in 2015. He was so tiny, with these big goofy back feet and weird fuzzy fur and an eye that looked like a chicken’s eye. I immediately phoned my boyfriend and spent the rest of the afternoon at work trying to convince him that keeping guinea pigs in our spare room was the next big life change we needed to make.
That afternoon there was nothing I wanted more in the world than the weird looking baby guinea pig. Unlimited wealth, world peace, a best-selling novel. None of it mattered any more.
After enduring a creative array of promises and bribes from me, my boyfriend eventually relented and we went back to the pet shop that evening to buy Panda (who I had already named), and a little blonde-haired one we later called Valentino (after Valentino Rossi the motorbike racer). I now regret not calling Valentino ‘Llewellyn’ (after Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen) because he’s since grown an impressive silky mane of hair and he minces everywhere.
Now Panda and Valentino are two years old, which is the guinea pig equivalent of two middle-aged blokes.
They both have very distinctive personalities and it’s fascinating to watch them interact. Sometimes they gallop around the flat at top speed, whizzing around and underneath the furniture – other times they trot about making this happy chortling sound, sometimes popcorning (when they jump into the air sporadically, unable to contain their excitement). Usually they just hang out in their cage grazing on stuff, or stretch out on their sides for a snooze. They do argue sometimes, usually when Panda gets fed up of Valentino (he’s incredibly clingy) – and they square up to each other chattering their teeth. I know they’re trying to be intimidating but it’s still really cute.
They’re not lap piggies. Neither of them really like being picked up. If I do try, Valentino will usually nibble my fingers as a warning – but he’s never actually bitten me, even when I have to bath him or cut his toenails (which he absolutely loathes). He knows I don’t want to hurt him, and he doesn’t want to hurt me either. It’s a mutual understanding.
They have a very loud squeak reserved for the following sounds:
- The front door opening
- A plastic bag rustling
- My boots zipping up
- The word ‘grass’
- The shower, which I think must sound like a plastic bag rustling.
All of these sounds of course translate to guinea pig as ‘food’, and there’s nothing a guinea pig loves more in the whole wide world than food – particularly a big juicy pile of fresh, green grass.
Because I live in the centre of town I have to go a mile and a half away to find decent non-cigarette-butty grass – but I still make the trip four or five times a week. Sometimes I run, or walk, or drive – but it’s always worth it to see the guinea pigs completely flip out.
(As an aside, if you have indoor guinea pigs then please do make the effort to regularly pick them fresh grass – hay is alright but it’s like serving someone a can of Guinness when they wanted draught, or Heinz ravioli when they wanted fresh ricotta and spinach tortellini from Waitrose). And unlike anything in Waitrose, grass is completely free.
A lot of people assume guinea pigs are the kind of pets you buy young children to teach them about life and death and responsibility. I think that role should be taken by something smaller like fish, or a hamster. Hamsters need less space, can handle being dropped (guinea pigs can easily become paralysed from even small drops), don’t need constant companionship, and only live for two years.
You should only buy guinea pigs if the child is old/responsible enough and you – the fully-sentient adult, are prepared to commit your love, time and money for a maximum of eight years. Young children can be fickle, cack-handed little things. They don’t know how much pressure to exert when picking up a small rodent. They don’t understand that loud noises and sudden movements will frighten them. Too often, young children get bored of guinea pigs and they end up forgotten and neglected in a garden shed (the guinea pigs, not the children, which is the wrong way round if you ask me).
I was nine when my parents gave me my first guinea pigs for my birthday, which is probably a reasonable age. We made a home for them in our shed and yes, I had to be nagged to clean them out – but I did, and I put them out on the grass in their run every day. I cared about them deeply and worried about them constantly. When one of them died while we were on holiday I felt terrible about it well into my twenties.
The thought that some people see their guinea pigs as disposable, rather than as small, furry family members makes me feel really, really sad. I just wish I could take all those poor, neglected guinea pigs and build a giant guinea pig city in a fox-proof garden somewhere full of lush grass. But I can’t, because I’m still trying to maintain the illusion of being a normal, functioning adult, so instead I’m writing a blog in the hope that someone reading it will remember the guinea pig in their garden and give it some love.
There’s really a very simple formula for guinea pig happiness:
Companionship + space to run + clean shelter + grass = happy pig
They also really like those wooden stick things coated in nuts and seeds from ESK Pets. But it’s not much to ask for.