Honey, I'd like to get a guinea pig

Honey, I'd like to get a guinea pig

Not in his wildest dreams did our collaborator conceive that his world might include one—let alone two—furry little rodents. With humour and an open mind, he shares how the guinea pigs may tunnel a path to his heart.

April 3, 2019 By Steven Rourke

We all have an inner world of far-fetched circumstances that we don't reasonably expect to experience in our lifetimes. Owning a guinea pig has never been on my agenda—I've never been especially drawn to them and I'm not 8 years old! But ever since my partner mentioned the idea of owning his first guinea pig since childhood, I've begun to question my biases. After all, what would stop two loving adults from getting a guinea pig?

For many, owning a guinea pig (mouse, hamster or gerbil) is a childhood rite of passage that leads to more “grown-up” pets, such as a dog or cat. In Canada 18% of 3- to 5-year-olds and 16% of 6- to 11-year-olds have small pets, a catch-all “other” category which includes birds, fish and small mammals. As the arc of life progresses, the percentage of people owning smaller animals plummets. When it comes to guinea pigs this may be unfortunate, as it turns out they may be better suited as pets for adults than children.

Becoming a rodent's dad

Having a guinea pig is quite a responsibility. A guinea pig lives longer than other rodents—typically between 5 and 7 years—and needs daily loving attention and grooming. Guinea pigs are social animals that are happier in groups of two or more. In fact, believe it or not, in Switzerland, it's illegal to own just one guinea pig, which is considered cruel. So, you should really think about having more than one (just be careful about the housing arrangements!). Guinea pigs also require a decent-sized hutch which provides them with varied experiences and room to explore. To avoid a “horsey” smell, their digs must be cleaned on a regular basis. And while you're cleaning that cage, there's nothing a guinea pig likes more than gentle care, cuddling and time to roam free. In terms of handling, adults are more likely than children to have the manual dexterity and refined motor skills that a small animal will appreciate. And yes, guinea pigs also need to visit the veterinarian (think yearly budget).

All work, no play? No way.

Studies have shown that guinea pigs can help children develop social skills and reduce problematic behaviour. But what about adults? What's in it for me? “They're gentle and so full of love,” responds my partner—an assertion I'm beginning to hear frequently from a surprising range of adults. “Looking after a guinea pig made me very happy,” he adds ... an argument that's hard to counter.

While we haven't made up our minds yet (note to self: what was that about a “horsey” smell?), I'm reminded that life is full of surprises and, well, love knows no bounds. Am I seriously considering welcoming a long-haired rodent into our home? I'm certainly beginning to warm to the idea and see that, yes, happiness can come in many shapes and sizes, including small and furry.

Do you own a guinea pig? Head to Facebook to share your experiences of GP ownership with other Pawsies.

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