Pocket pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits are an 8 – 10 year commitment and require as much attention as dog and cats do. A consistent and well-balanced diet are essential as they are more prone to dental and gastrointestinal diseases. Rabbits and guinea pigs make good pets for both adults and children however careful consideration is necessary if choosing for a child as they require a dedicated commitment. Before thinking about getting a pocket pet for yourself or for a child it is important to consider if you are able to provide everything the animal requires.
What do rabbits and guinea pigs need?
- Companionship – Guinea pigs are social animals that benefit from having another guinea pig friend to live with. Some rabbits can be more independent than others and the choice of finding a friend would be based on that individual rabbit’s characteristics.
- Feeding twice a day with a mixture of good quality hay, washed vegetables and pellets as listed below.
- A constant supply of fresh, clean water in a water bowl.
- A large weatherproof home that is kept off the ground, out of direct sunlight and strong winds.
- A separate sleeping area for each animal inside the home. Their sleeping area also needs to be covered.
- A clean layer of hay, towels, newspaper or kitty litter (recycled paper) for bedding.
- Daily exercise in a large (grassy area) free and safe from any predators.
- Their home and bedding cleaned out daily.
- To be neutered at an early age to prevent reproductive diseases. Speak to your vet for more advice.
- To be taken to a veterinary surgeon if they are ill or injured.
- To be looked after when you are away on holiday.
Herbivores such as rabbits and guinea pigs require a high fibre diet to ensure a good gastrointestinal health. A well-balanced diet for a rabbit or guinea pig should consist of 80-90% of good quality hay or grass, 15% of dark leafy green vegetables and only 5% of treats or pellets. Hay should be the main source of fibre in a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet as it helps to regulate the gut flora and prevents dental disease as well.
Good quality hay includes oaten hay and timothy hay. High calcium hay such as lucerne hay (very sweet-smelling in nature) should be avoided in healthy adults and should only be given to pregnant or juvenile animals in moderation. A standard rabbit or guinea pig should be receiving one kitty litter tray full of fresh hay daily.
Dark leafy green vegetables such as Asian vegetables (bok choy, pak choy, choy sum), cos lettuce (not iceberg lettuce), endives, celery, broccoli, herbs (coriander, parsley, mint, dill), carrot tops and capsicum (all colours) are safe for rabbits and guinea pigs. They should always be offered a variety of vegetables and any new vegetables should be introduced gradually into the diet to prevent gastrointestinal upsets. A standard rabbit or guinea pig should be having one 1 – 2 litres container of loosely packed vegetables daily. Sugary food such as carrots, apples and bananas are considered as treats and should be given in moderation.
Guinea pigs lack the ability to make or store their own Vitamin C and the only way they can get Vitamin C into their system is through their diet. Vitamin C is crucial in the gastrointestinal and dermatological health of guinea pigs. Vitamin C can be easily obtained through vegetables (eg. capsicum) and fruits. Vitamin C tablets or supplements meant for guinea pigs are also safe for use. Supplementing Vitamin C through water is no longer recommended as it degrades overtime and the amount consumed is usually insufficient.
Good quality Veterinary grade pellets, one that does NOT contain grains, seeds or corn, is also safe to be given to both rabbits and guinea pigs but is not essential for good health and should be considered as treats. The maximum amount that should be given is 1 – 2 tablespoons a day. Good quality pellets such as Oxbow and Burgess are recommended for such use.
Access to fresh water must always be made available and can be supplied via a bowl. Drip feeders can also be used but animals tend to drink a lot better through a bowl. Water should be changed daily.
It is important to remember that their dietary regime should be kept consistent and regular for these critters to ensure a healthy gut and any change in diet should occur gradually over the period of 2-3 weeks.
Rabbits and guinea pigs can live for up to eight to ten years.
Bonding any two animals together should always be done with care and supervision as it can result in severe injuries to both animals. We would highly recommend only bonding desexed animals as there is less hormonal factors in play. Speak to your vet about more advice on bonding.
Approach the rabbit or guinea pig from the front. Pick the animal up using both hands, one under the chest and one around its hindquarters scooping him or her up. Not all animals like to be picked up and this should always be done with care and supervision especially with children.
The RSPCA strongly advises that you do not breed from your rabbits and guinea pigs as it is very difficult to find good homes for the young and more importantly, it predisposes these animals to life-threatening reproductive diseases.
Long haired animals should be groomed daily and their rear end should be checked on a daily basis by the owner, especially in summer when fly strike is most prevalent. Rabbits and guinea pigs should be checked regularly and we recommend a 6 monthly health check with a veterinarian for these pocket pets. Veterinary treatment is warranted and should be sought for any health issues such as reduced appetite, lethargy and reduced defecation as soon as possible as it can be life-threatening.