What you pay to own a guinea pig

It is important to remember that, while getting started with a guinea pig can be relatively cheap compared to a cat or dog (cavies don’t need shots and usually don’t need to be neutered or spayed), cavies live for an average of five or six years. Throughout those years, the owner has to pay not only for food, but for cedar or paper bedding, as well as a possible vet bill in case of injury, which can cost more than the guinea pig itself.

The animal

The price of a guinea pig ranges from ten to twenty dollars. While some specially-bred showpigs can go for a lot more, this isn’t important to the majority of people who are just looking for a pet to keep themselves or their children company.

Because guinea pigs are more intelligent and human-friendly than smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils (who don’t socialize much with people), and are also cuter than the highly intelligent rats (no long snake-tails), the combination of their traits with their price adds a lot to their appeal.

Information

A guinea pig owner doesn’t only have to pay for what the guinea pig needs, but for his or her own cavy-centric knowledge. The Internet can only provide so much, and the information it does provide isn’t necessarily accurate. While websites like wikipedia, as well as pet sites, can be supplemental, you’re best off ensuring your ability to properly care for your guinea pig by purchasing a published book.

“Guinea Piglopaedia” is available at Amazon.com from about eight dollars (ISBN-13: 978-1860542510), and “The Guinea Pig Handbook” is listed from about nine dollars (ISBN-13: 978-0764122880), used. Your local bookstores should carry a few different guinea pig books, too.

Housing

Guinea pigs are tough to litter train and can wedge themselves into dangerous places, so it isn’t likely you’ll want to let your cavy roam free in your home. That means getting a cage. At petsmart.com, cage prices range from more than one hundred dollars (for extravagant models designed for a large group of cavies) to under fifty dollars (for single cavies or pairs). The best cage for a guinea pig has a plastic tub base with a barred top and sides, and should be brand new, as the lingering smell of other animals can cause anxiety.

While guinea pigs don’t require wheels or tube mazes (these are for smaller, more hyper rodents), they do need a shelter in order to feel comfortable. Your cheapest option for an in-cage house is a cardboard box with a door and no bottom, but this will need to be replaced regularly. Durable plastic shelters are available for ten to twenty dollars. Expect also, to shell out a few more bucks for a food dish and a gravity-fed water bottle.

Upkeep and disposables

Bedding is a biggie for a guinea pig, and needs changing once a week or more. Don’t expect to pay much more for it than you would for kitty litter for a single cat – about ten dollars for a tightly-packed bag, and each bag should last a couple months. Leave room in your budget to pay at least sixty dollars a year for cage bedding.

For cleaning, you should pick up a scrub brush to use only on your guinea pig’s cage (for monthly cleanings), as well as some non-toxic soap. This should put you back another five dollars a year.

Food

A bag of your guinea pig’s staple food – alfalfa pellets – will cost twenty to thirty dollars and last about two months, so expect to pay at least one hundred and fifty dollars a year to feed one guinea pig. It sounds steep, but there are ways to lessen this cost by feeding your guinea pig free treats.

Every time this writer went grocery shopping with her mother when she had her guinea pig, the grocer allowed me to take the tops from the carrots that were for sale – for free. People don’t eat carrot tops, but cavies love them. They’ll also eat your uncooked vegetable scraps – especially lettuce (even the cores), carrot peels, apple cores, celery scraps, and watermelon rinds. Some scraps, like potato and onion, are bad for them. Your best bet is to look into the manual you bought to make sure nothing goes to waste OR poisons your pig.

Some people suggest buying hay, but this isn’t really necessary. Instead, take your guinea pig outside during warm months. If you have a cage that unclips from the base, just throw the cage on the lawn, place your cavy on the grass inside, and watch him munch up as much grass as he can fit. If you don’t have time to supervise, pick some grass (and dandelion leaves), and place them in the food dish inside the house.

Extras

Mineral wheels, salt wheels, wooden mineral carrots, yogurt drops, fruit and popcorn chews – the possibilities for guinea pig extras are almost endless. As long as you provide your animal with a variety of fruit and vegetable scraps, their diet should keep them healthy. Supplemental treats are rarely necessary.

The one thing to keep in mind is that guinea pigs, like other rodents, have constantly-growing front teeth. This means that they must chew on things to keep them at a healthy length. With nothing else to chew on, your guinea pig may go for the bars of their cage, shelter, dishes, or anything they can reach from the cage (though they’re likely to avoid your fingers – too soft). Keep a safe wooden chew stick in the cage, wired to the bars within reach. A salt wheel for satisfying cravings is a good idea too, and will last a long time.

Keeping a salt wheel and chew-stick in the cage shouldn’t cost any more than five dollars a year.

Time

Keeping a guinea pig as a pet doesn’t only cost money, but time. On top of shopping and researching, dedicate yourself to handling the guinea pig and cleaning up after it. Don’t buy a guinea pig for someone unless consulting with them first to make sure they’re ready for the responsibility, and if you’re a parent buying one for a child, consider right at the beginning that, once the novelty of the pet wears off, you may end up doing most of the cleaning and feeding, if not handling.

While youngsters do benefit from learning responsibility, never let a guinea pig suffer because of childhood negligence. If little Susie won’t get up and throw out the poop, don’t let it sit – that will cause a lot of suffering, and possibly even illness, for whatever animals are forced to live in such squalor.

Your heart

As previously mentioned, guinea pigs only live for about six years: you are almost guaranteed to outlive your cavy. It’s easy to develop an attachment to a guinea pig, especially for young people who have never had a pet before. This writer had to take a day off school the day after my guinea pig died, she was so sad. Be somewhat prepared for this once your cavy hits the five-year mark so that you and your family aren’t completely blind-sided by the family death – not that there isn’t hope. The longest a guinea pig has been recorded to live is fourteen years, more than double the average age.

Final verdict

Initially, buying a guinea pig and all of its first supplies should cost a reasonably frugal shopper about $115. After that, expect to shell out $210 per year, but this can be cut back by providing extra food scraps. After making your initial purchases (including the cage and the guinea pig itself), depositing $15 to $20 into your guinea pig savings bin every month should keep the animal nicely cared for.

For every additional guinea pig, double the expected price of food and chew sticks, and add half of what you already pay to the expected price of wood chip bedding.