The Showcase Magazine - Articles

Looking for a great first pet – try a guinea pig!

By Mary Lou Hanlon

Your family is considering getting a pet and you are not sure you can handle the expense not to mention the time required to properly raise a dog. These are legitimate concerns. Just look at the huge numbers of abandoned dogs in shelters.

Many dogs are in shelters because they were either acquired on a whim or the owner did not recognize the huge amount of responsibility and cost having a dog is. Dogs can be phenomenal companions but when they are not provided with the necessary mental and physical stimulation they will be unhappy. Isolation and lack of attention can easily lead to digging and other destructive behaviors. These are by no means the fault of the dog. Sadly, it will be the dog that the person blames and the poor dog is left feeling abandoned and isolated.

Most people think that letting a dog roam around their backyard for hours on end is a perfect solution. This is a gross misconception. Physical stimulation requires that the owner be interacting with their dog. Playing tug, a great game of fetch and running with the owner are some good examples of the required interaction. Doing things with the dog that the dog craves is necessary for every dog.

In todays’ day and age families are extremely busy. Every moment of every day something is scheduled. Whether it is school, work, after school activities, etc., it is not easy to add in dog training, exercising and feeding a dog, veterinarian visits and doggie socialization into an already jam-packed schedule. Sure, hiring a good dog training and pet sitting service such as PetMinders, Inc. can help but it does not completely replace all the time a good owner still needs to devote to their dog.

So, what is a busy family to do. While it may sound silly at first, a guinea pig can be a great choice for a busy family. Guinea pigs can be extremely entertaining, easy to care for and social critters. Just like dogs, guinea pigs have unique personalities. While they may look the same, some are shy, some can be a bit skittish and some can be extremely friendly. Select carefully. If you are looking for a cuddly guinea pig handle it first to ensure it welcomes your touch. You’ll be surprised just how outgoing and friendly the right guinea pig can be.

Did you know that guinea pigs purr? When cuddled and stroked gently, guinea pigs will give a soft audible vibrating sound. This is a sure sign that the guinea pig is secure, comfortable and happy. The purring is also a very soothing sign for the person holding the guinea pig.

As for entertainment value, guinea pigs can be a real hoot! Many of them exhibit a behavior called “popcorning”. This can happen when a guinea pig gets excited! They will squeal, jump up straight into the air repeatedly and sometimes kick out their front and back legs and run quickly back and forth. This is their way of exhibiting shear guinea pig joy and can be hilarious to watch!

There is no need to walk a guinea pig but it is still important that their litter be kept clean. The litter should be spot cleaned daily with entire litter changes done weekly. You can purchase litter from your local pet store that will be appropriate for guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs are generally low maintenance and quite hardy however proper nutrition and regular vet checkups are still necessary. A diet of hay, vegetables and vitamin C supplements are essential to the health of guinea pigs. Quantities are dependent on the age and size of a specific guinea pig.

Guinea pigs do great in pairs but multiply quickly. If you plan on having two make sure you have two of the same sex or soon you will have a guinea pig farm!

Have fun with your animals. They are counting on you to provide them with a safe, loving and nurturing environment.

Mary Lou Hanlon is a longtime resident of Warren and is the owner of PetMinders, Inc, The Kennel Alternative. PetMinders has been providing professional pet sitting and dog training lessons in the privacy of clients homes for over 18 years. Mary Lou is one of the nation's top agility competitors. She has competed both nationally and internationally and has received numerous awards in both dog obedience and agility. She can be reached at 908-755-PETS (7387), via email at or visit the website