What to Avoid Buying for your Cavy

Happy Nathan

Nathan is a happy, rescued Cavy

As a guinea pig novice I spent money on treats and toys and things for my pigs I now know are either harmful, or not beneficial.  A lot of the information available is contradictory and is outdated or based on misconceptions about how to maintain good cavy health.  Fortunately none of my pigs were harmed by my lack of knowledge but not all pigs (and pig owners) are as fortunate.  Here is a list of some things to avoid when shopping for your cavy and some reasons why (and keep in mind, a picture of a guinea pig on the packaging does not guarantee the item is safe or suitable!):

Exercise Wheels/Balls.  Pigs have solid compact bodies with relatively small legs; their spines are not flexible like some other rodent species and are not as flexible.  They can get serious spinal injuries from these items and can also break legs, ankles and toes if their nails catch in the small holes.  Aside from the danger, they are simply not fun for your cavy.  Many pigs will not even move while in them – which is the safest thing for them!
Leashes/Harnesses.  Guinea pig bone structure isn’t meant for an activity like walking on a leash and they can be injured.  There is also a danger of “losing” your pig.  It would be fairly easy (due to their shape) for them to slip out of a harness and run away.
Hammocks.  Can be dangerous to pigs for the same reasons as harnesses, leashes and balls – leg, spine and other injures can occur if they become tangled up getting in and out of one.
Treats with Seeds/Nuts.  Pigs are not seed eaters; seeds can be very harmful.  Pigs have choked on seeds, gotten them stuck in their teeth and other harmful and painful things.  At best, seeds and nuts are empty calories for pigs with no nutritional benefit.
Treats with Yogurt.  Pigs are lactose intolerant so all dairy products are bad for them, no exceptions.  Yogurt treats can be high in sugar and also have no nutritional value.
Treats with Honey.  Honey is another form of sugar and is “junk food” for pigs.  Honey is coated on a lot of treats so be sure to read all labels before you buy.
Treats in general are tricky.  Most contain too much sugar (in the form of honey or “hidden” sugars) or have dangerous ingredients (seeds, nuts, dairy).  There are acceptable treats available but they can be hard to find.  Keep in mind, your guinea pigs’ favorite treat is going to be a variety of fresh veggies from your refrigerator!
Salt or Mineral Wheels/Blocks.  Both items are potentially harmful.  Excess minerals can build up in the body and cause health problems.  Pigs get all the salt they need in their regular diet; there is no need to supplement.
Chew Stones/Rocks.  Pigs need to chew to keep their teeth worn to the correct length but chew stones are NOT the way to accomplish that.  They can be a choking hazard and can injure soft piggy mouths.  Good quality unlimited grass hay is the perfect choice for wearing their teeth and is good for their health in lots of other ways too.
Vitamin and Mineral Drops for water.  Guinea pigs need plenty of vitamin C but they don’t need extra minerals, those can be harmful.  Vitamin C should never be added to water bottles; the C will lose its’ potency rapidly and will not benefit the guinea pig anyway.  Worse, additives in water can cause it to taste odd and many pigs then won’t drink enough.

This is not a comprehensive list but it is a collection of things I’ve seen, done or heard about.  When shopping for your guinea pig try to keep in mind their physical safety and nutritional requirements to help you make your decisions; your guinea pig will be happier and healthier!


Guinea Pig Cages

Cavy Haven Care Page

Guinea Lynx Nuitrition

Coming soon – So What IS Good for my Cavy? Or – Toys, Treats and Other Fun Things

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Jenny, Writer, GPT

Jenny has been a dedicated volunteer with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue for a number of years. She makes public speaking appearances on the topics of guinea pig care and the benefits of adopting rescued guinea pigs. Currently she has four rescued MGPR alumni guinea pigs, two MGPR sanctuary pigs and an ever changing number of foster pigs sharing her home.

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10 Responses to “What to Avoid Buying for your Cavy”
  1. Sally says:

    I’m not sure if I agree with hammocks being harmful. I have a few fleece hammocks that my guinea pigs love to hang out in, and have never had a problem of any of them getting caught up in one. It’s a hammock that’s hooked up by four points, solid cloth, with not much string or hooks on them. They’re not very high off the ground. They’re more likely to hurt themselves leaping off the top of their hidey house than jumping in and out of their hammock.

  2. Hi,
    I really don’t think hammocks are harmful. All my guinea pigs have hammocks, and they never suffered from back injuries or other injuries. If the hammock is well fixed, and doesn’t “hang” too much, the piggies will have no problem with their back. They have no problem either jumping in and off the hammock. 😉

    • Although it is true hammocks do not present the same level of risk to pigs as some other items – and certainly pigs can get hurt jumping on and off other cage accessories – hammocks are a higher risk than other similar options. There are other things available for your pigs they will love as much as the hammock without the chance their legs will get tangled up getting in and out of one (this is especially true with senior citizen pigs and others who are less agile). Perhaps you might consider a soft bed or sleeping sack made especially for your cavy? There are some great resources available to get handmade items and many of these allow you to customize with your own fabric selections, etc. The following sites are just a sample of some of what’s available:

      Jen’s Custom Crafts
      Cavy Madness

  3. Gaelle says:

    Think I agree with most of this, and to a certain extent, the hammocks, although my Pigs have them and love them, thing is, it s like us wearing heels, it s potentially very dangerous, but we still love to wear them, and, well, we wouldn t be doing much if we d weigh every risk in life..I guess observing your Pigs behaviour when it comes to the hammocks is as good as you can prevent accidents to happen, If you see that they re awkward about it, take it out 😀

  4. Susan says:

    Great advice! I personally have always been worried about hammocks and have never bought one. I’ve seen a lot of people have them but I’ve always been afraid my piggies would catch a leg on a hammock or hurt themselves jumping out of one.

  5. Haleigh says:

    I might have to disagree with you on the not putting vitamin c in the waterbottles.
    I’ve put vitamin c in my guinea pigs water ever since I bought him and five or six days later
    the bottle will be nearly empty.

    • Sidra says:

      I am glad someone posted about the vitamin c in the water bottle. I was a bit worried there because I recently just started putting drops into their bottle.

      • While many people use Vitamin drops in water bottles, this is not recommended for many more reasons than those stated in the above article. I’ve been told with diluted drops, 1) your guinea pig will get an unknown dosage of Vitamin C per day. Also, 2) the drops require you to remember to change the water daily. This is because the Vitamin C molecule breaks down quickly and has no effect after a short time. 3) Some guinea pigs do not like the taste and therefore won’t be properly hydrated with water. 4) I have had personal experience with some cavies get diarrhea from too much. 5) The drops themselves, like many pellet containing vitamin C, are no longer effective after about 3 months because of the breakdown of the molecule so unless you know how long they have been on the shelves, it’s unclear what their effectiveness would be. Our exotic veterinarians recommend not putting Vitamin C drops in the water as does our guinea pig rescue. What is a better way of giving Vitamin C? There is a Vitamin C syrup you can give them via liquid syringe each day. Many guinea pigs enjoy the sweet taste and make this very easy to do. Oxbow has a tablet called “Daily C” that is a stabilized version of Vitamin C and it has an expiration date on the bottom. This is how I personally choose to give them tablets via my vet’s recommendation. Here’s a link to that product http://www.oxbowanimalhealth.com/products/type/detail?object=1696 There are also ways to increase Vitamin C through a healthy diet of fresh foods but I would strongly advise talking to an experienced exotic veterinarian before changing your guinea pig’s diet with this goal in mind. Thanks for commenting! Hope that helps.

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