Hamster Husbandry


Guinea Pig Husbandry


Hamster Husbandry



It is best to use a cage with a solid base. Cages with a wire mesh floor can injure the hamster’s feet. There are generally three types of cages: wire mesh, glass, and plastic.

Wire cages have an advantage of allowing the hamster to use the wire itself as a way of having a climbing exercise. Ideal wire cages should have a detachable base for easy cleaning. Glass cages (aquarium tanks), on the other hand, have the advantage of being easily cleaned, but have poor ventilation and do not provide a way for climbing exercise. Plastic cages are commercially available with multiple built in tunnels and toys. They look great (like a children’s playground) but are generally the hardest of the cages to clean. They also do not provide the best of ventilation.

Hamsters are good climbers and should be kept in a cage that is tall and closed at the top. A running wheel or similar exercise item should also be provided. Ensure that materials used for cages are without sharp projections and not liable to splinter. They should be robust and not conduct heat away from the animal. PVC pipes and commercially available tunnels can also be used to provide good play and exercise.


Hamsters require suitable bedding material as a substrate to absorb moisture and also to make their nest in a secluded area of the cage for sleeping during the day.

Hamsters like to burrow, so bedding should be relatively deep. Good choices of bedding include recycled paper pellets and wood shavings (NOT cedar or pine). Pine and cedar shavings contain phenols that can be toxic to small mammals. Other types of bedding include aspen shavings or Kay Kob. Cotton-wool is best avoided because of the risk of constipation and care should be taken with any materials comprising of strands (such as hay or other artificial material) to avoid tangling around the legs and resulting in entanglement. Shredded newspaper is not the best either as the newsprint may be toxic to your pet hamster.

The bedding should be changed weekly. It is interesting to note that male hamsters carry out territorial scent- marking using special glands. Excessive cleaning of cages may not only cause direct disturbance stress but may also disrupt territorial marking for some of them. Most hamsters use one corner of their cage as a toilet area, and this area may need to be cleaned more frequently.


Adult hamsters can consume 5-10g of food per day. You should feed your pet hamster on fresh hamster pellets and supplement its diet with seeds, grains, fruits and green vegetables. Food can be presented in metal, plastic or ceramic bowls or in hoppers from the side or roof of the cage. But often hamsters prefer to eat from the cage floor and this is perfectly fine as well. Hamsters have two cheek pouches for storing and transporting food and it may be wise to periodically check that these pouches are not impacted and/or infected. Fresh and clean water should be available at all times.


Hamsters are especially prolific. It is therefore best not to house males and females together if not intending to breed. To determine the sex of your hamster, turn it belly up and look for 2 openings. In the male the openings are further apart while in the female they are closer together. This is the ano-genital distance. When in season, females can start to attack males and for this reason, if breeding is intended and a male and female are placed together, it should always be under close supervision. It is best to separate them if a fight breaks out.


Life span: 2-2.5 years

Reproductive age: from 6 weeks

Gestation period: 15-21 days

Average litter size: 4-7

Weaning age: 20-25 days

Heart rate: 275-480

Respiratory Rate: 50-100

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Guinea Pig Husbandry



A wide range of cages are available for housing pet guinea pigs. Cages or enclosures should be approximately 50 cm long, 25cm wide and 25 cm high. This height is to prevent them from escaping. If the cages are placed outdoors, ensure they are covered with a wire mesh to protect your guinea pig against stray animals. Ideally, this escape-proof habitat should have a solid surface area and plenty of room for exercise and play. It may also be a good idea to provide a place for your guinea pig to hide and feel secure.

Keeping the cages at household temperatures should be fine. Be very cautious of extreme temperature changes, thus never place their habitat in direct sunlight or in a drafty, windly area.

Fighting is rarely a problem, but it is still preferable to keep single-sex groups apart to avoid mating and the production of large numbers of unwanted offspring.


2 to 5 cm of bedding material should be provided for your guinea pig. Be careful of cedar and pine shavings as these may contain phenols that can be toxic. It is also best to avoid shredded newspaper as the newsprint may also be toxic as well. Aspen shavings, Kay Kob, pelleted or recycled paper can be good alternatives. Hay is also a good choice as this will also act as a dietary supplement, but ensure it is fresh, dry and of good quality. Be sure to discard wet or soiled bedding on a regular basis.

Be careful with the use of toys. If a guinea pig chews on the toys, remove them immediately to prevent internal harm.


High quality, commercial pelleted guinea pig feed should form the basis of the diet. This may be supplemented with Timothy hay, fruits, or vegetables, given daily. Fruits and vegetables not eaten within 24 hours should be discarded. Also, be sure that fesh clean water is always made available.

Guinea pigs require 30-50 mg of vitamin C daily from vitamin supplements, parsley or washed citrus fruits. This is because they are unable to produce their own vitamin C. As vitamin C in commercial foods is stable for only up to 3 months only, do consider supplementing your guinea pig if the date of manufacture of these products is not known.

Guinea pigs can be fairly fastidious in their choice of food and changing the diet too suddenly may cause them to stop eating. This can lead to digestive disturbances. Thus it may be wise to be slow and gradual if making such changes.

Like rabbits, guinea pigs’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. A piece of chalk (calcium carbonate), or cuttlefish bone should be provided for them to chew on so that their incisors do not overgrow. Overgrown incisors result in your guinea pig starving because it cannot eat properly.


Guinea pigs are fairly non-aggressive, but a frightened animal can be skittish and will run around its cage at very high speed. This makes safe handling difficult. A guinea pig can be picked up by placing one hand around the shoulders while the hindquarters are supported by the other hand.

You should monitor your guinea pig health closely, as they can deteriorate very rapidly. If you think that your pet is unwell, don’t wait before consulting your veterinarian.

Signs of a Healthy Animal

Healthy animals are active, bright, alert, and sociable. They eat and drink normally, and communicate by squeaking. Their eyes should be clear and their gait normal.

Common Health Issues

Health issues encountered in guinea pigs include diarrhea, malocclusion, mites, ringworm and scurvy, just to name a few.

If weight loss, skin lesions, abnormal hair loss, irregular breathing, lethargy, overgrown teeth, diarrhea (or a dirty bottom), or just a lethargic or distressed animal is observed, be sure to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Life span: 4-8 years

Reproductive age: from 1 month

Gestation: 59-72 days

Average litter size: 1 to 10, usually 2–4

Weaning age: 3-4 weeks

Heart rate: 240-400 beats per min

Respiration Rate: 50-130 breaths per min

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