Move over, Easter Bunny: 7 cool things about guinea pigs

No offence, guinea pig lovers, but even CBC’s People and Pets columnist didn’t understand the attraction to the furry critters.

Even a veterinarian was surprised at 'huge personality' of guinea pigs

Veterinarian Dr. Marti Hopson and her dog pose with Pumpkin the guinea pig on CBC's Island Morning on Thursday. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

No offence, guinea pig lovers, but even CBC's People and Pets columnist didn't understand the attraction to the furry critters.

"I respected it," says P.E.I. veterinarian Dr. Marti Hopson. "But I just sort of didn't get it."

Until, that is, she got a guinea pig of her own.

They really can be amazing animals with huge personalities.- Dr. Marti Hopson

"It was like he crawled into my heart and stole my soul. He was just so special."

Turns out, they make great pets.

So move over, Easter Bunny. This weekend, we're giving guinea pigs their due.

Here are seven things you should know about having a guinea pig as a pet.

Guinea pigs are better in pairs, says Dr. Marti Hopson, and they like to eat fruit rinds. (Courtesy of Paula E. Kirman)

1. Two are better than one

They are very social animals, Hopson says. So social, in fact, it is actually illegal in some countries — such as Sweden and Switzerland — to own just one.

"They really can be amazing animals with huge personalities," she says.

If you do have just one, it's important to give it lots of attention. They get along well with other animals, but just in case, Hopson advises you supervise any "first visits."

Guinea pigs reproduce quickly, and are ready to mate at just eight to 12 weeks of age. (REUTERS)

2. They reproduce quickly

As we were saying, they are very social animals. And if you don't want a houseful of guinea pigs, best to have two of the same sex. And baby guinea pigs mature quite quickly, Hopson said.

"They would be ready to mate and be parents by the time they are just eight to 12 weeks old," said Hopson, which is the age stated in the Merck Veterinary Manual.

"I have seen Internet forums that state females can get pregnant as early as three weeks, and I certainly don't dispute that," she added.

Guinea pigs are social animals with 'huge personalities,' says Dr. Marti Hopson. (REUTERS)

3. They like a big living space

Anything cage you find in a pet store is likely to be too small, Hopson says. It's fun to get creative with their habitat.

"People are building like apartment buildings for their guinea pigs," Hopson says. "They're building castles, they're building huge mansions, three storeys high with ramps and things coming up and down and really making a nice, enriched environment for their guinea pigs."

And because guinea pigs are prone to developing an infection in their feet called bumble foot, some owners forego wood shavings for a new material made from recycled paper, or make their own bedding out of fleece and blankets.

"That's going to be a lot of laundry put potentially more inexpensive," she said.

4. They're like little miniature horses

"When you have a guinea pig it's like having a miniature stable in your house," Hopson says. "They smell like horses, they shed like horses, they eat like horses."

And, like horses, their teeth continue to grow.

Just don't try to ride them.

5. They're easy to feed

They need a lot of fibre, such as timothy hay, in their diet, Hopson says. But they can be like a "little garbage disposal," gobbling up banana peels, cores of apples and rinds of watermelon.

6. They don't sweat it

No, really, they don't sweat, other than through the soles of their feet. They also can't pant. So while guinea pigs love to frolic outdoors in the summer, Hopson says they can overheat in a matter of minutes. So best to find a patch of shade, and keep an eye on them.

7. They live longer than hamsters

Six to eight years is generally their life span, Hopson says, compared to about two years for rats and hamsters.

With files from CBC's Island Morning