This Little Piggy Went All The Way Home; Guinea Pig Rehoming
By Ruth Lawrence
Guinea pigs are adorable little creatures. No wonder, then, that they are popular pets for children and adults alike. But researching this Peruvian native species brought me into contact with people on the front line of guinea pig rescue, unfortunately a much needed service.
Lack of information is the reason why rescue centres are full to capacity. Guinea pigs, or cavies, are worryingly easy to buy, often in an irresponsible way from sellers more concerned with money than the welfare of this surprisingly delicate animal.
I visited Pauline Dutton from Pooh Piglet Corner in Haywards Heath to meet 120 guinea pigs abandoned by their initially well-meaning owners.
“People buy a pair from a pet shop without knowing the sex or whether they will bond,” Pauline told me as I stroked an irresistible youngster. It’s this universal appeal which causes such problems: children fall in love with a cute little face or a pleasing colour and unsuitable animals are forced to live together, often resulting in unwanted litters or fighting. Females can remain constantly pregnant if left with an unneutered male; they produce 3-4 babies in one litter and can become pregnant at four weeks old, when they can be damaged by giving birth.
Males make surprisingly good foster ‘uncles’, nurturing rescued babies while mentoring them; this gives a clue to the sensitive nature of the breed. Bonded males can live together happily as can groups of carefully introduced girls, although a neutered male can work wonders at stopping fighting between a pack of girls. They all prefer company, but it must be thoughtfully introduced as the wrong companion will be just as damaging as two humans who don’t get along.
Pauline confided that guinea pigs sometimes become the unwitting victims to animal hoarders; she has dealt with rescues where over 200 have been liberated from a single, overwhelmed owner.
Pauline won’t re-home a guinea pig unless she feels certain that a responsible adult will care for it over its lifespan, which can be more than 5 years.
Children may convince a parent they will look after their pet diligently but, ultimately, an adult will always end up having to take responsibility and this is the main reason why so many animals are abandoned.
Pauline set up the rescue centre 15 years ago; she gives free advice and offers a 6-month care package with all re-homed guinea pigs. As we talked, we were surrounded by the gentle vocalisations of these communicative animals.
Guinea pigs have a wide range of calls, indicating contentment, fear, happiness, aggression and greeting. They love to feast on chicory, cucumber and special mixes of seeds, grasses and pellets.
“People often think guinea pigs can share food and space with rabbits,” Pauline told me, “but they have very different diets and social needs.”
Unlike rabbits, they can’t live outside without a secure, warm shelter as they have hair instead of insulating fur. They must not go out on wet grass; and in winter must be brought into a house or shed.
Pauline’s dedication means that she incurs large overheads in caring for other people’s abandoned guinea pigs and she welcomes donations of money, specific foods, cages, towels and wood shavings for bedding. Her love for the rescued guinea pigs is obvious. As she handed me a captivating little female, I realised how the qualities that make them such a popular first pet also make them highly vulnerable to abandonment.
It’s a sad reflection that another two guinea pig rescue centres are based in nearby Crawley.
I visited Palace Piggie Rescue to meet Lynn Coulbeck and Liz Hopper who are both opposed to breeding when so many rescue animals are waiting for loving homes. Keen to assure potential adopters that they are never on their own, Lynn and Liz dispense advice throughout the guinea pig’s life, in stark contrast to some pet shops who may simply want to sell an animal to an adoring child. “A guinea pig is not a toy or a gimmick,” Lynn said. “They have lives and enjoy interaction, company and plenty of safe space.” Cages should be at least 4 by 2 feet in size for a pair of guinea pigs and extra animals require another square foot each.
The centre’s most elderly resident, ‘Old Codger’, is still going strong at 10 years of age. “We get attached to individuals,” admitted Liz, “they squeak when they hear their owner’s voice”.
If your child wants a guinea pig, make sure that an adult will commit to its care and welfare for the duration of its life. Take advantage of the support offered by a rescue centre and give an abandoned animal a fresh start. You can take a bonded pair of youngsters who will remain close and affectionate with each other, secure in the knowledge that you are, in Lynn’s words, “part of the solution, by adopting and not buying.”
Palace Piggie Rescue always welcomes donations, newspapers for bedding and the great essential: bin liners. Guinea pig rescue on this scale requires serious funds, time, energy and dedication. Giving a pet a new home is a deeply rewarding experience and potential adopters can be reassured that they will have access to support along the journey.
The guinea pigs I met at Pooh Piglet Corner and Palace Piggie Rescue are the lucky ones – the vocal squeaks and chatter communicate their contentment as they wait to find their forever homes.
For more information on Guinea Pig Re-Homing and Care; please visit;