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Guinea Pig "Dalmatian Syndrome" Cautions

The Disney movie "G-Force" shows a squad of specially trained, computer-generated talking guinea pig spies coming to the world's rescue.

And, at the end of the movie, lots of kids are probably begging for a guinea pig. It's referred to as "101 Dalmatian Syndrome" -- and this time, the guinea pig will be the pet of choice.

But what should parents know about those cute little fur balls?

"Early Show" resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell brought some guinea pigs to the set Monday to help educate parents and no, the ones with Bell didn"t talk!

Guinea pigs are in the rodent family. They come from the mountainous regions of Chile and Peru. Newborns are completely covered with fur with their eyes open. Guinea pigs are quite social and docile by nature. If they are handled appropriately, they rarely bite. But they are easily stressed. So they should picked up gently (hands under the chest and back legs) and held close to your chest, so they will feel secure. They are good pets for older kids who know how to be gentle and respectful of the pigs. Toddlers and infants are not good candidates for handling a Guinea pig. Children this young, will often squeeze the Guinea pigs too tight, or poke and jab them. This could cause great harm to the Guinea pig. An adult Guinea pig will grow to about 2 pounds and up to a foot long. Guinea pigs are not quiet. They can make a variety of sounds including squeaks, squeals, clicking, and purring.

While Guinea Pigs are not particularly difficult to care for, they do have some specific dietary and housing needs that should be addressed carefully. When you own a Guinea pig, you will need to provide:

-- Proper housing
-- Well-balanced diet
-- Gnawing log
-- Daily cleaning
-- Annual Veterinary exam

Guinea pigs should be fed a good quality pelleted food formulated for them. They need vitamin C, just like humans. You can supplement their diet with diced fruits and vegetables (kale, cabbage, romaine lettuce, carrots, celery, broccoli, apples, and grapes are good. All seeds should be removed from fruit.). But avoid high-sugar citrus fruits like oranges. All perishable foods should be removed from their dish after they are finished eating to prevent the danger and mess of spoiled food. They should receive fresh water daily, preferably in a drip container. Also, Guinea pigs' teeth grow continuous throughout their lives, so they must have a gnawing log (an untreated fruit tree branch) to chew on to prevent overgrown teeth, and infection.

Appropriate housing should be an enclosure made of plastic, or metal. It needs to be "chew-proof". Glass aquariums are not recommended, as they don't provide adequate ventilation. And wire cages are not good because they can irritate, even damage, the pig's feet. The cage should have an open top with walls too high for the guinea pig to climb out, at least 18 inches. The bottom should be covered with shredded, ink-free paper or commercial nesting material. Do not use sawdust or cedar shavings, as these can cause respiratory problems. Provide plenty of hay too. The Pigs will use this as food, bedding and a place to do their "business." Guinea pigs need plenty of space to move around. And they are messy! They typically scatter their bedding and food. There should be a place for the Guinea pigs to hide and get some peace and quiet. (an old, upside down shoebox works great) All waste should be cleaned out daily. Also, clean the food and water dish daily to prevent build up of bacteria and algae. The Guinea pigs housing should be kept in a calm place in the house, away from drafts, sudden temperature changes, and high-traffic, noisy areas. Guinea pigs are curious and playful, so provide plenty of entertainment like toys, wheel, and tunnels.

Long-haired Guinea pigs should be brushed regularly.

Guinea pigs can live 5 to 7 years or more. As previously stated, guinea pigs are social, so it's not a bad idea to have two. They'll keep each other company. Be sure to get two Guinea pigs of the same sex or you could easily end up with a whole bunch of the critters.

There are some common health issues with Guinea pigs. They can get submandibular abscesses (under the jaw). Hair loss may be due to a fungal infection (ringworm) or ectoparasites (mange). Heat stress and allergies can cause pneumonia. Diarrhea can occur when there is an abrupt change in diet, or antibiotics administered improperly. And excessive salivation (ptyalism) is usually due to overgrown teeth. So, regularly veterinary care is important.

To adopt the hamsters you saw on the air please contact Sean Casey Animal Rescue

For much more on caring for guinea pigs:

Human Society

American Veterinary Medical Association

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