Rabbits & Guinea Pigs

Rabbits and Guinea pigs are perfect first pets for your family! They are easy to care for and are cute, friendly pocket pets for the younger members of your family.

However there are some things you need to know before considering a rabbit or guinea pig. From choosing a healthy pocket pet to nutrition and living arrangements, we are here to provide you all the information you need!

How do I choose a healthy rabbit?

Feel the rabbit’s body - A healthy rabbit will have a small amount of fat over its ribs and a soft tummy. If the rabbit has ribs that are very easy to feel and a large, bloated tummy it is likely unwell.

Check the rabbits skin and bottom - Rabbits are very clean animals, so if the rabbit is dirty, especially around its bottom, it is a concern. Rabbits can get fleas and mites so part the hair and check for any parasites or skin rashes.

Check the eyes and nose - The eyes should be open, bright and clear and there should be no discharge. There should also be no discharge form the nostrils.

Check the teeth - The front teeth should be even and meet well, and there should be no lumps under the jaw. Lumps under the jaw can be a sign of a tooth root abscess from diseased or damaged back teeth.

The right temperament - A happy rabbit will be bright, alert and interested in meeting you. A rabbit that sits away from the other rabbits and does not want to approach you is not a good choice.

Training your rabbit

Rabbits are highly intelligent animals and can be trained just like dogs and cats! They key is to use positive reinforcement and small amounts of treats, such as good quality rabbit pellet, carrot or parsley.

Toilet Training - Rabbits naturally return to the same place to toilet so they are very easy to toilet train. Use a low litter tray with hay in it and place it near where they eat. Put a few small pieces of rabbit poo in there and your rabbit should start using the tray fairly quickly.

Lead training - A rabbit can be trained to wear a harness and walk on a lead. Choose a soft lightweight harness and make sure it fits properly. Your rabbit will be confused the first time you put it on, so reward them with treats.

Do not try to lead your rabbit the first few times; just get them used to it. Then put the lead on, and make a short trail with treats on the floor and soon they will be following you.

Command training - Your rabbit can be trained to come, stay and jump up just like a dog. Make sure you are clear and consistent. Use the same word each time for each specific command. Use treats to lure the rabbit into the position you want and reward the immediately when they do it. Make sure you reward them every time when they get it right.

Can I keep guinea pigs and rabbits together?

No. Guinea pigs and rabbits should ideally not be housed together. There are
several reasons for this.

  • Rabbits can carry some diseases that make guinea pigs very sick
  • Guinea pigs have different food requirements than rabbits
  • Rabbits can bully guinea pigs, which is very stressful
  • They do not live together naturally and are not natural companions. In fact, they behave quite differently and will not understand each other

If you have to keep your guinea pig and rabbit together, we suggest:

  • desexing your rabbit
  • lots of hard hiding spots for your guinea pig where it can safely get away from your rabbit, ie a spot where if your rabbit jumps on top of the hiding spot, it won’t cave in
  • ensuring your guinea pig is supplemented with vitamin C
  • separating your rabbit and guinea pig during feeding, so both have access to good food without any fights

Please remember, all rabbit enclosures should be insect proof to protect against myxomatosis. Rabbits must also be vaccinated against calicivirus.

Will my guinea pig or rabbit get lonely?

Guinea pigs and rabbits are both social creatures. Ideally, keep guinea pigs in small groups with other guinea pigs.

To prevent breeding, keep all girls or all boys or desex your guinea pigs. Most guinea pigs will get on well together. You may need to watch entire males initially to intervene if there is any fighting.

Ensure there are plenty of space and several different places to hide away in to feel safe, when introducing your guinea pigs to each other. Also provide several feeding and watering stations to minimise competition.

If you experience a problem with fighting, it may be beneficial to keep one individual in a smaller cage inside your larger enclosure, so your guinea pigs can get to know each other through the wire. When they seem like they are friendly, start opening the door to the small enclosure when you can supervise any interaction. Eventually, you are likely to be able to leave the piggies alone happy in each other's company.

Rabbits are best kept in bonded pairs. This means a pair of rabbits that get along well without fights or injuries. To succeed in keeping two rabbits together, we recommend

  • Desexing your rabbits
  • Purchasing an already bonded pair alternatively you can try 'bunny dating' until they bond
  • Having an extra large enclosure with many spots to snuggle or hide away
  • Offering several water and food stations to avoid fights

Rabbits can be more difficult to socialise than guinea pigs. Please contact us if you need more advice on this topic.

What should I feed my guinea pig?

Guinea pigs need roughage in the form of hay as the main part of their diet. This keeps them happy and regular. Fresh water should be available at all times.

It is important to provide 2 biscuits of high-quality hay per day that is mould and parasite free. Hay that has been let outside to become wet and exposed to vermin like wild cats, rodents or birds can result in ill health in your guinea pig. Good hay has a fresh pasture smell and is green tinged in colour. It is tricky to find good hay in urban areas, so you may need to make friends with some farmers. Guinea pigs less than 6 months old also need access to Lucerne hay, which is the dark green coloured hay.

A healthy adult guinea pig also needs 25mg of Vitamin C daily, via high-vitamin C  fruit and vegetables or a vitamin C supplment,. Do not use vitamin C supplements in your guinea pig’s water. We recommend the Oxbow Australia brand. A pregnant guinea pig will  need about 30 to 40mg/day.

There are also many other “greens” your guinea pig can enjoy, such as fresh, clean , unsprayed grass, milk thistle, dandelion, carrot topis, cucumber, chopped celery (especially th leafy bits), endive and herbs, such as mint and coriander.

Aim for 70% hay, 30% green leafy veggies and some occasional treats, such as apple, banana, cranberry, tomato and watermelon. Avoid too much lettuce varieties, cabbage and fruits as they can make your guinea pig very sick.

Supermarket pellets and mixes are not recommended. If you would like to feed pellets, we recommend the Oxbow brand. Choose an age appropriate pellet variety for your guinea pig and only feed about a tablespoon per day.

Vitamin C requirements in guinea pigs

To meet your guinea pig's daily vitamin C requirements, feed one of the following veggies/fruits daily:

  • 2 heaped tablespoon of chopped red capsicum or kiwi fruit
  • 1/3 cup of kale, parsley, broccoli flowerettes, papaya or pineapple
  • 4 flowerettes of cauliflower
  • 2-3 whole strawberries
  • ½ cup of asian greens, snap peas/peas, red cabbage, turnip greens or rockmelon balls
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of dried herbs such as tarragon, basil, or oregano
  • 1 and ½ to 2 cups of beet greens or water cress
  • ½  orange or grapefruit

Common health problems in guinea pigs

Guinea pigs have teeth that continue growing throughout their life. They do not suffer from tooth decay like us, but their teeth can overgrow causing pain and eventually death.

Preventing teeth problems:

  1. Ensure your guinea pig has access to and eats good quality hay each day. This will exercise the jaw but also wear the teeth down.
  2. Bring your guinea pig in for a check up twice yearly. Come more frequently if there are health problems like overgrown teeth. Your vet will check for any overgrown teeth that can occur despite roughage from poor alignment.

Don’t forget plenty of exercise to keep your guinea pig’s tummy happy!

If you notice food intake dropping, any drooling or tiredness in your guinea pig, please contact us or your local vet immediately.

My guinea is eating it's own poo! Is this normal?

Coprophagy is a strange word for an even stranger habit of guinea pigs: they eat their own poo! Don’t worry, this doesn't mean you will start seeing your guinea pig grazing away at its pellet droppings in the garden. This would definitely be abnormal!

Instead, guinea pigs have special stools, called caecotrophs, that they eat straight from the anus as they come out. These look darker and are more moist than their usual faecal pellets you normally see; a little like a small blackberry. Caecotrophs are loaded with nutrients for your guinea pig that they would otherwise not get. It is important to leave your guinea pig alone while this is happening.

Please note that if your guinea pig is obese and unable to reach its bottom, it will lose out on this important part of its nutrition. This is very common in the older guinea pig. So keep your guinea pig trim and taught for best health!

More information

For more information, please contact us at Glen Iris Veterinary Hospital & Cattery.

We are conveniently in the City of Stonnington and Glen Eira. The pawfect location for pet parents living in Glen Iris, Malvern, Toorak, Kooyong, Armadale and surrounding areas!