[ PET OHANA ]
HAWAIIAN HUMANE SOCIETY
James, left, and Caldwell Marchant visited the Humane Society to learn more about caring for a guinea pig.
Groundhog's cousin makes his appearance
YESTERDAY the groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil made his annual prediction whether spring is just around the corner or there are six more weeks of winter. He saw his shadow, which supposedly means another six weeks of winter.
The closest relative to the groundhog that is allowed in our state is the guinea pig, a delightful 2- or 3-pound pet that comes in six distinct breeds. Nearly as popular as rabbits, guinea pigs are available at the Hawaiian Humane Society for adoption, as well as at pet stores and societies on neighbor islands.
"For Hawaii families, guinea pigs make wonderful, affectionate companions, often squeaking or squealing loudly when they see their families," said Dr. Lissa Kam of Ohana Veterinary Hospital in Honolulu.
DESPITE their name, these entertaining pets are not pigs, nor do they come from Guinea, but rather South America.
A guinea pig is built something like a pig, with a large head, stout neck, plump body and a rounded rump with virtually no tail.
Guinea pigs have been domesticated since 5000 B.C. and were brought to Europe by Dutch traders in the 1600s. Queen Elizabeth I of England kept a guinea pig as a pet, beginning the trend.
Groundhogs, on the other hand, are still creatures of the wild, with the exception of Punxsutawney Phil and his descendants, who began "predicting" spring in 1886.
GUINEA pigs typically live five to seven years. They are docile, easygoing creatures and can be a good first pet for an older child or adult. Younger children will need to be taught soft petting and the proper way to carry these animals. Though sturdily built, guinea pigs must be handled gently, Dr. Kam said.
Guinea pigs have special nutritional needs, especially for Vitamin C.
"Though owners typically feed their guinea pigs carrots and lettuce, these are poor sources of daily Vitamin C," Dr. Kam said. "Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as oranges and broccoli are excellent, inexpensive sources of the vitamin. A chewable Vitamin C tablet (250 mg) crushed into their water each day can also be used ...
"All uneaten fresh food and unused water should be changed daily."
Because of their sociable nature, guinea pigs should be housed in habitats near their owners. Their living space should be as big as possible and lined with timothy grass hay or aspen wood shavings.
Guinea pig pellets and timothy hay complete a balanced diet for these pets. As with all rodents, guinea pigs need to gnaw to maintain their teeth, so an untreated fruit branch or soft wood block in their cage is enjoyed and necessary.
Toys, such as cardboard tubes, empty cans with smoothed edges, ramps and platforms can be incorporated into their home for entertainment and exercise.
Guinea pigs can be trained to use a litter box, but this is a timely process and patience is required.
Dr. Kam added, "One of the best things about guinea pigs is that they are entertaining to watch. They'll whistle and grunt when they're excited, and jump in short bursts called "popcorning" when they are happy."
According to Dr. Kam, some common sounds are:
» "Wheek," a loud noise that sounds like the word and means "pay attention to me."
» "Chattering," a sound made by gnashing the teeth together and serves as a warning to keep away.
» "Tribbling," a pleasant sound the guinea pig makes when being petted or brushed.
» "Rumbling," a purring related to guinea pig dominance or in response to an unfamiliar sound.
Guinea pig hero
In the 2005 Disney movie "Sky High," the character Magenta has the ability to shape-shift into a guinea pig. At the end of the movie, Magenta saves the day when she becomes a guinea pig, navigates a small tube and chews through wires to shut down an anti-gravity reactor. During filming with a real guinea pig, the reactor's wires were actually edible stalks smeared with baby food.
CARING FOR A GUINEA PIG
You'll need these supplies:
» Solid-bottom habitat with wire cover or plastic-bottom "tub" (minimum 4 square feet of space per pig)
» Guinea pig pellets
» Unpainted, untreated piece of wood or safe chew toy
» Aspen or hardwood shavings
» Igloo, flowerpot or covered box for sleeping
» Brush and comb for grooming
DO provide a solid tub floor and an airy wire enclosure on top.
DO line the enclosure floor with aspen or hardwood shavings.
DO use commercial nesting materials made for guinea pigs.
DO include bricks, rocks and tubes for exercise and to play on.
DO put veggies in a dish mounted to the cage side
DO provide high-quality timothy hay each day.
DO use an inverted water bottle and drinking tube attached to the cage.
DO clean the cage daily and scrub it out weekly.
DO pair up your pigs as they are social animals.
DON'T use a glass aquarium that restricts ventilation.
DON'T use straw, sawdust or cedar chips.
DON'T use strips of newspaper containing colored ink.
DON'T put toxic materials or treated wood inside the cage
DON'T put the food dish on the cage floor or it will become a toilet.
DON'T forget to include a branch from a fruit tree for gnawing.
DON'T let the water sit for more than a day without changing it.
DON'T neglect cleaning, as the cage lining is both their bedding and bathroom.
DON'T put a male and female together unless one is sterilized.