Guinea Pig Awareness Week: RSPCA tackling big spike in number of tiny pets 'cruelly abandoned'

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Guinea pigs can become pregnant again within hours of giving birth, and the RSPCA says breeding can quickly spiral out of control

The RSPCA is grappling with a huge spike in guinea pigs being given up or "cruelly abandoned", as the cost of living crisis and a lack of knowledge about the popular rodents stretch their resources to breaking point.

The charity is backing Guinea Pig Awareness week, which runs from 25 to 29 September, with this year’s theme being ‘rescue and rehome’ - focused on finding forever homes for the thousands of guinea pigs at rescues across the UK.

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The latest RSPCA figures show there has been a 37% increase in the numbers of guinea pigs taken in by its animal centres during the first eight months of this year, compared to the same period in 2022.

A total of 237 guinea pigs came into their care in the year to August, almost as many as were taken in during the whole of 2022.

The RSPCA is this year backing Guinea Pig Awareness Week, as it deals with a big spike in the tiny critters coming through its doors (RSPCA/Supplied)The RSPCA is this year backing Guinea Pig Awareness Week, as it deals with a big spike in the tiny critters coming through its doors (RSPCA/Supplied)
The RSPCA is this year backing Guinea Pig Awareness Week, as it deals with a big spike in the tiny critters coming through its doors (RSPCA/Supplied) | RSPCA

But the charity fears a worrying trend is emerging, with last year’s intake of 253 marking a 77% rise on the previous year - alongside massive rises in the numbers of pet rats (193%) and mice (191%) handed in over the same period.

RSPCA small animals welfare expert Dr Jane Tyson said this comes after pet ownership rose significantly during the pandemic. "People often think that guinea pigs will make good starter pets for their children," she said.

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“But, like other small animals, they actually have complex needs and they are not easy or cheap to care for well. Owners don't always correctly sex small animals either, so a pair can quickly spiral into double figures and beyond."

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The RSPCA's top things to know before getting a guinea pig

- Typically guinea pigs can live for five to six years and some may live longer

- Guinea pigs are active up to 20 hours per day, only sleeping for short periods

- They are highly social creatures, and in the wild they live in family groups of five to 10

- They get lonely and shouldn't be kept alone. They're happiest in pairs or small groups

- Guinea pigs need a high fibre diet supplemented with vitamin C

Guinea pigs are sociable animals and owners are advised to keep two or more together, she said.

But if males and females are mixed, that can lead to unwanted litters - and with mothers able to get pregnant again within hours of giving birth, breeding can soon get out of control.

The RSPCA's Sussex North and Brighton branch recently took in 45 guinea pigs and 38 rabbits, from an owner in Bognor Regis who became overwhelmed after starting with only a handful of animals.

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For Guinea Pig Awareness Week - which is also supported by Woodgreen Pets Charity, Blue Cross, and Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare - free, downloadable digital packs have been created for prospective owners, which can be found here.

It includes advice on making sure guinea pigs are kept in a suitable environment, with enough space inside their homes to exercise and explore - plus plenty of toys, tunnels, and hiding places to allow their natural behaviours.

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