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Am I ready for cavies?
Be prepared
Where to get cavies?
What to check?
Choosing cavies
Bringing your cavies home

Am I ready for cavies?

Before you even think of getting cavies or any other small animal (hamster, rabbit, gerbil, etc), the most important question is whether you are allergic to hay. This is 'cos hay is essential for small animals & if you're allergic to hay, who is going to feed them hay? Your parents? Maybe, but then what's going to happen when you start sneezing everytime you approach their cage? Therefore it is very important that you're not allergic to hay. Obviously an allergy to fur will also indicate that cavies are not suitable for you!

A good way to find out is by hanging out at petshops frequently & for at least 10 minutes each time. I don't think the shop owner will be pleased with you sniffing his hay, so just stand near to the bags of hay. The smell is quite strong & if you're allergic to it, you should start sneezing in no time. If its the hay dust that's causing you to sneeze, no problem. Just wear a disposable mask like I do. However if its the smell that's making you sneeze, then the mask wouldn't help at all. This is 'cos although the mask prevents you from breathing in hay dust, it doesn't do a thing for the smell.

There are 5 types of hay. Out of these, 4 are suitable for feeding on a daily basis. So if you're allergic to timothy hay, you could try "sniffing" orchard grass hay. Still sneezing? Try oat hay. No? What about meadow hay? Well in that case I think its quite obvious you & hay do not agree. And since cavies absolutely must have hay, they're probably not too suitable pets for you.

The cavies maybe quite cheap especially if bought from a breeder but don't forget other costs. Hay & food usually have to be bought once a month. If you use plastic bottom cages, bedding is needed monthly too. As a rough guide, expect to spend about $50 per month inclusive of fruits & vegetables but excluding medical costs (which hopefully you'll never need!).

A great deal of time & commitment is also needed because you have to clean the cage, water bottle & food dish at least once a week. Don't forget the messy task of mucking out & putting fresh newspaper & bedding. Food bowls, hay racks & water bottles need to be replenished too. If your cavy is ill you also need to either feed it medicine or apply cream to it. These require lots of patience & time. It may take up to half an hour just to administer one oral dose! Its best if at least one other person in your family is willing to help you because it can be quite a chore doing all of that alone!

Although cavies are much more sociable & do not bite half as often as hamsters & gerbils, they are still animals after all. Some may bite without warning, while others may nibble at your finger a while & follow up with a chomp. Then there are those that never bite at all. So even though the chances are very rare, are you prepared to get bitten?

Do you have the time to play with your cavies? You can't leave them in their cages like you leave fish in their tanks. Cavies need to be cuddled & allowed to run about from time to time. Is a cavy really what you want? They are less active than other rodents like hamsters & gerbils, and they most certainly will not "beg" when you ask them to! Cavies also tend to be timid & get scared easily. Please make sure you are 100% aware of what a cavy is like & what is required of you as a cavy owner.

And what are you going to do if you wish to go for a holiday, or for guys when you go for your reservist ICT? You will be gone for a period of time. Is there anyone you know who is willing & skillful enough to care for them? Its one thing to open a can of dog food for a dog. Its another thing to remove pee soaked bedding sprinkled with poop! And pet hotels are only for dogs & cats, not cavies. And what about patience? I can assure you it is very trying to squat over the cage & be picking up poop esp when they poop non-stop all day!

If you're in doubt, please postpone getting the cavy. Remember that it's a living thing & not a toy!! It'll be tragic if you have to give away your cavy at a later date. A cavy may not be an Einstein but I'm sure it feels sad when it's given away by it's owner. You'll cry your eyeballs out if you ever heard a cavy cry, I'm serious! I've seen cavy owners who pamper their cavies but 5 years down the road, the poor things are living in filth. Commitment, consistency & love are the keywords here.

I hope you never decide to give up your cavies but if you do, please do the right thing & bring them to the SPCA or to a breeder who will care for them. It doesn't cost you a cent. Take a look at that adorable little face, speak to your conscience & tell me you can bear to let those darlings out on the streets or forest. It's downright cruel & should never be done! There's no way those tiny things will even make it through the night. People who abandon their pets like this are no better than murderers & if I had my way, they'd be & then thrown into jail!

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Be prepared
Now that you're very sure you want to own cavies, there are somethings to do before you run to the petshop. First of all, find a suitable place to put the cage. Go to my "Housing" page for more details about this. Secondly, there are some items which you might want to have in your household now that you've decided to own cavies. A small brush & pan, disposable gloves & disposable masks (pictured below) will come in very useful when cleaning the cage, transfering hay into a container, transfering pellets into a container, etc.

If your cage is a plastic bottom with grid type, you will find a long stick very useful 'cos each time you pull the removable tray out, hay from the rack will surely fall into the gap. Once enough hay accumulates, you'll realise your tray can't go back fully anymore. To avoid this, each time you remove the tray use the stick to push hay & any other icky stuff out of the gap. My Kao magic mop head broke so I bought a new one but saved the old mop's handle (pictured below). I believe it will be useful for the above mentioned task. Also, its lightweight but very hard so if you ever need to clobber anyone over the head, its suitable too!

You would need to bathe & groom your cavies too so things to have ready would include several bath towels, Johnson's Baby No Tears shampoo (or shampoo specially formulated for small animals), a soft brush, a fine tooth comb, nail clipper (normal type that humans use would do!) & normal, unmedicated talcum powder. Although you will not be bathing or grooming your cavies the minute you bring them home, but its better to have everything on stand-by rather than wait till the last minute & discover you're missing this & that. Kindly refer to my "Grooming" page for more info on bathing & grooming.

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Where to get cavies

Many people ask me to recommend shops to get cavies from. I always say the same thing. Avoid pet shops! This is 'cos 99% of pet shop pets (be it rabbits, cavies, gerbils or whatever) live in pathetic conditions. Cages are small, animals are overcrowded, little or no hay is given, wrong type of pellets are given (rabbits & cavies DO NOT eat the same pellets!!), bedding looks like its not been changed in weeks, water bottle is filthy, water bowls are full of poop & bedding. The list of atrocities just goes on & on.

I know some people feel they are doing a good deed by "rescuing" these pet shop cavies. Unfortunately it doesn't really help. No doubt the cavies you bought are saved. But what about other cavies? When the shop sells cavies, they will order more to replace those sold. And those cavies are going to live in those sad conditions too. So there's no way you can keep rescuing pet shop cavies.

Besides living in pathetic conditions & being malnourished and/or underfed, chances of buying a sick cavy is very high. It costs at least $30 to visit a vet & that excludes medicine. Despite what they may claim, no petshop will send a sick cavy to a vet. They will either sell a sick cavy to you or let it hang around till its dead then junk it. Don't forget, a sick cavy especially one that died from respitory illness, can spread germs to others & infect them too.

Same applies to mites/lice/fleas. All it needs is one infected cavy & the rest will get it too. And the shop is not going to bother to treat the cavies. Let's not forget about pregnancies. Pet shops do not seperate male & female cavies. So you could end up with a pregnant cavy. Don't be too happy thinking you got 2 for the price of one. There are lots of problems & issues that have to be dealt with for pregnant cavies.

I speak from experience. My first pet shop cavy died from respitory illness 3 days after I bought it. My second pet shop cavy had mites & was pregnant. The shop didn't even know it was pregnant! Bloody fools even told me it was a male! So basically I would say buy from pet shops only as a last resort.

I recommend adopting from SPCA instead. At least SPCA makes sure their cavies are healthy & well taken care of. Their cavies are all sterilised but that's no cause for concern. Another alternative is visiting forums or asking around. There could be someone who wishes to put his cavies up for adoption. You could adopt from him instead. Pet forums such as those listed below usually have ads from people looking for and selling cavies.

Cavy Galaxy
CyberPiggies Forum
Doggie Site Discussion Board
Singapore Hamster Forum
Singapore Pets Forum

The third possibility is buying from responsible breeders. When I say responsible breeders, I mean those that genuinely love cavies. I met one breeder who appeared to be a money face more than anything. His cavies were kept in small cages on saw dust (yuck!) & he had the cheek to sell local breed cavies for $60! Obviously doesn't care for his cavies & is just in it for the money!

Melissa is one of the more responsible breeders I've seen. I say that not just 'cos she's my friend but 'cos she will interview ppl before selling her cavies. She has rejected people whom she felt were not responsible or ready to own cavies. And her cavies are well taken care of & are sold at only $20 each which shows she's clearly not into this for the money.

So once again, avoid buying pets from pet shops. Always try SPCA, people putting their pets up for adoption or responsible breeders. Remember, you are not buying a toy. Its a living thing which can feel & suffer just like you & me.

If you have exhausted all avenues & pet shops are your only option. Please do not rush into it. Go to many pet shops & see which one is the best choice. Do some research & know your stuff. Then ask the pet shop staff many questions to see how knowledgable they are & also to see if they attempt to lie to you. I've been in pet shops who've told me pine shavings are fine for cavies which is pure B.S!! Choose a shop which has staff that are caring, honest, knowledgable & patient. This may be tough to tell but its obvious that some shops suck big time!

Note the way the person handles the cavy when he takes it out of the cage. If he grabs the Cavy by it's stomach with one hand, I'd think twice about buying it from him. Just like you wouldn't buy bunnies from an idiot who pulls it out of the cage by it's ears. Any cavy lover will tell you the correct way is one hand under the butt (please don't poop on me!) & the other on it's back.

Don't forget to inspect the cavies' living quarters. Overcrowding cavies, mixing cavies with rabbits, lack of food & dirty bedding also don't reflect well on the shop. And do you want to get a pet from a shop who sells food that expires in this current month? Don't rush into it. I can't emphasise this enough. You're buying a living thing not a toy! Obviously you'll want one who has been well taken care of. If you need to think it over, go ahead. If you're the type who gets intimidated by pushy sales staff, bring a pal along.

Lastly, check if the store has a return policy. Some allow you to return the cavy within a week or two. It's a double edged sword here. If the store accepts returns, its good in the sense that if you notice your cavy is ill or don't get along, you can bring it back. But the return policy is bad in the sense that there's a higher chance of getting infected cavies. A previous owner may return a cavy who has been infected with mites from his existing cavy. And you may end up with that cavy. Hence return policies are good & bad, so its your call.

But like I said, I strongly recommend getting your cavies from SPCA or a responsible breeder. Pet shop cavies should be a last resort!

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What to check

It can be tough to tell if its a healthy cavy, but you can attempt to do a simple diagnosis. Check the eyes first. A white spot covering the pupil indicates cataract & even though some cavies do get cataracts, surely you don't want to buy one who already has it. Make sure the eyes are clear & there's no discharge or crust along the eye lids. Eye problems are usually symptoms of respitory problems like asthma or flu. Cavies with flu usually have 50% chance of survival, so don't be taken in by the pet shops pathetic excuses like "Vitamin C will take care of it in no time". Pure crap!

Next, check it's teeth. They should be even & not chipped or broken. Check the ears to make sure there's not a ton of ear wax. The cavy's nose MUST be dry & any dampness tends to indicate flu. Check it's butt which should not be smeared with poop or else it could mean the cavy has Diahorrea. Take a look at it's feet & nails too. Make sure the feet are not deformed or sore. Make sure the nails are not too long & curling into the feet.

Brush the fur & look out for bald patches, white flakes or lice. Lice can be tough to spot but do try. They usually look like brown dots through out the fur & some can be seen crawling. Don't be afraid to bring a magnifying glass & torch light even. Don't let the pet shop con you with "They are scared of lights so you can't use your torch". Its not as if you're shining it right in it's eye! After that be on the look out for signs of injury which may've been caused by fights for e.g. torn ear, bite marks, etc. If the staff doesn't allow you to perform these checks, or gets unnerved when you're doing them, it could indicate that the animal isn't 100% healthy, which is why he's worried you find out.

If the animal you picked has symptoms of flu, skin problems (ticks, scabbies, etc) or other transmittable illnesses, do NOT buy any cavy from that shop because chances are that at least one other cavy is also infected. Keep in mind that not all cavies show symptoms at the same time. I'll repeat myself. If the cavy has a transmittable illness, by getting another cavy from the same shop, you're chances of getting an infected cavy is very high. Just like a guy who has lice in his hair is more likely that not to spread his lice to his room mate.

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Choosing cavies

Once you have ascertained that the cavy is in the pink of health, the gender & breed is entirely up to you. Just remember to do all those checks for every single cavy you buy. A male & female will get along very well but the female is sure to get pregnant. If you're not prepared to take care of the young, please don't get a male & female. There's been some research which indicates neutering could be fatal due to the fact that it's a very complex operation. People have disputed this claim, so its really subjective.

If you don't intend to breed cavies, just don't get a male & female. Males can get along when young but tend to fight when they mature. Fights can get quite nasty, so I'll advice against getting only males. Some claim that male cavies who grew up together will be fine after maturity but I wouldn't take the chance. Females however have been known to live peacefully even in large numbers. So my advice is to get all females if you don't intend to breed. Never get all males unless you're prepared to put them in seperate cages once they start squabbling.

It is quite tricky to tell the gender of cavies. Sometimes when scared, the boar's penis retracts & you may mistake it for a female. If you buy from a responsible breeder, you should be able to trust him if he says its a male. But if you're unable to find a breeder & have to resort to petshops, then hopefull the picture below will help you a little. You'd notice the penis is more obvious on the male wherelse the female has a Y shaped private part.

I'll advise getting two cavies if you're a beginner. Wait till you're more savvy before getting more. Please don't get only one because the poor thing will be very lonely. And if you intend to breed, make sure the males & females are equal in number. Having more males than females will surely result in males fighting each other for a mate. Please also don't attempt to breed cavies if you're a newbie.

Pet shops pets are usually not as well fed compared to those reared by responsible breeders. Nevertheless it is important to check their size. If all the cavies are skinny, it could be that they are underfed. But if all are of average size but one is skinnier than the rest, it could be that it is sick. Of course this is just a rough guide & one would need to check for other symptoms before coming to the conclussion that it is indeed ill. If you hold a cavy between your hands & press very gently, you can tell if that fat looking cavy is really fat or whether she is all fur, and skin & bones underneath.

Never ever mix cavies with other animals like hamsters, gerbils, rabbits or chinchillas. Cavies are the only small animals that are known for being sociable. Other furballs tend to be rather unsociable & can be pretty aggressive too especially hamsters. BTW, there is a bacteria in all rabbits which is considered good bacteria for them but is deadly to cavies. So do not mix!! If you intend to introduce your cavy to your pet dog, I suggest you put a muzzle on him & have him on a leash as well. You never know what will happen! The best would be to train your dog not to go near the cage unless you are around.

If buying from a pet store, I strongly advice you to get cavies who are at least 8 months old. Cavies who are too young are really tough to care for & tend to be less hardy. The pet shop most likely wouldn't know the age (when I bought Oreo, All Breeds Pet told me she was 3 months but Melissa confirmed it was 8 months!), so you'd have to use the size as a rough guide. If you're unable to comfortably hold the cavy in one hand & need to support it with another hand, chances are its old enough. If buying from a reputable breeder, you can get a cavy who's as young as 2 to 3 months. This is because it's had the care of it's mother & the breeder & is much healthier than a 2 month old from the pet store.

Once again here's another advantage from getting cavies from breeders. The pet shop keeps many cavies & the female you choose may already be pregnant, just like my Oreo! There's no way you'll know until its too late & the pet shop's not going to know or care either. Most breeders on the other hand can be counted on for honest & detailed info.

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Bringing your cavies home

I do not recommend buying the cavies on the same day as the cage, food & other stuff. You will need time to set up & clean the cage & you wouldn't want them to be waiting too long in the cramped carrier. So I think its better to get the cage, pellets, hay & other necessities from the petshop first. Go home & take your time to clean the cage, bowl & water bottle. Set up the cage in the permanent area & double check to ensure everything (bowl/feeder, bottle, hayrack, etc) is secured & ready. Now you can go get the cavies from SPCA/a breeder/the shop. This way the cavies can enter their cage the minute you get home, rather than waiting for you to set everything up.

Although you may be tempted to start playing with your cavies, don't! They have just been seperated from their friends & are now in a new environment. The journey from SPCA/breeder/shop to your house was also probably quite stressful for them. So just make sure they have enough hay, pellets & food and leave them alone for the first day.

On the second day, you may attempt making contact with them but go easy. Don't stick your face in front of the cage. Instead observe from at least 1 metre away. Try calling out their names & talking to them. Doesn't matter what you say, they don't speak English anyway! However there have been cases of real clever cavies who actually recognise their own names & respond. There should be no physical contact yet. For the next few days, just look at them & chat with them. Let then get used to your voice, your presense & of course their surroundings.

After one week, you may attempt to get to know them better. A good way to start is feeding them by hand. Try holding a piece of hay, vegetable or fruit & slowly wave it in front of them. If they trust you enough, they should start nibbling even though the food is in your hand. If they're still shy, they may sniff the food & run away, or perhaps pull it from your hands & run away to eat it in the corner. Don't be disheartened, it takes time to make a friend!

Once they start eating from your hand, give yourself a pat on the back & try stroking them. Don't make any sudden movements. Slowly reach into the cage & try patting their back. Most likely they'll run for cover. This is normal so just keep trying. One day they'll be used to it & let you touch them. Different cavies have different personalities so keep that in mind. One cavy might not like having his chin stroked but another may love it.

Of course their moods will play a part too. Oreo will always let me touch her although sometimes she backs off when I stroke her chin. Teddy also seldom runs off & she loves being stroked under the chin. Fe Fe doesn't run off as often as she used to but is still quite timid. She's fine if I pat her a while, but scoots off if I pat too long. Teddy is the only one who lets me cover her head with my hand. The other two will butt my hand away. Once they get used to you, they'll see you as someone who will protect them. Like when they are walking around the room & hear a loud noise. They will panic & run back to you, knowing that they can find comfort with you.

However you should always keep in mind to do things slowly & gradually. Never rush things. Someone I met on the internet told me she tried taking photos of her cavies on their first day & complained they were running like mad making it impossible to snap. Obviously that was a very dumb thing to do. They're stressed enough as it is without you flashing the camera at them. Needless to say, inviting a bunch of rowdy friends over to admire them isn't a very bright idea too.

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