Welcome to the Friends of the Guinea Pigs in Austria.

The aim of this page is to provide some basic information about keeping a guinea pig as a pet in Austria, and it should help you to find the correct type of housing, food and veterinary care for your pet.

We have included some links to reference pages even though these are in German, as you may need some of these terms when contacting other guinea pig owners, shops or vets.

Most of the information found on https://www.theguineapigforum.co.uk is accurate for Austria as well. Bear in mind that the needs of guinea pigs themselves as animals are always the same, but the typical handling, available medication and legal framework are different.

We hope you enjoy reading this page. If you have any specific questions, please contact us at info@meerschweinchenverein.at.

Legal framework

Keeping pet animals in Austria is subject to the Tierschutzgesetz (Animal Welfare Act), which sets out the conditions for keeping pets of all kinds.

Guinea pigs (Meerschweinchen) are covered by the 2. Tierhaltungsverordnung (Second Amendment to the Animal Welfare Act), which specifies the conditions for these small rodents under Item 3.

The original text can be found at www.ris.bka.gv.at, by searching for the German terms above, but a summary of the legal framework is given below:

Guinea pigs are herbivores and must have free access to food and water at all times.

The temperature must be kept appropriate to their natural living conditions (cold/warm areas, additional heating or cooling spots).

Places to hide and shelters must be provided according to the needs of the species.

Rodents need appropriate food to chew on so their teeth (molars) are kept short and sharp.

Cages must be rectangular, and the spacing of the metal bars must ensure that paws and feet cannot get stuck or hurt.

Terrariums and glass enclosures are not suitable for guinea pigs as they do not provide enough air flow.

The interior of the cage must be structured with houses, shelters and chewing material (wood, branches, etc).

Flooring and bedding must be kept clean and dry and must prevent the animal from slipping. The material must be safe for use with pets and not harmful to them. Cat litter is not allowed.

Water must be of drinking water quality and served in water bottles or safe and stable bowls. Water must be fresh and replaced every day.

Food (hay) must be served in racks, easily accessible and always full.

If the animals are kept in a cage, they must additionally be offered free running space frequently (floor time).

Cages must be placed at least 60 cm from the ground.

Guinea pigs must be kept in pairs or groups with a minimum of 2 individuals.

It is NOT permitted to keep guinea pigs in the same space as rabbits.

The minimum ground floor area for a guinea pig cage is 100cm x 60cm x 50cm for 2 individuals. Each additional adult individual needs 0,2 m2 (2000 cm2) of additional space.

 

Recommendations

As the legal conditions are not sufficient or precise enough in some cases, let’s have a look at some details:

1. Housing

The stipulated minimum cage size is far too small, even for only 2 guinea pigs. Piggies love to run, and even individuals that get on well prefer to keep a distance from one another.

If you do not have the space for a self made enclosure (of which examples and ideas can be found at www.meerschweinchenberatung.at (see Anleitung für den Aufbau eines Bodengehege mit Songmics-Platten - YouTube) or www.diebrain.de (under Meerschweinchen Info - Gehege - Eigenbau)), please aim for a cage size of 140cm x 70cm minimum. A good alternative to building your own enclosure from scratch is to construct an enclosure from Songmics grids or using a C&C system (“cubes and coroplast” - metal grids plus a base of corrugated plastic); Songmics grids are less expensive than C&C ones. Although these options are not common in Austria, they are becoming popular internationally.

Please bear in mind that it is the ground floor area that counts when calculating the size, not any additional floors.

Most rescue organisations and individuals in Austria do not want to have their guinea pigs housed in closed, roofed cages, although this might be the better solution in certain circumstances (for example if you have cats in the same household).

From personal experience I would say that keeping guinea pigs in an open enclosure in which the animals can be freely observed offers much more fun than having them shut in a roofed cage.

2. Interior

It is essential that each guinea pig has its own house or shelter to feel safe and to be able to retreat for a rest. If you have one big house, please make sure that there are two entrances/exits. Recommended brands to buy such houses from are Home - Heimtierbedarf Resch - Nagerhaus - Webshop. These houses can be cleaned with hot water and soap, then dried in the sun. If you want to protect them further you may paint them with paint used for children’s toys (Spielzeug-Lack or Holzlasur für Kindermöbel), which can be purchased in every do-it-yourself-store (for example Obi, Hornbach …)

Most piggies enjoy fleece tunnels, beds and the like to snuggle in. These are called Kuschelsachen, Kuschelrollen, Kuschelbetten, Kuschelhöhlen and are offered on flea market platforms like www.willhaben.at. Make sure they can be washed at at least 40 C, because guinea pigs love to pee on them so they need to be changed regularly. Recently one of our friends, Nicole Bader, opened her own store selling new handmade fleece tunnels and beds – check out https://nicoles-meeris-zwerge.jimdofree.com/nicoles-kuschelwerkstatt

3. Bedding

Wood shavings are the most common bedding for guinea pigs. There is a large variety of brands and suppliers on the market, and we recommend that you initially buy a small pack (2,5 kg or 60 litres) to see if it suits you and your pets.

Bedding must be soft and absorb liquids well. Cat litter (apart from the wood-based variety) is not recommended, as it may be deadly for a guinea pig if it gets into its stomach.

Wood-based cat litter such as CatsBest seems to be fine, but please make sure that it is not sharp or piercing. You may then use it as underlying bedding to absorb liquids, covered with a layer of soft wood shavings. I personally use straw pellets, which are easy to spot when dirty and to clean out when lumping.

Recommended brands for wood shavings are Chipsi classic and Multifit Kleintierstreu (sold in smaller amounts), and Alpenspan, Happy Horse or Goldhorse (sold as a bale). Please do not use any perfumed or coloured products!

An alternative option is to keep your guinea pigs on fleece liners or bath mats inside the enclosure. This method works well and is less messy than using shavings, but please bear in mind that you have to change this more often. Fleece liners work by allowing liquid to wick through the fleece layer, which then dries again quickly, and the moisture is held in an absorbent layer below, with a waterproof liner at the base. Smaller “pee pads” can be used in areas of the cage which become the wettest/dirtiest most quickly and these can be changed more regularly than the full fleece liner.

4. Food

Websites such as www.meerschweinchenberatung.at or www.diebrain.de offer a listing of recommended fresh foods for guinea pigs. The list at Meerschweinchen Info INFO - Frischfutterliste (diebrain.de) is very comprehensive and worth going through – maybe a German-speaking friend can help translate this.

The most important veggies are red leaf, green leaf, romaine lettuce, radiccio, cilantro, carrots and bell peppers.

Certainly, if your guinea pig does not like a particular type of vegetable or fruit, simply eliminate it from your nutrition plan. All piggies love watermelon, which is delicious on hot summer days. Some of mine eat only the red fruit of the watermelon, and some only the green peel. None of them has any problem with eating the part that they prefer, but always gets diarrhoea when eating the other part!

Hay in good quality must be available at all times, offered in a hayrack so it is not dirty and can be consumed fresh and clean.

As with bedding, there is a vast variety of hay available on the market. Most importantly, the hay must smell fresh and like dried herbs. Bales of hay often contain hard and long grasses which most piggies will not consume. It is better to shop for Kleintierheu from JR Farm, Chips, MultiFit or Hilan Hofer as your guinea pigs’ daily food, and offer Bergkräuterheu or Almwiesenheu as a supplement. The latter is more nutritious and should not be served as daily food. Bergkräuterheu and Almwiesenheu are comparable to Timothy hay.

Online stores such as Fressnapf, Zoo Royal and others offer free delivery of food and supplies. Industrial or packaged food offered in such stores has a “best before” consumption date. I recommend to not go much beyond this date, as this may produce food moths inside. I had no issues with using these products one or two months beyond their date, but after six months it is better to throw the food away.

Good sources to buy fresh dried herbs and food from are Hagenthalhase or Steppenlemmings.

5. How should you keep guinea pigs: as individuals, in pairs or in groups?

Guinea pigs are highly social animals and should not be kept alone. A group in the wild consists of one boar and two to three females. Such a group will offer you a wide variety of behaviours and reveal character differences among the group. One member of the group will always be the most curious one, the most food-addicted, the most shy or the most dominant – there are a lot of interesting interactions to watch!

Please bear in mind that a group of three will require a lot of ground space, at least 2 m2.

As mentioned above, the legal minimum measurements set forth in Austrian law are much too small for guinea pigs.

A good resource for calculating the required space is Meerschweinchen INFO - Gehege (diebrain.de) and the cage calculator given there. A larger enclosure is the better choice if you are not able to give your guinea pigs floor time daily.

As mentioned earlier, the enclosure should be positioned on a table or at least 60cm from the ground. Interacting with the animals is much easier this way, as is cleaning and feeding.

A good and well balanced group comprises of one neutered male and two to three females.

Particularly boars that are neutered at a very young age may not get along well with older females, but I have also experienced the opposite case, where elderly sows have adopted young males as their “children“.

On the whole, older males do better with younger females. Older females may have their own idea of how life should be, so there can be some disagreements; how things develop from this point on tends to depend on the individual characters involved.

Rescue organisations and animal shelters can provide advice on how to introduce new members into an existing group, or how to introduce a new companion to a remaining individual.

Some guinea pig owners prefer to keep only females or only boars. Groups of females may get along well together too, with one member taking over leadership of the group. In such a group there are likely to be problems with that female accepting a boar if one is introduced.

Boar keeping requires more attention and space than a mixed or female-only group. Boars go well together when in pairs, but need space to avoid conflicts. Please be sure to have these boars neutered too! It is a common misunderstanding that such boars do not need to be neutered, as they are not in the company of females. But while this situation may work for a couple of years, when they start fighting and need to be separated, the trouble begins. Furthermore the question arises as to how to find company for an old boar that is too old for neutering. The choices are limited to either another old boar, or a young boar (neutered, of course). In contrast, any neutered boar that loses his cage-mate can easily be teamed up with a female. There are more risks when adding another boar (neutered or not, old or young). Please consider this for the animal’s sake.

Neutering young boars involves a small operation, and within just a couple of days they are up and running again. Although guinea pigs are not easy patients and any operation is not without risk, this intervention at a young age goes well in the majority of cases, and allows for a much better life afterwards! The best age for a boar to be neutered is 3 to 6 months of age.

 

Credits and special thanks to Larissa H. for proofreading this text!

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