Guinea Pig Lifespan: How Long Do Guinea Pigs Live?

Written by Dana Mayor
Updated: September 29, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/(c) [email protected]
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Key Points

  • Guinea pigs generally have a lifespan ranging betweeen 5 – 8 years.
  • Once they reach their fourth or fifth year, they experience a decline in energy levels.
  • Additional signs of aging include graying fur and certain illnesses such as arthritis.

Guinea pigs are among the most beloved pets in the entire world. They’re very curious, gentle, cuddly, comical, and highly interactive animals that need frequent social interaction and care. While their lifespan isn’t as long as a cat or a dog, they’re generally quite hardy and resistant to disease. There are many factors that influence the longevity of the Guinea pig, including its breeding, diet, housing situation, and healthcare. Sometimes, however, there are factors beyond anyone’s control that could play a role as well. This article will cover what you need to know about how to maximize your pet’s potential lifespan, so you can hopefully enjoy its company for many years to come. Continue reading to discover how long Guinea pigs live.

The Lifespan of a Guinea Pig

In short, the modern domesticated Guinea has a typical lifespan of five to eight years. If it’s lucky enough to avoid complications from any age-related diseases, then the Guinea pig is actually capable of living a few years longer, but there’s a natural limit to its lifespan that it almost certainly won’t exceed. It’s difficult to say exactly what that natural limit is, but based on the evidence of the longest living pigs (which will be covered below), it is probably somewhere in the range of 15 years.

From the time it reaches adulthood, around six months of age, your Guinea pig will be in the prime of its life. But like with any animal, it will eventually begin to show significant signs of decline. By the age of four or five, its energy level will start to fall dramatically. You may notice your Guinea pig becoming less likely to engage in exercise and play. The fur will start to turn gray or white, especially around the nose and mouth. Its toes will curl up, starting with the outside toe and progressing toward the inner largest toe; the toes may eventually appear thick and twisted. Your pig also becomes much more prone to all kinds of age-related ailments, including cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, cancer, and even dementia, which starts to affect its behavior.

Domesticated Guinea pigs no longer exist in the wild (apart from the rare feral population), but some owners do let them run free around a larger fenced yard. This obviously provides your pet with much-needed space and fresh air, but free roaming Guinea pigs are much more likely to fall prey to predators and disease. They’re also vulnerable to bad weather and cold temperatures. This is absolutely not recommended unless you know what you’re doing and willing to take the risk.

The typical lifespan of a Guinea pig is five to eight years.

iStock.com/Olena Kurashova

The Guinea Pig That Broke Records

The Guinness World Record for the oldest known caged Guinea pig belongs to an animal named Snowball from Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom. He died on February 14th, 1979 at the age of 14 years and 10.5 months old. Other Guinea pigs have come close to this record (one Guinea pig named Bear was supposedly 13 years old as of 2019), but no one has yet managed to exceed it. This is made more complicated by the difficulty of actually confirming a pig’s age, of course. The pig’s birth must be documented in order to qualify for the record.

What Affects the Lifespan of Your Guinea Pig

One of the biggest factors contributing to the health and general well-being of your pig is genetics. Just like any other animal, including humans, many health conditions (or at least the increased risk of certain health conditions) can be passed down from parent to offspring. This is where a breeder can play a very important role in the health outcome of your pet. High-quality breeders will only choose from the best stock. They will refuse to breed pigs that show signs of serious inheritable health problems. Frequent tests are done to ensure that their pigs are healthy and free of disease.

With that said, breeding can only get you so far. Once you’ve acquired a pig, diet and general care can play a significant role as well. Tips for keeping your pig safe and healthy will be covered in the next section. Sometimes, however, no matter how careful you are, a pig may not live as long as you hope. “Luck” (meaning random or uncontrollable factors) certainly has an enormous effect on its lifespan. A pig’s life could be cut short by a hidden genetic risk the pig naturally carries or an illness that can’t be foreseen. But barring these unforeseen factors, owners can exercise a lot of control over their pet’s health.

Tips for Improving Your Guinea Pig’s Lifespan

There are a few things you can do to ensure that your Guinea pig has a long and healthy life:

  • Breeding: When you first set out to buy a Guinea pig, health should always be your primary concern. Your best option is to find a dedicated cavy breeder with an excellent reputation for breeding from healthy, high-quality stock. Never trust a breeder or pet store that cannot provide proof that their animals come from a healthy, well-bred source. While good breeders do tend to charge a little more for their animals, you’re also less likely to pay for health problems in the long run.
  • Breeds: The breed of the Guinea pig does play a fairly substantial role in its lifespan. Peruvians or Shelties are thought to live the longest, whereas hairless breeds like the Baldwin and the skinny pig are thought to have the shortest lifespan.
  • Diet: All Guinea pigs (regardless of age, breed, or sex) will need a well-balanced diet consisting of pellets, hay, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Owners should provide 1/8 cup of pellets every day that contain plenty of fortified vitamin C and fiber. This should be supplemented with unlimited quantities of hay (usually timothy), about a cup of fresh produce (like lettuce or parsley), and a few slices of seedless fruit (such as apples, oranges, kiwis, etc). Try to avoid grains, cereals, seeds, nuts, dairy products, and overly sweet food with empty calories. You should also oavoid meats. The Guinea pig is an herbivore only.
  • General Housing Care: In order to prevent sickness, owners will need to clean out the pig’s bedding at least once a week, remove uneaten food every day, and try to keep the food separate from the waste. The room temperature should be maintained at 65 to 79 degrees without any drafts.
  • Exercise: Exercise is good for the mental and physical well-being of your pig. A suitably sized cage to run around in and daily playtime with its owner should ensure enough exercise every day. Exercise wheels and balls are not recommended and may even cause injury to some pigs.
  • Veterinary Care: Your Guinea pig should receive a routine checkup with the vet at least once a year. If your pig begins to experience some acute signs of illness or distress, then you should contact the vet as soon as possible. Pet insurance may protect you against unexpected health bills, but it may not be suitable for everyone.
An important part of a Guinea pig’s diet is fresh vegetables.

iStock.com/DevMarya

Common Guinea Pig Health Problems

Owners will want to be aware of (and prepared for) serious and life-threatening diseases that could take several years off the life of your pet. Young Guinea pigs with undeveloped immune systems are particularly prone to suffer from respiratory infections or urinary tract infections. However, even adults are at risk from it; psychological stress, poor nutrition, inadequate ventilation, and overcrowded habitats could all potentially contribute to an infection.

Gastrointestinal problems are very common in Guinea pigs as well, because their carbohydrate-heavy diet requires extra effort to properly digest. If your pig has trouble absorbing nutrients, or it quickly passes food out of its system, then it could be a sign of a more serious digestive problem such as inflammation, bacterial infections, or parasites. Symptoms can include weakness, diarrhea, and unexpected weight loss or appetite changes.

Another related problem is a nutrient deficiency. Because, like humans, Guinea pigs are unable to manufacture their own vitamin C and must obtain all of it from their diet, they are also prone to scurvy. The symptoms of this disease include rough hair, diarrhea, swollen joints, lethargy, and ulcers or hemorrhaging in the gums. Fortunately, if you’re feeding the pig a proper well-balanced diet mentioned earlier, then this shouldn’t be a concern.

Owners should also be aware of the signs of cancer. Tumors appear to be increasingly in frequency, so keep an eye out for unusual bumps or growths on your Guinea pig’s body. As with humans, early detection is always necessary for the best chance of survival. The risk of cancer increases as the Guinea pig ages and requires more frequent checks.

Beyond these specific issues, owners will want to look out for general signs of illness or disease as well, including lethargy, depression and unsocial behavior, difficulty breathing, skin sores, ear oozing or irritation, excessive sleeping, and pain and swelling. If you notice any of these symptoms, then you might want to talk with your vet immediately to help determine how long your Guinea pig may live with these potential issues.

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About the Author

I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

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