Have Guinea Pig, Will Travel
6 Rules For Taking Your Pigs On The Road
By Whitney Potsus
When you own guinea pigs (or, rather, when you’re owned by guinea pigs), one of the hardest things is to leave them behind with a pet sitter while you go out of town. The natural inclination is, of course, to take them with you. After all, they’re small — how hard can it be?
Generally speaking, guinea pigs are not necessarily difficult to take along, especially when traveling by car. But should you? Is it better to leave them at home? And, when they do need to go with you, how do you pack for the trip?
Whether you’re just going to the vet’s office, home to the folks for a long weekend, or a longer trip, there are some basic guidelines for taking your guinea pigs on the road.
#1 Keep Them Safe
The only way to transport a guinea pig is in a well-ventilated, small animal carrier (hard-sided is better than soft-sided). These carriers can often be secured on a front or back seat with a seatbelt. And while nothing is 100% protection in the event of an accident, the tighter space in the carriers means less space for guinea pigs to get tossed around (and injured) in even low-speed, low-impact accidents.
For short trips (such as to the vet), the top-loading, side-secured Cabin Kennel will hold one or two adult guinea pigs snugly (unless they’re very pudgy pigs, in which case only one pig will fit). Cat carriers, such the Petmate Portable Carrier and the Small Kennel Cab, will hold two to three guinea pigs with room for hay and snacks. Cat carriers feature secure locking doors on their fronts, as well as a way to remove the top of carrier (which can be handy if you have nervous guinea pigs who have pinned themselves to the far back wall of the carrier’s interior). These carriers typically have wire vents and/or small doors on the top that let you slip food into the carrier in transit without having to open the front door. These vents also make it easy to quickly check on your pigs during the trip and, with the small doors, slip in your hand to give them a reassuring pat on the rump.
Guinea pigs should not be transported in cardboard boxes, cages, plastic storage bins, a towel in someone’s arms or lap, or whatever else one can think of. These items are not easily secured on car seats and, in the event of an accident, provide too much space for guinea pigs to get thrown around inside during impact. Accidents, sudden stops, or other sudden movements in a car (or train, bus, or plane) all will cause injuries to a guinea pig if they slide around in an unsuitable carrier.
#2 Keep Them Hydrated
Guinea pigs dehydrate easily, so you want to make sure they’re taking in fluids. Water bottles hung on carrier doors, however, unfailingly make a mess both inside the carrier and outside on your car seats. When we’re transporting pigs to events or from shelters, and when we send them home with their new owners, we’ll put chunks of cucumber, sweet bell pepper, or melon into the carrier with them. There is enough water content in these snacks — especially cucumber and melon — to keep your pigs hydrated until you reach your destination.
For longer trips, you’ll want to have a water bottle and bail handy to hang on the carrier door if you’re going to be stopping somewhere for more than five or ten minutes. That way, they have a chance to get a good drink of water in addition to what they’re getting from the snacks mentioned earlier.
#3 Don’t Let Them Get Over-Hungry
When you watch guinea pigs’ daily routines at home, you’ll typically see them eating about every couple of hours at their food dish and/or hay rack. They’re very good at self-regulating their diets, and they don’t eat simply because the food is there.
You’ll want to accommodate this routine while they’re traveling. When you start out on your trip, put a handful of hay in their carrier, a chunk of carrot, and a couple of leaves of lettuce for them to pick at as they want to. Some folks put small plastic bowls of food pellets in the carrier, but we’ve found that when pigs are in transit they consistently choose hay, veggies, and fruit over food pellets. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother putting food pellets in the carrier, but don’t be surprised if your pigs don’t touch them at all.
If you’re going to be on the road for more than a couple of hours, keep a small bag of hay and extra veggies and fruit handy in the passenger area of your car. That way, if the trip is longer than a couple of hours or your pigs eat more quickly than you expected them to, you can easily replenish their supply in the carrier without having to dig in the trunk of your car or stop at a grocery store.
#4 Keep Them Comfortable
With more than 750 guinea pigs having come through our doors, we’ve encountered very few guinea pigs who visibly enjoy traveling. Where we’ve seen plenty of dogs, and a few ferrets who seem to thrive on the thrill of adventure, guinea pigs react to traveling much the same way that cats and chinchillas do. They would rather be anywhere but in your car, on the bus, on the train, or on the plane. Guinea pigs, though resilient, are very nervous creatures, easily disconcerted by sound in particular. Travel, for them, is sensory overload…and not in a good way.
The more you can encourage napping between snacking, the better you can manage your pigs’ stress levels. Lining the bottom of the carrier with a soft towel (for traction and absorption) and putting in a comfy cozy sack for them to tunnel into will go a long way to inducing naps. Guinea pigs feel safest in any environment where they can tunnel and hide, and fleece sacks inside the carriers accommodate that instinctive need. If you’re going to be on the road for awhile, bring extra sacks with you to exchange a used sack for a clean, dry one.
#5 Travel When Necessary
Anyone who works with any kind of domestic animals will tell you that you should travel with animals in moderation, and put the interests of the animals ahead of your own. Sure, when you leave home for a trip, you’ll miss them and they’ll miss you — but the temporary unpleasantness of separation is a lot more tolerable than the full-on upheaval that comes with traveling by plane, train, bus, or automobile.
Necessary visits to the vet aside, be judicious about when you’re taking guinea pigs out of the home. Cold weather, snowy days, damp and rainy days, and blazing hot summer days are less-than-ideal conditions for guinea pigs. Cargo holds for airplanes are no place for guinea pigs (or any animals, for that matter). If an airline won’t let you bring your guinea pigs onboard like they will cats and small dogs, that trip is not one on which your critters should be going with you.
Your guinea pigs’ temperaments and tolerance levels for stress will be your primary guide for how often you travel with them, how far you travel with them, and the mode of transportation you use. One of The Critter Connection’s vacation boarders has traveled with his humans around the U.S. and even to France for an extended family vacation; he seems to thrive on the adventure and, during a three-week family vacation overseas when he was left with us, was clearly unhappy about being left behind and no amount of attention consoled him. We know students who take their guinea pigs with them on weekend trips home, and families who take their guinea pigs to Grandma’s house for a week at Christmas. By the same token, we’ve had relocating owners sadly give up their pigs because they got so stressed out by short car rides that the owners didn’t think the animals would survive a plane ride to Hawaii or a cross-country drive to Colorado.
#6 Know When - And When Not To - Leave Them Alone
When you reach your destination you’ll want to put your guinea pigs in a cage with food, water and hay and then just leave them alone for a couple of hours to eat, nap, and generally calm down from their stress high. Don’t handle them excessively, but be ready to intervene just in case they show overt signs of stress. They need know they’re going to be wherever they’ve arrived for awhile; getting pulled out the carrier after the trip and immediately getting carted around an unfamiliar place or getting passed around from one unfamiliar person to another is the last thing they need when you reach your destination.
While you’re in transit, don’t leave them alone in the car while you’re in a store picking up a couple of things or in a restaurant getting a quick bite. If there’s more than one human companion, have one stay with the pigs while the other leaves the car. The same rules apply for bus, train, and terminals. You should no more leave an animal unattended than you would leave a child.
By following these simple rules, you and your guinea pigs can have a safe and uneventful trip, and arrive at your destination healthy and happy to be there!