Keeping guinea pigs can be expensive. Aside from the upfront supply cost, you’ve got ongoing expenses like bedding, hay, pellets, and vegetables. However, there are a few ways you can cut down on these costs and reduce your guinea pig-related budget. None of these ideas require skimping on your guinea pig’s care or cutting out the essentials. So, let’s jump right in!
1. Buy Hay in Bulk
Buying hay in bulk is one of the best ways to save money with guinea pigs. Bags of hay in pet stores are quite small and pretty expensive for what you get. Buying boxes of hay online or purchasing by the bale gives you a much better bang for your buck.
Where to Find Hay in Bulk for Guinea Pigs
You can find hay for sale by the bale from local farmers. You may also be able to find a small business near you that sells hay specifically for small pet owners. These companies typically offer pesticide-free 100% timothy hay that is perfectly suited for small animals, and they often deliver right to your door.
Check your local classifieds ads and Facebook marketplace in your area and see what you can find. You may also be able to find hay in bulk for small animals by doing a google search for “guinea pig hay” + your area.
In addition, you might be able to find suitable hay for guinea pigs at Tractor Supply or other farm stores in your area. Look for hay that is 2nd or 3rd cut, horse quality (not cow), sun-dried, and pesticide free.
Choosing the Right Type of Hay for Guinea Pigs
When searching for hay in bulk, look for hay that is advertised as timothy or orchard grass hay. Avoid anything that has alfalfa hay mixed in. Alfalfa hay is fine for young guinea pigs (under 6 months), but it has too much calcium content for adult guinea pigs. Too much calcium in your guinea pig’s diet can cause bladder stones, which often require surgery to remove.
Hay by the bale is usually sold as either 1st cut, 2nd cut, or 3rd cut. The main difference between these is the coarseness and nutrient content. 1st cut will consist of harder, thicker strands of hay and low nutrient count, while 3rd cut will be much softer and higher in nutrients and sugar. 2nd cut is right in the middle.
2nd cut hay is the best choice for most guinea pigs. It’s soft, high in nutrients, and does a great job of wearing down ever-growing guinea pig teeth. You can read more about choosing the right types of hay for guinea pigs here.
Buy Guinea Pig Hay in Bulk Online
If you cannot find any suitable bales of hay for guinea pigs locally, you can still buy your hay in larger quantities online. You can find bulk quantities of hay in 25 or 50lb boxes through Amazon and Chewy. You can also save a few dollars extra each time by putting your hay on auto-ship. Small Pet Select also sells hay in any quantity up to 50lbs.
How to Store Bales of Hay at Your Home
Now you may be thinking…. Once you have this 50lb bale of hay at your home…. Where do you store it?
Hay needs to be stored somewhere dry, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be in your home. If you have a garage or shed, these are the perfect places to keep a bale of hay. They can also be stored in a bin on a porch, deck, balcony, or somewhere else outside. If there is not enough shelter from the elements, you can cover the bin with a tarp to make sure it stays dry. It could also be placed in a mudroom, large closet, or basement if you don’t have outdoor space.
I store my hay in a large plastic storage container. The bin that I have is 208 liters and measures 45″x20″x19.5″. This bin fits a full bale of hay perfectly. I’ve seen other people use large outdoor garbage bins to store their bales of hay as well.
You will likely want a smaller container to keep some hay readily available in the house as well. I saved an old oxbow hay bag for this purpose and simply refill it with hay from outside as needed.
2. Save Money on Guinea Pig Pellets
Pellets contain important nutrients and extra vitamin C, which is important to prevent health problems such as scurvy in guinea pigs. However, if you’re feeding a high-quality pellet such as Oxbow, your guinea pigs should only need about 1/8 cup of pellets per day to meet this requirement.
Oxbow pellets also come in bags up to 25lbs. At 1/8 cup per day, a 25lb bag would last a very long time! Oxbow is considered a higher-priced brand, but if you feed it as recommended, you’re actually saving a lot of money over the cheaper brands that are free-fed. Your guinea pigs will also stay a healthier weight if they can get all their nutrients from just 1/8 cup of food a day.
The only issue with buying 25lb bags is making sure the vitamin C content in the food doesn’t disintegrate over time. Make sure you read the instructions on the bag to store the food properly. Normally if you keep the bag sealed, stored away from heat and light, and keep the food in its original bag, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If you only have 2 guinea pigs, a 10-pound bag will probably last you a long time as well, and it still costs less than buying the smallest bag.
3. Save Money on Vegetables
Vegetables for your guinea pigs can add up! It is typically recommended to feed your guinea pigs about a cup of veggies per day. It’s fine to feed your guinea pigs a little less than this, as long as they have unlimited access to hay and they’re getting enough Vitamin C in their diet.
Keep a list of vegetables that are safe for guinea pigs, and look out for veggies that are discounted each week at the grocery store. Also, try to shop around for veggies that are on sale at different stores. You can also ask friends and family to save leftover vegetables that they would otherwise be throwing away.
If you have a small family-run shop or farm near you that sells produce, you could ask them about getting damaged or ugly vegetables for free or at a discount. It may even be worth asking grocery stores if they would be willing to give you some wilted produce that may be thrown away anyway.
Guinea pigs can also eat things like corn husks, which would typically go to waste if you eat corn in the summer months. It’s a good idea to remove the outer layers of the husks if your corn is not organic because there may be traces of pesticides on it.
In addition, you can collect grass or dandelion leaves from outside if your climate permits. Guinea pigs absolutely love fresh greens from outside! Just make sure anything you pick for them is untreated. Avoid public parks, boulevards, and neighbor’s yards unless you’re 100% sure it’s safe.
You can also take your guinea pigs outside to graze and get some fresh air when the weather is nice. Make sure they are supervised at all times if you take them out and safely contained in an enclosure or exercise pen.
4. Grow Your Own Vegetables
If you have a garden outside (or space to put a garden), planting your own vegetables can be a great way to save money and feed your guinea pigs (and yourself!) some healthy and organic veggies from your own backyard. (Guinea pig poop also makes for great fertilizer!) Growing your own vegetables can be very rewarding and lots of fun!
If you don’t have outdoor space for a traditional garden, there are still a few things that grow nicely in smaller planters or pots on a balcony or in a window. Herbs, such as basil or parsley, grow great in pots indoors. You can also grow some grass from seed to keep inside during the winter or just dig out a patch of grass and replant it in a pot to bring inside. Wheatgrass (aka cat grass) is fast growing and easy to grow from seed for guinea pigs.
5. Re-Grow Lettuce in Water
Don’t throw out your lettuce stumps! You can actually re-grow a head of lettuce from just the bottom piece that you would throw out anyway. It doesn’t grow back exactly as the original, but it will still give you some fresh new leaves to feed your guinea pigs for free.
To do this, cut off the bottom portion of a head of lettuce, about 2-3 inches high. Place the lettuce stump in a shallow bowl of water, about half an inch deep. Check it daily and change the water if the bowl starts to get slimy. The new lettuce leaves should be sprouted up and ready for picking in about 2 weeks!
You can also regrow carrot tops with this method. Simply put the cut-off end of a carrot in a shallow bowl, just like above, and you’ll have a fresh supply of carrot greens for your guinea pigs.
6. Substitute Disposable Bedding for Fleece
You can save a lot of money by eliminating or reducing the amount of disposable bedding you use in your guinea pig’s cage. Fleece is also better for your guinea pig’s breathing, which can help prevent respiratory issues and vet visits down the line. Fleece bedding can cost more upfront, but it saves a lot of money long-term over constantly buying Carefresh or paper-based bedding. There are also a few budget-friendly ways to use fleece bedding that won’t break the bank.
All In One Fleece Liners
The easiest way to get started with fleece bedding is to buy some all-in-one fleece liners. These come with an absorbent layer inside, so you don’t really have to do anything. Simply pop them in your cage, and they’re ready to go. You can find some great guinea pig fleece liners on Etsy. It’s also a lot of fun to choose the fleece patterns for your cage.
GuineaDad liners are also really easy and absorbent. Just like the handmade fleece liners, they’re simple and easy to use right off the bat.
If you’re a sewer and want to try your hand at making your own fleece liners, you can find a tutorial below. You’ll need some anti-pill fleece for this project, as well as an absorbent inner layer, such as U-Haul pads. If you’re on a budget, you can sometimes find cheaper fleece fabric in discount bins at fabric stores.
DIY No Sew Cage Liners
Instead of making all-in-one fleece liners, you can also use fleece blankets individually and lay down some absorbent layers underneath. To do this, you’ll need some fleece blankets. You can buy them by the yard from a fabric store or even re-purpose some fleece blankets from thrift stores.
You’ll need to wick the fleece before using it in your guinea pig’s cage. Wicking is basically the process of washing the fleece multiple times so that liquid (pee) is able to soak through the fleece into the absorbent layers underneath. Otherwise, the pee will sit on top of the fleece and soak your guinea pig’s feet. You can read more about this in our article on how to wick fleece in 9 simple steps.
You’ll also need something absorbent to put under the layer of fleece. The fleece serves as a soft top layer for guinea pigs to walk on, but the fleece by itself isn’t very absorbent. For the absorbent layer, you have several options. You can use old towels, U-Haul pads, puppy pee pads (disposable or washable pee pads), washable adult incontinence bed mats, or anything else that is absorbent and easy to wash. This cost could be as little as free if you already have old towels lying around that could be re-purposed into cage liners.
Once you have fleece and an absorbent layer to put underneath, simply lay down the absorbent layer in your cage, cover it with your fleece, and use binder clips to clip the fleece to the sides of your cage. When it comes time to clean the cage, simply unclip the fleece, shake everything out, and toss it in the washer.
How Do You Wash Fleece Without Ruining Your Washer
Washing fleece in your home washing machine can seem a bit unsanitary at first glance, but there are a few ways to make it better. First of all, make sure you shake everything thoroughly into the garbage before putting it into your washing machine. If bedding or hay is stuck to it really well, you’ll probably want to give it a really good shake outside. For mats that are heavily soiled, take them outside and spray them down with a hose before washing them.
You can also put everything into some animal bedding wash bags to protect your washing machine. Everything goes into the bag, which then goes into the washer. Any hay or poop that was missed in the shaking phase will catch in the bag.
Ways to Make Cleaning Easier
Using fleece as bedding for guinea pigs can get messy if you don’t do it right. However, there are a few “hacks” you can use to maximize your effort and cut down on the time you spend cleaning when using fleece as your bedding.
Use Bath Mats in High Traffic Areas
Chenille bath mats (also called noodle rugs) are popular among guinea pig owners. They are super soft, very absorbent, and easy to throw in a washing machine. You can easily extend the time between washing your fleece by simply laying down a few chenille bath mats around the areas where your guinea pigs pee and poop the most.
These areas are typically corners, under hidey houses where your guinea pigs sleep, and near food bowls and hay. Putting bath mats in these places makes it easy to switch out the bath mats frequently while keeping the rest of the cage relatively clean.
You can find chenille bath mats nearly everywhere. Even some dollar stores have them. Be sure to get some that don’t have a rubber backing. This way, they won’t stay soaked if the guinea pigs pee on them too much. The liquid will simply soak through into the fleece layer beneath.
Litter Train Your Guinea Pigs – Create a Kitchen Area
Another way to keep your cage cleaner is to create a “kitchen” or litter area for your guinea pigs. This is simply a box that you put bedding and hay in. Wide and low litter boxes work great for this purpose. I use these puppy litter boxes and love them.
Guinea pigs love to pee and poop where they eat. Therefore, putting all their food in an easy-to-clean box catches a lot of the pee and poop and makes cleanup super easy. To learn more about choosing a good spot for their litter area and getting them to use it as much as possible, check out this page on litter training your guinea pig.
7. Buy Bedding in Bulk
If you have a litter area for your guinea pigs, you’re still going to need a bit of bedding, albeit a lot less than filling the whole cage. You can save money here by also buying your bedding in bulk. If you choose to use shavings, you can usually find kiln-dried pine or aspen shavings sold by the bale from farm stores. Just be sure that any pine bedding says kiln dried, so you know there are no toxic phenols for your guinea pigs to breathe in. Aspen does not have those toxic phenols, so it doesn’t need to be kiln-dried.
Even buying the biggest bags of bedding that you can from a pet store will be cheaper than buying small bags. This saves money significantly in the long run.
Newspaper is not absorbent enough on its own to use as bedding, but it is something you can easily get for free if you use it underneath layers of other bedding. Simply ask friends and family to save old flyers or newspapers that they’re going to throw out anyways.
8. Make Your Own DIY Toys and Chew Items
Sometimes guinea pigs are a little like cats. You can buy them a nice new toy and then discover that they actually just wanted the box all along. This can be good news when you’re looking for toys and chew items on a budget. Guinea pigs love things like paper bags stuffed with hay, oatmeal boxes to run through like tunnels, and shredded paper or piles of old blankets to burrow and play in.
Cardboard boxes (with tape and labels removed) make great hidey houses, and they’re good to chew on too. You can cut holes on the sides of the box for your guinea pigs to run through in different directions. Toilet paper tubes are also fun to stuff with hay or paper. Just be sure to cut a slit lengthwise down the toilet paper tube for safety! Guinea pigs have been known to occasionally get their head stuck in a toilet paper tube, especially when there’s food inside. Some guinea pigs will even toss around and chew a simple sheet of paper that’s crinkled up into a little ball.
Guinea pigs also love to chew on apple or willow tree twigs or sticks. If you happen to have apple or willow trees nearby, this can be another good option for you. Just make sure the trees aren’t treated with anything that could harm your guinea pigs. You can also collect pine cones for your piggies to chew and play with.
Hiding small pieces of chopped-up veggies around the cage is also a lot of fun for guinea pigs. You can also toss a handful of diced vegetables into a fresh pile of hay for them to forage through.
As you can see, there are many ways you can save money when you own guinea pigs. Many guinea pig essentials can be much more cost-effective if you buy in bulk or purchase reusable bedding. These methods are more environmentally friendly as well! Also, be sure to check out our guinea pig care page for many more useful and interesting tips on keeping guinea pigs.