Cavies make wonderfully sweet companions; however, bringing a cavy into your life is a decision that should be made only after great deliberation. While many companion animals are relatively self-sufficient, cavies definitely are not. Cavies are very dependent on their humans, and unfortunately too many cavies suffer from neglect when taken in by ill-prepared (albeit well-meaning) adults who believe that proper care requires little more than filling a pellet bowl and water bottle and changing the cage litter every few days. (And don't even get us started on cavies left in the sole care of children like little living toys!) While we believe everyone's life could be enriched by befriending a cavy, we also strongly believe that you should not even consider adopting one unless you can and will commit to treating the cavy as a true member of your family -- and that means providing comfortable and clean shelter, nutritious food, stimulating toys, and adequate professional medical care. In this section we hope to provide you with some suggestions on where you can find what you will need.

First, however, you should have a good basic understanding of what is required for proper care. A good starting point is our Guinea Pig Care Fact Sheet . We also urge you to read the other articles on our site for detailed information on specific topics.

Once you are aware of all the requirements for good care, you may feel that you have no way of getting the high quality supplies necessary to provide your cavy with "the good life." While that might have been true a few years ago for those living in particularly remote areas, rest assured that the Internet has solved this problem. If you can't find what you and your cavy need in your town, any number of Internet retailers have truly wonderful supplies that can be delivered to your door at very reasonable prices.

For example, nothing is more basic to good cavy care than adequate housing. Don't know what kind of housing is best or where to find it? We've got you covered -- just read our article on Guinea Pig Housing. As for cage furnishings (ceramic pellet bowl, water bottle with metal tip, hay rack, and privacy hideaway), your local pet store (or sometimes even large discount stores like Walmart) may have what you will need. However, if your local merchants don't carry quality items, you can easily order them from the small animal departments of Internet pet stores like www.petsmart.com.

Once your cavy has a comfortable home, it needs a full belly. And a healthy cavy belly is filled with (1) fresh fruits and veggies, especially those high in vitamin C, (2) guinea pig pellets, and (3) hay.

The fruits and veggies are easy enough -- go to your local grocer. Just make sure that you are buying the right types of food. Don't know what to buy? Check out our Fact Sheet again for some suggestions.

Pellets are more difficult. While most pet stores and even major discount stores sell guinea pig pellets, many bags are filled with little more than cavy junk food which appeals mainly to the human eye (consisting of brightly -- and artificially -- colored "treats" and potentially harmful seeds). For reasonably priced, truly healthy, high-quality pellets, however, it's hard to beat the Oxbow Hay Company (www.oxbowhay.com), American Pet Diner (www.americanpetdiner.com), and Kleenmama's Hayloft (www.kmshayloft.com). Oxbow sells Cavy Performance (an alfalfa-based pellet for growing cavies) and Cavy Cuisine (a timothy-based maintenance pellet for adult cavies). (If you don't like ordering over the Internet, Oxbow also sells through some local retail outlets, such as vets. You can check their web site to see if there is a retailer in your area.) American Pet Diner sells alfalfa-based Alffy Guinea Pig Pellets and timothy-based Timmy Guinea Pig Pellets. Kleenmama's Hay Loft sells alfalfa-based guinea pig pellets from Canada, called Proform.

Like pellets, hay can also be found at local pet stores and discount stores -- but it is usually dreadful quality (dry and brown) and sold in extremely expensive mini-bales of a few ounces. However, both the Oxbow Hay Company, American Pet Diner, and Kleenmama's Hayloft also sell lovely, fresh, green hay that your cavies will LOVE. All three companies have timothy hay as well as other varieties of grass hay. (And, as noted in our Fact Sheet, we recommend their grass hays, such as timothy, rather than alfalfa.) Even with shipping costs, buying hay from them is usually MUCH cheaper because you can buy in bulk. Buying 10 (or 25) pounds of hay may sound ridiculous at first, but it will stay fresh for months in a cool, dry storage space. (And even after six months, this hay is still noticeably fresher than those awful, plastic-wrapped mini-bales of Kaytee hay.)

Once your cavy has a comfy home and a full belly, the next order of business is providing stimulating toys. Luckily, cavies aren't exactly known as the mental giants of companion animals, and so toys that will fascinate your cavy aren't hard to come by. For example, many cavies are endlessly amused by something as simple as a paper bag. (Roll down the top of the bag so that it will stay open, toss it in the cage, and watch the fun begin.) With a little imagination, you can fashion other "toys" cheaply from many household objects. Of course, pet stores also offer a wide array of toys for small animals. If the selection is limited at your local pet store, check out the internet retailers like www.petsmart.com. Just make sure that the toys are gnaw-proof (soft plastics are particularly bad, because some cavies will eat them and may get sick). Also, be aware that just because a toy looks cute to a human, a cavy may be spectacularly indifferent to its charms. For example, some cavy owners spend small fortunes on an endless parade of store-bought toys that get little more than an initial sniff and quick nibble from an unimpressed piggie. Therefore, we strongly recommend you use your own imagination first (we did mention the paper bag, right?) and remember that sometimes the simplest toys are the best loved.

And, as they say, last but not least, an indispensable part of cavy care is good health care. Please be aware that this includes a good vet. Just as you sometimes need a doctor to stay healthy, rest assured that your cavy will at some point in his or her life need the services of a vet. (And, sadly, it may be unfair but it's true: if you can't afford a vet, then you can't afford a cavy. It is no kindness to adopt a cavy if you are unable or unwilling to provide it with adequate medical care.) And, PLEASE, don't wait until you have a medical emergency before trying to locate a vet. Sick cavies often worsen quickly, and your cavy may die if you don't already have a good, cavy-experienced vet to consult.

Unfortunately, not all vets even treat cavies, and many that do (especially those who see mainly dogs and cats) often are not knowledgeable about their special needs. If possible, try to find a vet who specializes in "exotics" (cavies, rabbits, rodents, etc.). You may be able to locate one through The Guinea Pig Compendium's Vet Finder (www.aracnet.com/~seagull/Guineas). If not, find the best vet you can by asking other pet owners in your area -- and then educate yourself as much as possible, so that you can assist your vet by discussing possible treatments. The best way to educate yourself is by getting a good quality medical text on guinea pigs (click here for a few of our suggestions) and, to a lesser degree, checking out the medical information on reputable web sites Guinea Lynx - Cavy Health Care Online! (www.guinealynx.info). Peter Gurney's Guinea Pig Health Guide (www.oginet.com/pgurney/index.html) and The Guinea Pig Compendium (www.aracnet.com/~seagull/Guineas) also offer care and health information. However, please be aware that not all web sites offer solid, correct advice, so use caution when getting information in this manner.

Once you have found a vet, take your healthy cavy in for an initial check-up. The check-up may run $40 or $50, but it is a good investment for the future, because you can gauge whether you actually like the vet, your cavy will be an established patient (which can really help when an emergency appointment is needed), and the vet will have a good baseline record of your cavy in its healthy state for comparison during a later illness.

After reading all of this, you may be thinking that having a cavy can be expensive and a lot of trouble. If so, you're right -- it can be. But if you are willing to put in the effort and money necessary to care for your cavy properly, you can experience years of happiness with a healthy and loving companion. And, more importantly, if you aren't willing to provide the needed effort and money, you shouldn't get cavy at all. The world already has too many neglected cavies -- please don't add to the problem.