The British Cavy Council has produced a ‘Welfare Code’ (Welfare Guidance for the Proper Care of Cavies) that outlines the welfare needs of cavies. It has been written following consultation with the Southern Cavy Club, the National Cavy Club and other qualified individuals.
This Code of Practice outlines the welfare needs of cavies. It has been written by the British Cavy Council in conjunction with the National Cavy Club and the Southern Cavy Club.
Its purpose is to provide general guidelines on the standards of accommodation, management and care appropriate to the keeping, breeding and exhibition of cavies.
The Code is based on both the experiences of established cavy breeders and fanciers and on current scientific knowledge. It must be noted that practices once considered acceptable are now being reassessed and modified according to new knowledge and changing attitudes.
A person in charge of cavies has a legal responsibility under the Animal Welfare Act (2006) to ensure that each animal receives appropriate care.Back to top
Since humans can alter or control an animal’s environment, animal welfare includes the concept that people have duties and responsibilities towards animals. The greater the level of interference with, or control of, an animal’s environment, the greater is the responsibility.
Responsible ownership means looking after the physical and emotional needs of animals and includes adult supervision of children who have cavies as pets. It is necessary to take into account the cavies’ interaction with the human carers and its potential life span, which for cavies is up to 8 years but averages 4 to 5 years.
To ensure the welfare of cavies they must not be allowed to escape from the owner’s control. Cavies are unlikely to survive away from domestic care.
For most small animals, identification is difficult; however microchipping is available and may be appropriate in some circumstances.
Responsible ownership includes the provision of suitable care, under adult supervision, at all times, including during holiday periods or other absences of the owner.Back to top
Cavies are very adaptable animals and will thrive in a variety of situations including in a cage within the house, or in an outdoor enclosure, or a weather proof hutch in the garden.
An environment meeting the cavies’ needs must include protection from rain, wind, direct sunlight, extremes of temperature and predators. All cavies should have an adequate exercise area. Isolation in an area without windows, ventilation or contact with humans or other cavies is very harmful to a cavy’s well-being.
Care must be taken to ensure that the accommodation:
Young cavies are more active than adults, and this will need to be allowed for in planning their environment.
Most breeders and exhibitors choose to keep their cavies in purpose-built blocks of cages in a shed or outbuilding.
Cages should be designed to prevent the escape of cavies as this could result in fighting or unwanted litters.
A cage housing a single cavy or pair of cavies should be a minimum of 3 square feet and of a height of at least 15 inches. An additional square foot should be allowed for each additional adult cavy in the cage. These should be seen as the minimum sizes.
A suitable cage design incorporates a litter board across the front of each cage. This contains the bedding within the cage and reduces the risk, particularly with young or nervous cavies, of falling from the cage.
Outdoor hutches should be of robust, weatherproof construction. The hutch should be raised off the ground to prevent rising damp. Hutches should be protected from the prevailing wind and midday sun.
There should be a sleeping/shelter area within the hutch, of not more than one third of the total cage space. It should be of adequate size such that all the cavies in the hutch may take shelter at the same time. It should be kept clean and dry, and should provide protection from the weather and offer security if the animal is frightened. Insulation of the area may be needed to prevent extremes of temperature.
The floor of the hutch should be of solid construction, not wire mesh – some movable outdoor hutches have open bottoms to allow grazing on grassed areas, see below outdoor runs.
The hutch, including any door fixings, should be secure from predators.
The wire used on the door should be of strong galvanised mesh, as foxes can break wire netting. Mesh should be of an appropriate gauge to exclude vermin.
A good overhang of the hutch roof will reduce dampness to the sides and rear of the hutch and limit the ingress of rain at the front.
During the colder months additional protection from the elements should be provided. This may take the form of hutch covers or by moving the hutches to a suitable outbuilding or sheltered area.
Cavies benefit from access to a run for exercise on fine days. This needs to be of solid construction and covered with strong galvanised mesh on the top and sides. The bottom of the run should not be wired as the cavies’ feet will be injured by walking on wire mesh. The run should be secured to the ground if there is any possibility of dogs, foxes or other predators gaining access to the cavies.
Bedding materials should consist of a layer of absorbent material such as good quality soft white wood shavings and soft meadow hay. Shredded paper or synthetic fleece fabric can also be used in place of shavings. Other products based on hemp are available. The chosen bedding should be dust free / dust extracted to avoid respiratory problems. Care should be taken that the bedding material has not been treated with chemicals, for example, those used to prevent horses from eating their bedding, for these may be harmful to a cavy.
Cavies are clean animals, but their accommodation, food and water containers require regular cleaning. Cavies can develop skin, particularly foot, problems from damp or unsuitable cage flooring and bedding. Urine, in particular, causes scalding of the skin and any damp litter, bedding or floor materials must be removed.
To maintain the cavies’ comfort and health and your enjoyment of your pets, regular cleaning of the environment is necessary and involves the following:
Cavies cope well in cold weather but do not tolerate damp. However, they require abundant clean, dry bedding materials, particularly in winter. The sleeping compartment may need to be insulated in extreme conditions.
In winter it is important to maintain adequate ventilation of sheds or outbuildings to avoid build up of humidity leading to condensation.
Cavies are extremely prone to heat stress. Accommodation for cavies must not be placed in direct sunlight as this can lead to overheating.
If temperatures are likely to exceed 26oC then further precautions to cool the accommodation need to be taken, such as:
In hot, still summer weather, where air circulation is low, humidity in the shed can increase. Particular attention should be paid to regular cleaning of cages to prevent the build up of ammonia from urine. Hay should be given regularly in small quantities as excess bedding may further reduce air circulation in the cages.Back to top
Cavies are herbivores and require a balanced diet high in digestible fibre
Cavies are timid and will be easily disturbed by sudden noise or movement. Cavies will very rarely bite and then only under provocation, for example if in pain.
Cavies display a wide range of behaviours including foraging, hiding and burrowing in bedding. The cavies’ environment should enable them to display these behaviours.
Cavies are gregarious by nature and benefit from being kept in pairs or groups, especially if they are without human contact during the day. Cavies need the company of their own species; the traditional practice of keeping rabbits (or other small livestock) and cavies together is not recommended.
Unless intended for breeding purposes, cavies housed together should be of the same sex or one should be neutered.
Adult cavies, both boars and sows, may exhibit territorial behaviour. New cavies should be introduced on neutral territory, for example, a freshly cleaned cage or exercise run.
Adult boars may become aggressive towards other boars. Fighting may lead to distress and injury. Fighting is usually preceded by chattering of teeth. However, boars may often accept the company of a newly weaned boar. Alternatively, a boar may be castrated to enable him to live with a group of sows.
Castration will prevent unwanted pregnancy and excess babies, but will not improve the temperament of boars or reduce fighting.
If fighting continues, the provision of an individual ‘hidey’ for each cavy may help to alleviate this; but separation of the animals concerned is greatly to be preferred.
Cavies can become very tame if handled calmly and correctly.
Children should be allowed to handle cavies only under close adult supervision. Very young children should be seated on the floor whilst handling cavies to reduce the risk of the cavy falling.
A cavy should be lifted gently by placing one hand underneath to support the whole the body of the cavy. A cavy should be carried with one hand underneath the body of the cavy and the other hand resting on the cavy’s shoulders. The cavy should be carried close to the body; children may feel more confident carrying the cavy against their chest whilst supporting the weight of the cavy with both hands.
No more than one cavy should be carried at a time.Back to top
Veterinary advice should be obtained if a cavy appears to be ill or in pain and the cause is not clear, or if initial first aid treatment is not effective. The owner should be registered with a local veterinary practice to ensure that care is available in an emergency.
Each cavy should be observed at least once daily to monitor its health. The person observing the cavies should note whether each animal:
In general cavies are healthy animals and provided they are suitably housed and fed they will get very little trouble in the way of illness. In common with any other pet they suffer from minor ailments which as part of good animal husbandry require prompt treatment by their carer. Routine first aid is certainly a major part of good husbandry. The common conditions encountered that the cavy keeper should attend to without delay are:-
This list is not exhaustive and if at all unsure or certainly in the case of more serious problems further advice should be immediately sought from the veterinary authorities. Common problems involving dystocia (difficulty giving birth), bladder and urinary problems (problems with water works), etc more expert veterinary advice should be sought immediately.
It is the responsibility of the carer to ensure that any new cavy introduced to the stud, group or colony is free of contagious diseases and parasites.
A period of quarantine is desirable for any new cavies introduced into a stud or new home.
Cavies showing signs of a contagious disease should be isolated immediately.
If it is necessary to quarantine one or more cavies, this should take place in a separate room or building away from the healthy cavies. The daily care of healthy cavies should be attended to before those in quarantine. Strict rules of hygiene should be observed; clothing should be changed before further contact with the healthy cavies.Back to top
Cavies are prone to heat stroke and should not be transported in temperatures above 26oC unless air conditioning is available in the vehicle.
Cardboard boxes may get hotter than properly constructed carriers, which should have wire mesh or slats for ventilation. A cat basket is a suitable container.
If transporting more than one cavy at a time in warm weather, it is better to transport each animal in its own compartment of the carrier, even if they normally live together; they will remain cooler if travelling alone.
Water bottles are unsuitable for use when travelling. On longer journeys fruit or vegetables with high moisture content should be given. It is inadvisable to place food bowls or other heavy unsecured items in travelling boxes, as these may cause injury in the event of an accident or sharp deceleration.
‘Cavy Trains’ (where large numbers of cavies are transported to multiple destinations by a third party, generally for financial reward) are to be discouraged.Back to top
Cavies suffer no harm from being exhibited from time to time, so long as the following guidelines are followed.
Cavies should be in good health and free from injuries or skin parasites. Pregnant cavies should not be exhibited.
A cavy should not be exhibited when there is suspicion of infectious disease in the caviary, even if the individual cavy appears to be well.
Cavies should be of sufficient age (at least 3 months) and maturity. To reduce stress it is essential that the cavy has been handled regularly prior to being shown.
Cavies in show pens should be provided with a suitable bedding material, hay and a source of water. This may be a water bottle or fresh vegetables with high moisture content.
The National Cavy Club has published guidelines for disease prevention at shows and these should be followed.Back to top
To reduce the number of cavies for which homes cannot be found, and to help ensure healthy offspring, breeding should be left to responsible breeders. Breeders are responsible for finding suitable homes for all progeny produced by their animals.
A responsible breeder has clear aims in mind in his / her breeding programme and selects breeding stock with the intention of producing animals meeting the standard of excellence of the chosen breed.
Before embarking on such a breeding programme, the guidance of the relevant specialist breed club should be sought.
All specialist clubs are obliged to advise their members not to select for breeding traits which are detrimental to a cavy’s health
As well as any objectives specific to the breed, all breeding stock should be selected for good size, general health and absence of physical defects.
Sows used for breeding should be a minimum of 5 months of age, well grown and of appropriate size for the breed. For most breeds this should be around 700 grams.
It is inadvisable to breed from a sow for the first time when she is over the age of twelve months. The fibrous cartilage joining the pubic bones becomes less flexible with advancing age and may make it more difficult for the baby to pass through the pelvic opening. Complications may then result in the need for a caesarean section or even euthanasia.
Pregnant sows can suffer from a fatal condition called toxaemia. Any situation which may cause undue stress to a pregnant sow can precipitate the condition and must be avoided. Examples of such situations include travelling, being exposed to extremes of temperature, being deprived of food or water, change in companions and loud or sudden noise. Cavies which carry too much body fat should not be used for breeding. Handling of pregnant sows should be kept to a minimum.
Pregnant or nursing sows require a diet adequate in protein, vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium.
Adequate periods of rest should be allowed between litters, as dictated by the age and condition of the sow.
Cavies have strong maternal instincts and usually make good mothers. If the babies do not appear to be thriving or have not been observed suckling, you should seek advice on supplementary feeding.
Baby cavies can be weaned at 4 weeks and moved to new homes at 8 weeks, provided that they
Young boars become sexually active at an early age, and they should be removed from their mother and female siblings by the age of 4 weeks to prevent the production of accidental litters.
Owners are responsible for finding suitable homes for all babies produced by their cavies.
Breeding of exhibition cavies is, first and foremost, a hobby, not a business venture. Whilst breeders might hope to recoup some of their costs through the sale of baby cavies, this should never be at the expense of good standards of welfare.
If the new owner is inexperienced in the care of cavies, clear instructions, preferably in the form of a printed sheet, should be given, including advice on:
The breeder should
Unless specifically agreed with the purchaser, cavies should not be pregnant when sold.
Where a cavy has particular breed characteristics that could lead to welfare issues, this should be discussed with the new owner, e.g. trimming of longhaired cavies or breeding cavies of any variety with Dalmation or Roan coat markings
A visit to a breeder’s shed should be seen as an opportunity for the breeder to promote and demonstrate good standards of care.Back to top
Wash 2: Designed by Simon Neesam for the British Cavy Council © 2016