The continuing technological advancements of today’s world bring with them the destruction of natural environments which are the habitat of animals, plants and people. Therefore, the wish to get back into contact with nature keeps growing stronger and showing itself in many different forms. One of them is an increase in the keeping of pets. There are, for example, pets in 52% of all Swiss households. But the lack of space in cities, restrictions on being able to have cats and dogs in rented flats and − as we are much more mobile these days − our frequent absences from home all make it difficult to keep dogs and cats. In their stead, people are starting to keep new types of animals such as small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

People’s basic change from life in the country, surrounded by wild animals and pets, to the high-tech habitat in cities have made us lose the natural relationship we used to have from childhood on with animals, the knowledge regarding their needs and the intuitive understanding of their ways of life. We now have to acquire this knowledge again.

Keeping pets is becoming more and more important. They can be something to watch and enjoy; they can be something to help lonely or old people; they can be companions for children; or they can even have therapeutic properties. Whichever way you look at it, pets are becoming more meaningful. But unfortunately, the needs of humans take priority and the natural needs of animals, which are much more than just exercise, food and social contact, are often ignored due to lack of knowledge. Many animals are not kept appropriately, they are used as toys and are badly neglected once the initial excitement is over. It is therefore no coincidence that more than half the animals brought to a veterinary practice have become ill due to inappropriate care.

The guinea pig is not only the most-kept pet but also a prime example of how animals are sold with a lot of ‘sweet-talking’, even though guinea pigs and their needs are well-known. As a laboratory animal it has already suffered enough – as a pet it should have a better life! The view that they are very suitable to be kept on their own, as a cuddly animal that is easy to care for, is firmly lodged in some people’s minds.

With great expertise, and even greater commitment, Ruth Morgenegg debunks prejudice in her book and provides precise information regarding the needs of guinea pigs, their biology and the appropriate care required. She continually points out the ethical responsibility of pet owners – a responsibility which children cannot bear alone. I hope that this instructive book, which benefits the welfare of guinea pigs, will appeal to a broad readership.

Professor Dr Ewald Isenbügel, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zürich, Division of Zoo Animals and Exotic Pets