Dear Gina Guinea Pig: I come home from work to my lonely, empty apartment. I'm thinking about getting one or two guinea pigs for company. Are they better alone or in pairs? How do I care for them?

Gina responds:
We guinea pigs are affectionate, we have a good sense of humor and we're easy to care for. You'll be cheered on hearing your guinea pigs' welcoming squeaks when you arrive home after work.

March is Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month, the perfect time to visit a shelter, contact a rescue group or go to petfinder.com to adopt your new family members.

It's best to adopt two guinea pigs, or cavies, so they'll have company while you're away. Provide a large (at least 10 square foot) cage with a solid floor lined with timothy hay, processed paper bedding or hardwood shavings.

The cage should be well-ventilated but situated away from drafty windows and heating vents. Guinea pigs have sensitive hearing, so the cage needs to be in a quiet place.

Make sure grass hay and water are available at all times. Supplement once daily with fresh guinea pig pellets and green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, romaine and parsley.

A few times a week, feed small amounts of green peppers, carrots, peas, apples, strawberries, blueberries or bananas. Focus on foods high in vitamin C, because cavies can't synthesize it. Avoid commercial treats, which are high in calories and low in nutrients.

We guinea pigs are rodents, so our teeth grow continuously and we like to gnaw. Make sure your cavies have a variety of chew toys, such as empty oatmeal containers and cardboard tubes stuffed with timothy hay.

A veterinarian who sees pocket pets can examine your guinea pigs to be sure they're healthy and give you lifelong advice about their care.

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Dear Daisy Dog: Ladybug, our new pit bull puppy, has a soft lump where her belly button should be. When we push on it, it disappears temporarily. What is it, and should we be concerned?

Daisy responds: It sounds like Ladybug may have an umbilical hernia. Your veterinarian can do a physical exam and tell you whether it needs immediate surgical attention or can be repaired later, when she is spayed.

The lump probably contains fat that is protruding out the hole beneath her belly button. The hernia, likely inherited, formed when Ladybug was born.

Normally, at birth, the umbilical cord falls off, the abdominal wall closes where the cord had been, and the skin comes together to form a belly button, or umbilicus.

However, Ladybug's abdominal wall did not close completely, and pressure in the abdomen is forcing some of the abdominal contents out the hole.

If her intestines were forced out of the abdomen, they could strangulate, an emergency that would require immediate surgery. If the hernia is small and contains only fat, and your veterinarian feels it can be repaired when Ladybug is spayed, you'll want to monitor her closely until then.

Ask the Vet's Pets appears Fridays in the print edition of the Reading Eagle. The animal authors of the column live with Lee Pickett, V.M.D., who practices companion animal medicine. Contact them at www.askthevetspets.com.