If you want to keep a small pet, there are many options and each of the animals has its pros and cons. One pet you may consider is a guinea pig. These popular small animals have many fantastic attributes that make them amazing pets. However, if you plan to keep one of these animals, it is important to learn as much as possible about them, so you understand the species and how to care for them properly. Here is an overview of guinea pigs.
What is a Guinea Pig and Where Do They Come From?
A guinea pig, also known as a cavy, is a large rodent. These animals are usually fur-covered and have long, stocky bodies with short legs. Despite their name, they are not related to pigs and they do not originate from Guinea in Africa.
Guinea pigs originate from the Andes in South America. The guinea pigs kept as pets do not exist in the wild as they are a domesticated version of a closely related species called the montane guinea pig. Pet guinea pigs are usually domestically bred specifically for the purpose of keeping as domestic pets. In some countries, they are also farmed for their fur and their meat.
What Does a Guinea Pig Look Like?
Although they are considered a large rodent, guinea pigs are a smaller animal that have a long, stocky body, short legs, and small rounded ears. They have a distinctive face shape as their skulls curve downwards from their neck to the end of their nose. They are fur covered and the texture and color of their fur vary from one breed to the next.
Common Guinea Pig Breeds
- Abyssinian- Despite its name this breed does not originate from Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia. This breed is identified by the rosettes of hair growing out of its body. They have coarse, harsh hair and a show Abyssinian cavy has exactly ten rosettes on their body.
- American- This is the most common breed of guinea pig and there are nineteen color variations of this breed. It is a short-haired variety that has a docile and sweet personality.
- Baldwin- This is an almost hairless breed. However, they are born with a full coat that gradually sheds as they get older until they are almost completely hairless. This breed was originally developed from a naturally occurring mutation in a litter of pups born to American Crestedparents.
- Coronet- This breed looks like the Silkie but has a crest on its forehead.
- Lunkarya- The name of this breed is often abbreviated to the Lunk. It is the newest breed and was developed in Sweden. Its coat is curly, rough, and long. There are three variations od this breed; the Lunkarya Peruvian, the Lunkaryia Sheltie, and the Lunkarya Coronet. This breed is not yet recognized
- Merino- Also known as the English Merino, this breed looks like the Coronet, but it has curly hair. It is not recognized as a breed by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), which is the official body for breeding and showing rabbits and guinea pigs.
- Peruvian- The Peruvian is similar in appearance to the Silkie. However, the hair around its head and neck grow forward, giving it a prominent forelock.
- Satin- The coat of a Satin has a glassy sheen and that is characterized by hollow hairs. A Silke can have long, short, or curly hair.
- Sheba- Also called the Sheba Mini Yak, this guinea pig breed is a long-haired cavy with rosettes. It is also characterized by mutton-chop whiskers. Although they are not recognized as a breed by the ARBA, they recognized as a breed in Australia. A nickname for this breed is the ‘bad hair day cavy’.
- Silkie- As its name suggests, the Silkie has a silky coat that flows over the back of its body. They must not have hair growing in the direction of their face or any rosettes.
- Skinny- This is a mostly hairless breed that has small patches of short, rough hair on their feet and face.
- Teddy- Teddy guinea pigs have a fluffy coat thanks to their short, coarse hair that stands up all over their body. The two varieties of this breed are Harsh Coat and Plush Coat.
- Texel- Just like the silkie, the Texel has a long coat. However, the coat of a Texel is curly.
- White Crested- These are like the American guinea pig, but they have a white rosette on their forehead. They can have no white on any other part of their body.
Common Characteristics of a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs have some common characteristics that differentiate them from other rodents and small animals. Some of these characteristics include:
- Size- Guinea pigs are one of the largest rodents, even though they are still classed as a small pet. Their size can vary from one breed to the next, but the average guinea pig is between eight and teninches in length. The weight of an average guinea pig is between 1.5 and 2.6-pounds.
- Shape- Guinea pigs are known for having a long and stocky body with only a short neck and short legs.
- Features- The most distinctive features of a guinea pig are its ears and its nose. Their ears are very small in comparison to the size of their head and are usually rounded. Their skulls have an elongated structure with a curve from the back of the neck to the end of a guinea pig’s nose.
- Coat- Most guinea pigs have fur, although there are some breeds that are almost hairless. However, these are unusual breeds, so most people will have a guinea pig with fur. The coat of a guinea pig can vary significantly in terms of the color, the texture, and the length.
The Lifespan of Guinea Pigs
How long a guinea pig lives depends on many factors. This includes the breed, the overall health of the guinea pig, and if it has suffered an accident or an injury. However, guinea pigs usually live between four and eight years. This means they have an average lifespan of around six years.
Guinea Pigs as Pets
Guinea pigs have been kept as domestic pets for hundreds of years, although the domestic guinea pigs are now different breeds to those that remain in the wild. They were originally kept by pets by those who lived in South American countries from where these animals originate. In Western society, they have been popular as household pets since some time in the 16th century as this is when traders from Europe first introduced them outside of South America. They remain a popular choice as they are widely available from breeders and pet shop, affordable to buy, and have many personality traits that make them ideal pets.
The Reasons to Choose a Guinea Pig as a Pet
If you are considering getting a new pet, there are many reasons why a guinea pig is an excellent choice. Here are some of the reasons why you might choose a guinea pig:
- Cost- Compared to many other pets you may consider keeping, a guinea pig is a relatively inexpensive pet. The initial costs include buying the guinea pig, its habitat, and any accessories. The main ongoing cost is food, and this is inexpensive.
- Living options- While you can only keep some animals indoors and some can only live outdoors, you can keep guinea pigs either indoors or outdoors. Having this option is an advantage for many people.
- Care- Guinea pigs are usually quite easy to care for as you just need to feed them daily, clean out their habitat regularly, and handle your guinea pig whenever you can.
- Appearance- There is no denying that guinea pigs are a cute animal, and their appearance is one of the predominant reasons that people choose to keep these animals as pets.
- Size- For those who do not have room to keep larger animals, such as dogs, a guinea pig is a reasonable option as they are smaller and will take up only a small area of your home.
- Handling- If you handle a guinea pig from a young age, guinea pigs are usually happy for you to handle them and enjoy the company of humans.
- Temperament- Guinea pigs are intelligent animals that enjoy exploring and are sociable with their owners. It is rare that a guinea pig will bite or scratch its owner as they are not an aggressive animal.
- Other animals- Guinea pigs prefer not to live alone, so it is best to keep two or more guinea pigs together. They are also compatible with most other animals. However, the other animals may not like living with guinea pigs, so it is always important to check.
Guinea pigs have been kept as domestic pets for hundreds of years and they remain a popular choice amongst animal lovers. These adorable animals are easy to care for, cheap to maintain, and are sociable with both their owners and other animals. There are many breeds from which a pet owner can choose, and each has its own features. The variations in color, fur pattern, and coat type mean that each guinea pig is unique and will also have its own personality. Therefore, these are an interesting animal to keep as a pet.