The guinea pig (or domestic guinea pig) is a member of the rodent family, specifically the Cavildae family (Cavia genus). They are also knows as cavy or domestic cavy. They actually originate from the Andes in South America despite their common name suggesting they are from Guinea in Africa.
Spanish sailors travelling from South America in the 16th century brought guinea pigs to Europe and they were really expensive to purchase. This meant that only the wealthy could afford them. Thankfully guinea pigs are much more affordable now and can be purchased from a wide range of pet stores across the UK, Europe and the US.
Guinea pigs have been rising in popularity over the last decade thanks to their friendly and gentle nature making them the perfect pet for all ages. In some parts of the world there are organisations dedicated to the specialised breeding of specific breeds with varying coat colours and textures.
Below is some useful information about Guinea Pigs. Click on the links or use the menu at the top of this site to learn more.
Guinea Pig Facts
- A full grown guinea pig weighs between 700 – 1,200g (1.5 – 2.6 llbs) and is typically 20 – 25cm in length
- Guinea pigs typically live between 4-8 years. The oldest guinea pig was 14 years and 10.5 months old! Life span can be affected by their living conditions and nutrition.
- All breeds are usually a similar size and the temperament is more or less the same between breeds. There are ten types of domesticated guinea pig breeds.
- Guinea pig litters range from one to six babies. The young of a guinea pig are referred to as pups. Newborn pups are well developed in relation to hair, teeth and claws. They are born with partial eyesight and are immediately mobile. They also begin to eat solid food immediately whilst also continuing to suckle.
Behaviour and sounds
Guinea pigs are timid creatures and when scared they freeze or run for cover. They are poor climbers but are able to jump small obstacles. Their strongest problem solving strategy is motion.
Guinea pigs jump when they are happy which is referred to as “popcorning.”
Guinea pigs are very chatty! They talk to each other all the time and once settled into their new home with you, will start talking to you too. They make a variety of sounds (whistling and purring) You can learn more about that on our communication section.
A guinea pigs main food is hay. They can also eat endless amounts of grass. Guinea pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C like humans so its important to incorporate it into their diet or to buy a good quality guinea pig dry mix that contains vitamins.
Wilda cavies have been identified in the 20th century and are thought to have been domestic and have been reintroduced to the wild. Studies have shown they live on grassland in groups of several females (sow) and one male (boar) Their young also form part of this group. They take shelter in the abandoned nests and burrows of other animals although do not actively make these homes themselves.
Domestically guinea pigs live in cages and in smaller groups usually consisting of two sows or boars. Their cages are lined with various types of bedding such as hay, shredded paper or corn on the cob type material’s.
Guinea pigs are social creatures and it is recommended that you purchase more than one guinea pig when buying. Previously it was believed that guinea pigs and rabbits cohabited well together however now this opinion has become divided with research suggesting rabbits tend to bully the smaller guinea pigs. Evidence shows that some larger animals (such as dogs and cats) can be trained to tolerate guinea pigs with some showing genuine affection towards them.
Grooming and handling
The amount of time spent on grooming your guinea pig is determined by the type of breed it is. Long haired guinea pigs need to be groomed daily whilst shorter breeds can be groomed weekly.
Guinea pigs should be handled correctly from a young age. This results in happy adult guinea pigs who are happy to be handled and carried. They also seldom bite or scratch. Well handled guinea pigs will often whistle with joy on the owners approach!
Guinea pigs suffer from common aliments such as vitamin C deficiency (Scurvy), abscesses due to infections, respiratory problems and diarrhea.