The guinea pig is a species of rodent that is also known as the Cacy. They are not in fact pigs as their name would suggest. They come from the Andes and studies have shown that they are descendants of a closely related species such as Cavia aperea, C. fulgida, or C. tschudii and do not exist naturally in the wild.
The guinea pig plays an important role in both the folk culture of many indigenous South American tribes and more importantly as a food source (how could they?). It was domesticated 5000 years ago for food and have appeared in many folk stories and are often used in metaphors.
The guinea pig came to Europe in the 16th century by traders and has since enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet. In the early days they were seen as an exotic pet and even Queen Elisabeth I had one. They were widely used for biological experimentation since the 17th century, giving way to the metaphor “guinea pig” for a test subject although ,more recently, they have been replaced by mice and rats.
They are very docile, easy to look after and responsive to handling and feeding. They are timid explorers and rarely attempt to escape. Guinea pigs will often make a noise like a whistle on occasions of interest, such as when their owner comes or they hear the food container opening.
There are many types of domesticated guinea pigs which vary in hair and colour differences. The most common varieties are the shorthair (or American shorthair) and the Abyssinian whose coat is ruffled. More specialist long hair types include Peruvian and the Sheltie (or Silkie) and the curly long hair Texel.
So is a Guinea Pig the right pet for me?
They are very sociable animals so you need to be able to dedicate enough time for them otherwise they will become lonely and this might lead to stress and sickness. This is especially important if you are buying one for children. They typically live for four or five years, but may live as long as 8 years and the Guinness Book of Records has the record age for a guinea pig at 14 years.
Guinea pigs are relatively large for rodents, weighing between 700 and 1200g (1.5-2.5 pounds) and measuring between 20 and 25 cm (8–10 inches) in length. This means that you need to have more space for the cage. As they are a tough animal, this could sometimes be located in an outbuilding or a sheltered spot outside. They put up with cold better than excessive heat. Try to avoid wire mesh floored cages as this can damage their feet and lead to infection.
As for many animals you do not want to put two males together as they will fight together when they become mature at about 6 months. However, you can have as many females together as you want and they will get along very well. Obviously you do not want to add a male to the group as they breed very easily.
Grass is their normal diet in the wild so they have a very long colon to help the digestion. This is however not long enough so, if they are eating a lot of grass, you will see them eat their faeces. Like humans, they cannot produce vitamin C and will need to acquire this through their diet otherwise the guinea pig version of scurvy is deadly. Scurvy is often identified by sluggishness. So feed them regularly fresh, raw fruits and vegetables (such as broccoli, apple, cabbage, carrot, celery, and spinach). Alternatively, but not a preferred option, you can give them dietary supplements. They are fickle eaters when mature so with a young one give a wide variety of foods. They feed continuously so make sure there is hay available for them to eat.
Guinea pigs may also suffer from respiratory tract infections, abscesses due to infection (often in the neck due to hay embedded in the throat or from external scratches) and infections by mites, lice or fungus.
They are active throughout the day with periods of sleep interspersed with activity. They regularly groom themselves and will groom others.
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