Meet the Guinea Pigs: A Cavy Profile
A Cavy by Any Other Name
Guinea pigs, also called Cavies (after their scientific name Cavia porcellus) are popular pets for their generally docile, friendly nature. With a longer life span then many small pets, Guinea Pigs can make a great pet for families who want a small buddy that will be around longer then the average companion rodent. By nature, Guinea Pigs are often gentle and easy to handle, and can be a great pet in a variety of situations.
Guinea Pigs are vocal pets who have a variety of chirps, squeaks, rumbles and purrs they use to express themselves. They need large habitats and regular supplements of Vitamin C.
Guinea Pig History - The Origins of the Guinea Pig
Despite their common name, a Guinea Pig is neither from Guinea nor are they a pig. Guinea Pigs are rodents belonging to the family Caviidae. Guinea Pigs were domesticated from a wild version of Guinea Pigs found in South America, such as the Brazilian Guinea Pig, Shiny Guinea Pig or Montane Guinea Pig.
As early as 5000 BC, Guinea Pigs were domesticated and raised as food for tribes in the Andean region of South America. Statues were found dated to 500 BC to 500 AD that depicted Guinea Pigs, and the Moche people of ancient Peru who worshipped animals often depicted Guinea Pigs in their art. From 1200 AD to 1532, selective breeding occurred that provided the foundation for the many variations in breed, color and coat type that occurs in modern day guinea pigs.
While there is some question as to when Guinea Pigs arrived in other countries, it is believed that they were brought back to Spain in the 16th Century by conquistadors who acquired them from the Incas who kept them in South America. By the 18th Century, the Guinea Pig had been exported to European countries and had gained popularity with use as a laboratory animal, giving us the term "Guinea Pig" to mean a laboratory test subject. In the 19th Century, Guinea Pigs gained popularity as show animals and began to become more popular as domestic pets.
Guinea Pigs are still raised as food animals in the Andean highlands, where they are also exchanged as gifts and used in traditional medicine rites by folk doctors who use them to diagnose jaundice, rheumatism, arthritis and typhus. Black Guinea Pigs are particularly sought after for their medicinal properties for these practices.
Just the Facts: Guinea Pigs in a Nutshell
Guinea Pigs live on average for 5-8 years, although some may live to be up to 10 years old. They reach adult size at 10 - 14 inches with males being larger on average. Domesticated Guinea Pigs generally display crepuscular (awake around dawn and twilight, sleeping during the day and night) or diurnal (awake during the day, sleeping at night) behavior and are moderately adaptive to the schedule of their human family. Guinea Pigs are herbivores and their teeth grow throughout their entire lives. Guinea Pigs are very social and thrive with the companionship of other guinea pigs.
Female Guinea Pigs come into heat every 18 days and generally have a 60-70 day gestation period. While the average litter is 2-4, they can have up to 8 pups or as little as just 1. Guinea Pigs have a very small window of time where it is "safe" to breed them, and a guinea pig who is bred too early or too late in their life can face potentially fatal complications.
Avast! Guinea Pigs, Vitamin C and Scurvy
Like humans, Guinea Pigs cannot produce or store their own Vitamin C, so it is extremely important that they get enough Vitamin C in their daily diet. Vitamin C can be provided in their pellets, through vitamin supplements or through fresh fruits and vegetables. It is recommended that adult guinea pigs get 10mg of Vitamin C every day to prevent scurvy.
Several Guinea Pig Pellets contain a form of stabilized Vitamin C. Vitamin C degrades in heat and sunlight, so it is best to store unused guinea pig pellets in a cool, dark area to preserve the Vitamin C content. However, pellets alone are not a reliable way to be sure your guinea pig is in taking enough Vitamin C.
Vitamin Supplements come in a variety of forms, with the most common being pressed tablets, treats, or vitamin drops that are put in your guinea pig's water. Pressed tablets or vitamin treats can provide an easy way to be sure your Guinea Pig gets their full dose of Vitamin C each day, but not all guinea pigs will readily eat their vitamin supplements. Vitamin drops can be added to the water, but they must be added to filtered water or tap water that has been sitting for 24 hours as any chlorination can inactivate ascorbic acids. Vitamin drops in water also degrades much more quickly as it is diluted and exposed to light, and are not a reliable way to provide Vitamin C alone. Some guinea pigs may also object to the taste of vitamins in their water, which can cause them to drink less water.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be an effective way to provide Vitamin C to your guinea pig, and are always appreciated by hungry guinea pigs. You can provide a variety of fruits and vegetables to reach the recommended level of 10mg for adult guinea pigs. Feeding 4 leaves of romaine lettuce, 12 baby carrots, 1 banana, or 2/3 of a cup of spinach can be a good way to provide Vitamin C for your guinea pig.
Better Homes & Guinea Pig Habitats
Guinea Pigs have one of the largest housing requirements of many small animals, and need very broad, flat habitats to run and exercise in. The recommended minimum space to house a single guinea pig or a pair of guinea pigs is 7.5 square feet, or 30" x 36". Vertical space is not generally useful for guinea pigs, who do not climb and can be easily injured by a fall of less then a foot, which can result in broken legs or backs.
There are very few cages on the market that meet the minimum space requirements for guinea pigs, but a guinea pig habitat can be made easily and inexpensively at home. We recommend checking out http://www.guineapigcages.com/
to read how to make your own fantastic guinea pig habitat.
There is really no substitute for an appropriately sized habitat to fulfill a Guinea Pig's exercise needs, as wheels and run-about balls can be stressful on a guinea pig's back. Smaller habitats can be unhygienic and cause health problems due to quick waste build up.