When you mention guinea pig pets in the United States, most people are probably going to picture the American guinea pig breed. This is the smooth-coated, shorthaired breed that’s one of the most popular, and one of the oldest recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association. Guinea pigs originated in South America. Several theories try to explain the emergence of the name guinea pig, but the true origin seems to be lost in the mists of time.
Colors: ARBA recognizes five variety groups that include many colors
• The American is one of the three founding breeds shown by ARBA/ACBA.
• The American is one of the oldest and most popular breeds.
• American Cavy Breeders Association
All guinea pig breeds
This shorthaired guinea pig breed is likely the oldest of the pet guinea pig breeds. It’s also one of the most popular and is probably the breed people picture when thinking of guinea pigs. The American Cavy Breeders Association notes that the American guinea pig breed is one of the three original breeds shown.
The American guinea pig’s fur is straight and the breed comes in a variety of colors. Although an American guinea pig might also be patriotic, the designation American is the breed name in the United States. In some other countries, this breed is called the English guinea pig.
The American has a solid, rectangular-shaped body somewhat like a brick. This is similar to all other guinea pig breeds. All guinea pigs have a rounded, Roman-type nose, short legs, large, round ears, and lack a tail. Guinea pigs typically weigh 2 to 3 pounds.
The American Rabbit Breeders Association, an affiliate of the American Cavy Breeders Association, recognizes more than 20 colors of American guinea pigs in five groups for showing: Self group (beige, black, chocolate, cream, lilac, red-eyed orange, red, white), Solid group (brindle, roan, dilute solid, golden solid, silver solid), Agouti group (dilute agouti, golden agouti, silver agouti), Marked group (broken color, Dalmatian, Dutch, Himalayan, tortoise shell, tortoise shell & white), and Tan pattern (black, blue, chocolate, lilac).
Guinea pigs originated in South America around the Andes Mountains in present-day areas that include Peru, Bolivia, Chile and other countries. The species is most closely related to the wild guinea pig species Cavia tschudii. Domestication occurred 4,000 to 7,000 years ago. Guinea pigs were raised as livestock. Spanish Conquistadors and other European explorers brought them back to Europe in the mid to late 1500s. Guinea pigs arrived in the United States in the early 1900s. Outside of South America, guinea pigs are mainly kept as pets or sometimes used as laboratory animals.
Easygoing is one word to describe the American guinea pig. All guinea pigs are individuals, but the American is likely to be laid-back, which is one reason it’s so popular. Can guinea pigs be demanding? Of course. Can guinea pigs be sweet? Definitely. Outgoing, timid, energetic, curious, clingy — all of these and more can describe facets or overriding personality traits of a guinea pig. It all depends on the individual. How well a guinea pig was socialized when young greatly affects personality.
One thing to keep in mind is that guinea pigs as a species are herd animals, so most guinea pigs do best when they live in pairs or groups. Some guinea pigs might be loners, however, and if you keep only one, he or she might be fine if you give them plenty of daily interaction with you.
Talk to the rescue operator, breeder, or person you’re adopting from to get insight into the personality of the American guinea pig you’re thinking of adding to your family. Some online forums also include discussions of guinea pig personalities, including GuineaLynx, Guinea Pig Cages, and The Guinea Pig Forum.
Caring for a guinea pig involves providing safe, spacious housing, a balanced diet, enrichment, companionship, and preventive health care.
A guinea pig home needs to be large enough for the guinea pig or guinea pigs who live there. They need more horizontal space than vertical space. Their habitat needs accessories like bedding, hay racks, food bowls, water bowls/bottles, hideaways, toys, litter boxes, and litter. The guinea pigs should be able to move freely when the habitat is outfitted. We have more details, including tips on placement, in our guinea pig home article.
Clean, fresh hay is the mainstay of the guinea pig diet. It makes up more the overwhelming majority of a healthy guinea pig’s diet. Other musts include clean, fresh water and vitamin C supplement. Guinea pigs don’t make their own vitamin C, so it must come from their food. Guinea pig-specific pellets often include this essential vitamin. Our article on what guinea pigs eat gives more details, including info about vegetables, fruit, and treats like Hey!Berries.
Guinea pig enrichment refers to anything that is a positive addition to a guinea pig’s life. This includes companionship, toys, exercise, mental stimulation, a healthy, safe environment, etc. Food or treats like Hey!Berries that offer nutrition along with the chance to “interact” with the treat and gain enrichment are great for guinea pigs.
Being herd animals, guinea pigs appreciate being part of a group. If you have a pair or group of guinea pigs, same-sex pair or groups are one way to prevent accidental pregnancies. Spay/neuter is another option that also eliminates some possible reproductive cancers as guinea pigs age. Be aware that male guinea pigs might be more prone to fighting if they haven’t grown up together, so move cautiously if you choose to add a male guinea pig to a group or pair that includes another male.
Preventive health care for guinea pigs goes beyond an annual veterinary checkup. Grooming is a vital part of good health. Regular nail trims prevent nails from overgrowing and causing painful problems. Weekly brushing gives you a chance to do a quick checkup of your own. Unusual discharge from eyes, ears, mouth, nose or anus, lumps under the skin, strange odors, or anything abnormal require a call to a guinea pig-savvy veterinarian. Offering a good diet is another way of minimizing possible health problems. Hay is vital because of its fiber. Eating hay wears down the constantly growing teeth of guinea pigs.
The American guinea pig breed is shorthaired, so it requires a bit less grooming than longhaired breeds.
American guinea pigs typically develop the same health problems that occur in other guinea pig breeds. These conditions are likely what sends a guinea pig to the veterinarian. They include dental problems, heatstroke, vitamin C deficiency, respiratory problems, abscesses, trauma, and more.
To prevent the most common guinea pig ailments, try the following:
- Feed plenty of clean, fresh hay
- Keep your guinea pig’s environment clean (urine buildup causes respiratory problems)
- Be sure your guinea pig is getting adequate vitamin C
- Prevent or minimize contact with rabbits, dogs, or other pet species
- Keep nails trimmed
- Provide plenty of soft, flat surfaces for your guinea pig to rest on
- Keep ambient temperature between 65 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit (or cooler during high humidity)
- Guinea pig-proof any areas your guinea pig roams
- Watch for anything abnormal physically or in behavior
If you suspect your guinea pig is ill, contact your guinea pig-savvy veterinarian immediately.
On The Internet
Social media has noted the cuteness of guinea pigs, and several guinea pigs have found quite a following. Here are just a few: