Guinea pigs are domesticated rodents from the cavy family. Like other cavies, they have large heads, short limbs, wide eyes, small ears, and hairless soles. There are around 13 different breeds of guinea pigs mostly differing in hair length and coat texture.
Naturally, guinea pigs are sociable and require daily contact with others. To communicate, they produce different sounds and jump around when excited. An average adult guinea grows up to around eight to eleven inches in length.
Following a strict herbivores diet, guinea pigs prefer feeding on fruits, vegetables, and minimal water. On that note, here are 15 fun characteristics of your furry friend.
1. Color & Types
Exceptional genetic chromosomes from the father and mother guinea pigs result in a unique phenotype. Yet, there are certain characteristics like hair length, skin pigmentation, or eye color that are dormant in all species.
Some of the most common colors include white, beige, and cream. The only difference between these two colors is that beige is slightly darker than crème.
Other almost similar colors in guinea pigs are chocolate and black. It is not easy to tell the difference between the colors, safe for a slight brownish tone in chocolate.
In some cases, black guinea pigs have a deep twinge of blue and are sometimes referred to as the blue-black species.
Then, there is the yellow golden coloring which nearly resembles the brownish red-colored pigs. In rare cases, you may spot a lilac or a lemon-colored guinea pig.
2. Rodents, not Pigs!
Although guinea pigs were earlier considered as rodents, recent studies give contradictory results. Comparable to other rodents like mice and rats, guinea pigs have relatively advanced brains and eyes.
Furthermore, the insulin level differs from other animals presumed to be from the same genus.
It is believed that the pig’s characteristics deviated from others during the separation of the primates and the rodents.
If there is any truth behind the analysis there is a higher chance that guinea pigs, squirrels, mice, rats, and others may not have originated from the Rodentia order. Instead, there is a possibility that the animals started from two or more dissimilar ancestors.
3. Constantly Growing Teeth
Interestingly, the guinea pig’s teeth grow all their lives. The teeth, especially the front ones may become elongated if not trimmed leading to uncomfortable or poor feeding.
For a healthy pet ensure that you regularly monitor the growth of their teeth.
4. Very Sociable
In the wild, guinea pigs live together in herds. During the day, they spend most of the time communicating with body and sound movements.
For that reason, it is common for a lone pig to become lonely and depressed. To avoid that, ensure that your pigs spend considerable time each day socializing and playing with others.
Although not all of them love petting, most of them would not mind the extra attention. Likewise, understanding the favorable petting spots of your pig makes bonding much easier.
Once the pig feels appreciated, it may cuddle or sit on the owner’s lap.
5. Very Playful
In their sociable nature, guinea pigs love playing with others. Persistently, they love to be entertained and engaged in recreation activities.
To achieve that, provide safe chewing toys to play with others. Since they are a prey species, guinea pigs love hiding when confronted.
Thus, give them ample space to play and cover hide when scared. Guinea pigs are not as playful as the ferrets and gerbils but they make entertaining pets for school-going children and adults as well.
6. Very Noisy
Even if cavies appear like silent creatures, they produce loud noises to pass a message. When excited or scared, they let out an ear-splitting whistle or squeal.
As a warning signal, they also make loud noises to communicate to other cavies about an incoming peril. Generally, squealing is an indicator of anxiety or terror.
Nonetheless, if the noise becomes excessively loud, take time to find out the determining factor. Sometimes, the deafening sound may indicate the presence of a predator.
During the night, the diversity of noises made by your furry friends may cause disturbance to some people. For a restful night, avoid keeping the pig’s cage in your sleeping room.
7. High Reproduction
The average period for a male and female guinea pig to mature sexually is two to three months. In some cases, the maturity happens earlier leading to an extended breeding period. Females or the sows have a reproductive cycle that lasts 16 days and mostly in spring.
Often, the cavies become fertile for around six to eleven hours in a day, especially at night. It is worth noting that a new cycle starts almost immediately after giving birth.
With the gestation period lasting a maximum of 72 days, the litter size can exceedingly increase in a short time. Each female can produce around five litters in a year with the size ranging from one to eight pups.
8. Don’t Sweat
With no sweat glands, guinea pigs are more suited to warmer temperatures. Since their bodies cannot regulate heat through sweating; too much heat can result in disastrous results. For that reason, pups, the aged, pregnant, and the long fur breeds are the worst affected.
Nonetheless, guinea pig owners need to avoid exposing them to temperatures above 25 °C. If it becomes too hot outdoors, put the cage under a shade or indoors. Always ensure that you provide them with a steady supply of water.
Additionally, use some ice packs or add cold tiles on the floor. Likewise, trim the long-haired species and occasionally dampen the fur. However, avoid making the fur exceedingly wet as it can lead to drastic temperature alternation and a probable fungal infection.
9. Long Lifespan
Compared to smaller pets like rats and hamsters, a guinea pig’s lifetime is slightly longer. Keep in mind that a well-kept domesticated pig can survive up to ten years. This involves providing a vitamin-rich diet, clean water, and heat controlled environment.
Note that lung inflammation or pneumonia is the main cause of demise in guinea pigs. When sick the common symptoms to detect include red eyes, depression, wheezing, difficult breathing, and a discharge from the mouth and nose.
Dehydration is another cause of death. A dehydrated cavy may produce sticky saliva and pellet-like fecal substance. Furthermore, they may develop a poor appetite and huffy eyes. Even if guinea pigs do not require a lot of water, ensure there is a constant supply in the cage.
Rarely do guinea pigs display aggressiveness to human beings. Amongst themselves, the pets hardly fight each other. However, mixing male guinea pigs can trigger some form of fight.
Separating fighting guinea pigs can pose a risk to the owner. Therefore, use a tunnel or towel to separate them. Note that if a docile animal suddenly becomes aggressive, that’s a call for alarm.
11. Live in a Herd
It is almost impossible for a guinea pig to live alone. A lone cavy may become excessively lonely and depressed. If one of your piggies happens to die, ensure that you get another companion soonest.
It is worth noting that you can put two males in one cage. However, ensure that it is spacious to accommodate your herd and give them ample space to socialize.
12. Number of Toes
The majority of guinea pigs have three toes on the back feet and four on the front. In totality, this comes to fourteen toes. Still, there is a rare condition where cavies develop more toes.
This condition is recognized as polydactyly. While the condition is harmless, sometimes it may require surgery to ease movement.
13. Don’t Sleep Too Much
Guinea pigs either follow a nocturnal or diurnal sleeping habit. Mostly, they sleep for short durations throughout the day for an estimated two to four hours.
Sometimes they sleep with their eyes wide open. Bearing in mind that they are active creatures, guineas require plenty of time to exercise. Staying inactive for long durations may affect their sleeping patterns.
When happy guinea pigs run around in circles and occasionally leap in the air. This tactic is referred to as popcorning and mostly depicts the piggy’s inner feelings.
Since it is a harmless activity, guinea pigs do not expose themselves to any danger from popcorning.
15. Eat a Lot of Hay
Hay is one of the most favorite meals for guinea pigs. As a result, an adult pig may feed close to 100 grams of hay in a day.
While hay has an abundance of benefits to your little friend, portion control is important. To avoid constipation, give them fresh hay twice a day. Also, arrange several piles of hay around the cage for them to forage all day long.
Despite their playful and noisy nature, guinea pigs get terrified by clamor or tense environment. To work on their self-esteem, be easy going around them, and spare some time to bond with them.
While cavies have plenty of alluring characteristics as pets, be prepared to offer special attention and care. All in all, any time and money spent on a loving pet like a guinea is worth the effort.