Guinea Pigs as Pets

Guinea Pig photo
Guinea Pig. Lianne McLeod

Names and Terms for Guinea Pigs

  • Latin name - Cavia porcellus
  • Cavies (singular is cavy)
  • Females are called sows, males are called boars, and babies called pups
  • Hairless varieties are called "skinny" pigs

Appearance of Guinea Pigs

  • Guinea pigs are approximately 10 inches long and weight two to three pounds
  • They have rounded, stout body with no visible tail (although a few tail vertebrae can be felt under the skin)
  • There are a variety of breeds with different coat types and color patterns. The most commonly found breeds are the American (short smooth hair coat), Abyssinian (short coat with "swirls" called rosettes) and Peruvian (long haired). A wide variety of colors are seen among these different breeds.

Before You Decide on a Pet Guinea Pig

  • Guinea pigs are social animals and you should consider keeping a same sex pair so they have someone to socialize with. A pair of females is your best choice as a pair of males may be prone to fighting (especially if they are not neutered).
  • They are a moderately long-term commitment with an expected life span of around 5-7 years, although up to 10 years isn't unheard of.
  • They need a large cage (but fortunately it is easy to meet their needs with a home made cage).
  • While usually quiet, guinea pigs can call out pretty loudly and can be active both day and night.
  • Guinea pigs may be nervous at first but rarely bite and generally become very tame with frequent handling.
  • They usually make good family pets (but make sure children handle them gently).

Purchasing a Guinea Pig

  • Pet stores are a common source for pet guinea pigs but they should only be purchased from a store if the store/staff are knowledgeable about guinea pigs, keep them in appropriate, clean housing with a good diet, and handle the guinea pigs regularly. Look for stores that house males and females separately to avoid a surprise litter.
  • Breeders are your best option if looking for a show quality pig, a specific breed and even pet quality pigs. A good breeder will make sure the babies are socialized well and handled from an early age.
  • Shelters have guinea pigs more often than you might think. This is a great way to give a guinea pig a second chance at life. Guinea pigs from shelters might be a little more skittish at first if they were not handled much while they were young but most will settle down in their new homes once a routine is established.
  • Whichever source for purchasing a guinea pig is chosen, make sure they appear to be in good health, body condition, are well socialized, and are easy to handle.

Choosing a Guinea Pig

  • Try to avoid guinea pigs that are panicky when handled, especially if they do not relax quickly.
  • Avoid guinea pigs that are overly quiet and calm (may be ill).
  • The guinea pig should be alert and active.
  • Avoid guinea pigs that are overly skinny or grossly overweight. The body should be firm and rounded.
  • The nose, eyes, ears, and rear end should be clean and free of any discharge.
  • The coat (fur) should be full and soft.
  • Check the skin for flakes or redness and be on the lookout for any signs of parasites such as lice (they are often noticeable behind the ears in the bald area).

Caring for Guinea Pigs

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT