A very familiar rodent in homes, the guinea pig is a small animal appreciated by families. Easy to care for, it is very pleasant to train and can quickly become affectionate.
Where does the guinea pig come from?
Contrary to what its name might suggest, the guinea pig has nothing to do with pigs and India. This medium-sized rodent originated in South America, more precisely in the Andes Mountains, where it still lives in the wild today. It was Christopher Columbus who gave it this name when he thought he had arrived in India. And the name pig comes from the same navigators, who found that its cry resembled that of the pig. As for the term guinea pig, it comes from the word cabiai, which designated for the locals another species of rodents very similar and originating from the same region.
Guinea pigs have been domesticated for more than 2000 years, but they were used more as meals than as domestic companions. Healers also used them in consultations and would pass the guinea pig over the body of the sick person to determine which area to treat.
In the wild, the guinea pig lives most of the time in underground burrows that it has dug itself. It is only in the XVIIIth century that Dutch sailors imported the animal in France: it becomes then very quickly the guinea pig of company so appreciated by the children.
In the XIXth century, it starts to be used as a laboratory animal and allows great scientists to make important discoveries, such as the tubercle bacillus.
The character of the guinea pig
The guinea pig is a very gentle and easy-going ball of fur. Sociable and peaceful, it is also a gregarious animal that thrives best when living with at least one other animal. It needs daily attention from its owner: cuddles, scratches and daily outings will make him a happy guinea pig.
The guinea pig has its little character and can quickly start to squeal if it needs something: the noise of the package of carrots which opens can quickly put it in all its states!
It is an animal with a robust health and which is appropriate for young children because once well tamed, it will show itself very placid. However, be careful not to handle it too roughly. It could bite in surprise. Don’t try to touch him when he starts chattering his teeth and let him calm down for a few minutes: it’s a sign of irritation. But when he purrs happily when you pet him, you’ve got a comfortable, happy guinea pig in your arms.
The physical appearance of a guinea pig
Guinea pigs fall into three main hair categories: rough, long and smooth. Each comes in a multitude of coats, although the most common color is agouti, like the wild guinea pig. It can also be bicolored or tricolored.
Sheltys and Peruvians are among the long-haired, while Abyssinians are among the wire-haired.
The guinea pig is a medium to large rodent, with a weight that can reach 1.2 kg for 25 cm.
Contrary to what one might think, it has a tail: but it is very small although it is composed of seven bones. Its ears are small and round and its head is also round and wide, unlike rats or mice. It has black eyes, sometimes red.
The legs are small, short and thin, ending with claws that must be filed down from time to time so that they don’t curl up in the flesh of the pad.
The guinea pig has a stocky body, which can quickly become bloated due to improper feeding, and the male is usually larger than the female.
If you have a long-haired guinea pig, be sure to maintain its coat regularly, because knots can form very quickly.
Everyday life of a guinea pig
Guinea pigs can’t see very well and can’t distinguish all the variations in color or relief. So be careful not to leave it unattended on a table or put shelves in its cage from which it could fall.
Be sure to change his litter box regularly because he soils it quite quickly. You don’t want your guinea pig to live in the middle of his own urine and feces, and that could attract parasites.
Your guinea pig needs a cage that is at least one meter long to be really comfortable. If he spends his time gnawing on the bars, it’s because he doesn’t have enough space and would like to have some freedom.
To tame it, you can give it small treats in your hand, such as a bit of salad or a piece of carrot. Guinea pigs are very greedy little rodents. Don’t be alarmed if you see your guinea pig eating its droppings: it’s normal and necessary for its development, especially when it hasn’t completed its growth. They contain vitamins, fatty acids and proteins that are vital for him.
Finally, the guinea pig is a diurnal animal and will not make noise at night.