Guinea Pigs

No one knows for sure how they came to be called guinea pigs, they donít come from Guinea, and they arenít pigs. Maybe that squealing sound they make sounded a little like a pig to someone. Anyway, guinea pigs is what they are called, although some people like to refer to them as cavies (pronounced K-V), which is taken from their Latin name inni-gay igpay. Another Latin name for them is cavia porcellus, which looks suspiciously like ďcave pigĒ. Whatever you want to call them, these porky little rodents make great pets for responsible kids and adults.

Gentle and shy by nature, guinea pigs are the largest of the domestic rodents, weighing about 2 pounds when grown. They are a good size and temperament for children, and many adults find them entertaining and amusing. Cavies are intelligent and quickly learn to recognize voices and other sounds, such as the door opening when you come home. You will be greeted with a lot of excited squeaking and whistling. Cavies live about 5 years, so you take on a longer commitment than with other members of the rodent family.

Guinea pigs come in a variety of breeds with a different coloring and length of hair. The short-haired Americans and white crested are the easiest to care for, while the Peruvians and Silkies have long, dense coats that require constant grooming. Abyssinians and Teddies have shorter hair and require less care. If you just want a companion pet, a short-haired crossbred is a good choice.

Guinea pigs are social animals and enjoy the company of their own kind, A single animal, given lots of attention, may form a close relationship with its owner, but most people find keeping a pair works best. Guinea pigs will breed readily and early, so sexes should be kept separate, unless they are spayed or neutered. Not all vets perform this surgery, so be sure to check with your vet.

A cavies cage must have a solid floor; their feet are not designed to walk on wire, and they can be injured doing so. Wood shavings make the best bedding, and can be covered with grass hay, which gives your pet something to nibble on and tunnel under. Fresh water should be available at all times from a water bottle with a metal tube. Dishes and crocks can be fouled in no time.

Guinea pigs need to graze constantly. Grass hay is a high fiber, low fat food that they need, and it helps wear down their growing incisors. Guinea pigs also need a daily dose of vitamin C. Along with humans, they are the only mammals that cannot produce their own vitamin C. Green leafy veggies, like collard and mustard greens, parsley, kale, and green peppers provide the needed vitamin. Fresh greens should provide the bulk of your petís diet. Food pellets formulated for cavies provide other  nutrients, but should be fed in small quantities.

If the idea of a clean, friendly, low maintenance pet appeals to you, a guinea pig may be just the one.