Owning... guinea pigs
Before buying a guinea pig, remember that it is your responsibility to care for it every day of its life, which can be up to 5 or 6 years.
There are many varieties of guinea pig, each with different coat types and colours. The four main breeds are:
1. English Self, which is one colour all over with a smooth, short coat. There are 8 different colours: Self Black, Pink-eyed White, Black-eyed White, Self Cream (champagne cavies), Self Golden, Self Chocolate, Self Beige, Self Lilac (pale dove grey).
2. Dutch, Agouti, Himalayan, Roan, Dalmatian and Tortoiseshell & White are all smooth marked guinea pigs. Dutch guineas are white with a coloured rump and cheek patches of the same colour, leaving a white blaze down the nose. Agouti guineas are 'ticked', they have two different coloured bands in their hair, making them look speckled. Himalayan guineas are a bit like Siamese cats, with creamy bodies and brown or black noses and feet. Babies are born pure white and the markings develop later on. Roan guineas are spotty, with mixed black and white hairs and a black head and feet. Dalmatianguineas are also spotty, but have Dutch-type head markings. Perfect Tortoiseshell & White guineas are difficult to come by. They ideally have equally sized squares of red, black and white hair with straight dividing lines down the back and on the tummy.
3. Crested, Rex and Abyssinian are rough-haired guinea pigs. Crested guineas have a crest, or rosette, on their forehead. There are also crested versions of all the aforementioned guinea pigs. Rex guineas have a very short, harsh, erect coat brushing either way to give them a ' wooly ' appearance. Abyssinians have many rosettes with hair at least 4.5cm long.
4. Long haired guinea pigs, which require a lot of grooming. The Peruvian guinea's hair lies towards its head, with a fringe over its face and a centre parting. Sheltie guineas are similar to the Peruvian but their hair flows backwards, leaving the head clear. The Coronet is a Sheltie with a crest on its head. All three require regular grooming, and since the hair grows continually, regular trimming as well.
For more information and photos of guinea pig breeds, visit Tabitha-n-bix.
Choosing a guinea pig
When choosing a guinea pig, look for the following things:- (as recommended by the RSPCA)
1. A sleek, shiny coat;
2. Clean ears;
3. Bright eyes;
4. A smooth walk without any limping;
5. A healthy appetite;
6. Clean teeth which are not too long;
7. No visible wounds or sores;
8. No sign of nasal discharge or diarrhoea;
9. An alert, confidant appearance;
10. A friendly character!
Male or female?
It does not really make a big difference as to whether you get a female (sow) or a male (boar). Boars are slightly more outgoing than sows. Guinea pigs are social animals so should never be kept alone. They are best kept in pairs. You must always keep guinea pigs in same sex pairs, or you will end up with a lot of babies! Please do not breed guinea pigs unless you know exactly what you are doing and can guarantee a home for all of the offspring. It is best to select two litter mates of the same sex, or a mother and daughter / father and son. Guinea pigs should be introduced when they are very young. Do not attempt to introduce two adult guinea pigs of the same sex, as there will be a fight.
To sex a guinea pig, apply slight pressure around the genital opening. If it is a female, you will see a Y-shaped slit. If it is a male, the penis will be extruded. In order to do this, the guinea pigs have to be sexually mature - females 4-6 weeks, males 8-10 weeks. It is best to get your guinea pig when it is 6-8 weeks old and independent of its mother. At this age it can be easily tamed.
Where should I get my guinea pigs from?
There are many ways to purchase a guinea pig. They are best bought from a reputable breeder. You can find out the address of a good breeder in your area by contacting the National Cavy Club. Alternatively, they can be bought from a pet shop or garden centre which has a good reputation. Always make sure that the animals are being kept in clean conditions and check them carefully before buying. But, there are many rescue centres which have guinea pigs that need a loving home. Personally, the first guinea pigs I had came from a good pet shop, the ones I have now came from the RSPCA. The only downside of this is that you do not know the animals' background, so you should take the time to find out about them as much as you can from the staff at the rescue centre before taking them on.