Baby cavy grows up: guinea pig life stages

23 May

Among the many misconceptions I run in to, one of the most frustrating is the assumption that an adult guinea pig will remain the approximate size of a hamster.

To those who are unfamiliar with cavies, I can understand that a guinea pig must seem remarkably similar to a hamster. But, for the sake of the animals, let’s keep in mind that guinea pigs aren’t especially similar to hamsters, gerbils, or any other small rodent friend.

Let’s say you have recently acquired, or plan to acquire, a new baby guinea pig. How will your furry friend grow and change over the next six to eight months? There are no set, defined “life stages” for cavies, but we can use the weight classes defined by the ACBA’s Standard of Perfection to help illustrate a guinea pig’s transition to adulthood.

Newborn Pups

These Peruvians are 24 hours old.

We refer to newborn baby guinea pigs as pups. Unlike many other rodents, guinea pig pups are born precocious — that is, they’re born fully developed, fully furred, with open eyes and ears. Your average baby guinea pig will weight somewhere in the range of 95-105 grams at birth. It will lose some weight over the first few days, and then begin to grow rapidly.

Guinea pigs are best weaned when their weight has tripled, usually within three to five weeks of delivery. How long they need to stay with their mother depends on a wide variety of factors: the amount of milk the mother can produce, the baby’s weight and health at birth, and even the number of siblings it has. The pups are quick to learn to take care of themselves, but weaning guinea pigs early is not encouraged. If you’re buying a cavy, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to purchase one this young.

Junior Weight

A one-month old junior silkie.

Cavies are eligible for show when their weight reaches 12 ounces, and they are shown in the junior class up to 22 ounces. The amount of time it takes any individual cavy to achieve these weight marks will vary widely, so it can be difficult to put an age with the ounces. But, generally speaking, you’re looking at anywhere between a month to three months of age.

Junior-age cavies are growing rapidly, though as they reach the upper limit for their weight class that growth will begin to redistribute. Much of their energy at this point in time is dedicated to weight gain Your junior cavy is likely a bit pudgy, and may look a bit like a cartoonish version of an adult guinea pig.

This is usually the age where most guinea pigs enter the pet market. By the time they arrive at the store for sale, they’re generally late juniors or early intermediates. If you’d like something younger, consider contacting a local breeder directly.

Intermediate Weight

A young teddy, approaching intermediate weight.

You might consider this your cavy’s teenage or adolescent phase. An intermediate guinea pigs weighs between 23 and 32 ounces, and is about four to six months old.

Your intermediate cavy may not gain weight as quickly as it did earlier in life, but, as with human teenagers, its body will change rapidly. The fat it stored up as a junior will go to building the cavy’s adult frame, and as such, your guinea pig will grow longer, rather than wider, as an intermediate. Its limbs and nose may seem to grow much faster than the rest of it, giving it a long, lanky appearance. Many breeds also go through a coat change during this phase — hair will grow thicker and more coarse.

Many breeders say intermediates are in their ugly stage. While your cavy might look a little odd at times, it’s not a permanent development.

Adult/Senior Weight

Guinea pigs begin filling out and reaching their adult weight somewhere between six and eight months of age. When finished growing, it’s important to note that an adult guinea pig can weight as much as three pounds or more — ergo, by the time they’re six months  old, guinea pigs are far too large for smaller rodent enclosures designed for hamsters or mice. If you acquire your cavy while its young, be sure to take its potential adult size into account.

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