Guinea pigs come in all shapes and sizes. Within the ACBA, these different types of cavies are sorted into a classification system that allows each animal to be compared to pre-determined ideals, and to one another.
At the broadest level, cavies are divided into breeds. Each breed is then divided into varieties.
Not all varieties are recognized within every breed. Because the number and type of varieties within each breed varies greatly, it would be difficult to make an all-inclusive list of varieties that would apply universally to all pure-bred guinea pigs in the United States. Therefore, the following could be viewed as a general overview for informational purposes, but should not be used as a guide if you plan to enter your cavy in a show.
Self cavies, regardless of breed, are all one color. You might have a self black, or a self white, or a self of any other accepted color. Many breeds have only a generic “self” variety of all solid cavies, but in larger breeds where selfs are popular, such as the American short hair, selfs are broken into their own varieties by color.
The terminology here often confuses newcomers. Though solid implies something similar to the self varieties, solid-variety cavies often feature multiple colors. Solid refers to an unbroken, recognized marking pattern, such as dalmatian, roan, or tan. Again, in larger breeds where specific markings are popular, cavies with those particular markings may be set off as their own variety. In smaller breeds, the “solid” variety is a catch-all for acceptable markings not otherwise classified within the breed.
The broken variety is another generic, catch-all grouping open to most cavies featuring two or more colors, distributed in blocks or “patches’ covering the body. In order to qualify, the cavy must have a patch of two different colors, each the size of a 50-cent piece. Ideally, the patches should be evenly distributed across the body, not bunched up in one large block on one side of the animal. The patches should also be clear and distinct, free from intermixing or brindling. In most breeds, brokens are far and way the most common variety.
The agouti pattern is a common, highly dominant marking recognized as a solid variety in most American breeds. Agouti cavies have two colors on each hair shaft–the bulk of the hair is one color, called the base color, while the tip is another. This results in a speckled appearance in most breeds, and the pattern created by the colored tips is referred to as ticking.
The most common color combination within the agouti varieties is golden agouti–a dark chocolate base with a red tip–but agoutis can come in any number of pair colors.
In most breeds, the agouti variety also calls for a belly band, a strip of color covering the animal’s underside, that matches the tip color. However some breeds include specific varieties for breeds with ticking on the underbelly as well. Agouti may also appear as patches on a broken cavy.
Brindled cavies may look similar in appearance to agoutis, but the marking pattern is fundamentally different. While the agouti pattern is formed by two colors on a single hair shaft, the hair shafts of brindled cavies are all one color. Instead, hairs of two different colors are tightly, evenly intermixed over the animal’s body.
White is not permitted on brindled cavies. Additionally, when brindling occurs on a broken cavy, it is considered a fault.
The roan coat pattern is similar to the brindled pattern, but always calls for white as the second color. Tri-colored roans, though uncommon, are also acceptable. Roan are characterized by a solid patch of color that covers the face, and an intermixed pattern distributed over the rest of the body. Roaning within the patches of a broken-color cavy is considered a disqualification from show.
Dalmatian varieties are related genetically to roans, but instead of the intermixing that defines the roan cavies, dalmatians are covered in colored spots. Black and white is the most common color combination, but other colors can occur.
Tan, Otter, and Martin Varieties
These varieties involve a set marking pattern similar to what is often seen in the agoutis, but without the ticking. Tans, otters, and martins all sport belly bands, eye circles and other distinct markings in a color contrasting the rest of the body. The different varieties call for different color combinations.
The Dutch cavy is a broken variety with colored patches around the eyes and waist. The band over the shoulders must be white, but the markings may come in any color. Near-dutch cavies occur regularly, but Dutch-marked cavies are not especially common.
This broken variety calls for two colors, red and black, arranged over the cavy’s body in a checkerboard pattern.
Tortoise Shell and White
Called TSWs for short, the Tortoise Shell and White is among the most common varieties, second only to generic broken varieties in most breeds. The TSW is identical to the Tortoise Shell, but calls for white patches mixed among the red and black patches. Unlike other tri-color brokens, in the TSW, patches of all three colors must be the approximate size of a 50 cent piece.
The Himalayan is an unusual variety with a white body and distinct brown markings on the nose, ears and feet.