Archive | About Cavies RSS feed for this section

Guinea pig personalities: does breed make a difference?

19 Sep

Prospective pet owners frequently ask me, “which breed of guinea pig will make the best pet?” Like so many questions related to pet ownership, the answer is largely subjective — and unreliable, as well, because any individual guinea pig within any breed can have any sort of combination of personality traits. So choosing a guinea pig of a specific breed will not guarantee the selection of a perfect pet any more than choosing a guinea pig of a specific color will ensure that your guinea pig will like to be held while you watch television.

Nonetheless, I have in my own experience noticed that there are some generalities that seem to apply to each breed’s usual personality. Your mileage may vary, but here is what I have generally observed.

Long-haired breeds: Peruvians, Silkies, Texels, etc.

Obviously, this is where I have the most experience. Over time I’ve found that your long-haired guinea pigs are your most laid back guinea pigs — kind of like the lap dogs of the cavy world. And there’s a good reason for this trend. Long-haired breeds need to be docile enough to sit on show boards when on the show table. They can’t be skittish or excitable, because if they decide to make a run for it, there’s no show coop to prevent them from darting off the side of the table. Additionally, most require daily grooming, and few exhibitors want to wrestle with a comb and an unruly guinea pig on a nightly basis. Over time, these circumstances have led breeders to cull the more excitable animals from their long-haired lines, which has had a sort of evolutionary effect leading to a genetic propensity for calmness in long-haired breeds.

The exception to this rule is the texel. Because the texel does not require regular grooming — in fact, regular grooming of the texel is discouraged in the U.S., because it can cause damage to the coat — the texel has not seen the same effect that intentional or unintentional selection for temperament has created in the other long-haired breeds. As a result, the texel may tend to be a little more energetic than its other long-haired cousins.

Teddies, Abyssinians

Ask any breeder and they will probably relate to you the same stereotype about teddies and Abyssinians: that they are by far the most energetic and outgoing of all guinea pig breeds. As with the long-hairs, this makes perfect sense if you consider the way they are shown and the culling practices the show policies encourage. Both the teddy and the Aby are expected to “run the table” when being shown so the judge can evaluate the overall shape and flow of the cavy’s body. And like the long-hairs, these mid-length breeds require some regular grooming, but not daily grooming. This makes an energetic animal more tolerable to work with, and over time the frequent handling of the animal helps accustom each individual to human interaction, eliminating some of the guinea pig’s naturally fearful nature.

Americans, Cresteds, other short-hairs

I know by far the least about these breeds, so I will keep my remarks on them short and sweet. What I have noticed among the shortest-haired breeds is that the temperament of the animal varies greatly from one breeder’s herd to the next. Baring some other explanation, I would say that the difference is probably related to grooming. The shortest-haired breeds can be shown with minimal grooming, though some attention is obviously still desirable. Those breeders who handle their animals more often likely encourage a tamer temperament; those who tend not to handle their animals as much will have animals that are somewhat wild in nature, resulting in a cavy that is timid around humans.

For those other cavy people out there, what do you think? Have you found that breed makes a difference in temperament? What kind of observations have you made in your own herd?

Which makes a better pet — a boar or a sow?

29 Aug

When people come to me looking for a pet cavy, this is usually one of the first three questions I am asked. And the short answer is always the same — I, personally, prefer boars.

The long answer, the one where you actually figure out what works better for you, is a little more involved. To make a decision, you have to weight the pros and cons of both genders.

In general, it is my experience that male cavies are more outgoing than females. Or, more accurately, the males just aren’t quite as shy as the females. This essentially means two things for your pet’s personality — the shy cavy is going to spend more time hiding, and won’t be as interested in coming out of its pen or exploring. It will take longer for a shy cavy to warm up to you and become tame. So a female cavy may be slow to trust and interact with humans, while a male cavy will be more quick to learn to whistle at its owners, to allow itself to be picked up without running away, or even to allow itself to be handled at all.

As an additional bonus, the males do tend to live longer than females.

But while these traits make the males more desirable pets from my point of view, there are some disadvantages to owning males. In my experience, the males can be somewhat less interested in keeping house, which may result in a messier cage from time to time. But the real difference is the level of aggression — in general, male cavies are much more aggressive than females. This may affect your decision if you, for example, plan to keep more than one cavy, because male cavies are much more likely to fight one another over territorial disputes. Females, on the other hand, are highly social and may even fail to thrive if kept solitary. Exceptionally finicky or aggressive males may be slightly prone to biting, although it is rare for any cavy to bite a human. And it is worth noting that a timid female, if frightened, is just as likely to bite as an angry male.

Please note that these are all generalities, based on my personal experience with raising cavies. There are always exceptions. I have had shy, timid boars I never could convince to allow me to handle them. On the other hand, I’ve had boars so outgoing I had to sell them because I couldn’t convince them to stop exploring long enough to comb their long hair, and at least one so friendly he insisted I pet his nose every time I walked passed his pen. I’ve seen a similar spectrum with the sows. My first guinea pig was a sow, and she would happily fall asleep in bed with me (though it did take several months to gain her trust). And I’ve had sows so aggressive I had to house them alone to keep them from attacking other cavies — one such sow once left a boar with a crosshatch of bite marks down his back.

In my opinion, it comes down to numbers, and which challenges you’d rather cope with. If you only want to have one cavy, go with a male. It’s a better situation for the animal. If you plan to get more than one, then ask yourself this: would you rather get females and spend the first several months building trust with your new pet, or would you rather get a more outgoing set of males and risk that they might fight among themselves and need to be housed separately for their own well-being?

From my perspective, there is one hard-and-fast rule about picking the gender of your new pet. Unless you seriously intend to breed cavies for show, sale or other purposes, I would never recommend buying cavies of both genders. The risk is simply too great — not because cavies are exceptional about reproduction, but because they struggle with reproduction. In the off chance your sow does become pregnant, there is a roughly 50 percent chance childbirth will kill her. So for the sake of your future pet, please make decisions about breeding carefully, or keep pets of one gender or the other.

For more information on choosing cavies as pets, please see the following additional articles:

Deciding whether a cavy is the right pet for you

Guinea pig personalities: does breed make a difference?

Cavies became middle class pets in sixteenth century

6 Aug

I am currently in the process of relocating for a new job. So if my posts become spotty or you notice I am reblogging a  lot of material over the next few weeks, that is why.

The other day I came across an interesting bit about the history of cavies in Europe. Cavies have been domesticated by humans for centuries, but as natives of South America the species was not introduced to Europeans until after the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Peruvian natives considered guinea pig a delicacy, but eating guinea pigs didn’t catch on among Europeans, some of whom said the rodent’s meat was unpalatable.

However, the wealthier Europeans quickly took to the guinea pig as fancy exotic pets. They were initially popular among the nobility, but according to this blog, archaeological evidence suggests some commoners kept guinea pigs as pets as well.

Deciding whether a cavy is the right pet for you

16 Jul

I’m personally a long-time fan of cavies, and sometimes I find myself falling back on the default assumption that a cavy could be a perfect pet for anyone. But while cavies are versatile, lovable pets well-suited to many homes and personalities, they are not for everyone.

Responsible pet ownership means avoiding impulse buys. If you are considering a cavy for yourself or for a gift, please take some of the following thoughts into consideration.

Your Cavy’s Needs

Any time you consider adding a pet to your family, the first and foremost thing on your mind should always be the needs and demands that come with that animal. Fortunately, guinea pigs are relatively simple creatures with few expectations beyond the basics of food, water and shelter. They will not need as much attention as a dog, as cavies are generally more self-sufficient than canines, and unlike cats they have no inclination to roam and terrorize neighboring species — or your new curtains. Cavies are content to remain in their pens, undisturbed.

This isn’t to say that cavy ownership requires no responsibility on your end. You will still be responsible to ensure your pet has constant access to fresh water and an appropriate diet.  You must clean its cage at least once a week. Cavies also require a specialized, climate-controlled environment; they are less heat tolerant that humans and most other domestic animals. Unless you live in a cool, dry climate that is free from dramatic seasonal changes, you will need to keep your pet indoors most if not all of the year. Keep in mind while contemplating your purchase that you will need to provide a large, single-story enclosure for your cavy, and that the room you keep it in should be kept at temperatures below 80 degrees for optimal health.

If you choose to purchase a cavy and can provide for these needs, remember that a cavy is a three- to five-year commitment. In fact, some cavies, though rare, some cavies have been known to live as long as nine years.

Your Family’s Needs

The needs of your human family trump the needs of desired furry friends. For example, though guinea pigs are generally allergy-friendly creatures that don’t put off oils or chemicals that can irritate sensitive individuals, they do require hay in their diets, and their bedding can be very dusty. If you have severe allergies or asthma in your family, a cavy may not be the pet for you.

Cavies are generally great pets for children, but if you have very small children, you may choose to wait a few years. A child’s hands need to be large enough to fully support a cavy before she can safely handle the animal without injuring it. Young children should not be allowed to handle a cavy without supervision. And if you are considering a guinea pig as a pet for your child, remember that as the adult, the care of that animal ultimately falls to you if your child fails to provide adequate care.

Pets you may already own should also be taken into consideration. I have kept cavies with both cats and small dogs and have never had any serious issues. However, cats and dogs are predators, and cavies are prey animals. Though an adult cavy is generally too large to interest a small house cat, a large dog may get too friendly with a small pet. Even if your other pets are small, if they are allow to roam the house freely, be sure to keep your guinea pig in a pen that is not accessible to your other pets.

Finally, remember that guinea pigs are not free. Food, bedding and other miscellaneous supplies are all ongoing expenses. Please do not purchase a cavy if you are not able to provide for it financially while also adequately supporting yourself and your family.

For more information on choosing cavies as pets, please see the following additional articles:

Which makes a better pet — a boar or a sow?

Guinea pig personalities: does breed make a difference?

Recognized U.S. Cavy Varieties

18 Jun

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 Varieties

A self black American cavy.

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.

Solid Varieties

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.

Broken Varieties

A broken American.

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.

Agouti Varieties

An agouti American.

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.


A roan American.

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.


A dalmatian American.

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.

Tortoise Shell

This broken variety calls for two colors, red and black, arranged over the cavy’s body in a checkerboard pattern.

Tortoise Shell and White

A TSW American.

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.


A Himalayan American.

The Himalayan is an unusual variety with a white body and distinct brown markings on the nose, ears and feet.