Tag Archives: pet ownership

Guineas Gone Viral: The rising prevalence of cavies in internet culture

16 Mar

Perhaps some of you have seen this hilariously awkward video making the rounds in recent months.

The video — which was released in Canada last November for “Movember,” the international month-long campaign dedicated to raising awareness of men’s health issues — has snowballed around the internet for the last several months until, in February, it started showing up in Facebook feeds everywhere. BuzzFeed, the news site that could be considered something like the Entertainment Weekly of cat videos and dress controversies, picked up on the video, and pretty soon, traditional media outlets all over the world were on the story, too.

But this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, national media carried reports last week of a woman who decided to quit her job to make videos of her guinea pigs after a clip she posted to YouTube went viral. Dominant websites like WikiHow have launched entire sections devoted to guinea pigs, and even BuzzFeed itself has created a special “tag” for web articles, especially photo essays, dedicated to guinea pigs — though, I’ll be honest, most of these articles just reappropriate the same half-dozen or so images to illustrate BuzzFeed’s usual brand of universally relatable humor.

But, with BuzzFeed calling guinea pigs “the new cats of the internet,” we may be moving away from that ever-persistent stereotype of guinea pigs as classroom pets or unusual companions for the socially impaired. This increasing online awareness of guinea pigs also appears to have translated into a real-world growing interest in showing cavies.

According to Mary Lou Eisel, the current president of the American Cavy Breeders Association, the number of guinea pigs entered in shows throughout the U.S. has increased by 14,000 in the last five years. For comparison, the number of rabbits entered in similar shows over the same time period grew by just 1,000 entries. For BuzzFeed author Matt Bellassai, the sudden popularity of guinea pigs is easy to explain.

“Their popularity rose, I suspect, because guinea pigs have a novelty (more so than cats), but also a familiarity (not so wild as, say, a chinchilla), and of course an undeniable adorableness (more than any other rodent),” Bellassai said. “Also, they’re just funny. It’s far funnier to put a tiny wig and straw hat on a guinea pig than it is to put one on a rat or a mouse or a cat. I don’t know why, it just is. It’s a combination, I think, of guinea pigs being cute and chubby and small, but also different and unexpected. Maybe one day, the internet will reach guinea pig saturation, like we have with cats. Until then, I think guinea pigs will keep rising.”

But there may be more to it than that. It’s not just that the internet has highlighted the fact that guinea pigs are cute, it’s that the internet has made information about guinea pigs, and guinea pig-related things, much more accessible than they once were. Consequently, whether cavy breeders have seen a recent spike in purchases of show- or pet-quality stock varies from one state or person to the next. But many breeders say they have found recent buyers to be more educated and more specific in their requests.

For the first time in decades, even the average first-time pet owner has access to the information they need to know there are alternatives to buying small animals at large chain pet stores. While this doesn’t always lead directly to growth within the cavy fancy — some breeders are quick to point out that the online culture growing up around guinea pigs has created a fetish for hairless guinea pigs, such as the skinny and the baldwin, which are not accepted as official breeds under the ACBA and cannot participate in official cavy shows — it may, in a roundabout way, bring more potential cavy fanciers into the world of cavy shows than did recruitment efforts in the past.

To recruit a new member into the ACBA once required that someone who was at least somewhat familiar with guinea pigs or animal husbandry, such as a pet owner with cavies or a breeder already raising dogs or rabbits, rub shoulders with a cavy breeder and take an interest in the hobby. Nowadays, all it takes is a spark of interest and enough curiosity to search “pure bred guinea pigs” on Google.

The cavy’s online presence has also allowed for added growth within the ACBA as well.

“I have purchased everything I have via either meeting the person online, or a completely online purchase — I have never met some of my cavies’ breeders in person,” said Tonya Slack, a cavy breeder from Minnesota. “If not for the internet, I would be purchasing pet store cavies and mixing breeds.”

Cavy Costume Contest

26 Oct

Since this week’s post will land on Halloween, I wanted to try to do something special. I know many of you, on one occasion or another, have dressed up your cavies for Halloween. Well, this is you chance to show your creativity to the entire cavy community! Send your photos and perhaps a brief bio to thewritingguinea@gmail.com, and you may find you costume featured on the Wheekly Reader this week.

Big bonds with small creatures: my favorite cavies

24 Oct

There’s this thing going around on Facebook right now where cavy fanciers tag their five friends and ask them to post pictures of their five favorite cavies. I know a lot of people who breed and show cavies, so, naturally, I’ve been tagged.

But rather than share the pictures with a few Facebook friends — I choose to keep my Facebook closed to all except those I know in person — I decided to share a couple pictures and memories with the world.

I don’t have pictures of all of them. Sorry about that.

Aragon

Aragon was a self red Abyssinian, and my very first cavy. I got her for free from some kids my mom knew after months and months of begging my parents for a guinea pig. They had finally relented, agreeing that I could have a guinea pig if I could find a way to pay for one. So I scrapped up my pennies, and found a free guinea pig, for which I then bought a commercial pen, bedding food, hay, toys — all the necessities. I think my parents figured it was a phase, something I would grow bored with, eventually. I didn’t. I read everything I could find about cavies, and after some time of demonstrating that I could and would take good care of my new pet, my parents allowed me to get two more cavies. Even though I desperately wanted a long-haired cavy, I ended up with two more mixed-breed short hairs. That’s a long story I’ll have to tell you some other time.

I had Aragon for several years before she died after being treated for dental issues. She was old, and didn’t handle the procedure as well as she had others in the past. I, of course, bawled my eyes out. And my dad, doing what most dads do in this situation, offered to take me to a cavy show the next day and let me buy any guinea pig I wanted.

We came home with my first breeding pair of Peruvians.

Once we got our first little caviary set up, my dad made a big sign that read “Aragon’s Legacy” to put on the biggest pen we had. We later derived the name of our caviary, Legacy Caviary, from the sign.

Legacy Lloth

Lloth, a black-and-white Peruvian, wasn’t my first show pig, but she was the first I managed to get into some semblance of showable coat condition. Those of you who have tried to show long hairs know this in and of itself would make any guinea pig special. But Lloth also had the genetics to back up my fledgling grooming ability, and she became my first grand champion by the time she hit breeding weight. She gave us one litter, a pair of sows, and then subsequently refused to allow any other boar near her ever again. Since she wouldn’t breed, I decided to clean her up and coat her out again — an effort that earned her three additional legs, the equivalent of earning a second grand champion status.

Legacy Tycho

Tycho was born for the show table. He came out of a long line of show animals, going back to Lloth and those original Peruvians, but he came out as a silkie, which wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I went with it, anyway. Tycho was not only a stunning show animal, but also a bit of a character. He more or less tolerated being groomed, unless you were my dad, in which case, you weren’t allowed to touch him. Naturally, my dad took over the effort to coat Tycho while I worked an internship away from home for a few months. When he and my sister did manage to get all the hair out of his wraps, Tycho made a habit of spinning around and sitting on top of his hair so no one could comb it. He later tamed down and became quit persistent in his demands for attention: Whenever someone walked by his pen, Tycho would stick up his nose and wait for you to pet him. If you didn’t, he would chatter and wheek in protest.

Tycho just passed away while we were at a show two weeks ago. He had grown rather elderly, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Legacy Gapper

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It’s not his best picture, so he doesn’t look very impressive, but Gapper was the first Peruvian satin I had tear up the show table — or at least, he came as close to doing so as any Peruvian satin I have every owned. Gapper took best of show, once, after a rather amusing exchange. During the show’s best of show round, with all of the breeds on display, the judge paused to admire Gapper and remark that he was a rather nice Peruvian Satin. “But,” he said, “let’s compare him to this Peruvian over here.” The judged walked over to the Peruvian on the table, ran his fingers through its coat, and, with a rather shocked expression, pointed to Gapper and said “that one’s best of show.”

Gapper never bred for us; we sent him to a veterinarian friend of ours who thought she could persuade him to produce some offspring. We now have his son, David, and several grandchildren.

Legacy Padma

Padma is one of my most recent Peruvian satins, and also my most recent national champion — Padma took best of breed at the 2014 ACBA Specialty. He recently retired from the show circuit and is now in breeding.

Legacy Marshall and Legacy Rodney

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I’ve included these two together because they’re brothers, and because that is an important part of their history. Marshall is the oldest; we knew almost as soon as he was born — a singleton boar — that he would be a phenomenal animal. But after a month or two, Marshall contracted pneumonia. We caught it early and began treatment, but the prognosis for pneumonia in cavies is not good, so we didn’t think he would survive. Worried we would lose possibly the best Peruvian we had ever bred, we put his parents back together and hoped for the best. Marshall not only survived and went on to a long and successful show career (though he always has had a funny wheeze ever since), but his brother, Rodney (the black and white one), turned out even better and had an even more spectacular show career. Both are retired and in breeding, with litters on the way.

 

So that might be more than five. Oops. I guess I have trouble with basic math. Or, more likely, I can’t narrow it down to five favorites. I have felt a special bond with each of these animals, and I couldn’t narrow it down any further.

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?