Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs. Actually a rodent, guinea pigs originated in South America and were domesticated by native tribes around 5000 BC as a food source. Their name likely originates from European traders bringing the animals back to Europe to sell as exotic pets. Being as shipping routes at the time often included Guinea, it may have led many to believe that the animals were indigenous to that region.
Guinea pigs are purely domestic animals and do not naturally live in the wild. Their docile nature and relatively easy care have made them popular pets and much like dogs and cats they are bred in a variety of colors and coat lengths. Guinea pigs are slightly smaller than most rabbits, so they can easily live in cages. However some owners commit entire rooms of their homes to these pets.
A very social animal, guinea pigs are most content when other guinea pigs are around, as they enjoy playing together and grooming one another. However they don’t always get along with other pets and should not be caged with rabbits or hamsters. As they are a prey animal, special care needs to be taken if they are allowed near dogs or cats.
The guinea pig’s diet primarily consists of commercially available feed pellets which contain plants, vegetables and seeds, usually supplemented with a small amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and grass hay. Guinea pigs are also content to feed on many varieties of grass. Like all rodents, a guinea pig’s teeth will grow constantly. To keep their teeth from becoming overgrown these animals need to have constant access to untreated wood that they can gnaw on.
Perhaps one reason the guinea pig is such a popular pet is because it is so vocal. They easily recognize their owners and will very often whistle, purr and chirp when they are excited, content and stressed-out, respectively. Most guinea pigs can live 4-5 years.
GUINEA PIG FACTS
When excited, guinea pigs will often hop in air. This action is known as “popcorning”.
Guinea pigs do not have regular sleep patterns. They are active most hours of the day, with many periods of short naps.
Guinea pigs are excellent swimmers.