Physical Characteristics - General Cavy Information|
In Western societies, the guinea pig has enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet since its introduction by European traders in the 16th century. Their docile nature, their responsiveness to handling and feeding, and the relative ease of caring for them, continue to make the guinea pig a popular pet. Organizations devoted to competitive breeding of guinea pigs have been formed worldwide, and many specialized breeds of guinea pig, with varying coat colors and compositions, are cultivated by breeders.
Traits & Environment Guinea pigs are large for rodents, weighing between 700 and 1200g (1.5-2.5 pounds), and measuring between 20 and 25 cm (8–10 inches) in length. They typically live an average of four to five years, but may live as long as eight years. According to the 2006 Guinness Book of Records the longest living guinea pig survived 14 years, 10.5 months.
In the 1990s, a minority scientific opinion emerged proposing that caviomorphs, such as guinea pigs, chinchillas and degus, are not rodents and should be reclassified as a separate order of mammals (similar to lagomorphs). Subsequent research using wider sampling has restored consensus among mammalian biologists that the current classification of rodents as monophyletic is justified.
Natural Habitat Cavia porcellus is not found naturally in the wild; it is likely descendant from some closely related species of cavies, such as Cavia aperea,
Cavia fulgida, and Cavia tschudii, which are still commonly found in various regions of South America. Some species of cavy identified in the 20th century, such as
Cavia anolaimae and Cavia guianae, may be domestic guinea pigs that have become feral by reintroduction into the wild. Wild cavies are found on grassy plains and
occupy an ecological niche similar to that of the cow. They are social, living in the wild in small groups which consist of several females (sows), a male (boar),
and the young (which in a break with the preceding porcine nomenclature are called pups). They move together in groups (herds) eating grass or other vegetation, and
do not store food. While they do not burrow or build nests, they frequently seek shelter in the burrows of other animals, as well as in crevices and tunnels formed
by vegetation. They are crepuscular, tending to be most active during dawn and dusk, when it is harder for predators to spot them.|
Domestic Habitat Domesticated guinea pigs thrive in groups of two or more; groups of sows, or groups of one or more sows and a neutered boar are common combinations. Guinea pigs learn to recognize and bond with other individual guinea pigs, and testing of boars shows that their neuroendocrine stress response is significantly lowered in the presence of a bonded female when compared to the presence of unfamiliar females. Groups of boars may also get along, provided that their cage has enough space, they are introduced at an early age, and no females are present. Domestic guinea pigs have developed a different biological rhythm from their wild counterparts, and have longer periods of activity followed by short periods of sleep in between. Activity is scattered randomly over the 24 hours of the day; aside from avoidance of intense light, no regular circadian patterns are apparent.
The success of interspecies interaction varies according to the individual animals involved. Domestic guinea pigs generally live in cages, although some owners of large numbers of guinea pigs will dedicate entire rooms to their pets. Cages with solid or wire mesh floors are used, although wire mesh floors can cause injury and may be associated with an infection commonly known as bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis). "Cubes and Coroplast" (or C & C) style cages are now a common choice. Cages are often lined with wood shavings or a similar material. Bedding made from red cedar and pine, both softwoods, was commonly used in past decades, but these materials are now believed to contain harmful phenols (aromatic hydrocarbons) and oils. Safer beddings include those made from hardwoods (such as aspen); paper products and corn cob materials are other alternatives. Guinea pigs tend to be messy within their cages; they often jump into their food bowls or kick bedding and feces into them, and their urine crystallizes on cage surfaces and can be difficult to remove. After it's cage has been cleaned, a guinea pig will typically urinate and drag the lower body across the floor of the cage to mark its territory. Male guinea pigs may also mark their territory in this way when they are taken out of their cages.
Guinea pigs do not generally thrive when housed with other species. Cohousing of guinea pigs with other rodents such as gerbils and hamsters may increase instances of respiratory and other infections, and such rodents may act aggressively toward the guinea pig. Larger animals may regard guinea pigs as prey, though some (such as dogs) can be trained to accept them. Guinea pigs can be safely housed with Degu as they share the same dietary needs and have similar behavioural traits. Opinion is divided over the cohousing of guinea pigs and domestic rabbits. Some published sources say that guinea pigs and rabbits complement each other well when sharing a cage. However, as lagomorphs, rabbits have different nutritional requirements, and so the two species cannot be fed the same food. Rabbits may also harbor diseases (such as the respiratory infections Bordetella and Pasteurella), to which guinea pigs are susceptible. Even the dwarf rabbit is much stronger than the guinea pig and may cause intentional or inadvertent injury.
Behavior Guinea pigs can learn complex paths to food, and can accurately remember a learned path for months. Their strongest and overwhelming problem solving strategy is 'activity'. While guinea pigs can jump small obstacles, they cannot climb, and are not particularly agile.
They startle extremely easily, and will either freeze in place for long periods or run for cover with rapid, darting motions when they sense danger. Larger groups of startled guinea pigs will "stampede", running in haphazard directions as a means of confusing predators. When excited, guinea pigs may repeatedly perform little hops in the air (known as "popcorning"), a movement analogous to the ferret's war dance. They are also exceedingly good swimmers.
Like many rodents, guinea pigs sometimes participate in social grooming, and they regularly self-groom. A milky-white substance is secreted from their eyes and rubbed into the hair during the grooming process. Groups of boars will often chew each other's hair, but this is a method of establishing hierarchy within a group, rather than a social gesture. Dominance is also established through biting (especially of the ears), piloerection, aggressive noises, head thrusts, and leaping attacks. Non-sexual simulated mounting for dominance is also common among same-sex groups.
Guinea pigs have poor sight, but well-developed senses of hearing, smell, and touch. Vocalization is the primary means of communication between members of the species. Some sounds are:
Wheek - A loud noise, the name of which is onomatopoeic, also known as a Whistle. An expression of general excitement, it may occur in response to the presence of its owner or to feeding. It is sometimes used to find other guinea pigs if they are running. If a guinea pig is lost, it may wheek for assistance.
Bubbling or Purring - This sound is made when the guinea pig is enjoying itself, such as when being petted or held. They may also make this sound when grooming, crawling around to investigate a new place, or when given food.
Rumbling - This sound is normally related to dominance within a group, though it can also come as a response to comfort or contentment. In these cases the rumble often sounds higher and the body vibrates shortly. While courting, a male usually purrs deeply, swaying and circling the female in a behavior called "rumblestrutting". A low rumble while walking away reluctantly shows passive resistance.
Chutting and Whining - These are sounds made in pursuit situations, by the pursuer and pursuee, respectively.
Chattering - This sound is made by rapidly gnashing the teeth, and is generally a sign of warning. Guinea pigs tend to raise their heads when making this sound. A more relaxed type of gnashing often means the guinea pig wants a treat that is somewhere nearby but he or she can't reach.
Squealing or Shrieking - A high-pitched sound of discontent, in response to pain or danger.
Chirping - This less-common sound, likened to bird song, seems to be related to stress, or when a baby guinea pig wants to be fed. Very rarely, the chirping will last for several minutes.
Breeding The guinea pig is able to breed year-round, with birth peaks usually coming in the spring; as many as five litters can be produced per year.
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