Capybaras are wild rodents that are becoming popular as exotic pets. PetPonder takes a look into whether they make good pets, the specific care that they require, and the drawbacks of keeping them at home.
The Wild Side
Being naturally wild in nature, Capybaras are relatively less tolerant of rough and tumble games as compared to dogs, or even cats. Hence, they are not recommended for families with kids below the age of 12, as they can attack if irritated due to any roughhousing.
They are extremely, extremely cute. Just the sight of one is sure to invoke an awww from you. They have a cuddly face, large nose, long teeth, and expressive eyes. Who are they? They are Capybaras, the biggest rodents on earth! They are closely related to guinea pigs, but are about the size of a medium-sized dog! They are extremely affectionate and attached to their owners, and are sensitive to being left alone, scolded, or punished! They are, however, inherently wild animals that are quite complex in their temperament and genetic makeup. Recently increasing popularity and interest in these animals has compelled many people to research whether they make for good domestic pets. The answer is maybe yes, but mostly no. Let’s find out more about what Capybara care entails, and whether they make suitable pets.
Size and Physical Traits
To begin with, Capybaras are by no means small animals. After all, they are the world’s biggest rodents! They can grow up to 25 inches tall, are generally 4 feet long, and can weigh up to 150 pounds. You must have guessed that an animal this generously proportioned needs an equally generous amount of space. They are mostly outdoor animals, so you will need a big enough yard to occupy a pen (among other things). Capys also require space to walk and run around; they are active animals that need to vent their energy. Keeping them indoors will depress them and lead to behavior issues and aggression.
The Capy is a pack animal, and it needs constant company, either of its humans or other animals or both, but preferably of another Capybara. Experts recommend adopting at least two Capys together, so that they can keep each other company and provide the much-needed emotional and moral support that is so important to their well-being. However, it is advised against keeping two males together, even if they are fixed, as they cannot tolerate each other, and battles for dominance will ensue.
Capybaras are extremely intelligent and sensitive creatures. Sensitive because they tend to experience separation anxiety and cannot stand being away from their loved ones for long. This is because they are not built to be away from their pack. It can cause them considerable stress. A pet Capy will need someone to be with him/her most of the time.
Capybaras are sensitive to the needs of their humans, and are very quick to pick up on commands. However, they need firm and consistent owners who will make ideal pack leaders. A weak-willed owner will serve to create a dominant Capy who becomes difficult to handle.
Capybaras require space, as you already know. The ideal size of a pen needs to be, at a minimum, 20 square feet for 2 individuals. It needs the bedding, a regularly-cleaned and filled tank of water, toys if any, and litter boxes. Capybaras that sleep indoors can be potty-trained using special mats that are kept outside. See to it that the pen has both sunny and shaded areas so that your Capys can sit wherever they want depending on whether they feel hot or cold.
Now comes the fencing part. The first thing you ought to know is that Capys are escape artists and freakishly fast runners. And they can easily go over fences that are less than 4 feet high, so that’s the lower height limit. Although they are not adept at digging, they have a knack of squeezing through the tiniest of spaces or chewing their way out. So make sure that the fence is sturdy, double-backed, and fixed into cement, so that it has no give. This is an extremely important safety measure because once Capys escape, they are really difficult to catch!
Capys are herbivores, and eat hay, fresh fruits and vegetables, more hay, and guinea pig pellets. Like many rodents, their teeth keep growing for life, and hence need to be worn down regularly, which is why hay is important. You can even give them some wooden sticks to chew on. However, ensure that the wood is not poisonous first, by checking on the net. Birch and willow are common options.
Capybaras are living lawn mowers! Get one home and you need not bother about mowing the lawn for many future years. They are constantly grazing on grass, which is why you will need to avoid adding any pesticides or insecticides to the lawn. Also, some varieties of flowers and fruits are poisonous for Capys, so research about the same. If you happen to have any of these plants, then they may have to be removed or fenced.
Remember that Capys eat a lot. Hence, you will need to stock up on a lot of hay, fruits, and veggies. Buying a large amount of pellets will create financial and storage issues. Also during winter, when natural vegetation is scarce, you may have to source the hay from elsewhere.
There are many small things about Capybaras that an owner will have to keep in mind.
Capybaras love to roll in the mud. This is their way of keeping cool, as they are originally from the South American savannahs. This is an inherent trait, and there is a good chance that your Capys will come straddling into the house in this state, giving the interiors a makeover.
Capybaras need sun. They bask in it for a while during the day. This helps strengthen their bones and improve their health. Keeping them indoors all the time and depriving them of sunlight is cruel and damaging. Thus, whenever there is sun, let your Capys be out. When they feel hot, they will take a swim or sit in the shade.
Along with the big yard and pen, Capybaras need a swimming pool! These animals are semi-aquatic, and need to swim as a rule. It helps to keep their skin hydrated. The pool must be at least 3 feet deep; your Capys must be able to submerge themselves completely into the water. You can make the pool deeper too. As for the size, the bigger it is, the better.
Capybaras bite. They have big teeth, and do not hesitate to use these if provoked, or even in mock play. Just that it isn’t so mock for the owners. Capybara attacks are messy. The sharp incisors can hurt a person badly, even if injuries are usually not serious. And it’s not just people, Capys bite inanimate objects too. So be ready to deal with carpet and furniture mutilation, destruction of wires, and disappearance of shoes. They are a lot like dogs that way.
Capys require beds – made of hay! Being herbivores, they munch on a lot of greens, and hay is their favorite of all. Making them a bed of hay is akin to you owning a bed of chocolate! Dream come true, right? Only that they need the hay bed, but we don’t need to sleep on chocolate! These animals also tend to feel cold quickly in winter, and hence require heaters and blankets near the bed.
Capybaras are not really dangerous, but a lot depends on the way they are raised. There is no human intervention in these animals, and so they are not like our dogs and cats. Hence, they need even greater TLC and specific care. Their needs should come first, because they are not likely to be as understanding as Mittens or Toby, and will be affected greatly if their regular way of living is disturbed.
Capys eat their Cecotropes, which is also known as night stools. These are evicted from the body 4 to 8 hours after a meal. Many rodents ingest these Cecotropes because they are an excellent source of added nutrients. Just a heads up, so that there are no surprises when it actually happens.
Capybaras have a lifespan of 8 to 10 years in the wild. This can increase in a domestic environment, provided they are cared for properly. However, there are not many vets that specialize in Capybara care, and it is difficult to find the rare ones that do. Hence, do a thorough research about this aspect before considering domesticating a Capy, because if there is no medical attention available nearby, then it is not worth risking the health of the animal and possibly causing it suffering.
Although most states in the US allow keeping Capybaras as pets, each one has its own rules, regulations, and laws. The living conditions that need to be maintained, the veterinary care that needs to be provided, the licenses that are required, all differ from state to state.
The best way to find out whether your state allows domesticating a Capybara or not is to contact the Game and Fish Department. They will be able to give you the exact details regarding the same. The rules regarding importing Capybaras also differs with every state. Hence, it is best to check with the authorities before thinking of petting a Capy.
This was all about Capybara care and raising. I’m sure you must have realized just how financially and physically onerous it is. It is safe to say that a Capybara is not suitable for most people. But if you still wish to get one, then be absolutely sure that you can provide for it. Because if you can’t, then you will end up with an unhappy pet, which will make you unhappy in turn.