Guinea pigs are domesticated animals, which are quite popular as household pets in some parts of the world. Additionally, they are also used in the field of scientific research.
It might come as a surprise for some people, but guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) have nothing to do with pigs (genus Sus) or the Republic of Guinea in Africa. Commonly known as cavy, these rodents are believed to have originated in the Andes (South America). They belong to the Cavia genus of the Caviidae family.
Guinea pigs, now commonly seen as pets, are closely related to the cavy’s wild species like Cavia aperea. Their domestication began in around 5000 B.C. Since then, several new breeds have been developed by means of crossbreeding. While the species was initially bred as a food source, selective breeding of new species after its introduction in Europe was aimed at creating more appealing pets.
As of today, these rodents have been introduced in many parts of the world. In the United States, the American Cavy Breeders Association promotes the breeding and improvement of the cavy, and to secure publicity for and interest in the cavy as an exhibition, pet and research animal. The British Cavy Council, Australian National Cavy Council, and the New Zealand Cavy Club are similar bodies in their respective countries.
There exist several breeds of guinea pigs, which vary in their hair and color composition. Even the texture, length, and color pattern of the coat may vary from one breed to another. The most commonly seen guinea pigs are the English short hair (also known as American short hair), Abyssinian, Peruvian, and Sheltie (Silkie). All subsequent types of guinea pigs are developed from the American, Abyssinian and Peruvian breeds. Others include Silkie or Sheltie, Rex, Teddy, Texel, Coronet, Crested, and Hairless ones. The following are some facts about the common guinea pig breeds.
Peruvian Guinea Pig
The Peruvian is the first long-haired breed of guinea pig and is considered the ancestor of all breeds with long hair. It has long hair all over its body and head. Its hair can grow to a length of up to 50 centimeters. The species has an undercoat with short hair of 15 to 20 centimeters length. The hair is dense, smooth, and straight and parts naturally through the center of the back. As the body of the Peruvian guinea pig is covered with long hair, it is often difficult to distinguish the front and the rear of their body (even the face may be covered with the hair that falls from the head). The owners have to take extra care of the pets’ hair and trim it regularly. Some of these guinea pigs may have one rosette each on both sides of the rump. This guinea pig breed is mostly preferred as show animal due to its long hair, which makes it slightly difficult to take care of. So, these gentle and fun-loving animals are not advisable for small kids and beginners.
Silkie or Sheltie Guinea Pig
The Silkie or Sheltie, formerly known as Angora guinea pigs, are also long-haired like Peruvians. Unlike Peruvians though, their hair does not cover the face, but instead, grows backward from the head. A Silkie guinea pig does not have a natural parting of hair on the back. The hair of this breed is softer, finer, and shinier than the Peruvians. These guinea pigs have hair that is slightly shorter than the Peruvian breed. It is said that the hair on the rear of their body are longer than those in other parts. Though popular for their looks, these pet guinea pigs are not recommended for beginners as they require regular and proper grooming.
Abyssinian Guinea Pig
The Abyssinian guinea pig, often called Aby, is also one of the oldest breeds of guinea pigs. They are distinguished by the swirls of hair and the ridge pattern in the body and head. These swirls―known as rosettes―are formed in circles with hair radiating from the center point. Normally, eight to ten rosettes are found in the body of an Aby. Of these, two are on their shoulders (one per shoulder), four across the back, one on each hip, and two on the rump. These are supposed to be the features of an ideal Abyssinian. This breed also possess a mustache of raised fur around their nose. Abyssinian guinea pigs are also found in a number of colors, with dense, short, and coarse hair. You may also find Abyssinians with soft fur. Even satin variant of this breed is available. This breed is easy to care for, and are mischievous with a friendly disposition.
American or English Short Hair Guinea Pig
The American Guinea pig, also known as ‘English’ cavy, has short, straight, smooth, and glossy hair (without any parting) in a variety of colors and color combinations. These guinea pigs are also available in ‘satin’ variety, which have extra shiny, smooth hair. They have wide, curving nose and the circumference of the body is almost same right from the shoulder to the hip. They are one of the oldest and the most commonly found breeds of domesticated guinea pigs, and have striking resemblance their wild relatives. They are gentle animals that gel well with other types of guinea pigs. These short-haired guinea pigs are easy to care for. As they have short hair, matting is not a problem. They are also said to be well-suited for kids.
Texel Guinea Pig
Texels are almost like Silkies, but with long, thick, and curly coat. These types of guinea pigs have a central parting too. The spiral curls cover the entire body, including the belly. As compared to the other breeds, they have a broad and round head. The most adorable feature of this breed is their curls that appear like permed hair. Some of them may have a natural parting that runs through their back. The hair on their face is much shorter and some of them have short hair beneath their ears too. They have broad head with almost round face. Matting is one of the problems with this hair and so, regular trimming will be beneficial for those which are not used as show animals. Regular grooming is also needed. They are also friendly and gentle.
Rex Guinea Pig
The Rex breed has short fuzzy hair, which is uniformly distributed all over the body. There are no rosettes in this breed of guinea pig and the length of hair seldom exceeds 1.25 centimeter. This variety looks like the Teddy guinea pig, but both are entirely different breeds. In contrast to the Teddy breed, the hair of a Rex is shorter and bristled. Rex breed of guinea pigs have coarse hair and their whiskers are also not straight. Another distinguishing factor is the thick nails on their rear feet. Unlike other types of guinea pigs, Rex breed has thicker, fast-growing nails. These guinea pigs are also larger in size as compared to many other breeds. If you are looking for a friendly type of guinea pig with a calm and gentle disposition, you may opt for this breed.
Teddy Guinea Pigs
Teddy guinea pigs have striking resemblance to the Rex breed. The former though, has a soft and fluffy coat, whereas the latter’s coat is coarse. Some Teddy guinea pigs do have coarse hair, but such cases are very rare. The Teddy has a dense, short, and curly coat of moderate length. This breed has relatively lengthy hair on their belly, which differentiates them from the other breeds. Unlike Rex, the Teddy breed has long whiskers that are straight. Their name is derived from the dense coat of curly hair, which is reminiscent of soft toys. These guinea pigs are not that difficult to take care of. Though the hair is not prone to matting, regular brushing is required. This will also help in removing foreign particles trapped in the hair, thereby preventing skin irritation. There are two types of Teddy guinea pigs: the US Teddy and CH Teddy, otherwise known as the Swiss Teddy.
Hairless Guinea Pigs
There are two types of hairless guinea pig breeds: Skinny and Baldwin. Skinny guinea pigs are born hairless except for some parts of their body like the nose, feet, and legs, which have some curly hair on them. Baldwin guinea pigs are born with a body covered with hair, which eventually shed. They are characterized by hairless skin with wrinkles all over the body, but have some hair on their feet. Both breeds have to be nurtured in warm conditions and need special care. They are more prone to injuries as compared to other guinea pig breeds with hair. Hairless guinea pigs are also sensitive to sunlight and other harsh conditions. They do have a loving and gentle nature, but you need to have a good knowledge on how to take care of them properly if you are adopting these two types of guinea pigs as pets.
Crested Guinea Pigs
The crested variety has a smooth fur coat with a single rosette on top of their head. In some regions only white crested guinea pigs―with a white-haired rosette―are recognized, but breeds like the American crested and English crested also exist in other parts. The white crested guinea pigs have a single rosette of white hair on their head with a solid body color. The American crested can have any colored rosette, but the rosette of its English counterpart is the same color as its body. These guinea pigs have short and smooth hair, and are almost like the American short-haired ones. Satin variants with thick and smooth coat are available in this breed too. As they are gentle and calm in nature, they are widely recommended as pets.
Coronet Guinea Pigs
The Coronet is also a breed of guinea pig with a single rosette on top of the head. But unlike the crested type, these guinea pigs are long-haired. Coronet guinea pigs resemble Silkies in looks, but their single rosette helps differentiate them from the latter. The Coronet variety has a roman nose. There is no central parting of hair in this breed. The rosette on their head can be of any color. These guinea pigs come in a wide range of colors and color combinations, along with the satin variants. Regular grooming is required and hair trimming is an option, if it is not a show animal. These guinea pigs are found to be gentle and loving.
Peruvian, Silkie or Sheltie, Abyssinian, American or English Short Hair, Texel, Rex, Teddy Guinea, Hairless, Crested, and Coronet are some of the commonly found guinea pig breeds on the planet. Almost all these types of guinea pigs have their satin variants. The additional feature of satin variants is the special gloss or shine of the hair. This is due to their hollow hair shafts, which may cause bone disorders. Apart from these, there do exist other breeds, which are relatively new and thus, not popular. These include the likes of Alpaca, English merino, Ridgeback, and Abbyruvian. Many breeds of guinea pigs are available in different color combinations and designs. They are Brindle, Tortoiseshell, Himalayan, Dalmatian, and Agouti.
- Though solid white during birth, Himalayan guinea pigs develop darker color on their nose, paws, ears, and feet, within a few months. They have dark red eyes, and are similar to Siamese cats in coat color.
- Alpaca guinea pigs are long-haired guinea pigs with a curly coat. These guinea pigs look similar to Texels with their curls, and Peruvian guinea pigs with their central parting and hair over the face.
- Another rare breed of guinea pig is Ridgeback. As the name suggests, these guinea pigs have a tuft of hair that grows on their back. Otherwise, these animals have a smooth coat.
- English Merino is another type of guinea pig with a rosette on top of the head. But, unlike the crested ones, these animals have a curly coat that has coarse and curly hair.
- You may also come across some types of guinea pigs, such as the Abbyruvian breed, which are long-haired with rosettes on the body. Though not recognized as a breed in itself, these guinea pigs are loved for their looks and friendly nature.
Apart from these, guinea pigs are also classified into certain types on the basis of colors and color patterns. This include the Tortoiseshell variant with rectangular patches of red, white, and black color on either side the body. While Brindle guinea pigs have an even distribution of black and red color hair, Dalmatian guinea pigs have contrast color spots on the sides and rear that are white. In case of Agoutis, their hair strands display two colors, i.e., the tips and the roots have different colors. Color bands are seen in Dutch guinea pigs. Most of them have color on the rear end and both sides of their face, with white bands in between.
Guinea pigs are very popular household pets, primarily because of their gentle nature. You can always select a guinea pig of your choice from the wide range of breeds. The rule of the thumb is to choose a breed that is easy to take care of, and therefore, you need to make sure that you are well-versed with the basics of guinea pig care.