American Guinea Pig – Everything You Need To Know

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The American short haired guinea pig is the most common breed that comes to mind whenever we think about “how does a guinea pig look like?”

Ranked as the 6th most popular pet animal in the US, the American guinea pigs are a perfect mix of gentleness and spunk. They embody the overall personality and temperament of most guinea pig breeds.

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The American short haired guinea pig is the most common breed that comes to mind whenever we think about “how does a guinea pig look like?”

Ranked as the 6th most popular pet animal in the US, the American guinea pigs are a perfect mix of gentleness and spunk. They embody the overall personality and temperament of most guinea pig breeds.

A Glimpse of their Piggy Past

Despite the name, American guinea pigs did not really come from America. Nor was it bred in Guinea. They actually have Latin origins. The first evidence of guinea pigs ever recorded was from the remnants of the Andes tribes in South America in 5000 BC.

However, unlike today wherein they are bred as a companion, the tribes used them as food since it takes a relatively shorter time to propagate their species than other meat sources. Plus, they are easier to maintain-a trait that continues to make them a favorite pet among children.

They are also used for medicinal purposes. Most folk doctors in the Andes tribes use guinea pigs as a way to diagnose and cure the patient from diseases such as rheumatism, jaundice, arthritis, and typhus.

To do this, they let the creature roam around the patient’s body. Once it reaches the problem area, the tiny piggy makes a “Wheeek!” sound. Folk doctors would then kill the animal, believing that it absorbed the patient’s illness.

When European colonizers eventually invaded the Andean region, a few of these fluffy creatures were brought in by the Dutch in the 1500s. While there, they discovered that guinea pigs are not just good for food but as companions as well.

They eventually became a symbol of wealth among aristocrats because of their rarity in the continent and their price. Some accounts stated that even Queen Elizabeth I of England took up one for herself, making her the trendsetter of the act.

In the 1900s, guinea pigs were introduced to America. Like in Europe, they were used more as pets than food. When they reached the continent, the fluffy piggies were at that time called the English guinea pigs.

But as decades go by and more of their kind were bred until they do not look like their ancestors anymore, the American Cavy Breeders Association (ACBA) started calling them the American short haired guinea pigs in the 1960s. At the moment, there are 10 guinea pig breeds that are recognized by the organization.

As for their name, some speculate that the “guinea” came from the price you need to be able to buy one in 16th century Europe: one guinea. Others think that it came from French Guiana, a place in South America where European explorers got the creatures.

On the other hand, they were called pigs because of the squealing sound they make when they are happy or agitated. The “wheeek!” sound they produce resembles that of a pig when they experience the same set of emotions.

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What They Look Like

American guinea pigs can grow at a length of 8 to 10 inches (approximately 20.3 to 25.4 cm) long and a weight of about 1.5 to 3 pounds (700 to more than 1,000 grams).

Adults can have up to 20 teeth and they continuously grow as they age, so it is essential that you always give them something to sink their teeth into in order to shorten them.

The average lifespan of an American guinea pig is 7 to 9 years. However, the longest living guinea pig ever recorded was 14 years old; Snowball the guinea pig was able to live that long until its death in February 1979.

Veterinarians recommend that for your furry friend to live that long, you must give it a proper diet, lots of love and attention, and a time of its own.

american guinea pig

Their Personality and Temperament

Being the oldest and most popular breed, you might end up thinking that they grew stubborn and demanding as pets.

Thankfully, they didn’t. In fact, true to their nature since 5000 BC, American guinea pigs are still docile, charming, and eager for attention from their owners.

Unlike common pets like cats and dogs, guinea pigs have no stubborn streak; making them a common gift to children. Because of the demand for these rodents, pet stores like PetSmart and Petco have a few piglets at their disposal.

There is also a very rare incidence of animal bites between guinea pigs and humans. As long as you feed them and give them ample attention once in a while (plus another companion of its kind), American guinea pigs may not learn to be aggressive towards others.

Feeding Recommendations

American guinea pigs are generally healthy creatures when exposed in a healthy environment. However, once they get sick, it might be difficult to nurse them back to health since no vaccines are available for them to be able to fight against common diseases. Not to mention that they have allergies from antibiotics that are made from penicillin.

That is why the best way to prevent them from getting sick in the first place is to provide a healthy diet. Before purchasing or adopting a guinea pig, make sure that you have enough financial resources to provide the basic needs such as food, shelter, preliminary vet care, and another guinea pig.

Yes, guinea pigs must be bought in twos or threes to avoid loneliness to creep in.

For their food, here are some important steps you need to take note:

  • Have a drip bottle always filled with water attached to their cage. Clean it daily and replace the water every four hours to avoid contamination.
  • Provide hay grass-lots of it. Hay would serve both as food and makeshift mattress. Of course, you must make separate portions of it inside the cage. You wouldn’t want your guinea pig eating away its own bedding.
  • At the pet store, ask for rodent food specifically made for guinea pigs. This is to ensure that the food has the nutrient percentage specific for your pet’s species.
  • Give vitamin C-rich vegetables to your guinea pig daily. Their kind is not able to create vitamin C, so the nutrient must be given to them through food. Stick to green, leafy ones.
  • To avoid contamination, clean their food bowl every after meal and remove uneaten vegetables immediately to stop your pet from eating rotten food.
  • In giving fruits such as melon and apples, remove the seeds completely before serving. Aside from choking, the seeds can poison them.
  • To groom and strengthen their teeth, feel free to give carrot sticks.
  • Another way to ensure that your guinea pigs get enough vitamin C is to squeeze in droplets of tomato or orange juice in their water. If it’s diluted well, they won’t notice.
  • Don’t fret once you see your guinea pig eating its own feces. The process is called coprophagy, and it has the same principle as cows regurgitating chewed grass

Guinea Pig Accommodations

Choosing the right shelter for your American guinea pigs can be a daunting task. Here are some guidelines you can consider as you choose the suitable accommodations for them:

  • When it comes to cages, the go-to product for most pet owners is metal cages. They are fine as long as the floor is not made of metal as well since the cold wires can hurt and injure your pets’ feet. Instead, opt for a cage that has a solid bottom.
  • In choosing a cage, remember: the bigger, the better. A large cage can encourage them to scurry around for some exercise.
  • As mentioned before, you need tons of hay grass. They not only serve as bedding and food. They can also be used to absorb bad odors and excrement. Because of this, you must replace them daily.
  • When buying a hay grass, make sure that it didn’t come from pine and cedar. Exposure to these types of hay can be toxic to guinea pigs.
  • Place the cage in an area where there is proper ventilation and the temperature is between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is essential to avoid respiratory problems. Also, guinea pigs are prone to heat stroke because they do not have sweat glands.
  • Aside from the weather conditions, you must consider putting the cage somewhere where Fido or Kitty could not reach it. Guinea pigs are considered preys and therefore a good chase for your four-legged family members.
  • Guinea pigs tend to be hostile once kept in a cage with the same sex. To avoid war, get a companion of the opposite gender (preferably spayed or neutered to avoid unwanted pregnancies) or a friend that grew up with it in the shelter or pet store.
  • Have a small tunnel large enough for your guinea pigs to hide whenever they are stressed. Their mental health is important, too.
  • Skip the treadmill. American guinea pigs have less sturdy legs than hamsters. Using the exercise machine can trigger joint injuries. Walking around the cage is already enough exercise for them.

American Guinea Pig Health

Despite being careful when it comes to their diet and daily activities, there would really be moments wherein illness can strike without a moment’s notice. Below are some ailments that are common among American guinea pigs.

  • Scurvy: Same thing with humans, scurvy is caused by a deficiency in vitamin C. Symptoms include loose teeth, lack of appetite, lethargy or minimal movement (due to swelling joints), and rough and springy fur. The most obvious way to treat this is of course through diet, but you also must ask your veterinarian if your guinea pig’s case might need supplementation.
  • Pneumonia: This respiratory ailment can be acquired from poor ventilation and dirty environment. Once you observe discharges from the ears and nose, constant sneezing, coughing, and/or wheezing, and rapid weight loss, contact your vet immediately.
  • Skin abscess: It is characterized by a red sore or bump that is filled with pus. Abscesses can be due to many things such as tooth infection, a wound that didn’t heal properly or battle injuries from a fight with another guinea pig.

Make it a habit to observe your pet’s skin for any lumps and if it grooms one part of its body excessively. Once you find an abscess, bring your pet to the vet so that he or she can drain the pus and administer treatment. Do NOT drain the abscess yourself.

  • Dental issues: As mentioned before, guinea pigs’ teeth continue to grow as they grow older. If not trimmed properly by eating semi-hard foods or gnawing at chew toys, the teeth can injure the insides and outsides of the mouth.

The overgrowth can also prevent your pets from eating properly due to the pain. If the condition gets worse, your vet might recommend trimming the excess teeth surgically.

  • Pododermatitis: It is a condition wherein the feet develop infected sores or overgrowth, making it difficult to walk. This can be brought by obesity, dirty bedding, and cage, or overgrown fingernails. If you see your guinea pig limping around while walking (if it can still manage to do so) and not eating properly, check its foot. Once you see sores, take your pet to the vet ASAP.

Grooming Needs

American guinea pigs are significantly low maintenance than other four-legged pets like dogs and cats. However, they still do need some pampering here and there.

Although they have short hair that they can groom on their own, it doesn’t hurt to give them a bath every once in a while, especially if their fur got caught into something wet and sticky (their poop, perhaps?).

Giving them a cool bath during the hot weather also helps in cooling them down and prevent heatstroke.

Brushing their fur weekly can also enhance healthy hair growth. Not to mention that it encourages bonding time between you and your pet.

As for its nails, trim them at least monthly or as soon as you hear them clicking on the floor whenever you find your pet scurrying around the floor of the cage.

Interaction with Children and Other Animals

Even though they are docile enough to be handled by children, the main caretaker of the guinea pigs should still be the adults.

Children are highly curious and they might end up getting hurt from forcing the furry newcomer into doing their bidding. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let the kids approach the guinea pigs. Instead, use the opportunity to teach them about responsibility.

You can start by teaching them how to properly carry the guinea pig. As previously mentioned, American guinea pigs can grow up to 3 pounds-as heavy as an adult human brain-which can be relatively heavy to a young child.

In carrying a guinea pig, have one hand holding the rump while the other hand cradles the belly. That way, all the weight is supported equally in both hands. As much as possible, ask kids to avoid picking up the pet with one hand.

Where to Get One

Large-chain pet stores such as PetSmart and Petco offer American guinea pigs (sometimes Abyssinian as well). Unfortunately, no one is entirely sure if the pets they are selling come from reputable breeders or from backyard mills.

To get the best and healthiest American guinea pig, contact a reputable breeder instead. Or better yet, adopt one from a rescue center near you.

Some families, once they get tired of the responsibility, eventually abandon these furry creatures to fend for themselves. Surely, there is one guinea pig out there in a shelter that is suitable for your family.

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Carlye Yancey
Carlye Yancey

Between internships, volunteering, and paid jobs over the last 4 years, I have pretty much-gained experience with domesticated animals. Currently being in school for my veterinary technology degree, I spend my leisure time with 3 critters that I own.

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