Silkie Guinea Pig – All You Need to Know

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The Silkie guinea pig, also known as a Sheltie, is a breed that’s known for its long, smooth coat that flows over its body. Its name is derived due to the silkiness of its fur. The Sheltie name was given by the Europeans, but the reason for the name change isn’t apparent.

Silkies are a well-known breed in the cavy community and one of the most frequent participants in guinea pig shows. A guinea pig is referred to by fanciers as a “cavy”.

Silkies look similar to Peruvians but the difference is that their coat grows all in the same direction – from the head down towards the torso. There shouldn’t be any part in reverse – the hair needs to flow continuously. The coat should also be longer towards the rear of the Silkie rather than the front.

Is Sheltie For All?

It’s an extremely attractive and popular breed of guinea pig. However, this isn’t a breed recommended for children, as some daily maintenance is required to keep its silky coat smooth and clean. Its long hair may also need trimming from time to time. It’s considered to be a shy and rather timid breed compared to its more boisterous family members.

Silkies are considered “rare” in the sense that they aren’t seen a lot at common pet store chains such as Petco or PetSmart. A little bit of extra effort is needed to procure one as a pet. Within the cavy community though, they’re not very rare at all. Most owners that own Shelties have experience with guinea pigs and are heavily invested in the competitive scene.

The governing organizations in charge of setting the breed standards for guinea pig shows are the American Cavy Breeders Association in the United States and Canada, the British Cavy Council in the United Kingdom, the Australian National Cavy Council in Australia, and the New Zealand Cavy Council in New Zealand.

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History Of Silkie Guinea Pigs

An unfortunate truth is that the histories of most guinea pig breeds aren’t very well documented. The reason is that the appeal of cavy clubs didn’t exactly kick off until perhaps the 19th century and they weren’t (and still aren’t) as popular as dog and cat associations.

However, it is known that Silkies were first bred and recognized as a breed in Southern California sometime in the ‘70s. As cavy fanciers continued to group up and share their passion, more exotic breeds were created in an effort to add more diversity to the somewhat limited pool of guinea pigs at the time.

This is what leads to the creation of the Silkie; the result of a crossbreed between a Self-Black and a Peruvian. The first Silkies to hit the public eye were from a litter where two out of four were born without rosettes. It took a while to get the breed kick-started. But when it did, fans and supporters came pouring in like crazy.

Today, Shelties are quite frequently chosen as pets due to their gentle and laid-back personalities.

cute silkie guinea pig

Physical Characteristics

In order for a guinea pig to be considered a Silkie, it must meet the criteria in the breed standard set forth by the ACBA.

Silkies are characterized by their long silky coats and hair growing in one direction. They must never have rosettes or any hair growing towards its head. If you look at a Silkie from above, its form will resemble a teardrop.

Cavy breeds can have various possible colorations and patterns. Below are three of the most common:

  • Self – One plain color with no variations or patterns. Silkies can have any of the following colors: Slate, Beige, Lilac, White, Cream, Buff, Golden, Red, Chocolate, and Black.
  • Ticked – Each strand of hair will be marked with both black and red. A silver variation also occurs in black and white.
  • Patterned – These are usually specific colors with specific markings. The most common are Brindle, Dutch, Himalayan, Magpie, Tan/Otter/Fox, Tortoiseshell, and Roan/Dalmatian.

Besides these characteristics, cavies can also come in special versions called “Satin”. Silkies, along with Abyssinians, Peruvians, Teddies, and American Shorthairs, can have satin versions. A satin cavy has hollow hair shafts which cause its coat to have a satin-like glossy sheen.

It’s caused by a recessive gene and can be found on all types of coats whether long, rough or short. As beautiful as satin cavies are, the gene is also sadly linked to a bone disease called Osteodystrophy (OD) which can begin showing symptoms when a cavy is around 12 to 18 months old.

Behavior

Silkies are shy initially and need time to warm up to a human or fellow cavy companion. They aren’t hyperactive like Abyssinians either. Rather, you’ll find that they tend to play by the rules and never take risks.

As a Sheltie begins to build its bond with you, however, you’ll find that there’s a tendency to open up a little and not take life too seriously.

To get Silkies out of their cage and start some socializing activities, it’s recommended to use treats to bribe them out. Using food and small snacks is a great way to build trust and help the Silkie become more accustomed to human presence.

Silkies communicate with other cavies the same way all guinea pigs do – with a series of various squeaky vocalizations that all have a different meaning. They aren’t as loud as other breeds, though, and tend to mostly keep to themselves even when there are other cavies around.

Guinea pigs can “wheek” when they’re excited or “chatter” when they sense danger and want to send out a warning message to nearby loved ones.

Besides that, Silkies act the same and have the same behavior atypical of guinea pigs. They enjoy short walks in an outdoor setting with fresh air and sunlight and about an hour of “play time” each day with their human owners.

Health Care & Maintenance

Satin Silkies may need a bit of extra care and attention. There is evidence that satins have a high probability of contracting bone diseases such as Osteodystrophy and Paget’s Disease. For this reason, it is necessary to observe your Silkie’s daily behavior and watch for any signs of weakness, wobbly walking, or difficulty eating.

OD is an incurable disease and a very painful burden for your pet to carry. In Finland and Sweden, cavy associations refuse to register Satins or offspring of Satins because of animal welfare concerns.

Guinea pigs need things to gnaw on in order to keep their teeth filed down. Their teeth never stop growing, so failure to provide chewable objects may result in your Silkie developing mouth injuries due to its inability to eat properly or broken teeth as a result of chewing the cage bars.

It is possible for broken teeth to grow back crooked or never at all. To help your pet keep its teeth in good condition, invest in commercial calcium chews or mineral blocks, or you can use ordinary household materials such as wooden blocks and shredded newspaper.

Long-haired breeds like Silkies may need assistance with keeping cool during hot summer months. Make sure there’s always a fresh amount of water in their bottle and the cage is set in a cool area with air conditioning or plenty of ventilation. You can place ice packs or frozen water bottles under the cage as an additional measure.

Silkies can also sometimes have difficulty with walking or even seeing due to hindrances caused by their long, flowing hair. Hair around the ankles and feet can often cause a Silkie to lose its footing and fall down. Hair near its eyes can obstruct eyesight and a Silkie with these “bangs” covering its face can essentially walk around blindly, bumping into walls and objects left and right.

To prevent this, consider trimming its hair whenever necessary. Electric clippers or shavers are not recommended as the sound can scare and traumatize a Silkie. Instead, hold your pet down with a warm towel and use a pair of scissors to carefully trim as needed. If you’re feeling anxious about the procedure, veterinarians can help you get it done.

Are you beginning to understand how much work it takes to maintain a Silkie? Wait, there’s more. You’ll need to brush its hair at least once a day. You can use a fine-toothed comb and a brush to get rid of excess hair and dirt, as well as remove knots and tangles.

Don’t brush too hard or you might scrape the bristles against the guinea pig’s skin and it won’t enjoy that – at all.

Diet

To keep those beautiful locks of hair in pristine condition, you’ll need to make sure your Silkie is eating healthy every day and fulfilling its daily nutritional requirements.

A typical guinea pig’s diet usually consists of plenty of Timothy hay as the staple, food pellets for cavies, water, and additional fruits and veggies provided throughout the week.

It is well-known that guinea pigs cannot produce Vitamin C in their bodies, thus, must be provided with fresh fruits or vegetables to help boost their immune systems. Vitamin C deficiency can cause scurvy – a disease that leads to rapid deterioration of the skin and hair and causes weak bones/joints.

Leafy greens and vegetables are recommended in small quantities. Small portions of fruit can be used as treats while training Silkies or just as a reward for good behavior.

Do not feed anything with caffeine, chocolate or citrus fruits to a Silkie, as these can cause health problems and put your pet at risk.

Watch out for obesity – a guinea pig that’s consuming too many empty calories daily can take on extra weight which can deteriorate its health. Sugar is one of the main culprits responsible for obesity, so cut out any fruits or vegetables that have high sugar contents.

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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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