Skinny Pigs – Everything You Need To Know

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Have you ever seen a hairless guinea pig? When pictures of apparently hairless cavies began circulating on the internet, many people thought that they had been shaved by abusive owners. Others believed that the pictures were photoshopped.

As it turns out, the pigs in the pictures were neither photoshopped nor shaved but were actually a breed of almost-hairless cavies called ‘Skinny Pigs’. Many casual pet owners had never seen or heard of them before.

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History

In Western cultures, the guinea pig remains a popular choice of household pet ever since it was introduced by European traders in the 1600s.

Guinea pigs were frequently used in laboratory experiments since the 17th century, given their small body size and suitable anatomy. This is what led to their name becoming immortalized as an epithet – “guinea pig” being used when referring to a test subject. They are no longer, however, the primary choice as test subjects, having been replaced by other rodents such as mice and rats.

In 1978, a group of scientists was conducting experiments at their laboratory in Montreal’s Armand Frappier Institute, when they discovered a genetic mutation that had spontaneously occurred in some of the test guinea pig subjects. This mutation had caused the affected guinea pigs to lose all of the hair on their bodies.

These mutated lab strains were then crossed with regular guinea pigs in order to give birth to skinny pigs which have no hair on their bodies except for the muzzles, feet, and legs.

At first, the skinny pig continued to be utilized in lab experiments for research purposes until they were introduced into the pet trade in the 1990s. Even though it’s a pretty new addition to the lineup of household pets, skinny pigs are beginning to grow in popularity around the world, particularly in the United States, Canada, and the European continent.

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Physical Characteristics

Based on appearance alone, the only difference between a skinny pig and a regular guinea pig is its lack of hair. Besides the hair growing on the feet, legs, and muzzle area, some hairless guinea pigs also have a ridge of hair running down the length of their backs.

Those that have an excessive amount of hair around the facial area, extending up the neck and onto the shoulders are known as “werewolves”. Some extremely hairy werewolf skinny pigs have hair going all the way down their back to the tail. Pregnancy-related hormones have been found to be responsible for the gain or loss of hair in skinny pigs.

A skinny pig’s uncovered body reveals wrinkled skin and a plump, chubby figure. A well-fed and healthy skinny’s body should look fairly normal with no odd bones or ribs showing. Its skin may be oily to the touch and should be rubbed with baby lotion once every few days to keep in supple and smooth.

Having no hair also makes its skin particularly vulnerable to scratches or cuts; therefore, care must be taken to remove sharp or abrasive objects from its playpen.

Having little to no hair, the skinny pig lacks protective covering and therefore special care must be provided. Direct sunlight and prolonged exposure to sunlight should be avoided at all costs as skinny pigs can develop sunburn and skin cancer.

Since they have a harder time maintaining their body temperature due to the lack of hair, skinnies need to eat more protein-rich foods. Blankets and plenty of warm bedding material should be given to help them retain body heat.

Although it lacks hair, one cool trait that the naked guinea pig possesses is the ability to have colors and patterns right on its skin. Some of the most popular coat variations for skinny pigs are the Himalayan, Dutch, and the Tortoiseshell.   

Characteristics

Based on appearance alone, the only difference of the skinny pig from the regular guinea pig is its lack of hair. Besides the hair growing on the feet, legs, and muzzle area, some hairless guinea pigs also have a ridge of hair running down the length of their backs.

Those that have an excessive amount of hair around the facial area, extending up the neck and onto the shoulders are known as “werewolves”. Some extremely hairy werewolf skinny pigs have hair going all the way down their back to the tail. Pregnancy-related hormones have been found to be responsible for the gain, or loss, of hair in skinny pigs.

A skinny pig’s uncovered body reveals wrinkled skin and a plump, chubby figure. A well-fed and healthy skinny’s body should look fairly normal, with no odd bones or ribs showing. Its skin may be oily to touch and should be rubbed with baby lotion once every few days to keep in supple and smooth.

Having no hair also makes its skin particularly vulnerable to scratches or cuts, therefore, care must be taken to remove sharp or abrasive objects from its playpen.

Although it lacks hair, one cool trait that the naked guinea pig possesses is the ability to have colors and patterns right on its skin. Some of the most popular coat variations for skinny pigs are the Himalayan, Dutch, and the tortoiseshell.

Behavior and Special Abilities

Skinny pig behavior doesn’t generally deviate too far from normal guinea pig behavior but some owners insist that it is more outgoing and friendlier than other haired species. Like most guinea pigs, skinnies are good swimmers, poor climbers, and use motion as a means of distracting predators while they run for cover.

Vocalization is the primary method of communication used among guinea pigs, and the skinny pig is no exception. Here are the most common sounds they’ve been known to make:

  • Whistling sound – shows that the skinny pig is excited. It’ll usually make this sound when it knows there’s food on the way. It also uses this sound to call for help if it gets lost.
  • Purring or bubbling sound – it makes this sound when it’s enjoying itself, kind of like a cat does when being petted. It sometimes makes the sound during grooming and when exploring new places.
  • Rumbling sound – used during courting as a display of male dominance. The sound is also sometimes used when the skinny pig is scared or angry.
  • Chattering sound – they’ll make this sound as a warning call to nearby family members.
  • Shrieking sound – in response to pain or danger, a skinny pig might make this sound.
  • Chirping sound – this sound isn’t heard as often as the others, but it’s believed to be related to stress or discomfort. The sound resembles a bird softly singing.

Skinny pigs seldom bite or scratch and usually allow themselves to be picked up and carried. They’re curious creatures that love to explore, but at the same time, they know the boundaries and won’t attempt to escape from their shelter.

They’re very social animals and it’s recommended to always keep them in pairs. However, male skinny pigs should never be kept together with other dominant male skinnies as they might fight to be the alpha. This is especially true if there are other female guinea pigs in their group (called a herd).

Similarly, if there are multiple females in a herd, there should never be more than one male. Male skinny pigs will fight for attention and can seriously injure themselves if not separated right away.

Health Care and Maintenance

A skinny pig will do its best to clean its skin by grooming daily. It might have difficulty though, so help might be needed in keeping its skin supple and smooth.

Due to its lack of a coat, oil is produced at a faster rate and a skinny pig will frequently end the day with very greasy and oily skin. A little baby lotion and a warm cloth are all that’s needed to give it a gentle rubdown.

Skinny pigs don’t need to take to take baths very frequently. One problem that most other breeds of cavy experience is that urine and feces become stuck and matted to the fur. The skinny pig has no such issue to worry about given its lack of hair.

As with most guinea pigs, skinnies cannot manufacture their own Vitamin C and it must therefore be supplied from an external source such as cavy supplements or fresh fruits and vegetables. Apples, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, and spinach are a great source of nutrients. A deficiency in Vitamin C can lead to a deadly disease called scurvy which causes a general weakening of the immune system.

Some foods, however, can be harmful to skinny pigs. A few such examples are onion and garlic-type plants, rhubarb, buttercups, and bracken. These should be completely avoided as they can cause seizures, vomiting, and possibly death.

Buyer’s Guide

Since breeding a skinny pig takes a certain level of experience, finding good breeders can prove quite challenging as they are not too common. Searching online or on guinea pig fan forums is a good place to start. It’s recommended that you look for someone that you can meet up within your local area, as guinea pigs get stressed by long periods spent in shipping containers.

Before doing this, however, it’s a good idea to check local pet shelters to see if there are any skinny pigs to rescue. The chances aren’t that high of there actually being one but it never hurts to try. Rescuing a homeless skinny pig from a life of seclusion and sadness is probably one of the best things you can do as a responsible pet owner.

Other online platforms exist that help to connect pet owners with potential new owners. Sometimes owners can no longer keep a pet due to unforeseen circumstances and in these cases; they can opt to find a new home for their pet rather than sending it to a shelter or having it euthanized.

By connecting with these pet owners and adopting their guinea pig, you’re helping shelters save resources and get a new family friend in return, usually for a very low cost as well.

Most local pet stores don’t usually carry exotic breeds of guinea pig like the skinny. Some PetSmart and Petco stores do have them, but they are quite rare and it will depend on the individual stores.

It will take a degree of patience and dedication in order to find a good skinny pig from a responsible breeder, but don’t give up hope if you haven’t had any luck yet.

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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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