Guinea Pig Fact File
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Captive 4-6 years
The guinea pig is a species which is now only known from captive individuals. They were first domesticated around 5000 BC from a species which has since gone extinct but was found in the Andes Mountain.
In captivity these animals are maintained both to be pets and for food which was the original purpose of their domestication.
They are able to breed year round and young are born with eyes open and the ability to feed almost immediately. Weaning takes place after just three weeks.
Guinea pigs are herbivores but their digestive tract is not long enough to derive the full benefit from their food so they often consume their feces.
Read on to learn more about these magnificent mammals.
What does the guinea pig look like?
Much like their namesakes the guinea pig is round and plump. They are covered by a coat of fur. Through selective breeding in captivity these animals have been bred in multiple colors. Their coat can feature a mixture of black, gray, brown, yellow or white hairs.
In captivity they have been bred with long hair. It is believed that the ancestors of this species had short hair.
The eyes may be colored red or a dark color.
Their incisor teeth are large and grow throughout the life of the guinea pig to ensure even wear. The length of the teeth is maintained through chewing on their food.
The guinea pig has 14 toes. Their are four on each of the front feet and 3 on the two back feet.
These small animals measure 20-25cm (8-10in) long with an average weight of 1.1kg (2.5lbs). They do not have a tail at the end of the body. Males tend to be longer than females.
What does the guinea pig eat?
These animals are herbivores. Their diet includes grass, fruit and leaf matter. As they are kept across the globe there is high variability in their diet. In some areas they are primarily feed on a commercially produced pellet.
Guinea pigs do not a long enough digestive tract to allow it to process the grass they feed on. To supplement this they engage in coprophagy, or eating their own feces. This helps to recycle the B vitamins, fiber and bacteria they need to properly digest food.
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Where can you find the guinea pig?
The ancestors of the guinea pig are thought to have occurred in Peru but now this species is only known from captive individuals. It is believed that the ancestor went extinct.
Populations of guinea pigs are now maintained in domestic settings on every continent except for Antarctica.
Some invasive populations have been recorded but none have survived long-term.
What kind of environment does the guinea pig live in?
This species is only known from captivity.
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How does the guinea pig produce its young?
This species is able to breed year round. There is a slight peak in spring.
Where two males are kept with females they will fight one another for access. As they do not occur naturally breeding is influenced by humans. As such they may be monogamous if kept in a pair or polygamous if kept with multiple partners.
Mating typically takes place at night.
Young are born after a 60 to 70 days gestation period. Females may breed two to three times each year.
Each litter produces between two and six young. At birth the young are fully furred and the eyes are open. They start to nibble food early and can wean as early as 14 days old.
Weaning takes place between 14 and 21 days old.
Males are sexually mature by 56-70 days old with females maturing by 67 days old.
What does the guinea pig do with its day?
The vocalization of the guinea pig sounds like the squeal of a pig and is thought to be part of the reason they were given their name. They also produce whines, whistles, purrs and chirps.
These animals are social and will engage in close contact with other members of their species. Males can be extremely aggressive towards one another. In captivity males tend to be separated to keep them from fighting.
They are often seen huddled together in groups for warmth.
Guinea pigs sleep for just 4% of their day. Each session of sleep is just 6 minutes long. Activity is concentrated around dusk and dawn meaning this species is crepuscular.
If they become excited this species will jump in to the air repeatedly.
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Predators and Threats
What is impacting the survival of the guinea pig?
As these animals are kept captive they do not have any natural predators but may be taken by predators in the area they are kept if the enclosure is not secure.
If a threat approaches a guinea pig will either stand still to avoid detection or they will startle easily and sprint for cover.
The ancestors of the guinea pig are now considered extinct in the wild. These animals are known only from captive populations. They are kept in large numbers of all continents except for Antarctica.
This species was initially domesticated for meat which still occurs.
The domestic guinea pig is also referred to as a cavy.
The name ‘guinea pig’ is thought to have come from these animals being transported from the port of Guiana in South America or being transported through ports in Guinea in West Africa.
A male guinea pig is known as a ‘boar’ and the female is a ‘sow.’
The ‘porcellus’ portion of their family name comes from a Latin word meaning ‘little pig.’
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Hixon, J. 2011. “Cavia porcellus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 07, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cavia_porcellus/
Honolulu Zoo Society. 2021. Guinea Pig – Honolulu Zoo Society. [online] Available at: <https://www.honoluluzoo.org/animals/guinea-pig/#1554430978185-8e979d62-9340> [Accessed 7 November 2021].
Invasive Species Compendium. 2021. Cavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig). [online] Available at: <https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/89562> [Accessed 8 November 2021].
Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Guinea Pig | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/guinea-pig> [Accessed 8 November 2021].
Jungledragon.com. 2021. Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) – JungleDragon. [online] Available at: <https://www.jungledragon.com/specie/1028/guinea_pig.html> [Accessed 8 November 2021].
Smithsonian’s National Zoo. 2021. Guinea pig. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/guinea-pig> [Accessed 8 November 2021].
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. 2021. Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://happyhollow.org/explore/zoo/zoo-on-the-hill/guinea-pig/> [Accessed 8 November 2021].
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