Guinea Pig Facts: Learn About Guinea Pigs And Why They Make Excellent Pets

As many guinea pig owners will surely attest to, these delightful animals communicate using cute, high pitched squeaks and squeals.

And some have really funky hairstyles!!!


Intrigued? Let’s have a closer look what guinea pigs are, discuss different breeds, and finish with some captivating guinea pig facts.

What are guinea pigs?

Guinea pigs are tailless rodents with a robust body, short limbs, small ears and a large head and eyes. They are relatively small animals, only weighing between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds.

Most guinea pigs are born with four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet with constantly growing toe nails.

Though they have a good grip, their compacted, stout bodies mean they are poor climbers. But, that’s maybe a good thing for owners of pet guinea pigs.

Curious name, where does it come from?

The scientific name for guinea pigs is cavia porcellus with porcellus being Latin for ‘little pig’.

However, in biological terms, guinea pigs are not closely related to pigs, nor do they hail from Guinea – they are rodents from South America.

So, why do they have this name?

Why the are called guinea pigs is not completely known, but there seem to be two main theories.

  • The term guinea pig comes from the word guinea, which sailors used in the 1500s to describe things that were far across the sea.
  • They are named after the country of Guiana in South America where they were brought to Europe from by Spanish explorers.

Any other names?

Actually yes!

Cavia porcellus – or guinea pigs to you and I – are also called cavies or cavy.

These names are mainly used by breeders and refer to their scientific classification as being part of the genus cavia, which includes some other rodents from South America.

In German guinea pigs are known as meersweinchen, which means ‘little sea pigs’. That’s even more curious than the name guinea pig!

And in Spanish they are known as either el cobayo or conejillo de indias. Or simply, cuy!

I mention the Spanish name because if these little creatures could speak to humans, the majority of them would use Spanish to communicate.

Where can we find them today?


While domesticated guinea pigs are now only found in our homes, petting zoos and wildlife parks, their wild counterparts are still out there freely roaming around.

Wanna see one?

Well, you’ll need to head to South America.

Yep, that’s where wild guinea pigs hang out today. You can find them across the continent of South America.

They live in such places as the grassy plains of northern Chile and Peru, rocky areas of northern Argentina, and in forest edges in southeastern Brazil.

They inhabit the burrows of other animal species or tunnels and crevices formed by vegetation – they do not dig their own homes!

Family is important

In the wild, guinea pigs live in a small groups of about 10.


The head of the family is a single male (the boar) and he might have two or three females (sows) who stay with him along with any young guinea pigs they have produced.

Baby guinea pigs are called pups.


While domesticated guinea pigs have become somewhat diurnal to match the lifestyle of humans, wild ones are crepuscular creatures and most active during dawn and dusk.

What do they eat?


Wild guinea pigs eat plant material – grasses, leaves, fruit etc.

Domesticated species will live mainly on a diet of hay (Timothy hay is a good one) and pelleted guinea pig food, plus limited amounts of leafy greens and fresh root vegetables.

For more detailed dietary information please see out article on guinea pig care.

Relationship with humans

Depending on what you read, the guinea pig might have been first domesticated about 5000 years ago by Andean tribes of present day Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The reason for this domestication of the guinea pig is almost certainly so they could be used primarily as food sources.

They ate them?!!

Yep, they sure did.

And if you go to Peru you will find them being eaten to this day. In Peru, a guinea pig is considered a culinary delicacy.

Worship and folklore


It wasn’t all all just about the eating.

Guinea pigs are deeply embedded in Andean culture and folklore, with many communities across the centuries worshiping them and using them in traditional healing rituals.

People would give them as gifts at wedding ceremonies or for special guests, and, to this day, guinea pigs are rubbed against the bodies of patients by folk doctors to try and diagnose illnesses.

Maybe that sounds made up? I assure you, it’s not.

Some parts of the Andes do not have access to modern medicine and people will rely on a local folk doctor to try and cure them with the aid of a guinea pig.

It is thought that if one rubs a guinea pig on a patient then the guinea pig will absorb – or take on – the illness of the patient.

Some guinea pigs are even cut open afterwards and their entrails are examined to see if the ‘cure’ was effective!!

Another idea was that a guinea pig would be rubbed over a patient’s body and when they squeaked that was the infected area.

Wild stuff! Certainly imaginative.

I think I prefer the second idea a lot more than the first. Much more guinea pig friendly.

Pet guinea pigs

Native Andean people developed selective breeding practices to develop multiple varieties of domestic guinea pig.

After the Spanish conquests of South America, conquistadors started taking guinea pigs back to Europe where these cool looking, varied and exotic rodents became a big hit among the higher classes and royalty.

Guinea pigs are extremely popular across the world maybe because, aside from their general cuteness, they are a pretty low maintenance pet, friendly and enjoy human affection.

They can be picked up and cuddled with minimal fuss and it’s unusual for these animals to bite.

They don’t take up too much space and have few health problems if cared for correctly.

Is it true that young males will try and mate with their mothers?!

Yep, that one is true! So just be careful if you decide to try and breed. They will also mate with their female siblings!

Common breeds of domestic guinea pigs

Let’s have a look at some of the most popular breeds of domesticated guinea pigs.

Abyssinian and Abyssinian satin


Lifespan: 5-6 or 7 years

Colors: tortoiseshell, roan, brindle, albino, dalmatian, brown, black, dutch, himalayan

Personality: friendly, outgoing, vocal, somewhat mischievous

Their distinctive coats make them stand out from other guinea pig breeds. Described as a rosette pattern (most have 6 rosettes), their fur is coarse and tall, curling, whirling and swirling around itself.

Think 1980s glam rock band!

The hair is the only real difference between the two animals.

Its kind of a good hair day vs bad hair day situation with the satin guinea pig as the former – its coat having a satin sheen that glistens in the sunlight.

Whether or not this breed is good for first time guinea pig owners is a bit open for debate.

Personally, we think they are a great first guinea pig due to their fun personality, but we can understand why some people may feel that their excitable nature might make them difficult to manage at first.

The other thing to note is that they do require regular grooming (every couple of days) to ensure their fur does not become knotted and matted.

But we see this as a positive too because it’s a great way to spend time with them.

Peruvian and Peruvian satin


Lifespan: 6-8 years

Colors: white, black, brown, cream, tan, gray, agouti (grey or dull brown), bicolor and tricolor

Personality: curious, social, affectionate

These beautiful rodents are known for their long hair.

If the Abyssinian guinea pig is 1980s glam rock then these guys would blend in best with the 1990s grunge scene.

The top layer of hair can actually grow up to around 20 inches (50cm) in length and sometimes it cascades down over the guinea pig’s face so it can be tricky to know which end the head is at!

This makes them pretty adorable, but also means they require a lot of grooming – daily and regular trimming.

Though, as stated above, we think this is a nice problem for owners to have 🙂

The difference between the two breeds?

Just that coat again. Identical in almost every way other than the satin having more sheen to it’s long coat.

Both of these breeds are less common than other guinea pig breeds, but if you do manage to find one of these gorgeous animals you will find it to be curious and friendly around people.

Silkie and Silkie satin


Lifespan: 5-7 years

Colors: variations of solid colors, bicolor black and white, agouti, Himalayan

Personality: calm and gentle

Another long haired guinea pig, both Silkie and Silkie satin guinea pigs are popular show animals in many countries – Australia in particular.

The added sheen to the satin breed making it perhaps slightly more sought after for showing – judges love a shiny guinea pig!

They look pretty similar to Peruvian guinea pigs, right?

Yeah, it can be tricky to tell the difference, but a Silkie guinea pig’s long hair forms more of a mane feature with the hair flowing around the face rather than covering it like in their Peruvian cousins.

The hair tends to crop the neck giving the impression that these animals are sporting some cool sideburns.

Silkies are the most popular of the long hair breeds. This is probably due to them being the calmest of the guinea pig breeds, so they make a great first pet for children.

However, parents should be aware that these docile, sweet-natured animals can be shy and timid around a lot of noise and activity, so perhaps not best paired with excitable children.

They also need a lot of care and attention when it comes to grooming.

American and American satin


Lifespan: 5-8 years

Colors: many – 10 standard with 19 variations

Personality: lively, affectionate, entertaining

These guys are the most popular guinea pig breed in the world for pet owners.

Any obvious reasons why this may be?

Quite a few, actually. Lets take a look…

  • they have short, straight hair so are low maintenance when it comes to grooming.
  • they are also hardy and don’t tend to pick up many illnesses
  • they are docile, friendly and entertaining – sometimes with a clownish personality.
  • they love to be handled.
  • there are 19 acknowledged color variations so plenty of choice for would be owners.
  • they are the oldest domesticated guinea pigs so perhaps that is why they are so relaxed around people.

The low maintenance and vivacious personalities are probably what appeal to people the most.

And these wonderful little animals will make your life even easier as they enjoy grooming themselves and do a fine job of it.

Teddy and teddy satin


Lifespan: 5-9 years

Colors: white, jet black, gold, chestnut, grey, red, orange, bicolor and tricolor

Personality: very sociable

Their name comes from their appearance, with the dense, tight and soft coat similar to that of a teddy bear.

But the name also matches quite well with their personality because it’s highly likely that your Teddy guinea pig will love snuggling up to you.

Exceptionally gregarious creatures, these social butterflies would really appreciate the company of another guinea pig, so are best taken in pairs or more.

They will also play with other animals in the house that are guinea pig friendly – e.g. rabbits, other small rodents, and even dogs if they are well-trained and of a gentle disposition.

They have cute little upturned noses and have a particularly adorable squeak, making them ever so appealing and stand out from the crowd in the pet store.

The satin Teddy is the most popular of the satin guinea pig breeds.

Other admired breeds

  • Skinny Pig

  • Texel

  • Alpaca

  • Rex

Guinea pig facts

We hope that the information we have provided in this article has been informative and of interest to you.

If you are considering getting a guinea pig or already have one as a pet then you might find our Ultimate Guide To Caring For Your Pet Guinea Pig a helpful read.

In the meantime, here are some interesting and fun guinea pig facts we discovered and thought were really cool. Enjoy 🙂

Facts about guinea pigs

  • The oldest recorded guinea pig as recognized by Guinness World Records is Snowball. He lived to the ripe old age of 14.
  • However, the oldest domestic guinea pig is actually believed to be Sweetie who died in 2014 aged 16.
  • The scientific name for guinea pigs is cavia porcellus. Porcellus is Latin for ‘little pig’.
  • To add to the rather odd link to pigs (they are not related), male guinea pigs are called boars and female guinea pigs are called sows.
  • As prey animals, guinea pigs need to be able to see what’s around them, so 340 degrees vision comes in very handy!
  • Guinea pigs purr when they are happy. They can actually make up to 11 different sounds!!
  • Guinea pigs eat their own poo! This is a perfectly natural thing for them to do and is actually good for their health.
  • Guinea pigs teeth are constantly growing so the need to eat solid food to grind them down.
  • Like people, guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin c on their own so it is vital that they are given sufficient amounts of vitamin c supplements by their owners.
  • Guinea pigs spend about 20 hours of the day awake. They don’t need a lot of sleep. But they do need a good amount of space in which to spend those long periods of awakeness.
  • Guinea pigs are social animals and love the company of other guinea pigs, so it is best if they are kept in pairs or more – guinea pigs live longer with company.

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