There’s plenty of fun and interesting facts that guinea pig owners might not be aware of such as that guinea pigs have more bones than humans or that they secrete a grooming liquid out of their eyes. If you want to learn more, we have an article for you and you can check it out right now.
Origin of the name
The name of this gorgeous pets can be a bit deceiving since they are certainly not pigs and they, in fact, do not come from Guinea but rather they originate from the Andes region of South America. The origin of their name is a mystery to this day.
One common theory is that because they were first brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 1500s via Guinea in Africa, most people came to the conclusion that they came from that area. The name could also be a corruption of “Guiana”, which is an area in South America.
While most people tend to think of guinea pigs as a close relative to hamsters, these pets are more closely related to chinchillas, coypus, porcupines, agoutis, and capybaras. These rodents are members of the Caviidae family, which includes rodents native to South America.
Hamsters are much smaller than guinea pigs and they are omnivorous which means that they can eat both vegetation and meat whilst guinea pigs are strict herbivores.
Guinea pigs were first domesticated around 2000BC in the Andes, Bolivia, and Peru and unfortunately, they were not kept as pets, since they were used mainly for food. It is still possible for some children to have kept them as pets during that time, but they only became more widespread as pets in the 16th century when they were brought back to Europe by Spanish explorers.
At first, these cute and strange little creatures were kept as companions for the wealthy and the elite. The domesticated guinea pigs don’t exist in the wild anymore but there are still other breeds of wild guinea pigs in the world such as the Montane or the Brazilian guinea pig.
The body of a guinea pig
Guinea pigs have an odd number of toes, four on their front feet and only three on their back feet. While this helps them be very good at tunneling and burrowing, it makes them very bad climbers and they can only scale low-pitched ramps. This is why a pet parent will need to make sure there are no hazards within their environment since guinea pigs are very inquisitive.
Compared to humans, guinea pigs are tiny little creatures but one surprising fact is that they have more bones in their bodies than humans do. Guinea pigs have a total of 258 bones while humans have 206 by adulthood.
While guinea pigs may not have the best eyesight they have about a 340-degree wide range of vision and they can see partial colors which means that they are not color blind like other small mammals.
Guinea pigs live much longer than other pet rodents such as hamsters and with the right nutrition, suitable company, care, and accommodation they can live for up to seven years. The oldest recorded guinea pig, however, lived to the impressive old age of 15 years and 10 months. Its name was Snowball.
Guinea pigs and food
Since guinea pigs are herbivores their diets consist mainly of hay and grass. The healthiest hay that you can purchase for your critter is Timothy Hay since it is low in fat and high in fiber, not to mention that it has a chewy texture that guinea pigs love.
A guinea pig still enjoys foraging outside for grasses, dandelions, and cloves. Their teeth never stop growing throughout their lives and this is why it is important to give them something to constantly gnaw at so that they can wear their teeth down to a manageable size.
Because they do not produce Vitamin C naturally in their bodies, they are one of the few pets who require to have their diets supplemented with this vitamin. Vitamin C can be obtained from dark leafy greens and vegetables and they can also be found in most enriched pellets.
Guinea pigs need to eat constantly which is why they are often known as “bottomless pits”. If they go longer than 8 hours without food they can die so it is important to make sure your pet always has plenty of fresh food and water around.
It’s not uncommon for pet parents to see their guinea pigs eat their own poop sometimes and while this might be unthinkable and gross for us, you should never stop your critter from doing it. This behavior is not only normal for them but also highly beneficial since it helps improve the digestive process.
Sleep and abilities
Guinea pigs are crepuscular creatures and they are most active during dusk and dawn but unlike other small pets, they are not that fond of sleep. They sleep for only around 4 hours and are awake for up to 20 hours of the day.
This is one of the reasons why they always need access to food, water, toys, safe hiding places, and companion guinea pigs to keep them occupied and entertained.
As far as abilities are concerned, these pets have very good hearing and they are much more sensitive to sounds than humans are. In the wild, this helps them hear predators so that they have time to run away, but as pets, it means that you should not be too noisy around your guinea pigs.
Another interesting fact about these critters is their intelligence which is very high and allows them to have excellent spatial memory. They remember learned pathways to food for months. Their good memory and intelligence allows them to be taught to use a litter box and do tricks.
Guinea pigs are very timid and when frightened they will often either freeze or run away as quickly as they can. They are not aggressive pets and they rarely attacked or bite even in situations where they may feel threatened.
Even when they are not threatened, they still love to spend most of their time hiding, which is why you need to make sure they have plenty of places to hide.
When they are excited, guinea pigs can jump straight up and down and that makes some owners jokingly say that their pets can breakdance.
They like company
Your guinea pig will cherish your company but if you want it to thrive you will need to get it a companion since these critters need to be with others of their own kind and should always be kept either in pairs or in small groups.
If housed alone, guinea pigs can become lonely, depressed, and stressed. Symptoms include a disinterest in food and low energy. Even if your pet has a pal to play with, they still need your company so set time aside to play, cuddle, and talk to your guinea pigs regularly.
They also like to chat with each other by using several noises. There is the famous “wheek-wheek” call which is a sign of excitement and it can also be used when a guinea pig wants to find a friend. Then there is the purring sound which is associated with feeling chilled out and content. When they are exploring, they emit short “putt-putt” noises.
More fun facts
There are three types of guinea pigs. The American/English breed which has short hair with a smooth coat. The Abyssinian guinea pig which has a wiry coat with hair that forms swirls that are similar to rosettes and there’s the Peruvian guinea pig which has straight, long, and very silky hair.
Guinea pigs also like to groom their hair and they spend a fair share of the day caring for their beautiful coat. They don’t need hair products since they produce their own. Their eyes secrete a milky white substance that they rub into the hair using their little paws for self-grooming.
Guinea pigs are born precocial and that means that they are born with hair, fully functioning teeth and open eyes. In just a few hours after their birth, they can already start running and eating solid food.