Origin: Andes, South America
Lifespan: On average 3-4 years but some varieties like the English live up to 5-6 years
Types: 8 types of breeds that are distinguished by the length of their coat and direction of hair growth

Breed Description
Self Short coated and one solid colour – black, white, beige, lilac, saffron, gold, red, chocolate or slate
Ticked Ticked or flecked appearance – 2 colours
Crested Rosette in middle of their forehead
Abyssinians Short rough hair – covered in rosettes
Rex Harsh bristly/wiry coat
Satins Soft silky coat, hollow hair shaft makes hair glisten
Peruvian Long rough hair
English Short-haired Short smooth hair

Coat colours are dependent on genotype and a wide variety exists.

Guinea Pigs or “Cavies” are docile, easily alarmed and inclined to be quite independent if not handled frequently. Today, the cavie is a popular low maintenance pet and unfortunately, a common laboratory animal. Being nocturnal (active at night and sleep during the day), they prefer subdued lighting and a room temperature ranging between 18-23 degrees Celsius therefore they are indoor pets.

Behavioural Characteristics

As cavies are nocturnal they spend most of their daylight hours sheltering in their nests. They are very sociable and enjoy the company of others, even rabbits. Rabbits and Guinea Pigs can be housed together. It is advisable to keep cavies of the same sex, as like the rabbits they are prolific (producing many offspring) feeders.

Cavies are very timid and can be stressed easily, but will soon come to associate food with who cares for them.

Definite behavioural patterns can be observed as cavies mature:-

  • Allelomimetic – young follow the adults males follow females
  • et-Epimeletic – vocalisation – young call for attention from adults; adults call for attention from human caretakers usually for food
  • Sexual – if cavies sexually mature early, males will follow females
  • Agnostic – males fight vigorously, in the presence of females

Although timid and quiet, cavies tend to be quite highly strung and noisy and many a time make high pitch sounds but when replied in a calm voice, they’ll simmer down. If handled or receive attention frequently are less likely to scratch or bite from personal experience.

Similar to rabbits a hierarchy system of dominance is prevalent in groups, females are less hostile than males but still exert a delicate form of hierachical dominance, especially when in season.

Hygiene and Housing

Housing for Guinea Pigs

Hay Dispenser

Water Bottle Attached to Cage

Litter or Bedding

Dry Pellets

Due to the four seasons in most western countries, cavies can be housed outdoors with a maintained temperature between 18-23 degrees Celsius but cavies are highly strung so, many owners house them indoors. In Malaysia, only indoors. You can, perhaps, on a weekly basis, have an exercise pit at your garden for an hour or two maximum for them to run around and breathe fresh air. Make sure the area of choice used is clean and there are no holes or insects which would be harmful.

Always bear in mind that cavies are very susceptible to cold and sudden changes in temperature.

The essentials of good housing is easy and daily cleaning with disinfectant. Ensure the whole housing is easily insulated, well-ventilated, protection from the elements and visual security. Don’t over crowd the entire area with items, the essentials will do. The sleeping box floor should be waterproof or have 5cm layer of untreated woodchips or sawdust overlaid with hay or straw. The run should have a mesh or solid bottom to prevent escape and predation. Environment should be enriched with pipes and hollow logs where cavies can run (when they want) or hide. Tree or shrub branches can be provided to gnaw on but be aware that some garden plants are toxic (ask your veterinarian for the latest list).

Hygiene is of paramount importance as it reduces unpleasant odours and the risk of disease. Sleeping quarters and run should be cleaned out once a week, to prevent ammonia, moisture and bacteria reaching to harmful levels, causing illness.

Twice monthly, using a weak bleach solution (10-20 mls per litre of water) all cage accessories should be soaked for 15 minutes, rinsed and dried well. Monthly, thoroughly clean all surfaces with the same diluted bleach solution, rinse and dry well.

Nutritional Requirements

Dry Pellets



Cavies are herbivores and like humans cannot synthesise (manufacture) Vitamic C. It is important that Vitamin C is provided in the diet or cavies will die. Cavies are also messy eaters, they kick their food around the cage, and urinate and defecate in food bowls so all uneaten fresh food must be removed daily. Food bowls thoroughly washed and dried. Pellet foods should be dispensed in a hopper and no water bowls.

Cavies should be supplemented with well-washed raw fruit and veges like carrots, beans, cabbage – all high in Vit C. Mortality (death) can be high when cavies are deprived of hay, (due to caecal impaction, fur chewing or fur balls) good quality hay prevents this and it is a good source of dietary fibre and also for hiding in. To avoid gastrointestinal upsets (diarrhoea) do not make sudden changes to their diet.

Rabbit food is not suitable for caives due to incorrect levels of essential protein and minerals. Some rabbit foods contain coccidiostats which causes hepatic toxicity, low gut activity and poor growth.

Fresh water should always be available. This should be dispensed in water bottles with a sipper tube suspended from the side of the cage or pen. Water bowls are not given to cavies because they love to excrete in them therefore leading to contamination and also they love playing water.

Preventative Health Care

  • There are no regular vaccinations for cavies
  • Daily check should include no fur or skin scabs, dandruff, bald spots or itchiness, no discharge from eyes, ears and nose and no diarrhoea
  • Be aware that cavies health can deteriorate rapidy due to stress or illness
  • Cavies incisors are open-rooted and grow continually throughout their life, constant wear from gnawing hard food or wood is essential for promoting balanced wear. Malocclusion can prevent feeding, drinking and swallowing saliva and can be fatal within six days of any of those signs appearing

Common Diseases of Guinea Pigs

Condition Clinical Signs Comment
Scurvy/ hypo-viaminosis C Joint swelling, loss of condition,
poor healing mincing/ reluctant gait
Essential food source high Vit C
Fur Chewing (gastric) Fur-balls, gastric irritation,
caecal impaction – high mortality
Lack of good quality hay and roughage
Sore Hocks (injury) Hair loss, swelling, ulceration,
infected hocks
Trauma or long periods on hard surface
Coccidioses (protozoa) Weight loss, anorexia,
diarrhoea, enlarged liver
Eimeria stiedae – species that cause
Coccidiosis in rabbits
Ringworm Bald encrusted areas Contact – fungal – contagious to humans
so housing must be kept clean at all times
Pneumonia (bacterial) Nasal discharge, respiratory distress, emaciation Source unknown
Enteritis Depression, diarrhoea, dehydration
(highly susceptible 5-10 weeks of age)
Changes in diet or coccidioses
Lice (parasite) Scratching and/or skin irritation External parasite contact
Stillbirths High mortality Poor hygiene and disease control
Salmonellosis Wasting, emaciation diarrhoea;
may show no symptoms
Source infection orally – flies or wild rodents

Veterinary Nursing New Zealand 2nd Edition – Edited By D.R. Lane & B.Cooper

This article is courtesy of Pets Corner Sdn Bhd. For more pet care tips, visit www.petscorner.com.my