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The Peruvian Guinea Pig

Origins

The Peruvian guinea pig, one of the oldest breeds of guinea pig, is native to South America, particularly in Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia in the Andes region.  It is a member of the family Caviidae, and was originally bred for food around 1200 CE. Around the 15th Century, they began to be bred for pets and show animals, especially by British and French breeders. They were brought to Paris in the late 1800s and from there, arrived in America. The animal has been established in the United States for more than one hundred years and during that time, they were recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association. Only two other breeds were recognized at that time.

Health and Longevity

The Peruvian guinea pig can live to be four to seven years old, weigh approximately two pounds and grow to be between eight and twelve inches.  Healthy guinea pigs have clear, bright eyes, clear nose and ears, smooth and shiny coat and are alert and active. The females can start breeding as early as the age of 20 weeks to the age of one year.  They usually have five litters a year for about two years. The average litter is three but can be up to six or more. It is difficult for the mother to nurse because her babies have difficulty finding the nipples under all the hair.

The Peruvian guinea pigs are at risk for some health issues. They are prone to a great deal of stress. Bathing, combing and cutting the hair is stressful for them. They also are at risk of heat stress due to their long hair. Vet visits, which should occur once a year, are also stressful.  Peruvian guinea pigs can suffer from irritation and damage to the surface of their eyeballs, due to their long hair being in their eyes. They are also susceptible to pneumonia and other respiratory issues as well as hair loss because their bodies cannot produce vitamin C.  If the animals are not given vitamin C as a supplement to their diet, they are more prone to illness. Because of their long hair, the Peruvian guinea pigs are particularly susceptible to fly-strike, a life-threatening condition. In this case, flies lay eggs onto the long hair. When the maggots hatch, they begin to eat the body tissues of the guinea pig, eventually eating it alive.

Like other breeds of guinea pigs, Peruvian guinea pigs can be trouble by other health issues. Skin issues, such as lice, mites, cysts and fungus can occur and are treatable by a veterinarian, with either injections or topical shampoos or creams. These skin conditions can cause some hair loss. Guinea pigs can also have trouble with their gastrointestinal tracts and problems include diarrhea and bloat. Urinary tract problems such as infections and calcium build-up causing stones should be monitored closely and a veterinarian should be contacted.

A clean environment is essential to the health and well-being of the Peruvian guinea pig. They like plenty of space to run around in and so the size of the cage will depend on how many guinea pigs will be living together. When acquiring multiple animals, it is important to be mindful of the behavior of the sexes.  Females can live together peacefully, with no fighting. Males, on the other hand, will fight over their turf and can hurt one another. It is also recommended to keep the sexes separate unless breeding is planned.

Peruvian guinea pigs like both an indoor and an outdoor environment to live in. If you put the housing outside, it is important to remember that they should be kept out of moist, damp areas because the long hair of the coat will absorb more moisture than the short-haired breed. The base of the cage can be filled with hay, however most owners of Peruvians use wood shavings, which do not stick in the hair as badly. There should be a box in the cage for nesting or play. Toys such as tunnels or hidey holes will give the animals multiple opportunities for exercise and entertainment. Low rising ramps can be provided to use for climbing practice. It is important that guinea pigs be provided with time to exercise daily in order to avoid weight problems.

There should be a water bottle available and it should be cleaned regularly.  The cage should be cleaned daily if possible but at least once a week. The dirty hay or shavings should be scraped out and be replaced after the cage is cleaned. If the cage takes on an odor of urine, empty all the bedding, and hose out the cage. When the cage is dry, replace the bedding with new hay or wood shavings.

Diet and Foods

Peruvian guinea pigs eat a diet similar to that of most other breeds of guinea pigs. They are herbivores who must eat vegetables, fruits, and fresh grass daily. They especially need fruits and vegetables that provide vitamin C, such as strawberries, tomatoes, parsley, dandelion, endive, romaine lettuce, bell peppers, cucumbers, swiss chard and clover. A dry mix of guinea pig food and hay to eat throughout the day should also be part of a guinea pig’s diet as the fiber is necessary for good digestion. The hay and other roughage in the diet also help to wear down their teeth, which grow continuously. If the teeth become overgrown, the guinea pigs will not be able to eat and they will eventually die from starvation. They also need fresh water that must be changed daily to prevent illness.

The Hair of the Peruvian Guinea Pig

Peruvian guinea pigs are born with short hair that grows until they mature.  The dense, soft topcoat can grow to up to two feet long, while the undercoat is no longer than seven inches. Show animals must have two rosettes on each side of the rump. One rosette will grow forward and the other will grow backwards. As the animal grows, the hair parts down the middle of the back and forward over the head.  It should fan out around the body so that it is difficult to distinguish the back from the front of the animal. The Peruvian guinea pig comes in many colors: the single or self, bicolor, and the tricolor, which is the most desirable.  Colors of the tricolor are usually white, cream, and slate.

Peruvian guinea pigs will sometimes nibble on their own or a companion guinea pig’s hair. This is called barbering. Some of the causes of this behavior include boredom, excitement, heredity, or dietary deficiencies. This activity can sometimes be controlled by providing enough food and hay to chew, an interesting yet quiet environment, or a companion to alleviate boredom. Hair chewing can sometimes cause baby Peruvian guinea pigs to become hairless. If the mother chews on hair, it is likely that the babies will learn the behavior also. If barbering continues, it might be necessary to trim the guinea pig’s hair.

Grooming must be performed daily because the guinea pig cannot groom itself.  These guinea pigs must live in a clean environment to prevent debris from getting stuck in the hair. The ends of the hair should be trimmed regularly to keep it clean. Peruvian guinea pigs should be gently brushed daily to keep the hair from getting tangled. If the hair is severely tangled, then a bath with baby shampoo should help. Baths are stressful for the animals so should be done only when absolutely necessary. It is better to spot clean the guinea pig, especially around their bellies and their rear ends. You should begin the grooming routine when the animal is young so that it becomes acclimated to the process. It also helps to offer food treats, like crunchy vegetables, to calm and distract the guinea pig as it is being groomed.

If the guinea pig is not going to be a show animal, it is recommended that the hair in front of the eyes be trimmed to minimize the need for constant grooming. Show animal owners use hair wraps to keep the hair from becoming tangled or matted. Because of the amount of care and grooming necessary to keep these guinea pigs looking their best, it is recommended that families with children avoid getting one of these pets.

The Difference between the Peruvian and the Silkie

       Both the Peruvian and the Silkie breeds of guinea pigs have long hair. However, unlike the Peruvian, the Silkie, which is also called the Sheltie, has a soft, dense coat without any rosettes or forelocks. The hair does not cover the face but grows backwards, forming a mane. The mane sweeps from between the ears and flows over the shoulders and back. If the Silkie is viewed from above, it has a teardrop shape, unlike the Peruvian, which appears circular in shape. The Peruvian guinea pig is more alert and more curious than most other breeds. It is very social without much coaxing. However, the Silkie can appear very shy until it gets comfortable with you. It does have a very easy-going personality and is known for being the most gentle of the guinea pig breeds. You should coax them out of their cages with food and treats to get them acclimated to dealing with people.

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