The Pet Directory Smal Animal Article - The Truth About Cavies
The Pet Directory Small Animal Article - The Truth About Cavies!

By Hanna Dampier
As published in The Pet Directory QLD, NT & WA Edition

When you go to buy your first cavy (the correct name for a Guinea pig) there are a lot of myths and theories to battle through. Cavies do NOT change sex. They are mammals. Females do not make better pets. Both sexes are wonderful as pets, and some males are gentler than females. They are an adult’s pet as well, not just for children.

Younger isn’t always better. Cavies go through a period up until the age of about 7 months, where their natural instinct to run away is still present. After this age it usually settles and they become very gentle and are easily handled. If you are buying for a young child, an older animal is better. You will be able to tell if it is a gentle animal or not. If it is over 8 months and is difficult to handle then it is unlikely to suit a young child. I personally find that my older breeding males- that are anywhere from a year to 2 years old make delightful pets for young children. Children over 10 years of age should be able to handle a younger cavy. The child needs to be confident in doing so, or the animal senses that fear or insecurity which means that it struggles, and in some cases ends up being dropped.

The Pet Directory Small Animal Article - The Truth About Cavies
Dominius Caviary

Types of cavies
There are pedigree cavies and there are pet cavies. Pet cavies are more readily found in pet shops, and from backyard breeders. They have a wide variety of colours and coat types and mixes of the both. They are the classic “Heinz 57 varieties”. These animals can vary in temperament from that of a very gentle animal, to totally unhandlable. They also have varying health issues, in the main because most backyard breeders do not understand the needs of cavies, from the very healthy to the very sick.

Generally these cavies are cheap in cost. Ranging from $10 to $20. Pedigreed animals come in many different colours and coat types though generally they are not mixed in coat colour or coat type. There are “self”- which have short hair and are all one colour. “Ticked” have a dark undercolour and a light ticking to the end of the hair. “Satinised” have a satin sheen to them. Cresteds have a rosette on their forehead. Marked animals have specific markings such as the dutch and dalmatian. Rex have a short wirey coat that sticks up all over the place. Abysinnian have rosettes all over their body. “Longhairs” have a long coat that grows for an inch a month. There is a range of about 20 different colours.

Pedigree cavies are usually purchased from a Registered Breeder. Although some petshops do have pedigrees available for sale on occasion. You may find a local breeder at a cavy shows. There will often be animals for sale at shows. This is also a great place to see the different breeds and colours. Cavies bred by showers are often bred on for particular features. Pedigree show cavies must meet a standard. Often not everything in a litter will be of the required quality, this means that they will be sold off as pets. Pedigree cavies tend to have better natures. This is because they must be able to be handled to be shown. The principles of buying for good temperament animal still applies. Generally animals bred buy a pedigree breeder are healthier, because of a generally better diet, and a better understanding of cavy husbandry and nutrition. Pedigreed cavies are more expensive, but have the potential to make better pets. They range in price from $20 to $50 as pets. If you are wanting to buy them as top pedigree and showable stock they may, (depending where they are purchased) cost up to $60 or more. (read more about this later)

Before you buy your pet have everything that you will need ready. Take your time and choose the best pet for you or your child. It would be wise to speak with a few different cavy breeders prior to making your decision.

The Pet Directory Small Animal Article - The Truth About Cavies
Dominius Caviary

Housing
You can keep your cavies in a a hutch on the ground. It should have a sleep area that is at least 2 inches off the ground, and should have a solid base for bedding and a run. How big you make it is up to you. It is recommended that you choose a medium size, where the cavy is easy to catch, but big enough that you can move it once to twice a day without ruining the lawn (if it is too small or too many animals for that area of grass they will eat it until its all gone and can kill the grass). The area needs to be fully enclosed with suitable wire so that dogs cant rip it open and that snakes cant get in. The sleeping area needs to be accessable, and should have a secure latch so that it can’t be easily be opened by dogs or neighbourhood children.

The other choice is an indoor, or off the ground cage. This must have a solid base. A 5cm strip around the base is a good idea to keep all the bedding inside the cage. An easy to clean cage is also important so that it can be cleaned out as often as needed with ease. For bedding you can used the kiln dried and dust extracted pine shavings or a clean soft hay.

The Pet Directory Small Animal Article - The Truth About Cavies
Dominius Caviary

Feeding

A food bowl for dry food and a water bottle or water bowl is needed. A bottle may need to be changed 2-3 times a day in hot weather. A bowl will regularly need to be changed twice a day as the bedding can easily end up in it. A bowl should be high heavy and sturdy so that it cant just be tipped over.

A mineral lick can be a welcome addition to the cage. A dry food mix, as fresh as possible, can be purchased from a breeder, a petshop, produce store or even a supermarket. Fresh green food should be offered EVERY day. A minimum of 30 grams of green leafy vegetables, in a VARIETY is essential. Also fruit and vegetables should be fed daily. This is needed for the Vitamin C content. If a cavy doesn’t get this it can be fatal. They do not manufacture their own in their body, so it must come from foods.

Health Care

Cavies need to be wormed every 3 months. There are products that can simply be applied onto the neck of the adult cavy (not babies). These products can be purchased from a veterinarian who will also advise on products for lice control and possibly recommend a anti-fungal dip. Your vet may also be able to advise on toe nail trimming. Cavies do not get sick very often, when they do show sickness this is often fatal but it can be prevented and fixed. Get to know a “cavy friendly” vet in your area and a breeder who understands cavies. This will ensure that if you ever need a hand, you will know someone who can help.

When choosing you cavy, first look at how it is housed and the general condition of the other cavies present. This applies to purchasing from breeders or petshops. All the animals should have bright eyes, not dull or weepy. They should not have a runny nose, it should be clean. They should run when you put your hand in the cage (you’re a stranger they don’t know who you are), but settle when picked up. Leave you hand in the cage not moving for a couple minutes. They should all sniff the air. You will be able to guess at their personalities at this point. Some will come straight up and have a sniff. Some will sniff from afar. Watch the different ways that they react. The coat on the cavy should be soft and silky with a natural shine to it with the exception of the coarse coated varieties which are meant to be coarse.

The Pet Directory Small Animal Article - The Truth About Cavies
Dominius Caviary

Numbers and Sexes

The decision to have one or two is the next to be considered. Cavies are social animals. Not having this social contact can cause them to fret, and can ultimatly lead to death!!! If the cavy is going to be handled a lot, and be treated as a part of the family, with a lot of time and affection given, one animal can live buy itself. However, it is usually recommended that two live together anyway. Two are lots of fun, especially when you have a family, and this also means that if time ever catches up with you, the cavy still has companionship. Two of the same sex are best. Males (boars) can be kept together, you can get an older male and introduce a younger one or you can start with two younger ones. They may squabble when then reach sexual maturity, but then the females (sows) will do this too. It is unusual that they will cause harm to each other, it usually just warning chatter. In my personal experience I have found that pedigreed breeds are less likely to fight than the more pet varieties.

If you choose to get a male and female you will end up with babies. Females can fall pregnant from 4 weeks of age (which is undesirable as this drastically weakens the female and shortens her life) A female should not be mated until 4-6 months of age, but should have a litter before 12 months otherwise there may be birth complications due to the pelvic muscles being stiff and hard to use. A male (called a boar) can also mate from 4 weeks. Which means that baby boars need to be removed at 4 weeks to avoid them mating their mothers and sisters. Gestation is 63-72 days- approximatly 10 weeks. Cavies have an oestrus cycle every 16-21 days. They also are fertile from about 1 hour after the babies are born, so if the male is present she can (ad often will) fall pregnant again immediately after giving birth. Which once again is unadvisable and can damage a sows health if done indiscriminatly.

The boar should be removed before brth. This also means that extra cages will be needed. The babies should be weaned at 4 weeks. I find that a good option is to wean the young males into their fathers cage- so that he then has company. And I leave the baby sows with their mother. Litter sizes average 3-4.

Statistics

Life span 4-6 years
Breeding age F 4-6 months until approx 3 years of age. M 4-6 months until approx 4 years.

Cavies are very lovable animals that give love and affection and love receiving it as well. They are intelligent and are very able to pick up on peoples moods and attitudes. Cavies are very gentle and this makes them great pets for young children. I feel that these are an overlooked and underrated pet that are not only excellent for all ages, they are able to be kept in all sort of housing types unlike some other pets.

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