Many people assume that albino guinea pig means a white guinea pig with red or pink eyes.
Guinea pigs with this coloring are widely sold and owned as pets.
But there’s actually been a long standing debate about whether they are truly albino guinea pigs at all!
Albino Guinea Pigs
This article is all about guinea pigs with white fur.
The topics we’ll cover include:
- What is an albino guinea pig?
- The genetics of white guinea pig coats
- Albino guinea pig temperament
- Albino guinea pig health
- Caring for an albino guinea pig
What is an Albino Guinea Pig?
All guinea pig breeds except the White Crested guinea pig are accepted into guinea pig shows with white coats.
The cute and quirky White Crested guinea pig is distinguished by a rosette of white fur on top of their head. Which obviously would get rather lost of the fur surrounding it was white as well!
It’s significant that the breed standards of the American Rabbit Breeders Association (which also oversees guinea pig breed standards) use the word ‘white’ and not ‘albino’.
That’s because few, if any white guinea pigs are actually true genetic albinos.
Albino Guinea Pig Genetics
It’s a surprising fact that all colors of guinea pig are the result of just two colors of pigment: eumelanin pigment, which is black, and pheomelanin pigment, which is red.
And genetically, white fur on guinea pigs can be the result of any one of these four things:
1. The white spotting gene
The white spotting gene is responsible for colored guinea pigs with white markings, such as White Crested guinea pigs, or pigs with Dutch markings.
These guinea pigs aren’t considered albino because they have other colors in their coat as well.
2. Color dilution genes
There are several genes which can dilute the amount of black or red pigment in a guinea pig’s coat.
They can turn black into gray, and red into cream.
One particular color dilution gene – known cryptically as Ca – reduces the amount of pigment in a guinea pig’s coat and eyes so much that they appear white with pink eyes.
Historically, this was described as an albino guinea pig.
But these days those in the know in the guinea pig community call them ‘pink-eyed white guinea pigs’ instead.
That’s because even though the amount of pigment in their coat is imperceptible, they haven’t completely lost the ability to make it.
We know this because Himalayan patterned guinea pigs, with their white coats and gray ‘points’, have also been shown to owe their white fur to the Ca gene.
3. True albinism
On the other hand, when an animal has true albinism, their body is biologically incapable of making pigment.
Which means they don’t have any color anywhere in their coat at all.
At time of writing, it’s generally thought by breeders and guinea pig fanciers that true albinism has never been recorded in guinea pigs.
4. Lethal white genes
Finally, some guinea pigs are white because they carry two copies of the gene for roan patterning.
Roan patterning is when white hairs are evenly interspersed with colored hairs in the coat.
Guinea pigs have a roan pattern when they inherit one copy of the roan gene from either parent.
If they inherit a copy from both parents, all of their hairs are white.
And as the name suggests, it has very severe health consequences, which we’ll describe in more detail in the next section.
Albino Guinea Pig Health
How does albino guinea pig health compare to other guinea pigs and other pets?
On the whole, guinea pigs are pretty robust little animals.
But regardless of their color, they are all prone to some common illnesses including
- respiratory tract infections
- bladder stones
- vitamin C deficiency
- stomach upsets
- and skin problems.
All of these can be mitigated or even avoided altogether if they are carefully looked after.
Albino Guinea Pig Health Problems
White guinea pigs may be more prone to hearing loss than guinea pigs with colored coats, however studies to confirm this have produced mixed results.
Anecdotally, guinea pig breeders and show judges also report that they see more cases of abnormal bone formation inside the eyes of pink-eyed white guinea pigs.
However, it’s unclear whether this is just because it is more visible in pink-eyed animals than dark-eyed animals.
And unfortunately there’s no agreement yet on what causes it, or howbest to prevent it.
Lethal white syndrome
Remember those albino-looking guinea pigs who owe their coat to inheriting two copies of the roan gene?
Unfortunately those guinea pigs have very poor health indeed.
Symptoms of lethal white syndrome include:
- small or missing eyes
- partial or complete blindness
- partial or complete deafness
- missing or deformed teeth
- and poor ability to properly digest food and take nutrients from it.
Lethal white guinea pigs usually die quite young from an infectious disease which they can’t fight off, or from anaesthetic for necessary surgery to correct dental problems.
Very occasionally a well cared for lethal white guinea pig might survive up to three years with a lot of care.
But this still doesn’t compare well to the average guinea pig lifespan of 4 – 8 years.
Albino Guinea Pig Temperament
Let’s turn next to albino guinea pig temperament.
Does a white guinea pig’s personality make them a better or worse pet than any other?
Guinea pigs are charming and slightly comical little characters.
If they are handled gently from a young age, they can become quite outgoing and confident with their human families.
My own guinea pigs even rush to the side of their hutch or run to greet my dog, and next door’s cat!
At the time of writing, there’s no evidence that guinea pig coat color is directly linked to personality.
Albino Guinea Pig Care
White guinea pigs have the same habitatand dietary requirements as guinea pigs of all other colors.
Since all breeds of guinea pig can have white coats, their grooming requirements will depend upon you choose a cavy with a short smooth coat, a long silky coat, or even a curly or wiry coat.
The lack of pigment in a pink-eyed white guinea pig means that they are more prone to sun damage in their eyes, and where their skin isn’t shielded by fur.
To keep them safe, always make sure that they have plenty of access to shade when they are exercising in an outdoor run.
Bear in mind that lethal white guinea pigs need an awful lot of extra care to overcome their disabilities.
If that’s a journey you wish to embark on, ask a vet or an experienced guinea pig mentor for help and advice.
Your Albino Guinea Pig
So, a truly albino guinea pig probably doesn’t exist.
But pink-eyed white guinea pigs with indiscernible amounts of pigment in their coat and eyes look exactly the same, and occur in all guinea pig breeds except the White Crested.
They are very much like their cousins with colored coats, but they may be more prone to hearing loss.
Lethal white guinea pigs look superficially similar to pink-eyed white guinea pigs, but they owe their white coat to a lethal genetic inheritance and fail to thrive.
Do you have a white guinea pig at home?
Tell us about them in the comments box down below!
References and Resources
American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents, Academic Press, 2012.
Wright, The factors and the albino series of guinea pigs and their effect on black and yellow pigmentation, Genetics, 1925.
Lechner & Ladich, How do albino fish hear? Journal of Zoology, 2010.