The American guinea pig is one of the three most popular guinea pig breeds of all time. It can range in size from 1 to 3 pounds and sport up to 19 different color combinations! These cuties are social and enjoy the company of other guinea pigs. They’re also fairly healthy although they require regulated living conditions.
American Guinea Pig FAQs
Our readers’ most popular and frequently asked questions about the American guinea pig.
- Are American guinea pigs good pets?
- Do guinea pigs eat their babies if you touch them?
- Can I keep my guinea pig while pregnant?
What’s in this guide
- Where does the American guinea pig come from
- American guinea pig health and care
- American guinea pig care
- Similar breeds
- Is an American guinea pig right for me?
Did you know that guinea pigs are the 12th most popular pet choice in America today? American guinea pigs are smart and social and they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
If you have ever seen a guinea pig “popcorning” with happiness (hopping up and down repeatedly), you know how easy it is to fall in love with these fuzzy cuties!
Guinea pigs also purr like kitties, squeal like pigs and chatter like squirrels. They stay awake during the day and early evening and mostly rest at night. This distinguishes them from many other small “pocket pets” that are nocturnal (active at night).
But even though they are small, it doesn’t mean that guinea pigs are easy to care for. Your American guinea pig will need a very specific habitat and environment to remain healthy and thrive.
So, you are smart to seek out as much information as possible about the American guinea pig. Even better, if you’re doing so before you make the commitment to care for a piggie of your own! So now read on to learn all about this smart, cute, small mammal!
What Is an American Guinea Pig?
For many enthusiasts, the American guinea pig is “the” guinea pig to choose. Out of all 13 recognized guinea pig breeds, the American and the American Satin (different only in the sheen of their short coats) are arguably the most popular pets.
In fact, the American guinea pig is one of the three most popular guinea pig breeds of all time (sharing this honor with the Abyssinian and the Peruvian).
The American guinea pig breed is widely available through breeders and rescues as well as pet stores (read on below for why we don’t recommend purchasing your new pig from a pet store!).
In this article, we share fascinating American guinea pig facts. We’ll also talk about important American guinea pig care tips and offer insights into their personality. Finally, we’ll discuss the health and habitat needs of these precious furry cuties!
Where Does the American Guinea Pig Come From
The American is the oldest and most popular Guinea pig. Experts believe it was first domesticated around 5000 BC in the Andes. The American Guinea Pig breeds are descendants of the South American Tschudi Guinea Pig breeds.
American Guinea Pig Appearance
Guinea pigs are known for being irresistibly chubby-looking, with big round eyes and petal ears. This guinea pig has a fairly uniform body size from nose to tail stub and is sometimes described unflatteringly as “brick-shaped.”
All guinea pigs are considered tailless, although they do have tiny stumpy tales that are hard to see underneath all that fur. But how big can the guinea pig grow?
American Guinea Pig Size
The American guinea pig can range in size from 1 to 3 pounds. Most guinea pigs will weigh in between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds at maturity, with males outweighing females.
Similarly, males will typically be longer than females. Length at maturity varies from 8 inches to 12 inches.
American Guinea Pig Colors
American guinea pigs today sport 19 different color combinations! They can have solid (one color) fur or patterns. Colors range from white to black, blue to beige, red to orange, cream to chocolate brown.
The American Cavy Breeders Association (ACBA) groups these colors into 5 categories: agouti, self, marked, solid and tan.
American Guinea Pig Facts
Here are three fun facts about the American guinea pig:
Historically, guinea pigs played a significant role in South American medicine. In the Andes today, some people either lack or do not trust Western medicine. Instead, the guinea pig is believed to cure a number of illnesses, including arthritis and jaundice. They may even rub the guinea pig on the affected body part.
If a female guinea pig does not give birth before she is six months old, her pubic bones will fuse. If she tries after the fusing, the fused bones will prevent her from giving birth. The mother and unborn pups could die.
American Guinea Pig Temperament
American guinea pigs have vivacious and social personalities. However, they are more easy going than some other guinea pig breeds. You just need to meet their basic requirements consistently.
First, if you are purchasing a young American guinea pig from a breeder, it is advisable to get two pigs – the same gender or fixed. Otherwise, you may end up breeding lots of little piggies! Guinea pigs as a whole are accustomed to living in groups. They even live longer, healthier lives if allowed to have a guinea pig companion.
But if you decide to bring home two males, be sure they are fixed. Otherwise, they may still fight with one another. And, definitely do not put more than three males together unspayed — they will fight.
Sometimes, guinea pigs are kept alone and then relinquished to a rescue organization or animal shelter. In these cases, it may be better for the pig’s wellbeing to continue housing it alone – sudden change can be very stressful to guinea pigs.
Talk with the rescue coordinator and your vet to decide what is best.
Do American Guinea Pigs Bite?
Guinea pigs are safe, lovely pets that don’t typically bite. However, besides running and hiding, biting is one of their few defense mechanisms, so don’t be shocked if it happens occasionally. The key to stopping it is to make sure your cavy feels safe with you. Be gentle with it and it will come to know you as a bite-free zone.
Taming American Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are much friendlier and social creatures and do not need as extensive taming. Still, they may need time to adjust to your presence and home. It’s important to be gentle with them and avoid loud noises which may scare them, especially at first.
Exercising Your Guinea Pig
While they aren’t necessarily as active as mice or hamsters, your guinea pig can exercise in your home. Just create a safe space where they can do a few laps on their own. They may also run around in their cage occasionally — be sure to leave it uncrowded.
American Guinea Pig Health
The most serious health issues for guinea pigs are respiratory, digestive and dental.
Guinea pigs can develop respiratory infections and pneumonia quite rapidly. This is because most pigs carry the bacteria responsible for respiratory illness. When your pig gets stressed, the bacteria can get triggered.
Diarrhea is another common health concern that can arise from stress, imbalance of digestive flora and certain bacterial infections. Untreated or improperly treated diarrhea can be fatal.
Obesity can be a real issue in sedentary pigs, especially if they are kept in too-small habitats. However, overfeeding the wrong diet is the primary cause of obesity.
A guinea pig’s teeth are what vets call “open-rooted.” This means they will grow continuously throughout your pig’s lifetime. Without sufficient material for gnawing and chewing, the teeth can grow to an unhealthy length. Typically this happens both inside the gums and outside, causing injury and infection.
Vitamin C Deficiency
One common cause of dental issues is insufficient vitamin C in the diet. This can cause “scurvy,” which is perhaps best known as the sailor’s disease. It was caused when human sailors didn’t have access to fresh fruit on long sea voyages.
Scurvy leaves your pig vulnerable to all kinds of minor and severe health issues. These include poor wound healing, skin and coat problems, joint swelling, and mouth and skin ulcers and bleeding.
Guinea pigs can develop calcium stones in the kidney and bladder. It can also occur in the ureter (narrow tube connecting the kidney to the bladder) or urethra (the narrow tube carrying the urine outside the body). These stones are painful and can cause lethal obstructions.
Female guinea pigs are particularly prone to bladder infections, which are also linked to the formation of stones.
Abscesses and Tumors
When the tissue gets infected and swells, this can lead to an abscess. Guinea pigs can develop abscesses anywhere, but oral abscesses are the most common.
Guinea pigs are prone to skin and mammary tumors, as well as other growths. While these are usually benign, they may still need to be removed for your pig’s safety.
Bacterial and fungal skin infections and parasites can plague guinea pigs.
Like other mammals, guinea pigs can suffer from fleas and lice as well as ringworm. This can cause your pig’s skin to become itchy, crusty, scaly and, over time, hairless.
Before you bring home an American guinea pig pet, be sure you have already located a knowledgeable exotic vet. Guinea pigs are very sensitive to many antibiotics and medications that other mammals tolerate well.
American Guinea Pig Health Notes
Here are a few things you may wish to consider if you’re a potential guinea pig owner. These tips will help you when it comes to keeping your guinea pig — and yourself — healthy.
Hay Allergies in Humans
Guinea pigs must have uninterrupted access to fresh hay. They need the fiber for digestion and to keep their teeth filed down.
If you suspect you may have an allergy to hay, you may want to first purchase some hay and handle it for a week or so to see if you develop allergies. This is much preferable to bringing home a guinea pig and then discovering you have to relinquish it due to your hay allergies!
To stay healthy, guinea pigs must have constant access to their own feces. They need to eat this to get maximum nutrition and maintain digestive health. This practice, known as coprophagy, is essential.
While it sounds super-gross, coprophagy is similar to how a cow will regurgitate once-chewed grass. They will then and chew it again in the form of a “cud.” Guinea pigs don’t have the second stomach to store the cud and send it back up for a second chewing. So they have to wait until it comes out the other end before chewing it again.
Coprophagy is not a sign of ill health — it is a sign of a healthy guinea pig. This is especially important to know if you will be caring for a guinea pig for the first time. That way, you won’t panic when you see it happening!
American Guinea Pig Lifespan
The typical lifespan for the American guinea pig is 5 to 7 years. However, some few captive guinea pigs have lived to be a whopping 14 years old!
Optimal diet and hydration, a clean habitat, plentiful enrichment and exercise, and regular preventative vet care is the key to prolonging your guinea pig’s life.
Do American Guinea Pigs Smell?
American Guinea Pig Care
Guinea pigs are more fragile than they appear. They also have fairly exacting environment needs to stay healthy. Veterinarians specify the following environment requirements:
- Temperature should remain in the range of 65 to 75°F (18 to 23°C) to avoid heat stroke.
- Humidity should remain below 50 percent.
- Per pig, the habitat should offer at least 2 cubic feet of space (2 feet long by 1 foot wide by 1 foot high), but more space is always better.
- Flooring should be a solid surface, not mesh or wire.
- Habitat must be placed in a draft-free area that is not exposed to direct sunlight.
- Habitat should be located in a quiet area during sleep hours.
Keeping American Guinea Pigs Together
In general, all guinea pigs will be healthier and happier when kept with other pigs. Unless you plan to breed your guinea pigs, however, be extra careful that your new pet pigs are fixed or same-gender! Remember, though, no more than three unspayed male guinea pigs should room together.
Caring for a Baby American Guinea Pig
Baby American guinea pigs need their mother’s milk for the first few days of their life. If your baby cavy was separated from its mother, then you’ll need to hand-feed it.
Use a teaspoon rather than with a syringe because baby American guinea pigs can choke this way. You can either use full-fat goat’s milk or make a milk mixture. We recommend using half water half evaporated milk.
Rescuing an American guinea pig
Guinea pig mills are a big problem in the pet trades today. To avoid inadvertently supporting guinea pig mills, it is best to get your new guinea pig pet directly from a reputable breeder. You may also adopt a rescued pig in need of a new home.
With so many potential health issues to watch out for, you may be wondering what you should look for to be sure you select a healthy baby American guinea pig!
Veterinarians offer the following guidance when choosing a pig from a breeder or adopting a rescued guinea pig:
- Personality. Look for a guinea pig that is active, curious, friendly and open to being handled.
- Appearance. Choose a baby American guinea pig with bright, clear eyes and nose. Look out also for clean soft fur, healthy teeth and gums, healthy feet and skin. Plus, there should be a clean area around and under the tail.
- Environment. Make sure your guinea pig comes from a clean and healthy living situation. This applies whether at the breeder’s or from the rescue housing.
Are American Guinea Pigs Good Pets?
Yes, they are! American guinea pigs are smart and can even learn tricks. They are good pets for older children who are sufficiently strong and responsible to hold them securely and handle them confidently.
Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies If You Touch Them?
Can I Keep My Guinea Pig While Pregnant?
Congrats on getting pregnant! Pregnancy and pets can be super tricky. Yes, you can keep your guinea pig, but you have to be careful.
Hamsters, guinea pigs and mice can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV) which can cause severe birth defects and miscarriage.
So while pregnant, avoid cleaning your cavy’s cage and don’t touch its saliva, urine, blood or droppings. You can also put its cage in a guest room and just get someone else to be in charge of your piggy.
If you like American guinea pigs, here are some other guinea pig breeds you may be interested in. These breeds pretty much eat the same, are the same size, and need just about the same type of care.
Comparing the American Guinea Pig with Other Pets
Some other small mammals are similar to the American guinea pigs in many ways. Yet, they’re vastly different in other ways. Here are some examples:
Products and Accessories
When you bring your cavy home, they need a few supplies to feel comfortable. These are some of our favorites:
- DIY guinea pig toys
- Best guinea pig toys
- Best guinea pig chew toys
- Favorite guinea pig water bottles
- Best guinea pig carrier
- Indoor guinea pig cages we love
- Best guinea pig wooden cages
Is an American Guinea Pig Right for Me?
American guinea pigs are very popular pets today. These sweet, sociable pocket pets are likely to thrive with good preventative vet care, a healthy diet, and plenty of fresh water. More importantly, they need an enriching environment and a caring owner – YOU!
Plus, there is nothing like cuddling a soft, furry guinea pig in your arms!
But choosing to bring home a new pet of any species is a commitment. And only you can determine whether now is the ideal time to start a new life with your guinea pig.
Do You Have an American Guinea Pig?
Do you have an American guinea pig living at home with you? We’d love to hear all about them in the comments below.
References and Resources
- Wiki How. How to Get Your Guinea Pig to Stop Biting You. Elliot P. MRCVS
- Wiki How. How to Exercise Your Guinea Pig. Elliot P. MRCVS
- Wiki How. How to Care for Baby Guinea Pigs. Eliitot P. MRCVS
- ACBA Online (2014). 13 Guinea Pig Breeds. American Cavy Breeders Association.
- Quesenberry, K.E. (2018). Description and Physical Characteristics of Guinea Pigs. Merck Veterinary Manual.
- Axelson, R. (2018). Guinea Pigs – Problems. VCA Animal Hospital.
- Zoological Education Network (2018). What to Expect from Your Guinea Pig. Tampa Bay Animal Hospitals.
- Hess, L. (2018). Are Guinea Pigs Good Pets? Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics.
- Dietz Kumar, J. (2012). Guinea Pig Care. South Coast Pet Hospital.
- Beck, Angela. Guinea Pigs: Keeping and Caring for Your Pet. Melrose Park, IL: Lake Book Manufacturing, Inc, 2014.
- Moss, L. (2016). 8 things you didn’t know about guinea pigs. Mother Nature Network.
This article has been extensively revised for 2019.