Hairless Pets Are A Big Trend Right Now. But They Are Definitely Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em Creatures. And The Skinny Pig Is No Exception.
Whether You Think Hairless Guinea Pigs Are Utterly Adorable Or A Little Bit Creepy, You Can’t Deny – They Are Fascinating Pets.
In this article we are going to look at what exactly a skinny pig is.
Where they came from, and why they are so popular right now.
We’ll take a look at skinny pigs as pets, the special care they require and any potential health problems you will need to be aware of.
If you are looking for skinny pig facts, you’ve come to the right place.
So, let’s get started with that all important question…
What Is A Skinny Pig?
Despite what you might think, skinny pig is not the name for a skinny guinea pig.
A skinny pig is actually the name for a type of hairless guinea pig!
They aren’t actually any skinnier, or slimmer, than a regular guinea pig. But their lack of hair certainly gives that impression.
Despite first glances, they aren’t technically totally hairless either.
Most skinny pigs will actually have a small amount of fur on their faces, specifically their muzzle, around their nose. They will also have hairy feet and maybe some hair on their legs.
They also appear to have quite saggy skin, which increases the impression of skinniness!
Skinny pig history
The first skinny pigs were bred by scientists. When the mutation for hairlessness was discovered, they decided that it would be really useful to develop it.
Hairless guinea pigs could be used more conveniently for their research. No stress of shaving, and quick access to their skin.
But it wasn’t easy going.
The first skinny pigs were not healthy. In fact, they were very ill indeed.
Beyond this, they also found it hard to get female skinny pigs to conceive. And couldn’t successfully mate skinny pigs to each other.
Most importantly, there were serious problems regarding their lifespan, as they were immunocompromised.
Unable to fight off normal infections, they died young. And that’s if they even got past the stage of weaning.
It was hard work getting these early skinny pigs to a point that they were at an adequate level of health.
However, with careful breeding they managed however to create skinny pigs as they are known today.
Skinny pig breeding
Skinny pig breeding needs to be carried out with care.
The gene for hairlessness is recessive, this means that both parents need to carry it for the babies to have it passed along.
If you breed two skinny pigs together, then all the babies will be hairless.
If you breed a haired with a hairless guinea pig, then the babies could be haired or hairless.
When you breed two haired guinea pigs together that both carry the gene, there is a chance of skinny pig babies.
But most haired guinea pigs do not carry this gene, unless they are a part of a skinny pig breeding programme.
There are a few varieties of hairless guinea pigs, and not all the genes are the same.
For example one variety the Baldwin guinea pig, which is utterly bald, has it’s hairlessness caused by a different gene. So a Baldwin crossed with a Skinny pig will amazingly produce haired babies!
Skinny Pigs and Medical Testing
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you to hear that guinea pigs are often used as, well, guinea pigs.
Bred and treated by way of testing new medicines in scientific experimentation.
And the skinny pig is no exception. In fact, in some cases it is preferred!
Especially for research concerning skin conditions.
They are used for testing various topical medications, as well as some rather more invasive things.
And it’s not just because their skin doesn’t need shaving. They have been seen to be more sensitive when tested.
But what does that mean for skinny pig pets and their health as pets?
Skinny Pig Health
As we’ve seen, early hairless guinea pigs had numerous health problems. Especially regarding their immunity.
However, skinny pigs today are what is known as immunocompetant.
This means that they have a normal immune response to antigens. Their bodies now usually react properly to things that could make them sick.
Which is great!
But it doesn’t mean that they are entirely as healthy as a haired guinea pig.
They begin life as fully functioning, running babies. Just like any other guinea pig.
But they are much more sensitive to their environment, being irritated by the wood chippings for example.
They are also far more sensitive to cold.
In some climates it is fine to keep guinea pigs outdoors for much of the year, but a skinny pig will suffer from the cold far more quickly.
Hair is also a great protection from physical harm.
Scrapes and scratches that would never have occurred on a haired guinea pig are commonplace on a hairless one.
Skinny pig breeders
Another risk when it comes to hairless guinea pigs is in their breeding.
As we have seen, the skinny pig gene is recessive. And not a lot of guinea pigs have this recessive gene.
This means that it can be tempting for unscrupulous breeders to inbreed their piggies, to make sure that they keep producing hairless babies.
Inbreeding is very bad for the health of any species, and should be avoided at all costs.
Conscientious skinny pig breeders will source mates from around the country and even abroad, to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
But not every breeder is a good breeder, so caution is required if you are thinking of sourcing babies.
Skinny Pig Colors
Despite their lack of hair, skinny pigs can come in a range of colors.
And they can inherit colors from haired ancestors as well!
As shown in one study on pigmentation, if you mate a red haired guinea pig with a hairless albino guinea pig, their babies could include hairless but red skinned skinny pigs!
So despite their lack of hair, they can still be a variety of colors.
Black skinny pig babies and Dalmatian skinny pig babies are particularly common examples you can find when looking for skinny pig breeders.
Skinny Pig Size
Hairless skinny pig size tends to be smaller than the average guinea pig.
Skinny pigs’ hairlessness isn’t linked to their sex. You are just as likely to find a male skinny pig as a female skinny pig.
Skinny Pig Lifespan
Skinny pig lifespan in the initial breeding stages was found to be problematic.
Unfortunately, they simply did not live as long as their haired brothers and sisters.
I regret that I can’t find any studies that show the lifespan of today’s skinny pigs in a way that has been scientifically verified.
However, breeders claim that they live as long as haired guinea pigs, and it seems unlikely that they would be useful to scientists to the extent that they are if their lifespans were desperately short.
Having created skinny pigs whose immune systems function correctly, we can assume that there would be no reason that they should be any less healthy. At least, beyond the skin problems we have already looked at.
Skinny Pig Behavior
Just like any other guinea pig variety, the hairless guinea pig is highly social.
They are happiest when in the company of at least one other guinea pig. These outgoing creatures will chatter away to each other, and to you.
You can keep skinny pigs with their haired friends quite happily, and it won’t affect their relationship at all.
But you will need to keep them all under the same high levels of care that the hairless piggies’ require.
Skinny Pig Care
If you already own a skinny pig or two, you know that they are a bit high maintenance.
Skinny pig care is trickier than haired guinea pig care, but it’s not impossible or unmanageable for most people.
They are social and do need to be kept in pairs, or better still small groups. They need space to move around, and a great diet.
Hairless guinea pigs should be caged indoors, so that you can make sure that they don’t get too cold.
Skinny Pig Cages
Your skinny pig might be more likely to get herself scratched or scraped than a hairy pig would.
So it’s important to be really vigilant when choosing her cage.
Pick one without sharp edges, and choose chew blocks and toys that will not catch on their loose skin.
It might be sensible to use a fleece bedding rather than wood chippings, to avoid potential scratches or dermatitis.
Hairless guinea pig price
So, if you are thinking of buying a skinny pig you will be wondering – how much are hairless guinea pigs?
Well, they are a fair whack more than a regular haired guinea pig.
This isn’t just because they are rare. It’s also due to the higher level of care and attention that they require from the breeder in order to stay healthy.
You can expect to spend between $100 – $200 for a skinny pig baby. But remember, guinea pigs don’t like to be alone! So you will probably need to buy at least two together.
But is this a good idea? Is a skinny pig a good pet?
Skinny Pigs As Pets
Skinny pigs can be lovely pets. But there are two things that we need to consider.
The first is whether you can offer them the higher level of care that they need.
These are indoor only pets, with sensitive skin who are more likely to get scratched or experience skin problems than their furry friends.
The second is an ethical question. And only you can answer that!
Should we be encouraging the breeding of a potentially less healthy alternative to the usual guinea pig?
In my opinion, the best way to buy a baby guinea pig is to choose one that has been bred with health as the number one priority. The same is true for any animal, of any breed.
Not bred for the color, the coat, or the lack thereof. But for the betterment of the breed. And the best quality of life for the new baby.
Healthy guinea pigs are those that are as close to their natural form as you can find. This means having the traditional guinea pig shape, with a thick coat of fur.
Protecting their skin, keeping them warm and allowing them to be comfortable in a natural environment.
If you have your heart set on a skinny pig, then the best approach is to go to your local animal rescue centres and see if they have any available for adoption.
But what do you think? Do you have any experience with skinny pigs? Why not let us know in the comments section below!
Myers et al. 1991. Varicella in Hairless Guinea Pigs. The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Miyauchi and Horio 1992 A New Animal Model for Contact Dermatitis: The Hairless Guinea Pig. The Journal of Dermatology.
Marlow et al. 1990. Sulfur Mustard-Induced Skin Injury in Hairless Guinea Pigs. Journal of Toxicology: Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology.
Moon et al. 1990. Diseased Skin Models in the Hairless Guinea Pig: in vivo Percutaneous Absorption. Dermatology Clinical and Laboratory Investigation.
Kan et al. 2003. Sulfur Mustard-Induced Apoptosis in Hairless Guinea Pig Skin. Toxicologic Pathology.
Fullerton and Serup. 1997. Topical D-vitamins: multiparametric comparison of the irritant potential of calcipotriol, tacalcitol and calcitriol in a hairless guinea pig model. Contact Dermatitis.
Bolognia et al. 1990. Hairlesss Pigmented Guinea Pigs: A New Model For The Study of Mammalian Pigmentation. Pigment Cell and Melonoma Research.
Taylor et al. 1993. Relationships between Acetone, Cataracts, and Ascorbate in Hairless Guinea Pigs. Journal of Ophthalmic Research.
Reed and O’Donoghue 1979 A new guinea pig mutant with abnormal hair production and immunodeficiency. Europe PMC Plus.
Clemons and Seeman The Laboratory Guinea Pig: Second Edition.
Bellinger et al. 2015. An ecologically relevant guinea pig model of fetal behavior. Behavioral Brain Research.