Guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig

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Guinea pigs are just the cutest little things.

It is hard to imagine that something so cute was originally domesticated as livestock, yet guinea pigs are still eaten in some countries in their native South America.

Guinea pig.

Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) in a pet store.

In fact there are people who promote eating guinea pigs in other countries — some even consider guinea pigs as an environmentally friendly protein source. Guinea pigs are ideal for home grown livestock since they mostly eat grass, and will even live on scraps of vegetable matter. They also breed fast.

Still in most of the world outside South America guinea pigs are more well known as pets and as lab animals. The latter use is so well known that guinea pig became synonymous with test subject, something or someone who is subjected of some new procedure, or concoction or contraption of unknown effect.

Guinea pigs make very good pets as they do seem to enjoy being petted and tolerate reasonably well the inconveniences of being the pet of children. The normal body temperature of a guinea pig is higher than that of a human, about 39 C, thus on top of being cute little furry things they also feel warm to the touch.

Guinea pigs do tolerate some amount of cold but excessive heat can easily kill them.

Guinea pigs tend not to be aggressive and rarely bite their owners but they will chew on unimaginable things (such as insulation of electrical cords!). As a child I used to have guinea pigs as pets and they would eat the weirdest things including newspaper and plastic bags. I don’t mean they simply chewed them up but actually ate them.

Guinea pigs are social animals and several of them can be kept together without the danger of excessive fighting or maiming each other.

Guinea pigs are one of us rare animals who have a defect in one of the enzymes needed for vitamin C synthesis and require vitamin C in their diet to survive and stay healthy. Otherwise they get scurvy just like us humans do under similar circumstances. If properly fed fresh greens, grass, or fruits it is usually not a problem. When I had Guinea pigs as pets I used to feed them raw potatoes on a regular basis, particularly in the winter when they had to live on mostly dry food.

Guinea pigs play a central role in the story Pigs is Pigs where their prodigious breeding becomes the source of troubles for a bone-headed bureaucrat. This might have given the idea for other stories featuring “cute little things that breed really fast”, especially in science fiction, such as the flat cats in the Robert Heinlein novel the Rolling Stones as well as for tribbles in Start Trek.

Further Readings:

Guinea pig on Wikipedia.
Jackie’s Guinea Piggies.
Canadian Cavy.
Guinea Pigs on the CFHS website.

Breeding Clubs:
The Dominion Rabbit and Cavy Breeders’ Association.
Ontario Cavy Club.
American Cavy Breeders Association.

Guine Pigs as Food:
Peru Pushes Guinea Pigs As Food.
Why more people are eating guinea pigs in the U.S.

The story Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler.

Last updated: July 15, 2014

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