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The American Guinea Pig: Facts

Let’s learn a little more about these wonderful animals!

If someone were to ask you to picture a guinea pig, you probably wouldn’t have any trouble. And, though we might be imagining different colors, if I were to picture one, we’d probably both be imagining the classic American breed of guinea pig. However, this is not the only type of cavy! There are many different breeds of Cavia porcellus, which are commonly called the guinea pig or cavy. 

But in this article we’re going to focus on American guinea pig facts. Let’s start with the basics – the “guinea pig.” Don’t be confused, they’re members of the rodent family, not the pig family. And they are from South America, not the Gulf of Guinea in Africa. The “pig” part of the name comes from their penchant for squeaking and their thick, pig-like body. The “guinea” part comes from their small size, as English sailors were able to buy them for a single guinea (an old English coin worth about 1$ in today’s money). 

Getting to the roots of the American guinea pig

Their closest relative, Cavia tschudii, lives in the mountains of Peru. It looks similar to the domesticated varieties many small pet owners keep today. 

However, some relatives look quite different. The capybara or the now-extinct Phoberomys pattersoni, which could grow to over 10 feet in length!

You needn’t worry about your pet American guinea pig getting so large though! American guinea pigs typically grow to a maximum of 10 inches and are one of three founding breeds shown by American Cavy Breeders Association

They’re characterized by their smooth, straight hair and easy-going temperament. These features make a pet that is low-maintenance and comfortable being handled. In some countries, this breed is called the English guinea pig. 

What makes this breed different from other guinea pig varieties?

While all species of domesticated guinea pig are closely related, there are some sharp distinctions between the different breeds. 

The American guinea pig is famous for it’s easy-to-maintain coat. The Peruvian and Silkie varieties both have longer coats that require daily brushing. 

The Teddy guinea pig also needs grooming. Though its fur is short, as it has dense, thick hair which can become tangled. 

The Abyssinian is similar in coat-care requirements as the American, despite it having long hair. 

However, the American is noted for it’s gregarious and laid-back personality. This is a trait it does not share with the characteristically mischievous Abyssinians.

Some additional American guinea pig facts

American guinea pigs, like all guinea pigs, require regular attention and care. And they are very hardy and live for 5 to 7 years. 

While many cavy breeds require grooming for their long coats, American guinea pigs short, sleek coat stays clean and tidy! 

And there is no style vs comfort trade off either, as the American cavy comes in over 20 colors (such as lilac, chocolate, blue, roan, and cream) and in a variety of patterns (including agouti and tortoise shell). 

With their cute little nose, their rotund bodies, and their quick little feet; American guinea pigs make endearing additions to any home!

Appropriate home environment for an American guinea pig

Guinea pigs are often marketed as a great beginner pet— easy to take care of, cute, and docile enough that children can handle (with supervision). That doesn’t mean they are the perfect pet for everyone though! 

They are herd animals, so keeping a pair or a group is usually recommended. Though they are small, guinea pigs originally lived on the plains of South America and need space to run around. 

American guinea pigs should be allowed to stretch their legs outside of the cage regularly. Letting your pigs go in a grassy guinea pig run outside is fun to watch and great enrichment for your pet! 

What else should a pet owner know before adopting?

Having owned an American guinea pig before, I can tell you that they are a delightful pet. 

They are prolific eaters, and that means guinea pigs are prolific at… other things as well. Be prepared to scoop solid soiled bedding daily and to clean the whole cage bedding weekly. 

Choosing a relatively inexpensive bedding is important, as keeping the cage free from bacteria and ammonia buildup is key to guinea pigs’ health. 

They are susceptible to respiratory illness or bumblefoot if their environment is not kept clean. 

Using soft woods can also irritate the lungs of the guinea pig, as they are sensitive to phenols. 

Additionally, guinea pigs (like humans) are one of the few mammals who cannot generate their own vitamin C, so it’s important to ensure they are getting proper nutrition so they do not develop scurvy.

That being said, if you want several pets, or have several kids who all want pets, guinea pigs are a fantastic choice as they are accustomed to living in a herd. 

However, they should not be paired with other small mammals, as they are unaggressive in the extreme and are often injured by more rowdy pets, such as hamsters or chickens


Hopefully these American guinea pig facts help draw a distinction between them and their (flowy hair) cousins. Additionally, getting to know a little more about these great animals can help you be a more informed pet owner!


Lafeber Company – American guinea pig breed

Vet Street – Guinea pig facts that might surprise you 

Pet MD – The complete guide to guinea pigs

The Pet Wiki – Guinea pig myths, facts, and urban legends