40 Interesting Facts about Guinea Pigs

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published November 30, 2016
  • Guinea Pigs are not pigs but, rather, rodents. They are also not from Guinea; they originated in the Andes.[13]
  • The guinea pig was domesticated as early as 5000 B.C. in South America as a source of food. They were also used in religious ceremonies and in traditional medicine.[3]
  • When a possum attacked her pet guinea pig, 13-year-old Jemma Woldhuis decided to create her own computer program to protect her beloved pet. She coded a computer program that opened her guinea pig’s door during the day and closed the door at night when the possums were out.[4]
  • Historically, guinea pigs have played a large role in the medicine in South America. Even in the Andes today (where Western medicine is either unavailable or distrusted), the guinea pig is believed to cure a number of illness, including arthritis and jaundice. Treatments include rubbing the guinea pig on the affected areas.[2]
  • Guinea pigs are not related to pigs, but may have been called pigs for several reasons. For example, they have a similar squeal to a pig’s. They are also somewhat built like a small pig, with a large head, stout neck, and no real tail.[11]
  • Guinea pigs are not from Guinea
  • While guinea pigs are not from Guinea, it is possible “guinea” was included in their name because they may have been sold for a guinea (a type of English coin). Another theory is that Europeans may have believed guinea pigs came from the African country Guinea since ships carrying the furry mammals from South America often stopped there before going on to Europe.[11]
  • Male guinea pigs are called boars, females are referred to as sows, and young ones are called pups.[13]
  • Guinea pigs can hear sounds of up to 40,000 to 50,000 Hz, and some guinea pig vocalizations are ultrasonic at above 20,000 Hz.[2]
  • If a female guinea pig is uninterested in a male during courtship, she will sometimes squirt a jet of urine at the persistent male.[13]
  • If a female guinea pig does not give birth before she is 6 months old, her pubic bones will fuse. If she tries to give birth after this, the fused bones will prevent her from giving birth, which results in the death of the mother and the unborn pups.[2]
  • Baby guinea pigs are born ready for the world. They are born with their eyes open and are covered in fur. Baby pups are able to drink from a water bottle and can eat hay within hours of being born.[2]
  • Guinea pigs are very social animals and are truly happy only when they are together with other guinea pigs. Even the most loving human cannot take the place of other guinea pigs.[2]
  • A human can't take the place of a guinea pig companion
  • The scientific name of the guinea pig is Cavia porcellus, which means “little pig.” They belong to the family Caviidae, which is a family of South American rodents. Their nickname is “cavies,” which may be derived from their scientific name Cavia or from their South American name, cuy.[2]
  • Historically, black guinea pigs were considered especially important in folk medicine for treating illnesses.[3]
  • From the 17th century, biological experimentations have been carried out on guinea pigs, which has resulted in the nickname “guinea pig” for a test subject. While rats and mice have become more popular test animals in the modern era, guinea pigs are still used as subjects for juvenile diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy, and pregnancy complications.[2]
  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) owned a guinea pig and helped launch the popularity of the furry rodent as a pet.[2]
  • The term 'guinea pig' for a human experimental subject originates in the extensive use of guinea pigs in scientific experiements
  • Guinea pigs have a long and detailed history of being used in medical research, mainly because they share an evolutionary quirk with humans: an inability to manufacture vitamin C.[3]
  • Guinea pigs typically live about 4 or 5 years, though they may live up to 8. The longest-living guinea pig on record was Snowball from Nottingshire, England. She died at the age of 14 years and 10.5 months in February 1979.[2]
  • A guinea pig named Truffles from the UK entered the Guinness World Record for completing the longest jump by a guinea pig when he cleared a gap of 48 cm (18.89 inches) in April 2012.[12]
  • There are two general categories of guinea pigs: long haired and short haired. Short-haired guinea pigs are typically easier to care for than long-haired ones.[3]
  • The Abyssinian guinea pig is one of the oldest breeds of guinea pigs and is most often used in shows. This type of guinea pigs is typically a high-maintenance pet. Notably, they have distinctive rosettes, or swirls, in their hair.[13]
  • The American guinea pig is one of the oldest breeds of guinea pigs and is considered the “classic guinea pig.” One of the most commonly found, it is an ideal pet for children because of their short, smooth fur.[13]
  • Guinea pigs have 20 teeth
  • Guinea pigs have what is known as “open rooted” teeth, which means their teeth constantly grow. They need unlimited access to food to help grind down their teeth to and to keep them properly aligned.[13]
  • Guinea pigs excrete two kinds of feces: normal and cecotropes. Cecotropes, or cecals, are actually rare to see because guinea pigs eat them directly from their cecum, in a process known as coprophagy (Greek: copros, “feces” + phagen, “to eat”).[2]
  • Guinea pigs typically run a higher temperature than humans, at about 101° F. Their high temperature places them at increased risk on hot days or when they’re exposed to direct sunlight.[13]
  • A guinea pig named Flash became the “World’s Fastest Guinea Pig” when he ran 32.8 feet in 8.81 seconds on July 27, 2009, in the UK.[14]
  • After about 4 years old, guinea pigs are usually considered senior citizens, and genetic health issues usually appear at this time.[5]
  • Because guinea pigs are easier to raise and breed than chickens, they are the meal of choice during key holidays in parts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. However, these guinea pigs feasts have led to an unintended consequence, namely a life-threatening Chagas disease plague. The feasts “bottleneck” the insects responsible for plague, which makes it more likely that remaining guinea pigs will have the virus.[16]
  • Want ketchup with that?
  • Guinea pig Puckel Martin holds the record for the highest jump performed by a guinea pig after he jumped 7.8 inches on March 16, 2003, in Sweden.[14]
  • Before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Maverick Arts Publishing created a calendar titled “Guinea Pig Games—Going for Gold.” It shows guinea pigs humorously competing in Olympic events, such as swimming and track and field.[10]
  • An online store based in Japan called Guinea Pig Fashion sells guinea clothes, including wedding dresses, tank tops, hats, and hair extensions.[9]
  • A woman in Kent, England, asked the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to remove 96 of her pet guinea pigs. Four years previously, she had just 2 guinea pigs, but she let things go unchecked until she ended up with 100 furry little pets.[6]
  • The guinea pig is able to breed year-round
  • A female guinea pig’s hymen disappears and regrows at various points of her reproductive cycle. Specifically, the vaginal membrane is closed except during estrus (heat) and at parturition (birth).[13]
  • In 2015, an alarmed New York City resident called 911 to investigate a man they believed was mistreating a squirrel over a barbeque pit. It turned out that he was just barbecuing a guinea pig. The unidentified man was from Ecuador, where eating guinea pigs is the norm. The police left the man to his lunch.[1]
  • A recent study found that children ages 5–12 on the autism spectrum showed a marked decrease in stress while interacting with guinea pigs. Researchers noted that the pet could act as a “social buffer” for students with autism who may have difficulty making friends.[8]
  • An ancestor of the guinea pig, the Josephoartigasia monesi, stood about 5 feet high, weighed 1 ton, and had the bite force the same as a tiger. It is estimated to have been about 10 feet long.[15]
  • A group of guinea pigs is called a "muddle"
  • A guinea pig named Randy either was placed in the wrong pen by a visitor or escaped into a female guinea pig enclosure. In a matter of weeks, he had impregnated all 100 females in that pen. The staff was unaware of his antics until the females became pregnant and Randy had started looking thinner.[7]
  • Even though some stores may sell guinea pig leashes, these small animals have very delicate spines and bone structure, which cannot tolerate stress generated by leases harnesses.[2]
  • Guinea pigs always march in single file, with the largest guinea pig at the front and the young protected in the middle.[2]
  • Guinea pigs are allergic to penicillin.[2]
References

1 Axelson, Ben. “NYC Cops Find Man Grilling Guinea Pig after 911 Caller Reports Squirrel Torture.” Syracuse. Updated June 15, 2015. Accessed: August 19, 2015.

2 Beck, Angela. Guinea Pigs: Keeping and Caring for Your Pet. Melrose Park, IL: Lake Book Manufacturing, Inc, 2014.

3 Bodden, Valerie. Guinea Pigs. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2009.

4 Brewster, Kerry. “Digital Literacy: Coding Kids Program Robots and Protect Pet Guinea Pigs from Marauding Possums.” ABC. Updated August 7, 2015. Accessed: August 19, 15.

5Calculate Your Guinea Pig’s Age in Human Years.” Guinea Pig Today. March 12, 2012. Accessed: August 16, 2015.

6Embarrassed Woman Has 100 Guinea Pigs.” Yahoo. 2015. Accessed: August 16, 2015.

7 Glanfield, Emma. “Now That’s a Randy Rodent! Male Guinea Pig at Animal Sanctuary Breaks Free from His Cage and Makes 100 Females Pregnant.” Daily Mail. Updated June 6, 2014. Accessed: August 16, 2015.

8Guinea Pigs Reduce Stress in Kids with Autism, Study Says.” Autism Speaks. June 30, 2015. Accessed: August 19, 2015.

9Guinea Pigs with a Passion for Fashion.” ABC News. 2015. Accessed: August 18, 2015.

10 Hartley-Parkinson, Richard. “Going Fur Gold: Guinea Pigs Take Inspiration from London 2012 and Take Part in Their Own Version of the Olympics for New Calendar.” Daily Mail. Updated July 23, 2012. Accessed: August 16, 2015.

11 Kalman, Bobbie and Kelley MacAulay. Guinea Pigs. New York, NY: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2004.

12Longest Jump by a Guinea Pig.” Guinness World Records. 2015. Accessed: August 14, 15.

13 Morales, Edmundo. The Guinea Pig: Healing, Food, and Ritual in the Andes. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1995.

14New Guinea Pig in Guinness World Records.” Guinea Pigs Today. March 15, 2012. Accessed: August 14, 15.

15 Roberts, Gareth and Sophia Sleigh. “Giant Guinea Pig the Size of a Buffalo Had Tiger Strength Jaws.” Mirror UK. February 4, 2014. Accessed: August 19, 2015.

16 Stallard, Brian. “Guinea Pig Cookouts Promote Peru’s Parasite Plague.” Nature World News. June 29, 2015. Accessed: August 19, 2015.

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