Guinea pigs – also known as cavies or piggies – are one of the most popular small pet species in the world. The Himalayan guinea pig is one of the popular guinea pig breeds, and a very attractive one too. Let’s explore some interesting facts and tips about the Himalayan guinea pig – its history, features, behavior, and needs.
Natural History of the Himalayan Guinea Pig
The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) is not a dwarf pig, nor it came from Guinea. The guinea pig is a domestic species of rodent originating from the South American Andes. As a true domesticated animal, the guinea pig we all know doesn’t exist in the wild – its ancestor is probably some closely related wild species, such as the montane guinea pig, Cavia tschudii.
South American Indians domesticated the guinea pig thousands of years ago, and this small furry creature has a special place in their cuisine (it’s a staple food in the Andes), religious ceremonies and folk medicine.
The guinea pig had first traveled across the ocean in the 16th century when European traders introduced it first to Europe and then Asia. The species started gaining popularity due to its docile and friendly nature and cute disposition. Even the English Queen owned one at the time.
Over the years of massive breeding, many new varieties of guinea piggies occurred. They continue to be developed to this day. Some of the popular guinea pig breeds include the Abyssinian, American, Peruvian, Texel, Rex, and of course – the Himalayan Guinea Pig.
Special Features of Himalayan Guinea Pig
As we have previously learned, the Himalayan guinea pig doesn’t originate from the Himalayan region; the breed was named presumably because of the color pattern it shares with the Himalayan cat (as well as the Siamese cat). They are small creatures with the body mass of approximately two pounds. Their life expectancy is around 8 to 10 years, depending on their welfare.
The Himalayan is an albino guinea pig variety, but interestingly, it features dark-colored snout, ears, and feet. These marks are called points. The babies are born white, and in a few weeks to a few months time, the points will start to appear.
As with other albinos, Himalayan guinea pig’s eyes are red due to the lack of pigmentation on the face itself. The striking points are a sign of good health of the Himalayan guinea pig since they are known to fade when the animal is stressed, improperly fed, too hot or too cold. Excessive exposure to the sun might also cause the same effect. This is why it is recommended to keep your Himalayan guinea pig mostly in a shaded area.
Behavior of Himalayan Guinea Pigs
Himalayan guinea pigs are highly sociable and gentle animals. Not only that they coexist well with other guinea pigs, but they seek and need their company.
The behavior they display hugely depends on how many animals and live together, and also on the male-female rate. The character of a guinea pig changes with the number of piggies living in the group. As with many small pets, two female guinea pigs will get along better than two males living together. If you keep them in pairs or breeding groups, they will display mating behavior, which is entirely different than what you get in a non-breeding (female) groups. If there are two or more males present, they might compete and even fight over the females; the male that proves dominant will get to mate. Keeping a single guinea pig will make it docile and quieter, but bear in mind that they are social animals and they love and require the company of other guinea pigs.
Another fun thing about guinea pigs is that they can be very vocal. They make a variety of quite loud noises: squealing, purring, rumbling and chirping. The sound they make complements their current situation or activity. Hunger, looking forward to the feeding, feeling endangered, mating aggression – these are all accompanied by a distinct sound.
Guinea pigs are gentle and easy going. Be careful only when you approach a new animal, or when you feed your pets carrots – they can give a bad bite on a finger, but note that this is truly rare.
Although guinea pigs are rodents, and rodents tend to reproduce easily and quickly, the situation with piggies is a bit more complicated. Pregnancies are very difficult for guinea pig sows, and risks of health complications during pregnancy or giving birth are quite high. That happens mostly because they deliver very well-developed young. It is estimated that one in five females die as a consequence of breeding and giving birth. Knowing this risk, even quality breeders don’t produce a lot of litters.
If you keep a Himalayan guinea pig as a pet, perhaps the best option is to skip breeding altogether. It can simply be too risky for your beloved pet sow. Also, litters have 6-7 pups, and finding new homes for a big number of animals can prove problematic. You can always spay/neuter your piggie if you don’t want to worry about the unwanted babies.
As for breeding selection, recently there has been a shift in the ways guinea pigs are bred. Originally the guinea pigs have been crossbred, with the aim just get an appealing look without paying much attention to particular varieties. However, these days there are distinct, well-defined breeds of guinea pigs. There are even organizations and beauty competitions, similar like with dogs and cats. That’s why it is advised that if you try to breed your Himalayan piggies, it’s best to do it within the same variety – reproducing purebred guinea pigs will increase their chances of finding good homes. However, you can experiment with cross-breedings as well – this is how new varieties occur.
Food and Diet of the Himalayan Guinea Pig
Himalayan guinea pigs are herbivores, meaning that their diet consists mostly vegetables, fruits, and grains. Commercial feeding pellets are also available and represent a good food source. Your piggies should be fed a variety of different foods to keep them healthy and nurtured. Also, make sure to provide fresh food for your pets every day.
It is highly recommended that the Himalayan guinea pigs daily menu includes the following items:
- Vegetables, such as lettuce kale, cabbage, and carrots. A sweet Bell Pepper can be a treat for a guinea pig.
- Fruits, such as strawberries, grapes, and tomatoes.
- Fresh grass should be added to their menu to aid digestion and teeth health. Guinea pigs will also chew the hay you’ll provide for them as a part of their bedding, which is completely fine. You just have to make sure that both the grass and the hay are pesticide-free. Buying special grass and hay for guinea pigs and pet rodents might be safer than picking your greens unless you are 100% certain they are perfectly harmless.
Food should be placed in appropriate dishes, which make it hard for the piggies to spill the contents. It is important to clean the dishes every day and remove any leftover food, especially if it’s prone to rotting and molding.
One thing to watch out for regarding nutrition is the vitamin C deficiency.
It can lead to poor pigmentation (points) development and other health issues. Pellets that are high in vitamin C addresses any insufficiency well, but using supplements (i.e., chewing tablets or liquid drops) of vitamin C instead of pellets will be easier to consume for your pet.
Clean and fresh water is necessary for your pets. The best way to provide it is the gravity-flow water bottle. Compared to water bowls, the bottles prevent the water from getting dirty and will reduce spill-overs. Since it is important to keep the cage dry and clean, bottles offer significant advantages.
As with food, water bottle must be clean and topped up daily to ensure the guinea pig doesn’t become thirsty. Replace the water in the bottles completely at least twice a week, as dirty or stale water can lead to disease and infection.
General Care of the Himalayan Guinea Pig
Himalayan Guinea pigs that have a short and smooth coat that needs to be brushed a few times per week. As with other furry animals, spring and fall are shedding seasons for the guinea pigs as well, and this is when brushing frequency should be increased to every other day. Bathing your short-coated piggie is not necessary or regular basis, especially if you brush them frequently. If they happen to have lice or some other kind of ectoparasite, then medicinal bathing in a special shampoo might be necessary.
The nails will need to trimmed at regular intervals because captivity conditions can’t provide the natural nail wear-down. The best way to do this is by using clippers, and even the human nail clippers will do just fine. Be careful to cut only the very tip of the nail. Otherwise, you can cause bleeding. If bleeding occurs, you should have a Kwik-Stop or other similar powder to stop the bleeding; you use cornstarch for this purpose as well. Nail clipping is a rather touchy activity, and some people prefer taking their piggies to the vet once a month instead of doing it on their own.
Teeth of all guinea pigs continuously grow, as well as those of their other rodent cousins. Therefore it is necessary to provide them with materials they can chew on to wear their teeth down. Safe materials that you can use include birch, hardened dry bread, chew toys and chew sticks. If the teeth become too large, this may cause health issues later on.
Himalayan guinea pigs will sometimes chew the hair of other guinea pigs from their group. It is supposed that they do this to assert their domination over others in their group. However, it can be a sign of stress as well. If you’re worried about this activity, try to improve their living conditions.
Living conditions of Himalayan guinea pigs
The Himalayan guinea pig should be kept indoors, in a proper cage placed in the more quiet, well-ventilated but still draft-free parts of your home. It is also necessary to keep the other animals away, especially predators such as cats. Guinea pigs are prone to stress, and this is why a lot of housing efforts revolve around reducing it. Space for exercising is also crucial for maintaining the Himalayan guinea pig’s health. Otherwise, your piggie might develop health issues.
Here are some more points on Himalayan guinea pigs housing and living conditions.
- Safety. It is crucial that you place the cage an area where predators won’t be able to reach it. You can make their enclosure even more secure by making sure you’re using a sturdy crate. Besides avoiding physical contact, avoiding visual contact with predatory pets is also advised, since the mere sight of a stalking cat might stress your piggie.
- Sunlight. What’s specific about the Himalayan guinea pig is that it should be exposed to just the right amount of sunshine for its pigmentation to develop properly. It may progress poorly at both too low and too high levels of sunlight. Some sun exposure is, of course, necessary for maintaining health, so it is best to place them in an area exposed to a limited degree of sunlight. It is recommended to have a highly shaded area with a shady shelter to house the guinea pig.
- Shade. Due to albinism, the Himalayan guinea pigs are sensitive to too much light and prefer to spend time in shaded areas, so make sure to offer them a cozy, light-proof shelter in their cage.
- Space. The guinea pig must be able to have enough space in its cage to move around easily. Daily exercise outside of the cage is also advised; otherwise, the guinea pig will develop health problems. When letting your piggies run around, make sure space is safe, that there are no cats or dogs around, that there are no poisonous plants and that no large objects can be tipped over and fall over them.
- Microclimate. Guinea pigs should live in an area with stable humidity and temperature.
- Cleaning. The cage should be cleaned at regular intervals – at least once a week. It is important to remove droppings regularly, as well as excessive and uneaten food. Use bedding materials that are clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free, and easily replaced. Pet shops offer special beddings which are usually tested for safety.
- Exercise. Guinea pigs need plenty of activity, and they love to play. You can let them outside or run around in the house for short periods of time under supervision. They like to explore and need about one hour of supervised ‘floor time’ every day. You can also place short ladders and blocks in their cage that they can climb on. Still, keep in mind that piggies are not hyperactive animals like mice or ferrets. Though they are diurnal animals – active during the day – they don’t spend their whole day running around. In fact, they require a quiet rest period during the day.
Health Issues and Diseases
- Diseases. In general, the Himalayan guinea pigs are healthy animals. However, they might be more susceptible to infections in some parts of the world. If your area is prone to heatwaves, high humidity, or freezing weather in the winter, be sure to keep a good eye on your pets, look for signs of distress, and provide vet checkups if needed. Warning signs to watch out for are: watery eyes, runny nose, sneezes often, breathes heavily, becomes lethargic or lacks appetite, gets diarrhea, constipation, or you notice blood in their stool. Also, by all means, prevent any contact with wild rodents.
- Treatments. Guinea pigs rarely get sick. The leading cause of illness in guinea pigs are poor living conditions and nutrition – all diseases stem from there. There are treatments available in stores that can be used to aid the treatment of your sick Himalayan guinea pig, but the safest approach would be to take them to a certified vet instead of trying to treat them yourself. If they happen to get hurt by bitting one another, make sure you disinfect the wouldns. You can do this yourself, but again, veterinary monitoring is recommended.
- Stress. Himalayan guinea pigs, as well as other piggie varieties, are sensitive to stress. Some animals were known to get heart attacks when exposed to sudden loud noises. That is why you should aim to reduce stress as much as possible. The best way to avoid stress is to know your pet species well and take precautionary measures since it can be challenging to spot the first signs of stress.
- Health Check-Ups. Regular health checkups are useful, but not entirely necessary for healthy piggies. However, don’t hesitate to contact the vet if any suspicious symptoms or behaviors occur, and you’re not experienced or comfortable to handle them yourself.
- Guinea Pig Insurance. Some countries provide health insurance for pets. This is useful in the case anything unexpected might occur, so consider it if it’s an option where you love.
Extra things to Consider
Most people go on holidays, and you have to consider what will happen to your guinea pig once you’re away. They can’t be left on their own – you will need somebody to take care of them. Gunea pig caretaker should be someone who already has experience with this animal. Taking care of them might require additional resources. Also, look for a local boarding facility that you can leave your piggie with when you are away.
Himalayan guinea pigs are attractive, fun, affectionate and loving pets. Their distinct coat pattern makes them stand out from other guinea pig breeds, but other than that, they are equally easy to manage as other short-coated varieties. If you pay attention their basic needs for housing, diet, exercise and social life, you will have a loving, healthy pet to enjoy over many years.