Facts and myths about guinea pigs

This guide can be useful to everyone – and people who have not decided for sure whether or not to breed guinea pigs, and if so, what kind; and beginners, making the first timid steps in pig breeding, and people who are engaged in breeding pigs for more than one year and know firsthand what it is. In this article we have tried to collect all those misunderstandings, misprints and mistakes, as well as myths and prejudices concerning the maintenance, care and breeding of guinea pigs. All examples, used by us, we found in printed matters published in USA, on the Internet, and also repeatedly heard from the lips of many breeders.

Unfortunately, such inaccuracies and errors accumulated so much that we thought it our duty to publish them, because sometimes they can not only confuse inexperienced pig breeders, but also cause fatal errors. All our recommendations and corrections are based both on personal experience and on the experience of our foreign colleagues from England, France and Belgium, who helped us with their advice. All of their original texts can be found in the Appendix at the end of this article.

Facts and myths about guinea pigs

So, what mistakes have we met in some published books about guinea pigs?

For example, here is a book called “Hamsters and guinea pigs”, published in the Home Encyclopedia series by Phoenix Publishers, Rostov-on-Don. The author of this book makes many inaccuracies in the chapter “diversity of guinea pig breeds”. The phrase “Short-haired or smooth-haired guinea pigs are also called English and, very rarely, American” is actually incorrect, because the name of these pigs simply depends on which country this or that color or variety originated. The one-colored pig, called the English Self, was in fact bred in England, hence its name. If you think of the origin of the Himalayan Pig (Himalayan Cavies) it is actually from USA, although more commonly they are called Himalayan rather than American in England, and are not at all related to the Himalayas. Dutch pigs (Dutch cavies) were bred in Holland, hence the name. So it is a mistake to refer to all short-haired pigs as ‘English’ or ‘American’.

The phrase ‘the eyes of the Short-haired pig are large, round, convex, vivid and black, except for the Himalayan breed’ is also incorrect. The eyes of smooth-haired pigs can be absolutely any color, from dark (dark brown or almost black), to bright pink, including all shades of red and ruby. The color of the eyes in this case depends on the breed and coloration, the same can be said about the pigmentation of the skin on the pads and ears. Just below the author of the book you can read the following sentence: “Albino pigs due to their lack of skin and coat pigmentation also have snow-white skin, but they are characterized by red eyes. Albino pigs are not used in breeding. Albino pigs, because of the mutation that has occurred, are weak and susceptible to disease.” This statement might confuse anyone who has decided to have an albino white pig (and thereby I explain for myself their growing unpopularity). Such statements are fundamentally mistaken and do not correspond to the real state of affairs. In England, along with such well-known color variations of Self pigs as Black, Brown, Cream, Saffron, Red, Gold and others, White Selfs with pink eyes were bred, and they are an officially recognized breed with their own standard and invariable number of participants at shows. From what we can conclude that these pigs are just as easily used in breeding work as the White Selfs with dark eyes (for more details on the standard of both varieties, see the article Breed Standards).

Facts and myths about guinea pigs

Having touched upon the subject of albino pigs, it is impossible not to touch the subject of Himalayan breeding. As it is known, Himalayan pigs are also albinos, but their pigment appears under certain temperature conditions. Some breeders believe that by crossing two albino pigs or an albino Shinka and a Himalayan, you can have both albino and Himalayan pigs in the offspring. In order to clarify the situation, we had to resort to the help of our English breeding friends. The question was: Is it possible to get a Himalayan as a result of crossing two albinos or a Himalayan pig and an albino? If no, why not? And here are the answers we got:

“First of all, frankly, there are no real albino pigs. That would require the presence of the “c” gene, which exists in other animals but has not yet been discovered in pigs. The pigs that are born to us are “false” albino pigs, which are “sasa hers. Because you need the “E” gene to make Himalayans, you can’t get them from two pink-eyed albino pigs. However, Himalayans can be carriers of the ‘e’ gene, so you can get a pink-eyed albino from two Himalayan pigs.” Nick Warren (1)

“You could get a Himalayan by crossing Himalayans and red-eyed white Selfs. But since all the offspring would be ‘Her,’ they just wouldn’t be fully colored in the places where the dark pigment should show up. They will also be carriers of the “b” gene. Elan Padley (2).

Further on in the guinea pig book, we noticed other inaccuracies in the breed descriptions. For some reason the author chose to write the following about the shape of the ears: “The ears are shaped like rose petals and tilted slightly forward. But ears should not overhang over muzzle, as it greatly reduces dignity of the animal”. About the “rose petals” you can totally agree, but you cannot agree with the statement that the ears are slightly inclined forward. The ears in a purebred pig must be down and the distance between them wide enough. It is difficult to imagine how the ears can overhang over the muzzle, because they are seated so that they cannot overhang over the muzzle in any way.

As for the description of such a breed as the Abyssinian, even here there are misunderstandings. The author writes: “The nose of this breed <…> is narrow.” No guinea pig standard specifies that the nose of guinea pigs must be narrow! On the contrary, the wider the nose, the more valuable the specimen.

For some reason, the author of this book chose to single out a breed such as the Angora Peruvian in his list of breeds, even though it is known that the Angora pig is not an officially accepted breed, but simply a mestizo of the long-haired and rosette pig! The real Peruvian pig has only three rosettes on its body, while the Angora pig, which can often be seen at the Pet Market or in pet stores, has the most unpredictable number of rosettes, as well as the length and density of the coat. Therefore, the statement so often heard from our salesmen or breeders that the Angora pig is a breed is wrong.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the conditions and behavior of guinea pigs. First, let’s go back to the book “Hamsters and Guinea Pigs” again. Along with the commonplace truths, which tells the author, came across a very interesting remark: “Do not sprinkle the floor of the cage sawdust! Only wood chips and shavings are good for this purpose. I personally know several breeders-pig breeders, who use at the content of their pigs some non-standard means of hygiene – cloths, newspapers, etc., in most cases, if not everywhere, pig breeders use sawdust, not chips. Our pet stores offer a wide range of products, as small packages of sawdust (which may be enough for two or three cage cleaning), and large. Sawdust also come in different sizes, large, medium and small. Here it’s a question of preference, who likes what better. You can also use special wood pellets. In any case, sawdust will not harm your piggy in any way. The only preference should be for sawdust of a larger size.

Facts and myths about guinea pigs

We came across several other similar misconceptions online, on one or more specialized guinea pig websites. One site gave the following information: “The guinea pig never makes a noise – just a little squeak and grunt. These words have caused a storm of protest from very many pig breeders, all unanimously agreed that this can in no way be attributed to a healthy pig. Usually, even a simple rustle makes the piggy make welcoming sounds (not quiet!), Well, if it rustles bag of hay, such whistles will be heard throughout the apartment. And, provided that you have more than one pig, all the family is sure to hear them, no matter how far away they are, or how well they do not sleep. In addition, there is an involuntary question to the author of these lines – what kind of sounds can be called “grunting”? The spectrum is so vast that you can never be sure whether your piggy is grunting, or whistling, or gurgling, or squeaking, or squealing…

And one more phrase, this time only endearing – how far its creator was from the subject: “Instead of claws, small hooves. This also explains the animal’s name.” Anyone who has ever seen a pig in person would never dare call those little feet with four toes “hooves”!

But this statement can be harmful, especially if a person has never dealt with guinea pigs before: “IMPORTANT!!! Just before the birth of cubs the guinea pig becomes very fat and heavy, so try as little as possible to take her in your arms. And taking it, a good support her. And do not let her overheat. If the cage is in the garden, use a hose to water it in hot weather. It’s hard to imagine how this is possible!!! Even if your piggy isn’t pregnant at all, such treatment can easily lead to death, let alone such vulnerable and needy pregnant pigs. Don’t let the “interesting” idea of watering your pigs with a hose ever cross your mind!

From the topic of housing, we will gradually move on to the topic of breeding pigs and the care of pregnant females and offspring. The first thing we must certainly mention here is the assertion of so many experienced American breeders that when breeding Cornettes and Crested pigs one should never select a pair for crossing consisting of two Coronets or two Cresteds, because when you cross two pigs with a rosette on the head, the result is unviable breeding, and the little piglets are doomed to death. We had to enlist the help of our English friends, as they are famous for their great achievements in breeding these two breeds. According to their comments, it turned out that all their pigs were the result of crossing only the rosette-head pigs, but they cross with the smooth-haired ones (in the case of the Cresteds) and the Shelties (in the case of the Coronets) very, very rarely, if possible, because the mixing with other breeds greatly reduces the quality of the crown – it becomes flatter and the borders are not so distinct. The same rule applies to such a breed as Merino, although we do not find it in US. Some English breeders were for a long time convinced when this breed appeared that it was inadmissible to cross two individuals of this breed because of the same probability of lethal outcome. As long experience has shown, those fears were misplaced, and there is now a fine herd of the pig in England.

Facts and myths about guinea pigs

There is another misconception about the color of all long-haired pigs. For those who do not quite remember the names of the breeds that belong to this group, we remind you that they are Peruvian pigs, Shelties, Coronets, Merinos, Alpacas and Texels. We were very interested in the topic of color rating of these pigs at shows, because some of our breeders and experts say that color rating must be present, and the one-color pigs of the Coronet and Merino breeds must have the correct color rosette on the head. Again we had to ask our European friends for explanations, and here we give only some of their answers. This is to dispel any doubts about how such pigs are judged in Europe, based on the opinion of experts with many years of experience and the texts of the standards adopted by the national breed clubs.

“I am still not sure about the French standards! For texels (I think that the same applies to other longhaired pigs as well) the evaluation scale gives 15 points for the evaluation of “color and markings”, from which we can conclude that the color requires the closest approach to perfection and if there is a rosette, for example, it must be fully coloured, etc. BUT, when I talked to one of the most prominent breeders in France and told him that I am going to breed Texel Himalayan, he told me that it is an absolutely stupid idea, as a Texel with excellent, very bright Himalayan paint marks will never enjoy any advantage even in comparison with a Texel that is also a Himalayan but without any paint on his feet or with a very pale muzzle mask or something in that vein. In other words, he said that coloring in long-haired pigs is completely unimportant. Although that’s not at all what I understood from the text of the standard adopted by ANEC and published on their official website. Although most likely this person knows the gist of things better, as he has a lot of experience.” Sylvie from France (3)

“The French standard says that color starts to play a role only when two absolutely identical pigs are compared, but in practice we never encounter this because size, breed type and appearance are always priorities.” David Baggs, France (4)

“In Denmark and Sweden there are no points for color evaluation at all. It simply does not matter, because if you start evaluating color, you will inevitably pay less attention to other important aspects, such as hair density, texture and general appearance of the coat. Coat and breed type are what should be prioritized, in my opinion.” Danish breeder (5)

“Here in England color has no meaning whatsoever in long-haired pigs, regardless of the name of the breed, for no points are awarded for color.” David, England (6)

As a summary to all aforesaid, we want to note that authors of this article believe that we in USA also have no right to reduce points at an estimation of color at longhairs as a situation in our country is that the breed population is still very, very small. If even the countries, which have been breeding pigs for so many years, still believe that we should not give preference to the winning color at the expense of coat quality and breed type, then the most reasonable thing for us is to listen to their rich experience.

Also we have been a little surprised, as one of our well-known breeders said, that it is never allowed to breed males younger than five-six months of age, as otherwise growth stops and the male will stay small for life and will never get good marks at shows. Our own experience has proved quite the opposite, but just in case we decided to insure ourselves here too, and before writing any recommendations and comments we asked our friends from England. To our surprise, this question really puzzled them, because they never observed such a pattern, and allowed their best males to mate at the age of two months. And all these males have grown to the necessary size and consequently were not only the best kennel producers, but also the champions of exhibitions. Therefore, in our opinion, such statements of domestic breeders can be explained only by the fact that nowadays we have no pure lines, and sometimes even big breeders can give birth to small cubs, including males, and unfortunate coincidences in dependence of their growth and breeding career made us think that early “marriages” lead to a stop in growth.

Now let’s talk more about the care of pregnant females. In the already mentioned book about hamsters and guinea pigs we came across the following phrase: “About a week before parturition the female should be kept on a starvation diet – give her about a third less food than usual. If the female is overfed, the birth will be delayed and she will not be able to give birth. Never follow this advice if you want to give birth to large, healthy piglets and a healthy female! Reducing food in the latter stages of pregnancy can kill the piglet and the whole litter, which is when she needs two or three times the nutrients to get through a normal pregnancy. (You can find all the details about feeding pigs during this period in the Breeding section.)

Still there is a belief, also widespread among domestic breeders, that if you want the piggy gave birth without complications not very large and not very small piglets, then in the last days of the need to reduce the amount of food, provided that the piggy itself does not limit itself in any way. And indeed, there is such a danger of very large piglets that die during childbirth. But this unfortunate incident can in no way be connected with excessive feeding, and at this time we want to quote some European breeders:

“You are very fortunate that she gave birth to them, if they are so large, and it is not at all surprising that they are stillborn, for the mumps must have given birth to them very hard and they took a long time to come out. What kind of breed is that? I think this could have happened because of the abundance of protein on the menu, it could be the cause of the big babies. I would try to breed her again, possibly with another male, so that could be the cause.” Heather Henshaw, England (7)

Facts and myths about guinea pigs

“You should never feed your piggy less during pregnancy, in this case I would just give more vegetables such as cabbage, carrots instead of feeding dry food twice a day. Surely this big baby size has nothing to do with feeding, it’s just that sometimes our luck changes and something comes out wrong. Oops, I think I need to clarify a little bit. I didn’t mean to eliminate all types of dry food from the diet, but just reduce the number of times she feeds to one, but then lots of hay, as much as she can eat.” Chris Fort, England (8)

There are many misconceptions associated with the birthing process itself, too, such as this one: “As a rule, pigs give birth early in the morning, at the quietest time of the day.” The experience of a great many breeders shows that pigs are just as likely to give birth in the afternoon (at one o’clock in the afternoon) and in the afternoon (at four) and in the evening (at eight) and close to night (at eleven), and in the middle of the night (at three) and at dawn (at seven).

One breeder said, “One of my pigs had her first “farrowing” at about 9 p.m., when either Weakest Link or American Roulette was on TV – that is, when no one was even talking about silence. When she gave birth to her first pig, I tried not to create additional noise, but it turned out that she absolutely does not respond to my movements, voice, clicking on the keyboard, the sounds of the TV and the camera. Clearly, no one was intentionally jackhammering to scare them, but they seem to be mostly focused on the process itself at the moment of labor, not on how they look or who it is that’s watching them.”

Facts and myths about guinea pigs

And here’s a final curious statement: “Usually a piggie will have two to four (sometimes five) cubs. A very curious observation, since the number “one” was not taken into account at all in writing this phrase. Although other books contradict this and state that first-born pigs usually have only one calf. All these figures are only partially similar to reality, because it is not uncommon for pigs to have six cubs, and sometimes even seven! Females giving birth for the first time have two, and three, and four, and five, and six pigs with the same frequency as one! So there is no correlation between the number of pigs in a litter and age, but rather it depends on the specific breed, the specific line and the specific female. After all, there are both multi-breeds (Satin pigs, for example) and low-breeds.

These are the kind of curious observations we made while we were reading all sorts of literature and talking to different breeders. This list of misunderstandings is, of course, much longer, but the few examples mentioned in our brochure will hopefully help you a lot in the future – when choosing, caring for and breeding your pig or pigs.

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