Guinea pigs, correctly known as cavies, make wonderful pets. Not only do they have charming personalities but they are also far less prone to nipping than similar small pets like hamsters and gerbils. The American Cavy Breeders Association (ACBA) recognizes 13 distinct breeds as of 2016, and one of these cuties just might steal your heart.
Short-Haired Guinea Pigs
The coats of short-haired guinea pigs typically measure a little less than one inch long, so they are relatively easy to care for. Three breeds fit this description.
The American is one of the more common breeds you'll find at pet stores. It has a short, shiny coat that lays smooth without any rosettes (a whorl of hair that fans outward in all directions from a center point). All colors or color combinations are acceptable.
The American Satin is nearly identical to the American. The only difference is the coat has a satin sheen which gives it a glossy glow.
The White Crested has a smooth, silky coat just like the American. The difference is there's a single white rosette on this breed's head which is known as a "crest." The crest stands out from the color of the fur on the rest of the body.
Long-Haired Guinea Pig Breeds
The coats of long-haired breeds grow constantly. These are not the easiest guinea pigs for beginners to care for, but you can keep the hair trimmed to a reasonable length if you don't plan to show your pet at competitions. Six breeds fit this description.
This guinea pig breed has a long, silky coat with a single rosette in the middle of the forehead which is referred to as a coronet. This coronet grows long just like the rest of the coat, falling over the eyes in the front and blending with the rest of the coat in the back.
Silkies have a dense, luxurious coat which sweeps back from the forehead and grows quite long. They are similar to Coronet guinea pigs, except they don't have a rosette on their foreheads.
This breed is similar to the Silkie. However, its hair has extra sheen which sets all the satin-type breeds apart.
Peruvians have a long, silky coat which is quite thick. The hair grows in a series of rosettes which eventually become quite long. The hair eventually falls over the head in the front and sweeps outward on the sides and rear. When the coat reaches its full length, it's almost impossible to tell the head from the rear.
A Peruvian Satin is nearly identical to a normal Peruvian. The only difference is the distinct sheen that covers the entire coat.
The Texel has a soft, springy coat which grows in ringlets. This curling can make the hair look a bit shorter than other long-coated breeds, but you can gently pull on a ringlet to reveal the true length. The hair on the face is short and gradually becomes longer at the top of the head to blend in with the rest of the coat over the shoulders. The fur on the belly should also be curly.
Rough-Haired Guinea Pigs
Some guinea pigs have a rougher coat texture which sets them apart from the silkier breeds, but they are easy to take care of. Four breeds fit this description.
The Abyssinian's harsh-textured coat grows in a series of evenly spaced rosettes which touch each other at the outer edges to form distinct ridges. The best examples of this breed have eight to ten rosettes, and any color or combination of colors is acceptable.
The Abyssinian Satin is similar to the Abyssinian in almost every aspect. The one major difference is this breed's coat has a beautiful satin sheen that practically sparkles in the sunlight.
The Teddy has a short, even coat which is so full and wiry it stands on end and should spring back up when you run your hand over it. This breed comes in multiple colors and color combinations.
The main difference between a Teddy Satin and a Teddy is the Teddy Satin's coat carries a sheen that appears to reflect light.
Common Characteristics of All Guinea Pig Breeds
Coat type is the main characteristic that sets each breed apart, but nearly all guinea pigs share some basic features.
Ideally, a guinea pig should have a wide head and good width between its relatively large eyes. When viewed from the side, it should have a "Roman nose," which means its shape is fairly similar to the letter "C." The ears should be shaped like rose petals and should droop slightly.
The body should be medium in length for all breeds except for the Texel, which should have a short, cobby body. When viewed from the top, the body of all breeds should be equally wide across the shoulders, sides and hips. Imagine looking down at a brick with rounded corners, and you'll have a good idea of a proper outline for the majority of breeds.
When viewed from the side, the animal's topline should curve from the nose up to the forehead with a gentle rise over the shoulders which is known as the crown. From this point, the crown blends slightly downward into the back and rounds over the hips and rump. Unlike many other small pets, guinea pigs have no tails.
Each of the two front feet should have four toes, and each of the two rear feet should have three toes.
Guinea pig colors are divided into 10 basic categories, and individual breeds are available in many, but not all, of these colors.
- Albino: The hair is completely white, and the cavy has red eyes.
- Agouti: Each hair has alternating dark and light bands.
- Brindle: Cavies of this coloring have an intermingling of dark hair and one lighter color over their entire bodies. Black and red is a common example.
- Dalmatian: This is a combination of a white coat and colored spots.
- Dutch: This variation has a colored head with a white blaze. The front of the body is white, and the back of the body is colored.
- Himalayan: The body is white with color points of chocolate or black on the ears, nose and feet. These points may appear lighter in warm temperatures and darker in cold temperatures. The eyes are red.
- Roan: This is a combination of white and one other color evenly distributed over the body.
- Self: This term refers to any solid color, including red, black, brown and more.
- Tortoiseshell: This is a combination of rectangular red and black patches distributed evenly over the body. It almost looks like a checkerboard pattern.
- Tortoiseshell and White: Similar to tortoiseshell, this combination includes red, black and white rectangular patches that meet along the spine and belly.
ARBA Standard of Perfection
The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) includes the official standards for all 13 guinea pig/cavy breeds in its publication, Standard of Perfection. All breed standards have detailed descriptions as well as images of show-quality cavies to go with them.
The book also contains a glossary of common terms and their definitions which will help you understand those terms as they're used in each standard. If you think you might want to branch out from pet owner to breeder and/or exhibitor someday, this handbook is indispensable.
So Many Choices
You might find it difficult to pick just one guinea pig with 13 breeds and so many coat types and color choices to choose from, but that's all right. These adorable animals are also social creatures and can be kept in small groups of the same gender in most cases. Start out with one from your favorite breed and then consider getting a friend to keep your pet company. Their playful antics will surely keep you entertained.