In the quest to own new and unusual pets, exotic pet lovers have discovered the capybara. These animals are definitely fun to look at and have positive qualities, but there are absolute drawbacks to keeping a capybara as a pet.
What Is a Capybara?
Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world. They are native to most of the continent of South America. There are also some in Florida, though as an invasive species and not a native one. The capybara looks a lot like a large Guinea pig, which they're related to. They're also related to another popular pet, the chinchilla.
Physical Characteristics of a Capybara
Adult capybaras weigh between 60 to 175 pounds, and males tend to be smaller than females. They can be a little under 2 feet tall and about 4 feet long, which is about the size of a medium-sized dog. They look like a Guinea pig with a short wiry coat and long legs, with the hind legs longer than the front legs, and semi-webbed toes.
They also have a big wedge-shaped snout, small ears, and dark, intelligent eyes. Their fur ranges from lighter brown, dark brown, red, or grey with short dark brown legs. Their coat generally does not smell, as it's wiry with no undercoat, and they keep fairly clean from swimming regularly.
Capybara Personality Traits
Capybaras are a very social species and they live with other capybaras in groups of between 10 and 30 others in the wild.
- They have a very laid-back, calm temperament and their "friendliness" extends to many other species. In fact, it's so common to see pictures of capybaras hanging out with other animals, including ones on top of them, that a popular Tumblr page was set up called Animals Sitting on Capybaras.
- Capybaras are known for being very intelligent and can be trained to walk on a leash and perform other behaviors. They can be gentle and affectionate with people and other pets, but because they are wild animals, they can act aggressively if they feel stressed.
- Some pet capybaras enjoy cuddling and many enjoy being stroked. Because their coat feels wiry and harsh, they may not be an animal you want to cuddle. They can also be shy and dislike excessive handling, especially if they weren't raised from childhood in a home.
Keeping a Capybara As a Pet
Owning a capybara is a relatively recent trend in the pet world. Like all exotic pets, there are a lot of specific care requirements for these animals that make keeping them difficult for the average person.
Capybaras are herbivores and in their natural habitat they eat a diet primarily of marshland and forest grasses, tree bark, berries, seeds, and fruits. They also regularly eat their own feces, which aids in digestion. Capybaras tend to graze for their food in the wild and it can be difficult to get them to eat food presented to them, as they can be picky.
Capybaras kept as pets are usually fed hay (orchard, Bermuda, or Timothy), Guinea pig pellets fortified with vitamin C, and high-fiber biscuits. They can eat fresh fruits and vegetables as an occasional small treat. They also should be given a grassy area outside to roam and feed in, but this can be complicated. The grass needs to be appropriate for the species, and must be free of pesticides and chemicals.
Because capybaras are semi-aquatic, they need to be able to swim regularly. This means you need to provide them with a pool large enough for them to swim in. Capybaras also need to roam and will not do well confined in a small space. They can become destructive if they don't get to move around enough and live in cramped circumstances. To put it in perspective, in the wild, a capybara herd will normally live and roam in an area anywhere from 5 to almost 500 acres. Another factor to consider with their exercise needs is that they can easily become sunburned.
Because this species lives in groups, they will not do well in a home by themselves. A capybara needs at least one other companion of their species to do well. Capybaras who live in a home with humans and no other capybaras may become very stressed when they are left alone. They do enjoy the company of other pets, but overall they need to live with members of their own kind to be truly happy.
Legality of Owning a Capybara
Capybaras are generally legal to own in Texas and Pennsylvania. A few states allow ownership with possession of a special permit or license, but capybara ownership is prohibited in many states. You can contact your state's Fish and Wildlife Office to find out about the regulations regarding owning exotics. Keep in mind, even if your state allows you to own one, your local city or county may have ordinances prohibiting it.
While they can be house trained, especially if brought into your home when young, they still will attempt to eat their feces, as this is part of their normal diet. They also urinate and defecate in water, so expect to need to clean their pool often. They also tend to mark their territory and will do this around the home and their pool area.
Expense of Ownership
Obtaining a Capybara can be expensive. A baby will typically cost at least $1,100 or more, and because there are few breeders, you'll also need to cover the cost of transportation. Add to this the cost of any special permits or licenses you might need, and the cost of setting up a suitable home environment and pool.
Another difficulty with owning a capybara is finding veterinary care. Locating a veterinarian close to you who will treat your capybara will be hard to do in most states, and if you find a veterinarian, the cost for care will likely be higher than comparable medications and services for common pets.
Capybara Teeth Care
Like many other rodents, capybaras need to be able to chew often to keep their teeth healthy. If their incisors are not kept trim and grow too long, they will have difficulty eating and can even die of starvation. This includes providing them with daily rations of hay and, even better, the ability to roam and chew grasses. Capybaras that can free roam around the house will chew anything they can access, including electrical cords, furniture, and more.
Are Capybaras Dangerous?
While capybaras are generally calm and social, they are still wild animals. A capybara that feels scared or nervous can bite and behave aggressively. This can be a real concern, as their teeth are large and very sharp.
Capybaras can also be territorial, especially as males reach adulthood, and this can make them less amenable to handling and interacting with their owners. Males can also behave aggressively toward other males, and owners can be hurt unintentionally if they get in between capybaras that are hostile to each other.
Are Capybaras Good Pets?
While capybaras can be social and intelligent animals, they need a lot of space and a big swimming area to be happy. They also need a company of their own kind, which means having at least two, but preferably more, capybaras. They need to have a continual supply of items to chew to keep their teeth healthy, and they can be destructive in your home, chewing and marking their territory. Many pet lovers are not well-equipped to keep capybaras successfully. They may also not be legal in your state, or require special paperwork. Seriously consider your living situation, abilities, and resources -- and verify that you can legally own capybaras -- before you make a commitment.