Guinea pigs are from South America, and wild guinea pigs still live in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru. They were domesticated in South America between 500 and 1000 A.D. Guinea pigs are also called cavies. They are friendly, sedentary, live longer than most rodents and make great pets!
Guinea pigs are herbivores with a large cecum. They can digest fiber more efficiently than pet rabbits. The recommended diet for pet guinea pigs is guinea pig pellets, grass hay and fresh vegetables. They also need a daily supply of vitamin C. Foods with lots of vitamin C include leafy greens (such as kale, parsley, beet greens and spinach), broccoli, tomatoes, kiwi and oranges. Vitamin C can also be added to the water on a daily basis. Without supplemental vitamin C, guinea pigs will suffer from scurvy. Guinea pigs can be picky eaters, so introduce guinea pig pups to a wide variety of vegetables and grass hays while they are still young.
In general, guinea pigs are healthy animals, but they are prone to a few diseases. Obesity is very common in pet cavies. Female guinea pigs are prone to difficulties in delivering babies, especially if they are bred for the first time after the age of 7 months. An emergency Cesarean section is often needed in these cases. Female cavies are also very prone to ovarian cysts, therefore, spaying a female cavy is highly recommended.
Another common problem is skin tumors. The most common skin tumor in guinea pigs is a benign tumor of the hair follicle (trichofolliculoma) that normally develops over the rump area. Tumors of the fat cells (lipomas) are common over the abdominal area, and mammary gland tumors are common in both male and female cavies.
Just last week a 5-year-old, male guinea pig came into the clinic with a large tumor on his chest. The normal life span for guinea pigs is 5 to 6 years, so he was a senior citizen guinea pig. Fortunately the owners decided to treat this old cavy, and surgery was performed.
The scab was removed from the tumor, which revealed the large, ulcerated, and infected tumor. The tumor was prepared for surgery, and the large mass was removed. In general guinea pigs are at risk for anesthetic problems because of their small chest and large abdomen, however, this cavy had no problems with the anesthesia or surgery. The pathology report came back as an atypical lipoma, which is good news for this little cavy.