Peruvian Guinea Pig vs. American Guinea Pig…What’s the Difference?

Multicolored American Guinea Pigs Cover

Do you know what’s weird about the Guinea Pig?  It is neither a pig nor from Guinea.

In fact, this rodent is in the “Cavy” family and comes from South America NOT Guinea which is both a Country and a region found in western Africa.  So why call it a Guinea Pig?

Although, there are several theories on the origins of its name, no one really knows for sure why this delightful pet got stuck with such an inaccurate title, but that doesn’t stop it from winning the hearts of people (especially children) all over the world.

There has been many species of the Guinea Pig developed since its domestication around 5,000 B.C. but today we are going to focus on two of the most popular so we can finally answer the question “the Peruvian Guinea Pig vs the American Guinea Pig…what’s the difference?  The answer may surprise you!

Brown Short Hair American Guinea Pig

Peruvian Guinea Pigs Have All That Hair!

There’s no doubt if you have every laid eyes on a Peruvian Guinea Pig, you will most likely remember it—this Cavy has really long hair.

And when we say long, we mean flowing locks that can reach lengths of 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) or more!

Although, that may not sound like a great length, when you place it on a body that only stands about 4 inches tall (10 centimeters) that’s enough hair to cover four normal Guinea Pigs!

Plus, this mop of hair also grows over its eyes!  For this reason, the Peruvian Guinea pig is usually a show pig, not one used in the “normal” pet trade.

White Peruvian Guinea Pig Long Hair

American Guinea Pigs Have Enough Hair!

The American Guinea Pig is most likely the one we all conjure up an image of when someone says Guinea Pig, as they are the most commonly found in the pet trade.

Unlike their Peruvian cousins, this pig has short smooth hair that lies close to its body and comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns.

The American Satin is a relatively new Cavy on the block with hair that is also short, but is fine, dense and really shiny.

Red Peruvian Guinea Pig with Toy

Peruvian Guinea Pig “Hair” Care

Because of all that hair, the Peruvian Guinea Pig will need to be constantly groomed.  This includes giving it a regular bath (once-a-week) and combing its long locks with specialized grooming tools made just for the Guinea Pig.

If these tasks aren’t performed on a consistent basis its hair will become matted.  In addition, to washing and brushing, its hair will also need to be trimmed to help keep it manageable.

According to Online Guinea Pig Care here are some helpful tips to keeping this “piggie’s” coat in top condition;

  • You will know it’s time to trim its hair when it starts to drag along the floor.
  • It will take time to get your Peruvian Pig used to being groomed, but be persistent
  • It helps to distract your Guinea Pig with a food treat (like fresh veggies) while you groom or trim its hair
  • Don’t put the scissors too close to this Cavy’s skin, genitally or body so you can avoid any accidental nicks or cuts
  • When trimming the hair take a lock between your second and third finger at end of their hair and begin to trim around the piggie.
  • If you find a mat be sure to cut it away as this can pull on the Cavy’s skin, making it extremely uncomfortable.

This cute little Peruvian “moppet” has had his hair trimmed and can see what’s going on in this YouTube Video.

The American Guinea Pig Care

By nature the Guinea Pig is a clean animal so the American Cavy will take care of most of its grooming needs itself.

This clever animal will use its teeth, tongue and back claws to separate and lick the hair to keep it clean; however, a soft brush or comb made specifically for this pet can be used to help your Cavy’s hair stay healthy and shiny.

Guinea Pig Cage Requirement White and Red American Guinea Pigs

Regardless of what type of Guinea Pig you bring home the cage should be specifically designed for this rodent.

Here is a list of what both the Peruvian and American Guinea Pig needs in a proper cage:

  • A wire (not glass as it gets too hot) cage measuring at least 40L” x 20W” x 20H” (101.6 cmL x 50.8cmW x 50.8 cmH) is a good size cage for one or two guinea pigs.
  • Cage should have a plastic bottom as wire can cause foot injuries to this rodent.
  • Well ventilated as Guinea Pigs are highly susceptible to overheating.

Inside of the cage you will want to place a substrate down to soak up any urine or water spills.

According to experts this can include aspen or pine shavings (not cedar as this contains phenol which is a dangerous toxin that can cause illness in your pet), hemp, dried corn cob, shredded paper products or pellets.

However, since the Peruvian Guinea Pig has so much hair, it’s not recommended to use wood shavings as it will stick to and tangle around the hair, causing mats to form.

For this reason the soft recycled newspaper such as Carefresh works well with this animal.

Cleaning the Habitat 

Both Guinea Pigs need their cages thoroughly cleaned and here’s a great solution for taking care of this task;

  • In a large bucket mix 1 equal part of vinegar to 8 parts warm water
  • Add a small squirt of mild dish washing liquid to mixture and swish around with your hand
  • Clean all parts of the cage including any “furniture.”
  • Rinse with plain water then dry thoroughly
  • Lay down clean substrate and return your piggie to its cage
  • NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH!  This creates a toxic solution that can be harmful to both you and your Guinea Pig.

Handle With Care 

Guinea Pigs have been know to make great pets for children as they are a bit more resilient than hamsters or gerbils; however, they still need to be handled with care.

NEVER pick up a Cavy under the front arms, but rather gently, yet firmly grasp it under its mid-section then support it with both hands to avoid an injury or an accidental fall.

The American Guinea pig does make an excellent pet for children, but the Peruvian…not so much.

Once again we must go back to the coat of this breed which makes it difficult for children to properly care for the Peruvian Piggie.

Guinea Pigs are wonderful little creatures with fun and comical personalities which can bring joy and delight to all ages of pet parents.  But just remember when it comes to the Peruvian species of this gentle animal, it’s all about that hair.

Grooming, housing and overall care of this Guinea Pig is going to require a lot more attention to detail then its American counterpart…so be prepared!

This awesome YouTube Video gives new Guinea Pig pet parents a quick overview of how to set up a new piggie-pet-companion.

If you are thinking about embarking on Guinea Pig pet parenting be sure to find your new little friend at a reputable breeder, a rescue organization or a pet store that takes care of these delightful animals.

Once you have your Piggie all settled, you are sure to be pleased with your Peruvian or American Guinea Pig.


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