Out of all the short-haired guinea pig breeds, the Abyssinian guinea pig is one of the most unique, namely due to their whirlpool-shaped coat.
Guinea pigs can make great pets for adults and children, but a fair amount of work is required to keep them happy.
Cavies might seem like low-maintenance pets, but that certainly isn’t the case as they need a lot of time, interaction, and care both daily and weekly.
So, if you’re thinking of adding an Abyssinian guinea pig to your home, then stick around.
I’ll be going over everything you need to know about this cavy to help you decide whether they’re the right pet for you,
Unlike their name suggests, Abyssinian guinea pigs don’t come from the Abyssinia region in Africa (now Ethiopia).
The origins of their name aren’t known, but they initially came from South America.
They are one of the oldest varieties of guinea pigs.
Just like their close cousin, the Peruvian piggy, Abyssinian cavies made their way into Europe in the 16th century.
It’s from here that the Abyssinian made its way to America as pets.
Show Guinea Pigs
Did you know that the Abyssinian garnered a lot of attention as an exhibition guinea pig in Victorian England?
This was mostly due to their swirly rosettes of hair, a feature that sets them apart from other short-haired types of piggy.
Appearance and Characteristics
One of the most distinctive features of the Abyssinian guinea pig is its fur.
While their coat is short and smooth, it has rosettes of hair (normally 8) that are set across 2 lines.
These are whirlpool-shaped and have to be of an even number.
Show-quality Abyssinians will have 8 or 10 rosettes: one on each shoulder, one on each hip, 2 or 4 on the back, and 2 on the rump.
It’s hard to breed Abysinnians with perfect coats – most pet-quality cavies have flawed coats without the ideal number and arrangement of rosettes.
But, that doesn’t make them any less cute.
They come in a huge assortment of colors and patterns – they can be solid colors (a name known as “self”), brindles, tricolors, roans, tortoiseshell, part-colors, dalmatian (black and white spots), and more.
Some of the most common colors for this piggy include black, brown, white, agouti, red, and cream.
I personally love tricolor cavies (black, white, and brown) and albino (white) guinea pigs).
No matter which color or pattern your piggy is, whether it’s black, white, red, or something else entirely, they’re sure to be adorable.
Abyssinians reach a similar size and weight to other cavies when fully grown.
An adult Abyssinian will normally be around 8 to 12 inches in length and weigh between 1 and 3 lbs.
Are Abyssinians Friendly?
Abyssinians can be very friendly little pets, especially as they are curious and playful.
You’ll have to spend time taming your piggy to help them get used to handling and open up to you more.
Fortunately, Abyssinian piggies are one of the easiest cavies to train, so you shouldn’t have much difficulty training your pet.
Is a Boy or a Girl Abyssinian Nicer?
If you want to increase your chances of getting a friendly Abyssinian, then I’d opt for a male cavy.
Male guinea pigs are usually more outgoing and laid back than females.
However, this isn’t always the case – your piggy’s personality will influence their overall friendliness.
I’ve owned female guinea pigs that have been affectionate and inquisitive from day 1, and males that have been timid even after months of training.
I used to have a white and black Abyssinian piggy named Jerry ( “Jez” for short) a few years back.
He was a grumpy piggy when I first met him, but he quickly became one of the most cuddly piggies out of all his cagemates.
Does an Abyssinian Guinea Pig Bite?
Although it’s rare for Abyssinians to bite unprovoked, it can still happen. They can lash out if they’re in a stressful or unpleasant situation.
For example, if you accidentally touch a sore spot on your Abyssinian guinea pig, then they may instinctively bite you.
They may also nip if they need to use the bathroom or don’t want to be handled full stop.
Signs of Discomfort
It’s normally easy to identify when your guinea pig is near to biting or in discomfort.
Fidgeting and wriggling are two indicators that your piggy doesn’t want to be held or stroked.
A warning bite is another sign.
A warning bite doesn’t typically hurt or break the skin, but it’s your piggy’s way of telling you that they’re unhappy.
If you ignore a warning bite, your guinea pig may eventually deliver a fully-fledged bite – one that can bleed and be painful!
Always keep an eye on your piggy’s behavior and reaction when you’re handling them so you can prevent being bitten.
The Abyssinian guinea pig has short fur, so they resemble other short-haired varieties of cavy like the adorable American guinea pig.
They reach a similar size and weight as other types of guinea pigs too
The only difference between Abyssinians and some other short-haired cavies is their whirlpool-shaped coat that’s made up of an even number of rosettes.
Are Abyssinians Good Pets?
Abyssinians can be great little pets, particularly due to their playful and inquisitive temperament.
Despite having a lot of fur, these cavies are easy to brush. Unlike long-haired cavies, Abyssinians don’t need a lot of maintenance when it comes to fur care.
They only need a weekly brush to keep their fur looking healthy and shiny, so they’re a great piggy to own if you don’t have a lot of time to commit to grooming.
Is It the Best Breed for You?
If you want a curious and energetic little guinea pig with a charmingly scruffy appearance, then the Abyssinian is the right pet for you.
To top it all off, this piggy doesn’t need a lot of grooming maintenance.
Do They Recognize Humans/Owners?
Abyssinians can recognize their owners, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time taming them and caring for them.
Cavies who are well-bonded with their owners will often show affection by making a “coo” noise.
This is a different sounding noise than the one a guinea pig makes when they are stressed. An unhappy cavy will produce more of a “cooin” squeak.
Do Abyssinian Guinea Pigs Become Attached to Humans?
Despite their little size, abysinnians can be very loving and affectionate animals.
My two cavies called Jake and Finn love being around humans and will run up to greet anyone who walks past their cage.
But I’m the only person they groom and snuggle up with.
They weren’t always so content around humans, though.
My Experience with Abyssinians
When I first got them, they were extremely skittish and anxious around people.
You couldn’t enter the same room without them running off to hide.
But with a lot of time and patience, my cavies eventually started to open up to me and come out of their shells.
Now, they’re one of the friendliest guinea pig pairs I’ve ever owned!
Is It Hard to Take Care of an Abyssinian Guinea Pig?
While they aren’t exactly low-maintenance animals, Abyssinian guinea pigs don’t have complex care needs.
They’re great pets for children and adults, but like with all animals, they still need a bit of work and time.
You’ll need to offer your abyssinian a healthy diet of hay, veggies, and pellets each day, as well as give them plenty of exercise.
You’ll also have to clean their cage at least once a week.
Lifespan – How Long Do Abyssinians Live?
Abyssinians normally live around 4 to 8 years, but their lifespan is also influenced by other factors like environment, genetics, and health.
Provided your guinea pig a good-sized cage, healthy diet, exercise, and plenty of interaction, it’s likely your piggy will be with you for quite some time.
Does the Abyssinian Smell?
Abyssinian guinea pigs aren’t normally smelly creatures, but an unclean habitat or illness can cause them to be a little odorous.
If you don’t keep on top of cage maintenance, then droppings and urine will build up and cause a pungent aroma.
Not only is this unpleasant for your guinea pig to live it, but it can also make them very sick.
Skin infections, bumblefoot, respiratory infections are just some of the ailments that can be caused or made worse by an unsanitary environment.
Other Possible Causes
Alternatively, cavies with diarrhea or dirty grease glands can smell.
The latter is more common in males as they usually have more active grease glands.
If your guinea pig has dirty grease glands, they will have a sticky substance on their rump that looks like dark earwax.
You can remove this grime by bathing your pet (more on this later.
Coconut oil can also be useful for helping remove stubborn grease gland stains on white or light-colored guinea pigs.
It’s worth installing fencing around an outside cage to prevent predators like foxes and cats from getting to your guinea pig.
If you don’t want to keep your guinea pig outside, you’ll still need to think carefully about the placement of their cage.
Ideally, choose a quiet room as cavies can become stressed from loud noises.
You’ll also want to position your pet’s cage away from direct sunlight, draughts, vents, and heaters.
I’d also recommend using a lid or cover on your cavy’s enclosure to prevent any accidental escapades or any other animals in your home accessing your guinea pig.
Choosing a Cage for a Guinea Pig
Although classed as little animals, abyssinian guinea pigs still require a fairly large cage to live.
This is especially true if you want to keep more than one guinea pig.
One guinea pig needs a cage that offers at least 7.5 square feet of space, while a pair requires a minimum of 7.5 to 10.5 square feet of space.
Housing a guinea pig in a cramped and little cage can lead to many issues like boredom, stress, and destructive behavior.
Always keep an eye on the temperature outside to ensure your guinea pig doesn’t get too warm or chilly.
A commercial cage can be a good option for a guinea pig provided its dimensions fall within the cage size requirements.
A lot of store-bought cages are too little for a single guinea pig, so be careful when selecting a unit.
Additionally, be wary of any enclosures listed with the name “starter home” as they are typically undersized.
Remember this information: at least 7.5 square feet for one guinea pig, and at least 7.5 square feet to 10.5 square feet of space for a pair.
Coroplast and Cube Grid Cage
Coroplast (also called corrugated plastic) and cube grid cages are popularly used by many guinea pig owners, not just because of their size but also their affordability.
Compared to commercial cages, C&C cages are inexpensive and allow you to have full control of the size of your cavy’s habitat.
It might seem like hard work making your own cage, but Coroplast and cube grid enclosures are simple to craft.
You don’t need many products, just some corrugated plastic, cable ties, cube grids, and standard connectors
You can get most of these items online, but a shower curtain is a good replacement for Coroplast if you’re having trouble finding some.
Once you’ve got your cavy’s cage up and running, the next thing you’ll need to think about is bedding.
There are many beddings available for little animals, but not all of them are safe.
Beddings like pine wood shavings, corn cob bedding, kitty litter, and straw are some substrates that are unsuitable for guinea pigs.
Some of these can cause respiratory distress and skin allergies, and some can be fatal if ingested.
On the other hand, safe and high-quality bedding will be: soft, absorbent, and have good odor control.
Paper-based bedding, aspen wood shavings, and fleece blankets are all great choices, but I use the latter.
Fleece blankets are insulating, comfortable, and inexpensive, making them one of the best bedding for guinea pigs.
They can also be reused! Once the blankets are soiled, simply clean them in a washing machine so you can get some more use out of them.
If that wasn’t enough, fleece blankets come in a huge array of patterns and colors so you can add some style to your pet’s cage.
Mix It Up
I have black, white, purple, red, and even Halloween and Christmas themed fleece blankets. I prefer decorating my guinea pig’s cage for the current season – that way they can get in on the holiday cheer.
You only need a soft brush for an Abyssinian guinea pig as their fur and rosettes are very short.
Simply go over your cavy’s body with the brush (don’t forget their legs and rump) to keep them looking their best.
Make sure you only brush their hair in the direction it lays.
If you notice any loose fur, you can get rid of this by wetting your hand with some water and rub the palm of your hand over their body. The excess hair should stick to your hand.
Some guinea pigs like being groomed, but some may find the whole ordeal very stressful.
You can make your Abyssinian guinea pigs feel more at ease by softly talking to them and by offering them a tasty treat.
I prefer to give my guinea pigs a piece of romaine lettuce when I brush them.
They’re always too busy eating to notice they’re being groomed.
Alongside brushing, your guinea pig’s ears also need caring for regularly.
Healthy clean issues are less likely to get clogged, mites, and infections.
I like to clean my guinea pigs’ ears every couple of weeks, but I check them over every day for signs of mites and other issues.
You’ll need a cotton swab and some small animal ear cleaner (mineral oil is also fine). Moisten the cotton swab with your preferred ear cleaner and rub it over the surface of both ears.
Never stick the tip inside your pet’s ears – this can cause severe damage. If you suspect an issue with your guinea pig’s ears, contact a vet and book an appointment as soon as possible.
Cutting your guinea pig’s nails isn’t something you need to do every day, but you’ll still need to do it every now and again.
Guinea pigs with overgrown nails will have limited mobility and find it hard to walk. It can also increase their risk of bumblefoot (I’ll be going into more detail about this later).
If your cavy’s nails are overgrown, they will start to curl.
You may also hear a clicking sound as your guinea pig walks.
Most guinea pigs don’t like having their nails trimmed and may be a bit wriggly, but don’t be tempted to go too quickly.
Take your time and only cut a little section of nail off at a time.
This will help you avoid the quick as less likely to clip off too much nail.
Where To Cut
In guinea pigs with white or light-colored nails, the quick will look like a reddish pink root. In cavies with black or dark-colored nails, the quick can be harder to identify.
It’s usually safe to cut off around ¼-inch of nail, but pay attention to your guinea pig’s reaction.
If they squirm, squeak, or try to lunge away from you, you may have cut too close to the quick.
Information time: If you cut into the quick, put some styptic powder or flour on the nail to help it stop bleeding.
Abyssinians don’t need bathing very often, a few times a year at most.
However, if your piggy is particularly dirty or can’t groom themselves properly, then you may need to give them a quick bath to help them stay clean.
For example, if your pet has droppings or urine around their rump, a bath can help you keep the area hygienic.
Elderly, sick, or particularly messy guinea pigs may need baths more frequently too.
A guinea pig or small animal shampoo is your best bet for washing your guinea pig. Human shampoo can irritate your cavy’s sensitive skin.
How to Bathe Guinea Pigs
If your piggy is a bit stinky, you might be wondering what’s the best way to bathe them.
- First thing’s first, grab a towel, guinea pig shampoo (or one designed for small animals, and a basin. You could also use a sink as your cavy’s bathtub.
- Fill the basin or sink with ¼ inch of lukewarm, and test the temperature using your elbow. When you’re happy with the temperature of the water, slowly lower your piggy into the basin.
- Gently pour water over your piggy with your hands or a jug.
- Once they’re wet, squeeze out a few drops of guinea pig shampoo onto your hand. Lather your piggy up until they’re all bubbly, then rinse off the suds with lukewarm water (be careful not to get soap in their eyes, ears, mouth, and nose).
- Take your piggy out of the water when bubbles are no longer visible on their body.
- Wrap them up in a soft towel, but make sure you don’t cover their head.
If you have a hairdryer, put it on the lowest setting to help you piggy dry off quicker.
Hay is necessary for all guinea pigs’ diet and should be offered every day in unlimited amounts.
Not only is it crucial for their digestive system, it also helps wear down their teeth.
Grass hay-like Timothy hay is the best option for guinea pigs every day as it’s low in fat, protein, calcium, and calories.
Hay like alfalfa hay, while fine as an occasional treat, is not suitable on a long-term basis (especially not every day!) as it contains too much calcium.
Vegetables are another vital part of your Abyssinian’s everyday diet.
Guinea pigs can’t produce vitamin C themselves, so they need to get it from their food like vegetables and fruits.
Offer your guinea pig a variety of different vegetables each day, ideally leafy greens. Vegetables like romaine lettuce, cilantro, kale, and parsley are some great choices for your cavy’s everyday diet.
Adult guinea pigs need around one cup of vegetables every day.
I like to feed my guinea pigs bell pepper and spinach a few times a week as it’s high in vitamin C.
Remember to remove any leftover fresh vegetables and fruits within a day so your piggy doesn’t eat spoiled food.
Important information: root vegetables like carrots and parsnips should not be given to your piggy every day as they are very starchy.
Fruits don’t play an important role in your Abyssinian piggy’s everyday diet as they wouldn’t normally encounter them in the wild.
That said, they can be a good healthy treat to feed your guinea pig a couple of times a week.
Try to select fruits that are high in vitamin C like tomato and kiwi. Some other safe fruits for guinea pigs include apple (remove the seeds), blueberries, cucumber, strawberries, and papaya.
Don’t feed fruits every day as they are far too sugary and can cause digestive issues.
Pellets are the last food your piggy needs every day.
Guinea pig pellets should be grass hay-based and low in fat (only around 1%)
An adult guinea pig needs roughly ⅛ cup of pellets each day.
Avoid muesli for guinea pigs and other little animals as they normally contain seeds. Seeds are high in and fat and can become lodged in your piggy’s teeth or throat.
To ensure you give your cavy the right food, here’s my review of the best guinea pig food.
When Should I Feed My Abyssinian Guinea Pig?
Feed your guinea pig twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening.
Stick to a consistent feeding schedule every day to keep your piggy fit and healthy.
If you give your piggy too much food in one day, they will gorge themselves as they won’t know when to stop.
Overfeeding your piggy every day can lead to obesity.
Overweight guinea pigs are susceptible to joint and mobility problems, as well as many other conditions like diabetes, bumblefoot, and heart issues.
What I Shouldn’t Feed My Guinea Pigs – Toxic Foods
- Dairy foods (like yogurt, eggs, milk, and cheese) – Piggies lack the enzymes in their GI tract to process dairy products.
- Meat and insects – Guinea pigs don’t need meat in their diet as they’re strict herbivores. Giving your piggy meaty food can make them very unwell.
- Bulb foods – White potatoes, garlic, onions, and other bulb foods are poisonous to these little animals.
- Avocado – Not only is it high in fat, but the skin and pit of an avocado is toxic to guinea pigs.
- Leeks, chives, shallots, and onions – All of these are toxic to cavies. If eaten, they can lead to blood disorders.
- Rhubarb – All parts of this vegetable are poisonous to guinea pigs, including the leaves.
- Cauliflower and cabbage – These veggies can cause bloat in cavies.
How to Exercise a Peruvian Guinea Pig
Exercising your Abyssinian isn’t complicated – you don’t need a treadmill, weights, or any fancy equipment.
A playpen, paddling pool, or even a hallway will do the trick.
Put a variety of toys and activities like tunnels, hideaways, chews, and obstacle courses in your guinea pig’s play area.
Important information: tidy away gaps, cables, or other things your piggy could reach.
If you have other animals in your home, ensure they can’t access your piggy during free-range time.
If you’d like to offer your piggy some time outdoors in a run or playpen, check that the weather is dry and not overly hot or cold.
Place their run in a location away from direct sunlight.
Your piggy’s run should offer some shelter and shade such as a hideaway or a towel draped over one half of the enclosure.
Additionally, check that your lawn hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals like weedkiller.
What Plants Are Poisonous to Guinea Pigs?
Did you know that some plants and flowers are poisonous to cavies?
When your piggy is exercising outdoors, make sure they can’t reach any plant or flower that isn’t definitely safe.
Sweet Alyssum, Shirley Poppy, Crown of Thorns, Strawflower, and Pot Marigold are some plants that are toxic to piggies.
If you can’t find any information regarding a plant or flower’s safety, it’s best to avoid it to be on the safe side.
Socialization for Guinea Pigs
Can a Guinea Pig Live Alone?
If you can, try to keep your Abyssinian with another piggy so they don’t become lonely.
If you only want to keep one cavy, then you’ll need to give them a lot of attention, care, and interaction daily to keep them happy.
An Abyssinian can live with any other variety of guinea pigs, so they don’t need to be housed with solely other Abyssinians.
Gestation Period and Pregnancy
Female cavies have a gestation period of between 59 days and 72 days, but 69 days is the standard.
Sows (female guinea pigs) can have up to 8 pups in a litter, but 2 to 4 is the most common.
A healthy Abyssinian should have:
- Alert and bright eyes
- Enthusiasm for food
- Agile and active movement (no stiffness, lethargy, or limping)
- Glossy and shiny coat (no bald patches, sore, lumps, etc)
- Dry nose
- Neither overweight norfootpad underweight
- Clear mouth
- Clean bottom
- No signs of breathing or dental issues
Vitamin C Deficiency
Vitamin C deficiencies are often caused by poor diet, but any other ailments that limit your Abyssinian piggy’s ability to absorb vitamin C can also be a risk factor.
When guinea pigs have low levels of vitamin C in their body, it can lead to scurvy.
This condition affects your Abyssinian piggy’s collagen production, which they need for healthy bones and tissue.
Here’s a short vid about whether to give guinea pigs vitamin c or not…
If scurvy is left to progress, it can eventually lead to skin, joint, and blood clotting problems. Guinea pigs with scurvy often have symptoms such as:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Lethargy and weakness
- Swollen joints and poor mobility
- Dull hair
- Spots or subcutaneous bleeding under the skin surface
- Cuts or small wounds that bleed excessively or are slow to heal
- Internal bleeding in the muscles, brain, intestines, membranes around the skull
- Sudden death
If you see any of the above signs in your Abyssinian, book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to get the right diagnosis.
Feeding your Abyssinian a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, and pellets will help prevent scurvy and vitamin C deficiencies.
What is Bumblefoot?
Bumblefoot (another name is pododermatitis) is an infection of your cavy’s foot pad that causes inflammation and swelling.
Sores that look similar to calluses or tumors will usually appear on your guinea pig’s feet.
Over a series of months, your piggy’s feet may become swollen, red, and covered in painful sores.
Symptoms such as swollen joints/tendons, loss of hair around the feet, reluctance to walk, and poor appetite are also common.
Over many months, your pet’s feet may become overgrown, red, or covered in sores.
Other symptoms of bumblefoot include loss of hair around the feet, swollen joints/tendons, reluctance to wall, and loss of appetite.
Here’s a quick video that shows what a bumblefoot looks like…
Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is normally the culprit behind bumblefoot.
This bacteria can enter your piggy’s feet through cuts, wounds, and scrapes.
Some other factors that can contribute to bumblefoot include:
- Poor diet (specifically, a lack of vitamin C)
- Overgrown nails
- Humid habitat
- Wire floors
- Excessive pressure on feet
- Unhygienic environment
If caught early, bumblefoot can typically be treated by simply making some adjustments to your piggy’s environment, such as maintaining cage cleanliness or switching to a soft substrate and smooth floor.
A foot soak made up of Epsom salt water can also prove effective for mild cases of bumblefoot.
Your vet may ask you to increase your piggy’s intake of vitamin C if they aren’t getting enough in their diet.
If your piggy needs other types of treatment, your vet will administer these.
Your vet may clip around the affected area, soak the footpad in an antibiotic solution, and cut overgrown nails or dead tissue.
They may also give your piggy pain medication and oral antibiotics.
Severe cases of bumblefoot may require surgery if an abscess has developed. If your piggy doesn’t respond to treatment, then amputation of the infected leg may be the only option.
With their whirlpool-shaped coat and playful personality, it’s no wonder why the Abyssinian is such a popular piggy.
Provided you give the attention and care they need, this inquisitive creature can be a wonderful pet to own.
I hope I helped you learn a bit more about the Abyssinian piggy, but let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed or are unsure of.
What do you think of Abyssinian cavies? Are you thinking of owning one?
Be sure to let me know on our social media platforms, and take a look at our other in-depth guides on all things guinea pig.