As one of the most popular breeds of guinea pig, the American guinea pig is a staple for any guinea pig owner.
While they may not be as majestic or elegant as some long-haired breeds due to their short coats, they’re adorable in their own right.
The first guinea pig I ever owned was an American piggy, and he’s the reason why I fell in love with these charming pets.
Since then, I’ve owned a lot of other guinea pig breeds, but I have a soft spot for American cavy because of their friendly and gentle nature.
So, if you’re thinking of owning the lovely American guinea pig, then read on! I’ll be sharing my tips and advice on keeping this breed, including feeding, habitat, and grooming.
Guinea pigs originate from South America, particularly the Andes.
They closely resemble the wild guinea pig species, Cavia tschudii.
It’s thought that they were first domesticated in Ecuador, Bolivia, Andes, and Peru around 5000 BCE.
Guinea pigs were first brought over to Europe around the mid to late 1500s, before eventually arriving in the United States also around this period.
Appearance and Characteristics
The American guinea pig has a short smooth coat that feels soft to touch.
They can also have a satin coat, which is much shinier and glossier than the standard coat.
American guinea pig breeds are available in many different colors and patterns.
They can be solid colors (called “self), tricolors, brindles, roans, tortoiseshell, and many more.
Some of the most common colors include black, white, red, cream, and beige.
Body Shape and Size
American guinea pigs breeds are potato-shaped with a Roman nose, petal-shaped ears, and broad shoulders.
They typically reach roughly 8 to 9 inches in length and weigh between 1 and 3 pounds.
Are American Guinea Pigs Friendly?
The American guinea pig can be a loving and friendly pet, particularly if you’ve made the effort to tame them.
Their easy-going attitude makes them easy to train, whether it’s teaching them to come when called or even using a litter box.
There are a lot of other tricks you can teach your guinea pig, so due to this breed’s calm nature, you shouldn’t have much difficulty getting them to warm up to you.
Are Boy or Girl American Guinea Pigs Nicer
Although your guinea pig’s personality will influence their overall friendliness, male guinea pigs are normally more confident than females.
So, if you want to increase your chances of owning a friendly American guinea pig, I’d advise getting a male.
Bear in mind that some American guinea pigs are naturally shy and reserved, no matter their sex.
I’ve had affectionate and loving female American guinea pigs, and males that have been timid and reserved even after a lot of taming. Every guinea pig is different!
Does an American Guinea Pig Bite?
These guinea piggies can bite if they feel stressed or uncomfortable, but it’s unlikely that they will nip unprovoked.
If you accidentally touch a tender area on your American guinea pig or handle them incorrectly, they might bite you without warning.
Alternatively, if your guinea pig needs the toilet, they may wriggle, fidget, and deliver a warning nip.
A warning bite isn’t usually painful and doesn’t tend to break the skin.
However, if you ignore it, your guinea pig may give you a harder bite – one that could bleed.
Make sure you keep an eye on your cavy’s behavior when you’re holding or stroking them to get a good idea of how they’re feeling.
The American guinea pig looks similar to other short-haired guinea pig breeds like the Teddy guinea pig and Rex guinea pig.
However, both these two breeds have curly fur, whereas the American has smooth straight hair.
Lifespan – How Long Does an American Guinea Pig Live?
American guinea pigs have an average life expectancy of 4 to 8 years.
This breed is relatively hardy and robust, so they don’t get sick very easily.
Provided you give your American guinea pig the best care, there’s no reason why they can’t live on the higher end of this lifespan.
However, other factors like health, genetics, and environment also come into play.
To help your American guinea pig live as long and as happily as possible, make sure they have a healthy diet, a good-sized cage, clean habitat, and plenty of attention.
American guinea pig breeds are extremely popular, and one of the most widely available.
The majority of pet stores sell American piggies, so you shouldn’t have any issue finding one.
That said, if you can’t find any American guinea pigs at your local pet store, try searching for breeders or animal shelters close to you.
My local animal shelter always has American guinea pigs available for rehoming.
You could try guinea pig shows to look for reputable breeders or check to see if there any guinea pig clubs local to you.
Guinea pig forums are also a great way to find breeders and information on cavies.
I rescued my American guinea pigs, Jake and Finn, from my local animal rescue center.
They were initially wary and shy little piggies, but with a lot of care and time, they became very playful animals.
Do American Guinea Pigs Make Good Pets?
American guinea pig breeds can be good pets for both adults and children as they’re calm and docile animals.
They’re much easier to care for than long-haired breeds of guinea pigs as they have a short smooth coat.
This breed only needs a quick brush once a week, unlike guinea pig breeds like the Peruvian and Silkie who need daily grooming.
Is the American Guinea Pig the Best Breed for You?
The American guinea pig is the right breed for you if you want a laid back, gentle pet with low grooming needs.
Both of my piggies are of the American breed, and they’re one of the friendliest pairs of cavies I’ve ever owned.
Do American Guinea Pigs Recognize Humans/Owners?
These small popular pets can recognize humans and their owners, but you’ll have to ensure you take the time to tame them.
Bonded cavies can be extremely loving, and will often show their affection by running up to their owner, making adorable noises.
Guinea Pig Noises
A happy American guinea pig will often produce a “coo” squeak.
This is a different type of squeak than the one a guinea pig makes when they’re stressed, which is more of a “cooin” sound.
Some guinea pigs even groom and lick their owners if they’re extremely close.
Is It Hard to Take Care of an American Guinea Pig?
While not low-maintenance small pets by any means, American guinea pig breeds aren’t difficult animals to care for.
That said, they still require time and commitment, just like any pet.
You’ll need to feed this breed a healthy diet of hay, vegetables, and pellets every day to keep them well and healthy.
You’ll also need to ensure they get plenty of exercise, interaction, and have a clean environment.
Does an American Guinea Pig Smell?
American guinea pigs aren’t normally smelly small pets, but an unsanitary environment or illness can cause them to be a bit stinkier than normal.
If you get behind on your guinea pig’s cage maintenance, droppings and urine will build up.
This can cause a very strong and unpleasant odor and can lead to a lot of health issues, such as skin infections, bumblefoot, and respiratory infections.
American guinea pigs can also smell if they have diarrhea or dirty grease glands.
Male guinea pigs usually have more active grease glands than females, so they’re more prone to issues with their glands.
Guinea pigs with dirty grease glands will have what looks like dark earwax on the hair close to their lower body.
The grime can be removed using coconut oil, or you can give your pet a quick bath with some small animal shampoo.
Where Should They Live?
These popular small animals can live both indoors or outdoors provided the temperature is between 65 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite having a lot of hair, American guinea pigs can get too cold if their habitat is too chilly. A low body temperature can lead to hypothermia.
In contrast, American guinea pigs can develop heat stroke or dehydration if their body gets too hot.
If you plan on keeping your guinea pig in an outdoor hutch, I’d advise putting fencing around their enclosure to help protect them from animals like foxes and cats.
You’ll also want to place their cage in a quiet location, ideally away from loud noises.
This is the same for indoor cages.
Indoor cages should also be positioned away from draughts, direct sunlight, vents, and heaters. It’s also worth using a lid or cover on your guinea pig’s cage if it doesn’t already have one.
Not only will a cover help prevent your pet from escaping, but it will also keep them safe from any other animals in your home.
Even though guinea pigs are small animals, that doesn’t mean their cage should also be small.
All guinea pig breeds need a good-sized to keep them well and happy.
One guinea pig requires a minimum of 7.5 square feet of space, but a pair will need between 7.5 square feet and 10.5 square feet of space.
Keeping your guinea pig in tiny living quarters can lead to behavioral issues, stress, and boredom, so try to give your guinea pig the largest cage you can.
Cage Types for the American Breed
Commercial cages can be a good option for an American guinea pig provided it meets the minimum cage size requirements.
Unfortunately, a lot of store-bought cages are too small for one guinea pig, nevermind two.
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.
A lot of store-bought cages are too little for a single guinea pig, so use caution when selecting a unit.
Additionally, be wary of any enclosures listed with the name “starter home” as they are typically undersized.
Coroplast and Cube Grid Cage
Coroplast (another name is corrugated plastic) and cube grid cages are a popular option for many guinea pig owners for a couple of reasons.
For one, the materials used to craft them are inexpensive.
And secondly, they give you full control regarding cage size – you’ll be able to make your C&C cage as big as you like.
Don’t worry if you’re not the best when it comes to DIY as C&C cages are simple to build.
The only items you’ll need are cable ties, corrugated plastic, cube grids, and standard connectors.
You should be able to find most of these products online, but a shower curtain can be substituted for Coroplast if you can’t get your hands on any.
Once your guinea pig’s cage is set up, you’ll next need to decide on the type of bedding you want to use.
There are a lot of bedding choices for small animals, but some are better than others.
Good-quality bedding should be comfortable, absorbent, and capable of controlling odors.
Some good options include aspen wood shavings, paper-based bedding, and fleece blankets.
Fleece blankets are a popular selection for a lot of guinea pig owners as they’re warm, soft, and inexpensive.
You can also reuse them, which makes them, even more, cost-efficient.
Instead of throwing the blankets away once they’re dirty, you can wash them so they can be used again.
Avoid pine wood shavings, corn cob bedding, kitty litter, and straw as they can be harmful. Some are unsafe because they contain toxic chemicals or phenols, while others are dangerous if ingested.
The only brush you need for an American guinea pig is a soft brush as their coat doesn’t get matted or tangled.
Simply brush your guinea pig’s body with the brush to keep their coat healthy and glossy. Only brush the short hair on your guinea pig’s body in the direction it lays.
If you spot any loose hair on this breed’s body, you can remove it by dampening your hand with a bit of water.
Any excess fur on your piggy’s body should stick to the palm of your hand.
Brushing Your Pet
Some guinea pig breeds don’t enjoy grooming time, especially if they’ve never had their hair brushed before.
You can help distract your guinea pig during grooming by offering them a tasty treat like a piece of lettuce.
I also like to speak to my guinea pigs in a gentle and soothing voice – this helps calm them and makes them feel a bit more at ease.
Cleaning Your Guinea Pig’s Ears – How to Clean Your Guinea Pig’s Ears
These popular pets need their ears cleaned regularly to keep them healthy and free of problems like mice and infections.
You should aim to clean your guinea pig’s ears every couple of weeks.
I also like to check over my guinea pigs’ ears for signs of mites, earwax buildup, and other issues every day.
I’d recommend doing this – it won’t take too much time and allows you to identify a potential problem much sooner.
To clean your guinea pig’s ears, you’ll need some ear cleaner for small animals or mineral oil and a cotton swab.
Wet the tip of the cotton swab with some ear cleaner and gently wipe it over the outer surface of both ears.
Never stick the tip or anything else inside your guinea pig’s ears as this can be extremely dangerous.
If you think your guinea pig has an issue with their ears, take them to see a vet as soon as possible.
Guinea pigs need to have their nails trimmed regularly to prevent them from growing too long.
Pets with overgrown nails will have trouble walking around, and are at an increased risk of getting bumblefoot – an infection of your piggy’s footpad.
Most animals need their nails cut every month to keep them short and healthy.
If you notice your cavy’s nails beginning to curl, that’s a sign that they could do with a trim.
Nail trimming is usually stressful for guinea pigs – many don’t enjoy the activity.
Take Your Time
They can be a bit fidgety and squirmy, but try to keep a firm grip on your guinea pig.
Only cut off a small section of the nail at a time so you don’t accidentally snip into the quick.
Identifying the quick in guinea pigs with white or light-colored nails is much easier as it will look like a pinkish-red root.
In guinea pigs with black or dark-colored nails, the quick is a little harder to spot.
However, it’s usually safe to cut around ¼ inch of the nail if you can’t locate the quick.
Pay attention to your guinea pig’s reaction as you’re trimming their nails.
If they squeak or jolt away, you may have clipped too close to the quick.
Don’t beat yourself up if you cut into the quick – we’ve all been there! While it can bleed and be painful for your American breed, it isn’t normally serious.
Styptic powder or flour can be used to help stop the bleeding of minor wounds.
Bathing an American Guinea Pig Breed
Guinea pigs, especially short-haired guinea pigs like the American breed, don’t need baths very often.
Piggies are naturally clean animals and will spend a lot of time grooming themselves.
The only times you might need to bathe your American breed is when they’re elderly, sick, or particularly dirty.
Bathing your guinea pig too frequently can irritate their skin and strip their coat of its natural oils.
I personally only bathe my guinea pigs a couple of times a year, usually when they’ve been a bit messy and sat in their toilet area!
How to Bathe an American Guinea Pig Breed
- When it’s time to bathe your American guinea pig breed, fill a sink or basin with roughly a ¼ inch of lukewarm water.
- You can test the temperature of the water with your elbow to ensure it’s not too hot or cold.
- Slowly place your guinea pig’s lower body into the water, then use a jug or your hands to pour water over their coat.
- Once your pet is damp, take them out of the water and deposit a few drops of shampoo designed for guinea pigs or small animals onto the palm of your hand. You should be able to find this type of shampoo at your local pet store.
- Lather your American guinea pig breed up and then rinse them off with water. Use your hands to shield your guinea pig’s eyes, nose, and ears.
- Now that bath time is over and your pet is clean, wrap them up in a large soft towel to dry them.
Don’t cover their head and ensure you don’t wrap them too tightly. You can also use a hairdryer (on the lowest setting) to help them dry quicker.
How Often Should I Bathe My Teddy Guinea Pig?
You should bathe your Teddy guinea pig only when necessary, like when they’re overly dirty or smelly.
My American guinea pig breeds only need a bath a couple of times a year, but elderly or sick pets might need a bath more frequently than this.
What Can American Guinea Pigs Eat?
All guinea pig breeds need an unlimited amount of hay in their diet every day. Without hay, your guinea pig will rapidly decline in health and will eventually die.
Your guinea pig’s body can’t go more than 24 to 48 hours without hay, so always ensure your guinea pig has plenty of hay to munch on throughout the day.
Hay provides these small popular pets with fiber, which is vital for keeping their digestive system working well.
It also helps wear down their teeth.
Type of Hay
Grass hay-like Timothy hay is one of the best choices for guinea pig breeds.
It’s high in fiber but low in protein, calories, fat, and calcium.
Hay like alfalfa hay is fine for your pet every now again, but it shouldn’t be a staple food as it contains too much calcium.
Vegetables are also crucial in your guinea pig’s diet and need to be fed every day.
Guinea pigs are unable to produce their own vitamin C – they need to get it from their food, which includes vegetables, fruits, and pellets.
Give your pet a range of different vegetables each day to ensure they get a variety of nutrients.
Leafy greens like romaine lettuce, parsley, kale, and cilantro are some popular choices for guinea pigs.
Each guinea pig will have their likes and dislikes when it comes to vegetables, just like humans.
One of my guinea pigs hates broccoli, while my other one can’t get enough of it. Feed your cavy a range of veggies to see which one they like the most!
Some other great options in your cavy’s diet include bell pepper, spinach, and broccoli.
Root vegetables like parsnips and carrots are too starchy to be fed every day but can be a tasty treat once or twice a week.
Take out any leftover fresh vegetables from your guinea pig’s cage within a day so they don’t eat spoiled food.
Fruits shouldn’t make up a large part of your guinea pig’s diet, but they can be a satisfying treat every so often.
They’re also a lot healthier than store-bought treats and are a great way to sneak in some extra vitamin C into your cavy’s body.
Fruits that are rich in vitamin C like tomato and kiwi are particularly good choices, but apple (remove the seeds), blueberries, cucumber, papaya, and strawberries are also decent selections.
Pellets for Guinea Pigs
Pellets are the last food your piggy needs every day.
Guinea pig pellets should be grass hay-based and low in fat (only about 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.
When Should I Feed My Guinea Pig?
You should offer your guinea pig food once in the morning and once in the evening.
How Often Should I Give My Guinea Pigs Food?
You should feed your guinea pig twice a day to keep them well and at a healthy weight.
Don’t be tempted to feed your guinea pig any more than this, no matter how cute they look!
Overfeeding Guinea Pigs
If you give your Abyssinian too much food in one day, they will gorge themselves as they won’t know when to stop.
Overfeeding your Abyssinian 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 Food for Guinea Pigs
- Dairy food (like yogurt, eggs, milk, and cheese) – Guinea pigs 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 herbivores. Giving your guinea pig 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 avocado are toxic to guinea pigs.
- Leeks, chives, shallots, and onions – All of these are toxic to guinea pigs. If consumed, they can lead to blood disorders.
- Rhubarb – All parts of this vegetable are poisonous to guinea pigs, including the leaves.
- Cauliflower and cabbage – These vegetables can make guinea pigs bloated.
American guinea pigs can be housed with any other guinea pig breeds, including guinea pigs with long hair.
If you want to keep this breed, consider getting a pair or even a small group so your pets don’t feel isolated.
A lone guinea pig will need a lot of attention and care to prevent them from becoming bored and lonely.
Exercise and Enrichment for an American Guinea Pig Breed
These popular pets need exercise each day to ensure they keep fit and well.
Exercise provides guinea pig breeds with a way to burn off energy, as well as enrichment.
Giving your American guinea pig breed some time outside of their cage allows them to explore, roam, and play.
It’s also a great way to sneak in some quality bonding time with your pet.
Guinea pigs who don’t get enough exercise are likely to get bored and restless, which can lead to behavioral problems, stress, and obesity.
All guinea pigs, no matter their breed, require 3 to 4 hours of exercise every day.
How to Exercise Guinea Pigs
Don’t worry, you don’t need any elaborate equipment to exercise guinea pigs. A run, playpen, paddling pool, or even a hallway will do the job.
I use a spare room for my guinea pigs – one that’s quiet and guinea pig-proof.
Give your guinea pigs some toys to play with during free-range time – tunnels, hideaways, chews, etc.
My guinea pigs enjoy obstacle courses and mazes, especially when I hide treats for them to find.
What to Look Out For
If you’re exercising your pet inside, block off any holes your guinea pig could get into, and tidy away cables and other objects.
Alternatively, if you want to exercise these popular animals outside, check that the weather is dry and neither too hot nor cold.
Position your guinea pig’s run away from direct sunlight, and ensure they have some shade.
I use a towel draped over one side of my guinea pigs’ run when I’m exercising them outside.
You’ll also want to check that your lawn hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals like weedkiller.
Always supervise your guinea pigs breeds when they are exercising outside.
What Plants Are Poisonous to Guinea Pigs?
Some plants and flowers are toxic to guinea pigs, so you have to be careful when exercising these popular animals outside.
If you’re uncertain whether a plant is safe for guinea pigs, then it’s best to avoid it anyway just to be safe.
A few popular plants/flowers found in backyards that are poisonous to guinea pigs include Sweet Alyssum, Shirley Poppy, Crown of Thorns, Strawflower, and Pot Marigold.
Guinea Pig Gestation Period and Pregnancy
Female guinea pigs (another name for a female cavy is sow) have an average gestation period of about 69 days, but anywhere between 59 days and 72 days is within the norm.
Most sows have 2 to 4 pups (baby guinea pigs), but litter sizes can range from 1 to 8.
Signs of a Healthy American Guinea Pig
A healthy American guinea pig 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 nor underweight
- Clear mouth
- Clean bottom
- No signs of breathing or dental issues
Vitamin C Deficiency
As I mentioned earlier, guinea pigs can’t produce their own vitamin C – they need to get it from their food.
But, what happens if guinea pig breeds don’t get enough vitamin C in their diet?
Well, they become deficient in the compound. Vitamin C deficiencies in guinea pigs are typically caused by improper nutrition, but other health issues that impact your pet’s capability of absorbing vitamin C can also be a factor.
Low levels of vitamin C in guinea pigs can lead to scurvy, a condition that affects your cavy’s collagen production. Collagen is needed for healthy, well bones and tissue.
If scurvy is left untreated in guinea pigs, it can result in skin, joints, and blood clotting problems.
Some common and popular symptoms of scurvy in guinea pigs include:
- 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
Guinea pigs with scurvy may have one or two of these symptoms, or they may have the majority of them.
If you notice just one of these signs in your pet, take to see a vet as soon as possible.
Vitamin C deficiencies and scurvy can be prevented and often treated by ensuring you feed your pet a variety of vegetables and fruits, and by giving them high-quality pellets designed for guinea pigs (preferably one that is enriched with vitamin C).
Pododermatitis (popular name is bumblefoot) is an infection of the footpad in guinea pigs.
The footpad becomes inflamed, swollen, and develops painful sores that look similar to tumors or calluses.
Other popular symptoms of bumblefoot include loss of hair around your cavy’s feet, poor mobility, and lack of appetite.
A bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus (another name is Staph) is the most common cause of bumblefoot in guinea pigs.
This bacteria can enter your guinea pig’s foot pad through cuts, scrapes, or wounds. Some other underlying factors of bumblefoot in guinea pigs are:
- Poor diet (specifically, not enough vitamin C)
- Overgrown nails
- Humid habitat
- Wire floors
- Excessive pressure on feet
- Dirty environment
If bumblefoot is detected early before it has a chance to progress, it can usually be treated by making changes to your guinea pig’s habitat.
For example, switching to a soft bedding and smooth floor, and keeping on top of cage maintenance.
Mild cases often respond well to foot soaks using Epsom salt and warm water.
This solution helps draw out the infection and heal the sores.
If your pet needs treatment unrelated to their environment, your vet will do this
This might include clipping the hair around the affected area, trimming long nails or dead tissue, and soaking the footpad in an antibiotic solution.
Your vet may also prescribe your pet pain medication and oral antibiotics.
Severe cases of bumblefoot may require surgery, especially if the wound develops an abscess.
Amputation of the leg may also be necessary if other treatment methods aren’t successful.
If left untreated, amputation of the infected leg may be the only option.
The American guinea pig breed might not be as elegant or striking as some other breeds like the Silkie, but they’re still an adorable pet nonetheless.
I hope I helped you understand a little more about the American guinea pig and helped you decide whether they’re the right pet for you.
I’m a little biased as both my two cavies are American, but the American guinea pig is my favorite guinea pig breed.
But, what do you think of the American guinea pig? Are they your favorite guinea pig breed?
If you’re looking for more tips and tricks on guinea pig care, then take a look at our other guides on guinea pigs.