Guinea pig

Cavia porcellus

Guinea pigs are a domesticated version of an extinct species from South America. They are a rodent that is usually around 8 inches long, and occur in a variety of colors and fur lengths. They make good companions for older children and often squeak happily when their owner enters the room. Like most rodents their teeth grow continuously so they need toys or other enrichment to chew on to help grind their teeth down. Although they can startle easily, they rarely bite and do best in a small same-sex group due to their social nature.

Did You Know?

Guinea pigs are a domesticated version of an extinct species from South America.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Guinea pigs are no longer found in the wild and are solely a domestic breed. It is thought these rodents were domesticated thousands of years ago. Since there is not a wild population to harvest from there is no sustainability risk.  They are bred for pet stores and hobbyists, but can also be adopted from shelters.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet guinea pig only acquire from a reputable, pet store, hobby breeder or shelter.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Little Cause for Concern

Guinea pigs are unlikely to be an invasive threat for the U.S. They are not listed as an invasive species by the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Since they do not do well in extreme temperatures it is unlikely they would survive outside year-round in certain areas of the country.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Little Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Guinea pigs are social animals that do best in a pair, unless you plan on breeding your pets keep only females or only males. These rodents enjoy being held when comfortable with their owner, and are even known to squeak happily when their person enters the room. Guinea pigs need to be taken out of their cage regularly to get exercise, letting them explore a room is a great way to do this. Be careful of holes they can get into and anything you don’t want them to chew. They will nibble just about anything in their path. They should have a minimum of 4 feet of floor space and plenty of places to hide. It is also important that they have toys or sticks to chew so their teeth do not overgrow. Guinea pig diets should consist of pellets supplemented with hay and fresh fruits and veggies. Their bodies do create their own vitamin C so they must receive this vitamin in their food (in the form of citrus fruits).

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a guinea pig, be sure to research its specific care requirements. Make sure to buy from a reputable source to increase the chance you are receiving a healthy animal and reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases to your family.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Little Cause for Concern

Rodents can carry the virus Lymphocytic choriomeningitis which can cause meningitis and encephalitis in people. It is rare for a guinea pig to transmit this virus to humans unless they are immunocompromised such as the elderly, very young children, and people who are very ill. As long as the cage is kept clean and you and your family wash your hands after holding your guinea pig, it is unlikely to be much of a health threat. Guinea pigs are also highly susceptible to Bordetella brochchiseptica, a causative agent of kennel cough in dogs. This disease is not much of a threat to humans, but can be transmitted to and cause severe health problems in other pets.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Make sure you purchase or adopt your guinea pig from a reputable source, to increase the chance you are receiving a healthy pet. 

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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