Guinea pigs are one of the most popular pets, especially as pets for children. They are very social animals, they love to be active and one of the most important things is that guinea pigs are affectionate pets to humans and they aren’t hard to take care of.
If you own this little pet or if you are planning to buy one, we are sure you’ve always wondered why they are called guinea pigs.
Are guinea pigs really pigs? No, guinea pigs are not real pigs and in fact, they don’t even come from Guinea. Guinea pigs have some trivial similarities with real pigs (Sus scrofa), for example, their body is built in a similar manner and guinea pigs love to eat a lot, just like real pigs. Still, guinea pigs aren’t related to real pigs because they are completely different species, guinea pigs are rodents while real pigs belong to the class group of mammals called Artiodactyla. In terms of their character, social life, diet and behavior guinea pigs are completely different from real pigs. Also, guinea pigs didn’t come from the Republic of Guinea, their place of origin is South America where they could previously be found living in the wild. Their scientific name is Cavia Porcellus which when translated from Latin means ”small pig”.
In the following sections, we will talk more about similarities and differences between guinea pigs and real pigs and also a little bit about guinea pig’s name origin. This is certainly an interesting article that will help you to understand your little pet better and hopefully improve your relationship. Let’s start!
Guinea Pigs and Real Pigs | Similarities and Differences
Related: What Do Guinea Pigs Look Like?
To some people, guinea pigs could appear to have some physical similarities with actual pigs, such as the shape of the body. Still, guinea pigs and real pigs are totally different species. It is important to note that guinea pigs are domesticated animals, as the wild ones had been extinct for a long time now.
Guinea pigs enjoy eating way more than they should, which some compare to the character of actual pigs. The truth is that, if you’re looking to find a similarity between these two animals, you’ll eventually see it, but if you observe them objectively, prepare to be disappointed.
The similarities of these two are merely a coincidence, and nothing to be taken seriously due to the number of other differences.
The most obvious difference lies in character, as guinea pigs are very affectionate pets and simply irresistible. They are social creatures that can’t stand to be lonely, which makes them the perfect pet for kids and adults.
While real pigs tend to eat meat, and even their young ones, guinea pigs are herbivores, thriving on fruit and vegetables. Guinea pigs also come in different breeds, so you’ll find a whole range of patterns and colors when deciding on one. They’re active in sunrise and the evening, continually exploring and seeking attention.
Origins of a Guinea Pig’s Name
When it comes to naming, these poor creatures suffered throughout history, with French variation “Barbary rabbits” being the worst.
Germany is not far behind by calling them “small sea pigs”. The English version Cavies, however, is based on the scientific Latin name Cavia Porcellus which translates as “small pig”. The reasons for the “Guinea” part of the name brings even more discussion to the table.
Guinea pigs were originally found in South America, quite far away from Africa, so the origin of the name is not related to the country of origin. On the other side, there is a theory based on the price of these pets back in the 16th century, “one guinea”.
All of the theories differ, and it’s hard to say which one was the real reason behind the name. While the guinea part of the name at least opens a discussion, why they decided to name them pigs is way harder to tell.
Related: Where Do Guinea Pigs Come From?
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Rats?
Still, many argue that the domestication of guinea pigs affected their genetics in a way that separated them from their long-tailed rodents like mice. The physical similarities are evident because of their short limbs and sharp incisors, these two have undoubtedly some of the same features.
Still, the physical features also differ in a few points. As an example, rats have shorter hair due to the evolution and survival in different habitats. They’re much less interested in socializing and are usually considered invasive.
Rats can sometimes show signs of aggression, while guinea pigs in most cases don’t, even though they possess an equal amount of energy as rats. They do share the same physique, but rats have a hard time adjusting to the human habitat, while guinea pigs don’t, given that they are domesticated for way too long to recall their initial environmental setting.
Unfortunately, rats and guinea pigs are also used in experimental trials for new medicines. In this particular matter, guinea pigs receive better treatment, as rats are often considered replaceable and less important due to their nature. While there is significant controversy in using guinea pigs for lab trials, the truth is that they still are used in experiments just as much as actual rats.
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Rabbits?
Well, this question has no simple answer to it. Even though some people put rabbits and guinea pigs in the same category, the truth is much more complicated. Based on the assumption that had been around for ages, guinea pigs are rodents, and rabbits are not.
Still, there is a large group of people supporting the theory which states that rabbits are related to guinea pigs. Before we dive into the science behind the argument we have to say that they do have a few things in common, especially some of the physical traits.
Related: Can Guinea Pigs Eat Rabbit Food?
So, what’s the problem? Well, with guinea pigs being rodents, there is a small chance of them sharing a genetic trait with rabbits. Still, research sparked controversy with a new view on the matter, and now people have a reason to believe guinea pigs are not rodents at all.
Well, while this theory can’t neglect the fact that guinea pigs still share some similarities with rats and other rodent species, there is a strong argument that guinea pig is an entirely different branch of spices, which opens the chance of rabbits being related to guinea pigs after all.
The fuzziness, the physique, and the overall character of these two surely do fit in the description, even though some genetic traits of guinea pigs may be a result of evolution because they were domesticated.
Well, no matter the side you chose, you still must agree on the fact that both rabbits and guinea pigs share something in common, and we’re not talking about physique. We are talking about the fact that they remain favorite pet choices for many people across the world. They can even coexist in the same cage, if not spoiled individually before.
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Hamsters?
Yes, guinea pigs are related to hamsters and they really look like long-lost brothers. You’ll find that porcupines are as close as it gets to guinea pigs in physical appearance, but when it comes to lifestyle and the food choices (apart from the fact that hamsters can eat meat), hamsters and guinea pigs are more alike than you’d think.
The actual difference lies in the fact that hamsters are nocturnal pets, while guinea pigs are not. Apart from that, hamsters are a bit possessive when it comes to food or space. Guinea pigs share everything without a problem, which is why they are easily paired up with any species, from rabbits to rats (but this is still not recommended to do and guinea pigs really only flourish with their own species).
Hamsters are more like distant relatives who have their own set of rules and refuse to change even when caged for quite a while.
Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are flexible, easy to care for, and easy to clean up after. They also eat a portion of their poop (click to read more). They are tamed to the maximum level and can completely adjust to the owner.
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Chipmunks?
The surprising fact is that guinea pigs are related to chipmunks. Even though chipmunks had never been thoroughly domesticated, these cute little rodents are surely close relatives to guinea pigs.
Most of the people don’t get the chance to inspect it for themselves, but once you put these two next to each other, you’ll realize that it’s not just the physical appearance that defines them.
These two are really different in behavior, with one being domesticated and other becoming a forest rodent, yet both remaining as clean as possible.
The interesting fact is that chipmunks are much more active than a guinea pig, which is most likely because guinea pig was domesticated and used as a pet for a few centuries now. The lazy lifestyle changed their habits, and even though guinea pigs still have energy spikes, compared to chipmunks, they are far less active.
They, however, don’t share all the traits, which is understandable. Another shocker is the fact that guinea pigs have more in common with rats than they have with chipmunks at least when it comes to the physique.
If you decide to compare the two, you’ll see that survival completely changed the appearance of a chipmunk. From the cheek pouches to the rapid movements, while guinea pigs altered for the worse, decreasing their activity over the years.
With the newest cage designs, guinea pigs somewhat maintain increased activity, even though they are still changing, as a result of the different treatment they experienced over the course of the last few centuries. Viewing them as cute pets, the world made them more or less incompetent to keep up with the wild rodents, even rats.
So, while they do share a few genetic traits with the chipmunks, they still are unique because of the many other different features. After all, they are thoroughly domesticated which means they have adjusted to us, more than any other rodent.
Guinea pigs are not real pigs, that’s for sure. Guinea pigs have nothing in common with the actual pigs, other than few features which are common for most of the mammals. They’re more intelligent than pigs, and indeed a better choice for a pet.
It’s still to be proved whether guinea pigs are different species or merely a diverse group of rodents, but it’s widely accepted that they are probably rodents.
Certainly, guinea pigs are a good choice of pet for anyone looking to start a beautiful friendship. Also, if you liked our educational article please keep following our site for more guinea pig related content.
List of Sources
Stachowski, M., Is the English “guinea pig” a pig from Guinea, and the German “Meerschweinchen” a piggy from the sea?, or two old problems revisited, Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis 131, 2014.
Li, W. H., Hide, W. A., Graur, D., Origin of rodents and guinea-pigs, Nature, 1992.
Lennon, A. M., Francon, J., Fellous, A., Nunez, J., Rat, mouse, and guinea pig brain development and microtubule assembly, Journal of neurochemistry, 1980.
Krubitzer, L., Campi, K. L., Cooke, D. F., All Rodents Are Not the Same: A Modern Synthesis of Cortical Organization, Brain, behavior and evolution, 2011.
Hörner, K., Loeffler, K., Holtzmann, M., Comparison of the histologic structure of the compact bone of the long hollow bones of mouse, hamster, rat, guinea pig, rabbit, cat, and dog during development, Anatomia, histologia, embryologia, 1997.
Suckow, M., Stevens, K., Wilson, R., The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents, Elsevier Inc., 2012.
Peter Wen-Shyg Chiou, Bi Yu, Chung-Yi Kuo, Comparison of Digestive Function Among Rabbits, Guinea-Pigs, Rats and Hamsters. I. Performance, Digestibility and Rate of Digesta Passage, Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, 2000.
Sachser, N., Of Domestic and Wild Guinea Pigs: Studies in Sociophysiology, Domestication, and Social Evolution, Naturwissenschaften, 1998.
D’Erchia, A. M., Gissi, C., Pesole, G., Saccone, C., Arnason, U., The guinea-pig is not a rodent, Nature, 1996.
Künzl, C., Sachser, N., The behavioral endocrinology of domestication: A comparison between the domestic guinea pig (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) and its wild ancestor, the cavy (Cavia aperea), Hormones and behavior, 1999.
Kretchmer, K. R., Fox, M. W., Effects of domestication on animal behaviour, The Veterinary record, 1975.
O’Malley, B., Intensive Care of Rodents, Veterinary Nursing Journal, 2014.
Donnelly, T. M., Rodent Husbandry and Care, Purdue University, 2007.
Pace, N., Rahlmann, D. F., Smith, A. H., Muscularity as a function of species, sex and age in small mammals, California Univ.; Berkeley, CA, United States, 1984.