My roommate has three guinea pigs, and each one looks a bit different from the next. Before moving in there, I had never actually seen a guinea pig up close and personal. After being here for some time I must admit, I’ve grown to like the fuzzy little critters. That was the first time I saw one and not long after I wanted to adopt one for my self. This is where the research about different guinea pig breeds started. I had no idea how different they can look amongst each other.
So, what do guinea pigs look like? Guinea pigs are domesticated tailless rodents that usually grow to no more than a foot long, weighing in at about three pounds. Their fur ranges from short to long, in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures. Guinea pigs have front incisors that resemble a rabbit, helping them chew on food and other roughage. Guinea pigs come in many breeds, and they all look different.
Domesticated guinea pigs have been kept as pets since about 1,000 BC, making them one of the first pets of the New World that still exist today. Imagine that your guinea pig was kept as a pet by someone over three thousand years ago! In the modern era, European explorers of the New World brought guinea pigs back to Europe.
Their naturally cuddly nature made them a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and they continue to be today. Guinea pigs are an excellent option for the family who needs a low maintenance pet that gives a tremendous amount of love. Guinea pig owners love their appearance, which is unique in the animal world.
The Many Looks of the Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs range from hairless to long-hair breeds. If you are choosing to adopt a guinea pig for the first time, short-hair guinea pigs are the most popular. Their patterns can be solid or multi-colored, and short-haired guinea pigs’ fur is easy to maintain.
Long hair guinea pigs need more grooming, making them more high-maintenance. Without daily grooming, their fur can knot and mat, making them extremely uncomfortable. However, most of these breeds have fur that is soft to the touch. If you feel that you may have allergies related to your pet’s coat, they also come in hairless (or almost hairless) breeds.
- Abyssinian (Abyssinian Satin) – one of the oldest breeds of domesticated guinea pigs with soft or matte fur. They have fluffs that need consistent maintenance.
- American (American Satin) – the most common breed with a soft coat that sheds less than most breeds. The coat is easy to brush.
- American crested – a short-hair guinea pig with a small crest on the forehead that is either white or a different color than the rest of the coat
- English crested – a short-hair guinea pig with a small crest on the forehead that is either white or a different color than the rest of the coat
- Himalayan – born with mostly white fur, these guinea pigs have fur that changes as they grow, and the colors of their fur depend on their environment
- Rex – with short, rough, thick coats, the Rex needs lots of grooming. If you are turned off by the rough coat, their hair never grows more than an inch long, so it is very soft to the touch.
- Ridgeback – mostly found in Europe, this breed has short hair except for a strip of long hair along the base of its spine
- Teddy (Teddy Satin) – a crossbreed of the American and Abyssinian guinea pig, it has soft and short fur. They are called the “Teddy” because their fur resembles a teddy bear
- White-crested – a short-hair guinea pig with a small crest on the forehead that is either white or a different color than the rest of the coat
- Alpaca – one of the rarest long-haired breeds; has a thick, coarse coat
- Coronet – satin-like fur parts at the neck, growing down the sides
- Lunkarya – long curly fur in ringlets; has two coats; rougher fur stands out;
- Merino – one part at the top of the head; long, curly fur
- Peruvian – fur can grow over a foot long, possibly the oldest long-haired breed, parts down the middle, hanging down its sides; daily grooming recommended for experienced guinea pig owners
- Shelba – hair grows in all directions; has multiple parts
- Sheltie – soft long fur grows from the neck and runs down the back; doesn’t have a natural part
- Texel – mostly found in England, extremely curly fur that looks like a corkscrew; doesn’t part naturally
Hairless Guinea Pigs
- Skinny pig – not technically a guinea pig breed; their hairless body comes from a genetic mutation when crossbreeding; don’t need grooming, but their skin is extremely sensitive, requiring constant care
- Baldwin – unlike the skinny pig, the Baldwin is born with fur. Throughout their life, it falls out. After they lose their fur, their skin is sensitive to light, heat, and cold.
The Colors of a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs come with self-coats (one solid color) or multi-colored fur in a variety of color combinations.
Self-coats come in the following colors:
Guinea pigs that have several colors in their fur have designated names, based on the color combination.
- Agouti: The stomach is a solid color, with other color patterns on the rest of the fur.
- Brindle: Solid red and black.
- Carey: Yellow, Black, and Red.
- Dalmatian: Solid black coat with white, black, or gray spots.
- Dutch: Black, Chocolate, Gold, and White Fur. Dutch guinea pigs are usually a solid color, with white spots on the chest, neck, and face.
- Fox: Black fur with white spots on the face and stomach.
- Harlequin: White, Black, and Red fur.
- Himalayan: Solid white coat with either red, brown, or black tips on the paws and the face.
- Magpie: Solid white and black fur.
- Mottled: Red, Brown, and Black Coat.
- Otter: Solid black coat with yellow tips on the stomach and the face.
- Roan: Solid white fur with red or black patterns.
- Tan: Solid black coat with red tips on the stomach and the face.
- Ticked: Each individual hair has stripes.
- Tortoiseshell or tortie: Solid red and black.
- Tricolor: White, Brown, and Black.
How do I know a guinea pig is the right pet for me?
Guinea pigs are a lovely pet that can bring plenty of love and affection into your home. The breed you choose to adopt is up to personal preference, as well as the amount of time you can invest into your guinea pig. Short-haired and hairless breeds are great for working owners.
If you aren’t out of your home for several hours of the day, and you can devote time every day to your piggie, then a long-haired breed would suit you fine.
How can I tell which breed I am adopting?
Even with the various descriptions of guinea pig breeds, you may find it difficult to determine which breed you are adopting. Adopting from a rescue organization or a shelter is always best because these guinea pigs need loving homes. Ask which breed you are adopting if you want to know your piggie’s background. The professionals of the organization or shelter will share the information with you. If you purchase your guinea pig from a pet store, the team there will know the breeds of the guinea pigs they have.