According to the American Cavy Breeders Association (ACBA) there are 13 standard guinea pig breeds.
Cavy is another name for this animal and refers to domesticated versions.
Cavies are greatly enjoyed as pets today in the United States.
The Cavy traces its ancestry back to South America, in particular to the Peruvian Andes region of the continent.
First having been domesticated by the Incas, they were grown for both their meat and their fur. In more recent times they have served as laboratory animals.
They still exist in the wild in many parts of South America. The wild animals tend not to be nearly as round or as plump as their domesticated cousins.
Wild guinea pigs captured by English and Dutch explorers were shipped back to Europe from the northeastern part of South America known as Guinea, hence the name, even though the animals were not native to Guinea and are not related to the pig family.
These little animals soon became great favorites in Europe, not for their meat of their fur, but as pets. They are members of the rodent family.
Most of them are quite small animals and vary in size from a large hamster or rat to a smaller breed of dog. On average, though, they weigh in at about 2 pounds.
The guinea pig comes from the order Rodentia, or rodent, from the Caviidae family and the genus Cavia.
They are one of two species of Cavia and have the scientific name Cavia porcellus, or C. porcellus.
Getting To Know The Various Types Of Guinea Pigs
In the listing below, the 13 ACBA standard guinea pigs are briefly described along with several breeds that are recognized by other societies.
One of them, the Skinny Pig, while not recognized as a unique breed by the ACBA has been included in the main listing because of its popularity.
All in all, 20 of the more well-known breeds are either described in some detail or briefly mentioned.
Abyssinian and Abyssinian Satin
The Abyssinian and the Abyssinian Satin are two of the 12 so-called standard breeds. The colors can vary but one of the more distinctive features is the manner in which the hair stands out.
The texture of the Abyssinian’s coat is quite a bit different than the others. The coat is short and rough and features a number of rosettes, or tufts of hair.
These rosettes are normally eight in number and are located in the vicinity of the animal’s shoulders. The Abyssinian can be bred with any other guinea pigs.
This is a very energetic animal that can be mischievous and is a known troublemaker at times, but it is, nevertheless, quite easy to train. Most owners refer to these little pets as an “Abby.”
It is uncertain why this animal is referred to as Abyssinian since they do not come from Ethiopia, the African country that was once known as Abyssinia. One of the more positive features is that it is easy to groom.
One of the negative features is that it is more prone to illness than the others. The primary difference between these two is that the coat on the Abyssinian Satin is much denser and shinier.
American and American Satin
These are by far the most common. When you visit someone who keeps them as pets, those pets will most likely be American guinea pigs. Because it is so common, they are seldom expensive.
They tend to be well-behaved and affectionate and are rarely known to bite, a trait shared with most. This is a short-haired animal and grooming is seldom a problem.
Like most of the other animals, it will go out of its way to groom itself and keep itself clean.
The American breed originated in the Andes Mountains of South America. It is believed to be the oldest of the Cavies. Its short coat is straight and smooth.
A variant, the American Satin, has a coat that is finer, denser, and extra shiny. The American Satin is recognized by the ACBA as being a separate breed.
American guinea pig coats can take on a variety of colors and patterns, although the American Satin coats are more often than not solid in color or have what is called a self-color.
It makes a fine pet for children.
It is generally recommended they be purchased in pairs or larger numbers as they are very social animals which, if purchased as solitary pets, will need plenty of attention from their owners.
If purchased in pairs, same-sex pairs are recommended unless the intent is to breed them.
A number of different breeds feature rosettes one or more places in their coats. This particular breed features a rosette at the top of its head. This distinctive whorl of fur, or coronet, is what gives this animal its name.
The Coronet is long-haired. It is also a fairly new breed that has proven to be both popular as a pet and as a show-stopper when exhibited.
Although lacking a muzzle, as is of course the case with all breeds, the long hair of the Coronet gives the animal a somewhat striking resemblance to the head of a small dog; a head with feet.
The Coronet comes from England where it was first bred in the mid 1970’s. A related breed appeared in the United States a few years later.
The latter was a cross between Silkies and the White Crested. Coronets can be found in Satin, meaning they will have a denser and shinier coat.
While some Satins are recognized as distinct breeds by the ACBA, such is not the case with the Coronet Satin. Coronets come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, all of which are acceptable for showing.
Because of their long hair, the Coronets require somewhat more maintenance than is the case with the short-haired breeds.
Peruvian and Peruvian Satin
Because of its long hair, this animal resembles a very tiny dog in some ways; perhaps a Shih Tzu or a long-haired Yorkshire terrier. This Cavy has proven to be somewhat difficult to breed.
Consequently, a Peruvian guinea pig is not always the easiest type to find. It is not native to Peru but was first bred in Australia.
Although they are born with short hair, Peruvians become long-haired as they become adults. Their hair will begin to part at the top and spill down the sides of the head and body.
Being long-haired, it requires quite a bit of grooming to keep the coat from becoming matted. If several Peruvians are kept together, they will tend to groom one another.
Human intervention is still necessary, though, especially if the animals are going to appear for show. This animal probably requires the most grooming.
Their hair has to be trimmed back on occasion, normally about once a week or when it reaches the floor. If left untrimmed, a its hair can grow to a length of up to 20 inches.
Silkie and Silkie Satin
The Silkie is a long-hair guinea pig. Its most notable feature is the fact that the long hair that grows on the top if its head is swept back as if a hairdresser had arranged it that way.
This tends to give the Silkie a hairstyle that is not only extremely cute, but is somewhat similar to a hairdo you might expect on an elderly politician, actor or orchestra conductor.
The hair sweeps down in back of the ears. It also tends to cover the back of the animal as if it were a cloak. The hair is both soft and shiny, with the hair of the Silkie Satin being even shinier.
The Silkie is a cross between a black Cavy and a Peruvian Cavy. While it comes in a variety of colors, one of its patterns (black and white) bears a resemblance to the pattern of a Shetland sheepdog.
In the UK, the Silkie is called a Sheltie.
Teddy and Teddy Satin
The Teddy is noted for having a dense, wiry coat, which in some cases can be soft and fuzzy to the touch while in other cases it can be somewhat rough.
It can be as rough as a scouring pad according to some owners. A variant is the Satin Teddy, which has a coat that is considerably shinier than most Teddies.
One thing the members of these two breeds do have in common is they both tend to be unbelievably cute.
The Teddy is the result of a genetic mutation, but it has been recognized as a standard breed since the late 1970’s.
The Teddy comes in nearly all of the colors considered to be standard and comes in a variety of patterns as well.
Although not quite as common as the American guinea pig, the Teddies have, nevertheless, become one of the more common and popular breeds and are generally not too difficult to locate.
They also tend to cost about half as much as an American.
When you first see a Texel, it might take you a moment to decide if it is extremely strange looking or extremely beautiful. Most people tend to agree with the latter description.
To refer to the Texel as a curly-haired animal really doesn’t do it justice. Describing a guinea pig as having long, curly hair would be closer to the mark.
The Texel is one of the friendliest and most affectionate and makes a wonderful pet. One caveat would be that, if you aren’t willing to take the time to keep it groomed, it is probably not the right pet for you or for small children.
On a relative scale, the Texel would have to be considered a high-maintenance Cavy. The face of the Texel fortunately features rather short hair. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
To call the White Crested guinea pig unique-looking may not be saying much since the same could be said for most of the other ones. It does have a somewhat different and unique feature however.
These Cavies do not have, or at least for show purposes should not have, white coloration on any part of their body except on the top of the head.
The White Crested Cavy wears a white patch on the top of its head as if it were a crown. It can come in a variety of colors, but for show purposes these colors are usually limited to a few solids or patterns.
All competitors must, however, be wearing a white crown and only a white crown.
In addition, the Cavy must not have white anywhere else on its body. Needless to say, a White Crested guinea pig that is fit for competitive showing can sometimes be difficult to come by.
The coat of a White Crested will be similar to that of the American, which is to say it will be short and smooth. Satins exist but are not yet recognized as being distinctive breeds.
Hairless (Skinny Pig)
This hairless, or nearly hairless, guinea pig is a mixed breed dating back to the late 1970s when a short-haired breed was cross-bred with a hairless strain that had been bred in a laboratory.
The Hairless guinea pig, or Skinny Pig, is not completely hairless although it is born nearly so. As it matures, hair will develop on its head, particularly the muzzle, and on the legs and feet.
The Skinny Pig has been cross-bred with others resulting in a variety of hair patterns. In one instance, the breeding has been such that the hair covers the entire head and not just the muzzle.
These cross-breeds have come to be known as Werewolf Skinny Pigs.
In terms of temperament, the Skinny Pig is not much different than other animals. Its lack of body hair does require special attention, however, in that extra precautions need to be taken to make certain it is kept warm.
The lack of body hair suggests grooming is never a problem, which is basically true. It should not be bathed too often as doing so could disturb the production of protective oils it needs to keep its skin healthy.
It should not be exposed to sunlight as its skin can sunburn quite easily.
The soft, rubbery skin is for the most part smooth, although it often wrinkles around the neck. It is very affectionate and social.
It does best when in the company of other similar breeds. If kept as a solitary pet, it usually needs a lot of human attention to remain happy and healthy.
Others Guinea Pigs
While the 13 breeds recognized by the ACBA have been listed here, including the Satins, there are others in existence. Some go by more than one name and some names actually refer to colors rather than a unique breed.
The English guinea pig is popular in Europe but is actually another name often given to the American.
Several “Satin” varieties are not recognized as separate breeds by the ACBA but are recognized as such by other societies or organizations. These include the Coronet Satin, the White Crested Satin and the Texel Satin.
The Agouti is considered a separate breed in some quarters although the name essentially refers to the color of the animal. The same is true of the Himalaya, which is characterized by having a white body with a black nose and feet.
The Baldwin is closely associated with the Skinny Pig breed. In some quarters, the Baldwin is thought to be the predominant breed of hairless guinea pigs, while in others it is hardly mentioned and the Skinny Pig appears to be predominant.
The Alpaca closely resembles the Peruvian, but is generally considered a separate, though extremely rare, breed. The same can be said for the Merino, which is quite similar to the Coronet but has curly hair.
The Lunkarya is a relatively new breed that comes from Scandinavia and has not yet gained worldwide acceptance as a distinct breed. It is called a “Lunk” for short.
With at least thirteen or more breeds to choose from and as many different colors to choose from, coupled with an even greater number of possible coat patterns, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a pet Cavy that could be accurately be described as being “unique” in its appearance.
Where there are similarities it is that nearly all of these little animals are affectionate, sociable and reasonably easy to care for.