Who am I, exactly?
Guinea Pig, Piggy, Cavy, Cavia Porcellus…some of the common names of what we know as today’s domesticated guinea pig. Guinea pigs are thought to have been domesticated sometime between 5000BC and 2500BC. Guinea pigs (Cavia Porcellus), as we know them, do not exist in the wild. They are thought to be descendants of the Brazilian guinea pig (Cavia Aperea) which still inhabit the north western part of South America.
Domesticated guinea pigs (Cavia Porcellus) are members of the rodent family. They are not related to pigs and do not originate from Guinea. Like other rodents, guinea pigs have molars suited for grinding and open rooted incisors that grow continuously throughout their lives. Like rats and mice, guinea pigs are simple stomached. Unlike other rodents, the guinea pig’s entire stomach is lined with glandular epithelium which aid in digestion, immune function and hormone regulation. Even though they are classified as rodents, the piggy’s digestive system actually has a fermentation capacity similar to horses.
Guinea pigs are strict herbivores. In order to derive as much nutrients as possible from such a cellulose rich meal plan, guinea pigs use coprophagy. They are unable to breakdown and absorb the nutrients of the plants entirely on their own. They have a special bacteria in their cecum that digests the cellulose for them. The cecum produces cecals, a special type of ‘poo’ that they re-ingest for maximum nutritional absorption. It is critically important that guinea pigs are kept on their biologically appropriate diet in order to maintain the fermentation and healthy bacteria in their cecum. Diets too high in carbs or sugar can alter the internal PH leading to catastrophic gastrointestinal issues. If their diet is too high in fat, the fats are converted into starch and glucose, which again, alters their delicate digestion system.
Guinea pigs are unique in the fact that they are unable to synthesize their own vitamin C. It is important that we provide the right amounts through their diets with fresh forages, fresh vegetables and a specifically formulated commercial guinea pig pellets with shelf stabilized vitamin c added.
In posts to come, we will be explaining the specifics of a domesticated guinea pig’s diet including the good, bad and ugly in the commercial pellet market.
Something we missed or anything you would like explained further? Let us know and we will follow up.