Guinea Pig



Guinea pigs (also called cavies) are rodents belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia, originally indigenous to the Andes.

Despite their common name, the animals are not pigs, nor do they come from Guinea.

The common guinea pig was first domesticated about 2000 BC for food by mountain tribes in the Andean region of South America, (present-day Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia). They continue to be a food source in the region, subsisting off a family's vegetable scraps as a pet. They also play the role of evil-spirit collector (scapegoat) in traditional healing rituals. Guinea pigs are called quwi in Quechua and cuy or cuyo (pl. cuyes, cuyos) in Spanish of Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia and this form is included in the official Spanish Academy dictionary.

Dutch and English traders brought guinea pigs to Europe, where they quickly became popular as exotic pets.

How the animals came to be thought of as "pigs" is not clear. One thought is that some of the sounds they make reminded people of pigs, for they emit a variety of sounds, some very similar to a pig's squeal. They are built somewhat like a pig, with a large head relative to the body, a stout neck, and a rounded rump with no tail of any consequence; they also spend a large amount of time eating. They can survive fairly well for long periods of time in small quarters, like a 'pig pen', and were thus easily transported on ships to Europe.

The animal's name carries connotations of it being a pig in many languages. The German word for them is Meerschweinchen, literally "little sea pigs" (sailing ships stopping to re-provision in the New World would pick up stores of guinea pigs, which provided an easily transportable source of fresh meat; Meerschwein = porpoise, another food source for sailors). The Welsh term is mochyn cwta ('little pig'), the French Cochon d'Inde (Indian pig); the Dutch used to call it guinees biggetje (Guinean piglet). In Italian the term is either Porcellino d'India (Little Indian Pig) or Cavia Peruviana (Peruvian Cavy). This is not universal; for example, the common Spanish word is conejillo de Indias (little rabbit of India / the Indies).

The scientific name of the common species is Cavia porcellus, with porcellus being Latin for "little pig". Cavia is derived from Portuguese çavia (now savia) from the Tupi word sawiya, meaning rat.[citation needed]

The origin of "guinea" in "guinea pig" is even harder to explain. According to the etymology of the entry for "guinea pig" in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, the term guinea pig is "Perhaps an alteration (influenced by Guinea, used as a name for any faraway unknown country) of Guiana". One theory is that the animals were brought to Europe by way of Guinea, leading people to think they had originated there. Another theory suggests the "guinea" in the name is a corruption of "Guiana", an area in South America. A common misconception is that they were so named because they were sold as the closest thing to a pig one could get for a guinea (an old British coin with a value of 21 shillings, or 1.05 GBP in modern decimal currency); this theory is untenable, because the guinea was first struck in England in 1663, and William Harvey is known to have used the term "Ginny-pig" as early as 1653. The Dutch name refers to the country of Guinea rather than the British coin, and the first guinea pig was described in 1554 by the Swiss naturalist Konrad Gesner.[citation needed] Others believe "guinea" is a corruption of the word coney, because guinea pigs were called pig coneys in 1607; they resemble rabbits, ignoring the ears.

Guinea pigs are large for rodents, weighing between 0.5 and 1.5 kg (1–3 pounds), and measuring 25–40 cm (10–15 inches) long . They live an average of four to eight years. According to the 1997 Guinness Book of Records the longest living guinea pig survived 15 years. They are social, living in the wild in small groups which consist of sows (females), a boar (male), and the young (which in a break with the preceding porcine nomenclature are called pups). Unlike similar rodents, Guinea pigs mate for life in the same pair bond. Domesticated guinea pigs thrive in groups of two or more; groups of sows, or groups of a sows and a neutered boar are common combinations. Groups of boars may also get along, provided their cage has enough space, they are not introduced to a female, and proper introduction techniques are employed. Some guinea pig owners report that female guinea pigs are more docile than their male counterparts, although each guinea pig is unique.

In the wild, guinea pigs are found on grassy plains and occupy an ecological niche similar to that of the cow. They move together in small groups (herds) eating grass or whatever other plants they come across. They are crepuscular, tending to be most active during dawn and dusk, when it is harder for predators to spot them. If startled they can run for cover with surprising speed. Domestic guinea pigs have developed a different rhythm, and have longer periods of activity followed by short periods of sleep in between. Activity is scattered randomly over the 24 hours of the day.

Domestic guinea pigs generally live in cages, though some owners of large herds of guinea pigs will dedicate entire rooms to their pets. Guinea pigs should be kept indoors, instead of in outdoor hutches where they are exposed to predators and adverse weather conditions that may cause illness due to excess heat, cold, or humidity. Cages with wire mesh floors are not recommended by guinea pig owners as these can cause injury and may be associated with a foot infection commonly known as "bumblefoot" (ulcerative pododermatitis). Cages are often lined with wood shavings or a similar material. Bedding made from red cedar and pine, both softwoods, were commonly used in past decades but are now believed to contain harmful phenols (aromatic hydrocarbons) and oils (particularly red cedar). Many retail stores and manufacturers still advertise softwood beddings as safe for guinea pigs, but there is growing pressure to stop the practice. Safer beddings include those made from hardwoods (such as aspen), hemp, paper, or grain. A new idea for bedding is the practice of lining the cage with newspaper or another absorbent material and covering it with fleece. This is cheaper than standard beddings, and easier to clean. Shredded office paper is another inexpensive alternative. "Cubes and Coroplast" (or C&C) style cages are now a common choice. There is much controversy surrounding conventional pet store cages, which might be harmful for them.

Unlike many rodents such as mice, rats, or squirrels, guinea pigs are not particularly agile. Nevertheless, they require ample space to run, jump, play, hide and rest. Jumping gaps, climbing, and fearlessness in the face of heights were not skills guinea pigs needed in their natural environment, although they can hop over small obstacles with ease. When excited, guinea pigs may repeatedly perform little jumps in the air (known as "popcorning").

Guinea pigs can learn complex paths to food. They can accurately remember the learned path for weeks and months. Their strongest and overwhelming problem solving strategy is moving.

Guinea pigs are very vocal animals. Some sounds are:

* Wheek - A loud noise that is essentially onomatopaeic. An expression of general excitement, it can mean "feed me", "pay attention", or possibly "I'm hurt". It is sometimes used to find other guinea pigs if they are in a run. If a guinea pig is lost, it may "wheek" for assistance.
* Rumbling - This sound is related to Guinea pig dominance or in response to an unfamiliar sound. It can also come as a response to comfort or content. Whilst courting, a male usually purrs deeply, while swaying from side to side, nearly lifting the rear feet.
* Chattering - This sound is made by rapidly gnashing the teeth together—it is a warning to others to keep away. Guinea pigs tend to raise their heads when making this sound so as to look more dangerous.
* Bubbling, or Purring - This rather pleasant sound is made when the guinea pig is enjoying itself, when being petted or held. They may also make this sound when grooming, crawling around to investigate a new place, or when given an unexpected food treat, like lettuce or carrots.
* Chirping - The meaning of this sound is unclear to this editor, but its existence is well documented.

The gestation lasts from 59-72 days (average is around 68 days), which is quite long considering the animal's relatively small mass. Pups are already well developed at birth, including fur, teeth, claws and full eyesight, when they are born. The young are mobile from birth, and depending on the environment, will usually venture outdoors within a week. Pups begin eating solid food after a couple of days, though continue to suckle also. Males may demonstrate courtship behavior (following young females and making a "warbling" sound) in the second or third week after birth. Litters vary from two or three young to as many as eight or more. In smaller litters, difficulties may occur during labour, due to over-sized pups. Up to half the young may be lost in larger litters, as the mother cannot attend to the newborns fast enough. If a large number survive, it is likely that the weakest (or runts of the litter), will be insufficiently nursed, resulting occasionally in the death of one or two pups. Lactating mothers' milk consists of approximately 3.9% fat, 8.1% protein, and 3.0% lactose. [citation needed] Many nursing supplements intended for other small animals may not match guinea pig milk's composition.

Because of the long gestation period and the large size of the pups, pregnant females may become large and eggplant-shaped (aubergine), although the change in size and shape varies among individual animals. Breeding males produce a strong musk that smells much like beeswax.

Females can be fertile as early as three weeks and can carry litters before they themselves are adults. This can seriously affect the growth of the young mother, as her unborn pups compete with her for nutrition.

Cohousing male and female guinea pigs may lead to pregnancy, which can be fatal in females older than six months that have never been bred. Females (sows) that have never been bred commonly develop irreversible fusing of the pubic symphysis, a joint in the pelvis, between six and nine months of age. Because the birth canal cannot widen sufficiently, this may lead to dystocia and death as they attempt to give birth. The sex of a guinea pig can be determined by examining the genitalia.

Males (boars) have been known to be fertile as early as 3-4 weeks of age but more typically around 5-6. Females can become pregnant in less than 12 hours after giving birth, and it is not healthy for a female to be in virtually a constant state of pregnancy. Cohabitating females may assist in mothering duties.[citation needed]Toxemia of pregnancy is common and kills many pregnant females. Signs of toxemia include anorexia, lack of energy, excessive salivation, and a ketone breath odor, and in advanced cases seizures and death. Pregnancy toxemia appears to be most common in hot climates. Other serious complications of pregnancy can include a prolapsed uterus and hypocalcemia.

Like humans, but unlike most other mammals, guinea pigs cannot synthesize their own vitamin C and must obtain this vital nutrient from food. Also like humans, if guinea pigs do not ingest enough vitamin C, they can suffer from scurvy and ultimately die. Guinea pigs require about 25-50mg of vitamin C daily, which can be obtained through fresh, raw fruits and vegetables or through supplements fed to domestic animals. Guinea pigs often learn to enjoy these tablets, eating them from their owners' hands.

Grass is the guinea pig's natural diet. Grass digestion requires a special digestive system; whereas most grass-eating mammals are quite large and have a long digestive tract, guinea pigs use a more unusual method, practicing coprophagy, the eating of their own feces. However, they do not consume their feces indiscriminately. They produce special soft pellets, called "cecotropes", which contain the B vitamins and bacteria required for proper digestion. These pellets are not the same as regular feces. They share this behaviour with rabbits.

Guinea pigs benefit from feeding on grass hay, such as timothy hay, in addition to food pellets. Hay provides roughage and long-strand fiber needed in their diet which pellets alone do not provide. Alfalfa hay, a legume hay richer in calcium and protein, is available either fresh or in the form of pellets (the most common pellet-based feed available). Experts recommend that alfalfa and other foods rich in calcium, (such as spinach), be fed to adults only in moderation.[citation needed] Diets with imbalanced Ca:P ratios may result in health problems and may possibly contribute to the formation of certain types of bladder stones and bladder sludge. A number of brands of commercially prepared pellets exist that are based on dehydrated timothy hay, which are ideally suited for guinea pigs over six months that are not pregnant or lactating.

A number of plants are poisonous to guinea pigs, including bracken, buttercup, bryony, charlock, deadly nightshade, hemlock, lily of the valley, privet, scarlet pimpernel, ragwort, various parts of the potato plant, toadflax and tomato leaves. Additionally, any plant which grows from a bulb e.g., tulip and onion is normally considered poisonous.[citation needed] Guinea pigs are also known to consume large amounts of cloth (bed sheets, clothing, shoe laces), newspaper/glossy paper, or even plastic, such as insulation around electrical cords. Surprisingly, they can usually withstand consuming such materials, although they are not recommended by owners because they are potentially dangerous and have little nutritional value.

Common ailments in domestic guinea pigs include respiratory infections, diarrhea, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency, symptoms include hind leg paralysis), abscesses (large amounts of a thick pus that create a bulge, often in their neck, due to infected internal scratches from hay that is too hard or infected external scratches received in a variety of ways), and infections by lice, mites or fungus.

Mange mites (Trixacarus caviae) are a common cause of fur loss, whose symptoms also may include excessive scratching, unusually aggressive behavior when touched (due to pain), and in some instances, seizures. If not treated, mange mites can be fatal. Mange mites are not visible to the naked eye. Vets may perform a "skin scraping" to determine the presence of mites (or a fungal infection), although this procedure is often painful and may result in a false negative result. Mange mites are commonly treated with several doses of ivermectin, available through a veterinarian, or from a Feedstore (for horses). Revolution for Dogs & Cats can also be used.

Guinea pigs may also suffer from "running lice" (Gliricola porcelli) a small white insect which can be seen running through fur. Ivermectin or Advantage (imidacloprid), are often used to treat these and other types of lice.

Other causes of fur loss can be due to hormonal upsets caused by underlying medical conditions such as ovarian cysts. Other signs of ovarian cysts include enlarged nipples and sexually aggressive behavior. Ovarian cysts are frequently diagnosed via ultrasound and treated by spaying the sow. If left untreated, cysts may fatally rupture.

Guinea pigs are "prey animals" whose survival instinct is to mask pain and signs of illness, and many times signs of illness may not be apparent until a problem is severe or in its advanced stages. Common early symptoms of problems are:

* Lethargy (reduced activity)
* Blood present in cage or on animal
* Sitting in a hunched position with fur puffed out
* Discharge from eyes (see note below), nose or ears
* Raspy-sounding vocalizations
* Wheezing or difficulty breathing
* Limping
* Diarrhea
* Lack of feces output (older, unneutered boars may suffer from impaction)
* Head tilt or loss of balance (may indicate an ear infection)
* Wheeking while urinating (may indicate bladder infection or bladder stones/sludge)
* Sensitivity to touch
* Fur loss
* Excessive scratching
* Weight loss
* Rapid weight gain/shifting of bodily weight (may indicate ovarian cysts, etc.)

Guinea pigs normally secrete a milky-white fluid near their eyes. Upon secretion of this fluid, the cavy will usually raise his front paws and groom himself.

Guinea pigs are widely considered to be good pets. They are generally easy to care for, although they do require frequent cage cleaning and companionship. If handled early in their life by caring owners, they become very amenable to being picked up and carried about, even by younger children. They are considered by many to be very cute and are very verbal (they squeak) when they come in contact with humans. Guinea pigs who become familiar with their human seem to consider them part of their herd, and become distraught when separated for long periods.

Domesticated guinea pigs come in many breeds which have been developed since their arrival in Europe and North America. These varieties vary widely in hair and color composition.

All over the world there are Cavy Clubs and Associations dedicated to the showing and breeding of guinea pigs. The American Cavy Breeders Association is the governing body in the United States. In Canada, the Ontario Cavy Club is the most prominent club. Each club publishes its own Standard of Perfection and determines which breeds are eligible for showing.

In English, the term guinea pig is commonly a metaphor for a subject of scientific experimentation. Experiments done by Antoine Lavoisier in 18th century France involved the calorimeter, a device used to measure heat production. He concluded, "la respiration est donc une combustion." That is, respiratory gas exchange is a combustion, like that of a candle burning.

Guinea pigs were popular laboratory animals into the 20th century, but are now less commonly used. In the past they were used to isolate different bacterial strains, but in modern labs they have been replaced by mice and rats, which reproduce more quickly and which are more completely characterized genetically.

A peculiarity of guinea pigs as research animals is that they are highly sensitive to penicillin, which can cause potentially fatal cases of diarrhea and/or toxemia. The cause of this is not certain, and is all the more peculiar since, according to some researchers, the reaction is seasonal , and others do not report any toxicity at all. One theory is that the antibiotic actually kills off intestinal microflora that the guinea pig needs for digestion, rather than poisoning the animal itself, leaving it vulnerable to an opportunistic infection by Clostridium difficile and similar pathogens. This fact, mentioned in a well-known speech by Howard Florey, is often used as an argument against the efficacy of animal testing.

Guinea pig strains used in scientific research are primarily outbred strains. Many laboratory guinea pig strains are based on the Dunkin-Hartley English strain and are albino, although pigmented strains are also available. Inbred strains are less common and are usually used for very specific research, such as immune system molecular biology. Of the inbred strains that have been created, the two that are still used with any frequency are "Strain 2" and "Strain 13".

Their main value to medical research is that they are one of the few animals which, like humans, cannot synthesize Vitamin C but must obtain it from diet. Guinea pigs also have an unusual insulin mutation which makes it a suitable species for the generation of anti-insulin antibodies.

On 20 January 2006, Darley Oaks Farm in the United Kingdom ceased operating and therefore ceased breeding guinea pigs for scientific research and animal testing, after a seven-year campaign by the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs animal rights campaign.

Guinea pigs (called cuy, cuye, curí) were originally domesticated for their meat in the Andes.

As food, the guinea pig is described as being in between rabbit and the dark meat of chicken, though in color, taste, and the fineness of bones the gourmet will be reminded of quail. It is high in protein (21%) and low in fat (8%). Due to the fact that they require much less room than traditional livestock and reproduce extremely quickly when compared to traditional stock animals, they can be raised as a source of food in an urban environment—unlike most livestock animals. Within the residential areas of Lima it is common to find roof tops covered with milk crates and mazes of plywood in which a landlord will be raising cuye to sell on special occasions.

To this day, cuye continues to be a major part of the diet in Peru and Bolivia, particularly in the Andes Mountains highlands, where they are an important source of protein and a mainstay of Andean folk medicine. Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million Guinea pigs each year, and the animal is so entrenched in the culture that one famous painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco, Peru shows Christ and the twelve disciples dining on guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are also consumed in Ecuador, mainly in the Sierra region of the country, but are not depended upon as a staple source of protein.

A Guinea pig was used in the television program futurama as bait for trapping Zoidberg.

Guinea pigs have received much less attention from writers, artists, or the popular media than similar animals. Recently there have been more appearances of guinea pigs in books, film, television and other media.
Literature

* Olga da Polga, a guinea pig with a wild imagination and adventurous spirit, is the main character in a number of books written by Michael Bond.
* Fluffy The Classroom Guinea Pig stars in a series of early reader books written by Kate McMullan and illustrated by Mavis Smith.
* In The Magician's Nephew (the sixth published book and first chronologically of The Chronicles of Narnia series), a guinea pig is the first creature to travel to the Wood between the Worlds by means of Uncle Andrew's magic rings – thus a guinea pig is instrumental in beginning all the adventures in Narnia. When Digory and Polly encounter the guinea pig in the Wood, they decide to leave it alone, as it seems "perfectly happy" to live there. Its fate is unknown.
* The picture book "John Willy and Freddy McGee" by Holly Meade tells of the adventures of two bored guinea pigs who escape from their cage and explore their house.
* The short story Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler is a tale of bureacratic incompetence as two guinea pigs held at a train station breed unchecked while humans argue as to whether they are "pigs" for the purpose of determining freight charges (this story probably was the inspiration for Robert A. Heinlein's flatcats, and is reminiscent of the infamous tribbles of Star Trek).
* The Fairy Caravan is a novel by Beatrix Potter which follows the adventures of Tuppenny, a young guinea pig who runs away from home to join a travelling circus.
* Do Wrong Ron, written by Steven Herrick and illustrated by Caroline Magerl, is a story about a boy named Ron who can't do anything right. He has a Guinea pig named Charlie, and the story is puncuated with sections written from Charlie's point of view
* The Guinea Pigs by Czech author Ludvik Vaculik is an allegory for Soviet domination and totalitarianism.
* Harriet Ziefert and Arnold Lobel's Where's the Guinea Pig? is a chronicle of a little guinea pig who gets out of his pen, and explores the garden. It is a clay guinea pig who is illustrated, and he likes the garden.
* "Pogo and Pip" by Jenny Dale is a children's book about a guinea pig called Pogo who befriends a hamster called Pip and helps protect him from danger. It points up the differing behaviour styles of these two rodent species - hamsters are much more active.

* Rodney (voiced by Chris Rock) was a prominent character in the Dr. Dolittle movie starring Eddie Murphy and Kyla Pratt.
* Ray along with his rabbit buddy Carl, voiced by Jim Belushi and James Woods, were spokesmammals for Blockbuster Video in an ad campaign during 2002. In the above examples the animals were computer generated.
* G.P. the Guinea Pig is a major character in the children's show Tales of the Riverbank.
* In Power Rangers: Ninja Storm, the mentor of the Power Rangers, Sensei Watanabe, has been turned into a wise talking Guinea Pig and advises the rangers in that form.
* Egg credit cards in the UK recently featured shopping guinea pigs in their advertising.
* The character Magenta (Kelly Vitz) can transform herself into a guinea pig in the movie Sky High (2005 film).
* Linny, a guinea pig, is the leader of The Wonder Pets, a television show on Nick Jr.
* Mister Guinea Pig, a blue guinea pig, appears on Pinky Dinky Doo on Noggin.
* Samson from the Cartoon Network animated series Camp Lazlo is a cleanliness-obsessed Guinea pig with a sensitive nose.
* In a commercial for Snapple there was a parody of the running of the bulls with guinea pigs in place of the bulls.
* A guinea pig is seen in a commercial promoting G4TV's Midnight Spank block in which the guinea pig threatens a sleeping man that it will the eat his remaining kidney (it had already eaten the first kidney while sleeping).
* On the ABC sitcom "According to Jim" with Jim Belushi, the family owns a guinea pig named Fluffy who creates a problem when he must receive expensive surgery to remove an eraser he was fed.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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