Pets add joy and companionship to our lives. When we think of adding a pet to our household, we primarily consider dogs and cats, but a guinea pig is a unique and enjoyable alternative pet choice. These little critters don’t take up a lot of space, and you don’t have to worry about them chewing up your shoes or sharpening their claws on your favorite chair. One of the most interesting and beautiful guinea pig varieties is the affectionate, ruffle-furred Abyssinian.
This guinea pig breed is one of the oldest, dating back to the 16th century. Spanish explorers discovered them during explorations to South America where guinea pigs were—and still are—raised for food. These explorers eventually introduced guinea pigs to the Western world. Because of the Abyssinian’s luxurious coat and huge cuteness factor, they became popular exotic companions in Victorian England. Guinea pigs arrived in America in the early 20th century. Today, they’re popular pets, sold in pet stores and through private breeders. Some owners raise specially bred Abyssinians to compete for top honors at guinea pig shows.
Like dogs and cats, there are a variety of guinea pig breeds and fur types. Most people may not know that there are 17 unique breeds and 11 different fur types, including hairless varieties. The Abyssinian’s coat has swirls of hair called “rosettes” that grow from specific areas of the body. The perfect Abyssinian coat, according to professional breeding standards, has exactly 10 equally spaced rosettes on their body.
Breed associations also recognize a second type of Abyssinian, the Abyssinian Satin. This guinea pig has a shinier, satin-like sheen to its coat. Because of their luxurious fur coat, both types of Abyssinians require brushing at least every couple of days to prevent tangling and to keep their coat free of debris. A toothbrush works great. They can boast several different coat types including brindle, roan, tortoiseshell, and solid color, or “selfs.” Both Abyssinian types grow to between 1 and 3 pounds with lengths of 8 to 12 inches. Their life expectancy is between 4 and 8 years.
Each guinea pig breed has a unique temperament. Abyssinians are social, gentle critters that seldom nip or bite. Other guinea pig breeds are generally shy and quiet creatures, but the Abyssinians tend to act like assertive leaders. Breeders say that males have a more intense personality and display a higher level of mischievousness than females. Abyssinians are also more vocal, and may “shout” at you to get your attention. Some even purr when they’re content.
Although they are beautiful to look at, Abyssinians also love to roam around and explore the world outside of their cage. They thrive when they have a safe place to play and someone to play with. Sit on the floor and allow the guinea pig to run around and inspect its surroundings. Speak to them. Before long, your little furball friend will interact with you during these play sessions.
Guinea pigs and their physical needs are fairly straightforward. Fresh water and food are no-brainers. A clean cage — the larger the better — is essential. This is where they’ll sleep, eat, and play when you aren’t around to supervise them. Studies show that all guinea pigs can get lonely, which not only affects their mental well-being but also their physical health. Abyssinians with cage mates are happier than those that live without them. They’re also less likely to develop annoying habits like chewing on their cage.
Most of the time, your Abyssinian will do a good job keeping themselves clean. But sometimes, they may develop a strong smell due to excessive skin buildup. Some guinea pigs actually learn to enjoy bath time. Plus, occasional baths can improve skin or coat conditions. Fill a bath or container with lukewarm water, but only to the guinea pig’s chest. Use a gentle, unscented soap or shampoo. Afterward, wrap your pet in a towel and rub gently to dry the fur.
Abyssinians and other guinea pigs are herbivores that need hay every day. They’re grazing animals and hay should make up about 70% of their daily diet. A guinea pig’s teeth grow continuously. Chewing hay throughout the day grinds down the teeth and prevents them from growing too long. If your guinea pig is refusing to eat, has mouth sores, or abscesses, overlong teeth may be the problem.
Although Abyssinians don’t have any specific health issues, there are health issues that owners should be aware of.
Abyssinians love attention. Create an outdoor pen for them to play in when the weather is nice. Pet tunnels, bridges, chewing toys, as well as balls made from woven grass and natural wood are safe, fun items that will keep your Abyssinian active and healthy. Some owners enjoy creating outfits for their guinea pigs and sharing their photos on social media. For the self-assured Abyssinian, becoming a famous Instagram model may be the perfect way to spend time with their favorite human.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information