The modern Peruvian guinea pig, or Cavia porcellus is an exotic pet known for its long coat, and even longer history. These glossy rodents are frequently used as show animals, though they may also be kept as house pets. The key identifying feature of the Peruvian guinea pig is its extremely long hair, which may be very difficult to groom.
A noble creature, the Peruvian guinea pig's association with humans may date back more than seven thousand years. Some archeological evidence suggests that the modern animal's ancestors have been kept as pets and for food since the early days of Andean civilization. The animals are still eaten, including during Lent, thanks to a 16th century Papal Bull that describes the guinea pigs as “fish.” Thanks to their showy coat, however, the Peruvian variety is often spared this fate and is more commonly sold as a show animal or pet.
The long coat that makes this particular breed appealing can be quite enormous, reaching lengths of nearly 2 ft (.6 m). The guinea pigs also feature a thick undercoat, which remains shorter. Unless owners plan to keep the coats trimmed, the Peruvian guinea pig may not be the best choice for an extremely warm or tropical climate. Grooming is essential for these animals, as the coat can become tangled and matted quite easily. Those keeping Peruvians as pets may simply trim the coats, while show animals may have complicated daily grooming requirements, or have their hair tucked up in small nets.
The Peruvian guinea pig can come in many different colors, most of which are suitable for showing in competition. They are often tri-colored, with cream, sable, and black or grey being common combinations. Some animals may show two colors, often sable and cream or black and cream. Single-colored Peruvian pigs are quite rare, and often sought after by breeders. A similar breed, called the Peruvian satin, shares similar colors and coat characteristics, but has glossy, shiny hair.
Like most members of its family, the Peruvian guinea pig can be a friendly and intelligent pet. If they are handled gently from birth, guinea pigs tend to be quite amenable to human contact, and do not usually bite or scratch. Some owners and breeders recommend keeping the animals in single-sex pairs for companionship, and guinea pigs will occasionally make friends with other animals, such as dogs and cats. Extreme care should be taken when introducing a guinea pig to a larger, predatory animal, however, as there is always the chance of an attack.