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All About Abyssinian Guinea Pigs: Personality, History, and Care

I've been an online writer for over 11 years. I've been interested in raising and caring for exotic pets for quite some time.

The Abyssinian's fur grows in unique whorls known as "rosettes".

The Abyssinian's fur grows in unique whorls known as "rosettes".

The Abyssinian guinea pig is one of the most popular and recognizable breeds of guinea pig in the world. They can be any color in the guinea pig rainbow and breed readily with other breeds of guinea pigs. The only difference between an Abyssinian and other breeds of guinea pigs is the coat texture and growth pattern.

Their Coat Has Rows of Rosettes

The main characteristic of the Abyssinian's coat pattern is that it grows in whorls officially called "rosettes." They come in varying stages of recognizability. Most Abyssinians look like they have mustaches, a cap, and a tutu on.

Show Abyssinians have to have a minimum of eight clearly definable rosettes about the body. The edges of the rosettes should be "crisp" or look like an easily defined line. The rosettes should be symmetrically placed along the body (ideally, if you are looking to show Abyssinian guinea pigs).

The coat texture is usually described as "rough" and "harsh," but it still is a lot softer than sandpaper, which is usually what I think of as the definition of "rough." Abyssinians are very pettable and, with gentle training, very affectionate. Some even develop as "lap pigs."

All you Abyssinians, stand up!

All you Abyssinians, stand up!

The Abyssinian Personality

(Or "pig-inality," in this case.) Although no guinea pig has read any of the books about how they normally behave, Abyssinians have a tendency to be friendlier and cheekier and a bit more mischievous than other breeds. There is no scientific proof of this—it just seems to happen.

For example, my late Abyssinian Cocaine (she had a thin white line going up her nose) was a comical character. She learned to sit up, learned to jump into her cage on command, came when called (when she felt like it, not necessarily when I felt like it), played her water bottle like a musical instrument (wasting a lot of water) and "popcorned" even late in life.

This Breed Inspired a Children's Book

It is only fitting that the breed of guinea pig with a highly overactive imagination that starred in a series of children's books should be an Abyssinian. Olga da Polga was based on a real Abyssinian guinea pig that belonged to author Micheal Bond's daughter. Later on, when more guinea pigs were added to the Bond family, there was always an Olga, who was always a multicolored Abyssinian. They all lived up to their infamous name.

Where'd the Name "Abyssinian" Come From?

The real mystery surrounding Abyssinian guinea pigs is just why they are called Abyssinian guinea pigs. They are not and never were from Abyssinia (which is the old name for Ethiopia). They also share no resemblance to an Abyssinian cat.

All domesticated guinea pigs are from South America, specifically Peru and Patagonia. The first guinea pigs to reach Europe were in the sixteenth century and cost a fortune (perhaps a guinea?) Perhaps anything exotic was given a foreign name of a foreign country fashionable in England at the time—Abyssinia. Then again, all guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs (they are rodents).

Perhaps the Abyssinians themselves thought they were from Africa and whispered their stories in the ears of humans as they slept. Well, I think that's how Olga explained it.

However, they got the name, it has stuck. I used to have a book on guinea pigs written in the early 1900s, and the breed Abyssinian was prominently mentioned.

Abyssinian Care

Abyssinians aren't known to be any more prone to illness than other guinea pig breeds. They are easy to groom with a soft cat or bunny brush or even an old toothbrush. They like to keep themselves clean. Bathing is only necessary in emergencies, or if the piggy has trouble keeping their hind ends clean when they get older.

Abyssinian guinea pigs are considered great pets for those who have never kept guinea pigs before. For many of us (myself included), an Abyssinian guinea pig was our first pet.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2007 RenaSherwood


RenaSherwood (author) on December 05, 2007:

Ah, you just haven't met the right guinea pig yet, Whitney :-)

Whitney from Georgia on November 21, 2007:

I'm not a big fan of guinea pigs, having had them before, but these guys are So cute! Great Hub!