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About Abyssinian Guinea Pigs - Care Guide, Breeds, Fur Colours, Origin

Updated on September 24, 2014

Abyssinian guinea pigs are very common. They are a type of guinea pig with a distinctive hair style which includes natural rosettes, and they come in a variety of colours, from albino and agouti to dalmation and tortoiseshell.

The personality of the Abyssinian guinea pig is also different – they are bolder, quirkier, louder, livelier, more playful and more intense than other guinea pigs, hence they make great pets.

Owning an Abyssinian guinea pig as a pet is a wonderful bonding experience for both adults and children – they are cute and interesting and require far less cleaning, but just as much love. Abyssinians are happiest when they have other guinea pig companions, attentive owners, regular outdoor time, activity (that’s why they are good with children) and some variation in routine.

Abyssinians are affectionate and respond well to training. They can breed with other types of guinea pigs, although the offspring may have mixed results. Caring for an Abyssinian is easy – a little extra attention paid, plus some additional cleaning and grooming is all that is needed alongside normal guinea pig care.

An example of the distinctive rosettes on the coat of an Abyssinian guinea pig.
An example of the distinctive rosettes on the coat of an Abyssinian guinea pig.
A wild mountain cavy. Cavies (known as "cuy" in South America) are the forerunners of modern guinea pigs.
A wild mountain cavy. Cavies (known as "cuy" in South America) are the forerunners of modern guinea pigs.

Did You Know?

Before the Spanish conquest of South America in the sixteenth century, the now-extinct Incas kept guinea pigs for food and even today, Peruvians, Colombians and Ecuadorians breed them for consumption, medicine and traditional rituals. Sailors were probably the first people to keep guinea pigs as pets and introduced them to Europe from South America.

Where Did Abyssinian Guinea Pigs Come From?

Guinea pigs are indigenous to South America, where five different species can be found in the Andean regions. The ancestor of the domesticated guinea pig is the wild guinea pig Cavia Porcellus, which is thought to have descended from C. tschudi or C. aperea (scientists are divided on which one, though there is not much difference between the two).

Belonging to the same family as porcupines, chinchillas and capybaras, guinea pigs are in a different category to rodents such as rats and mice. They are grazing animals and almost entirely dependent on grass for both food and shelter in the wild. The grasslands of the lower slopes of the Andes are the natural habitat of the cavies of Peru from which the familiar pet guinea pigs (cavies) are thought to have originated.

From Columbia and Venezuela to Brazil and northern Argentina, guinea pigs usually inhabit rocky areas, grasslands, swamps and the edges of forests, and are most active at night when they come out to forage.

The colour of wild guinea pigs tends to be grey or brown (like the salt and pepper colour of Agoutis) and doesn’t vary as much as domesticated guinea pigs. Bred in captivity, guinea pig evolution resulted in many different colours, coat types and combinations. The rough haired Abyssinian guinea pig is an example of one of these types.

Capybaras are in the same family as guinea pigs. They are as big as dogs but you can see the resemblence.
Capybaras are in the same family as guinea pigs. They are as big as dogs but you can see the resemblence.
The formal name for guinea pigs is "cavies", but for pets, "guinea pigs" sounds so much cuter.
The formal name for guinea pigs is "cavies", but for pets, "guinea pigs" sounds so much cuter.

Why Are They Called “Abyssinians” Or “Guinea Pigs”?

Guinea pigs are not pigs, nor are they from New Guinea. It is thought that they were named “guinea” because they were sold for one guinea (21 shillings) when they first brought to England. However, another theory is that English people thought they came from the West African coast of Guinea, since they were imported from South America via the Guinea slave trade ships.

The “pig” part of the name may have come from the sound and shape of the guinea pigs, which can be similar to a miniature pig. Professional breeders and people who show guinea pigs usually call them cavies, named after their wild cousins.

The Abyssinian guinea pig is mysteriously named, and no one knows where the name came from. Abyssinia is the former name of the country of Ethiopia, but guinea pigs bear no resemblance to native animals there.

It is thought that exotic names assisted in selling particular types of guinea pigs when sales began to decrease and the novelty of pet guinea pigs diminished in England. Other names for guinea pig types also bear out this theory, such as the Lunkarya (from “Lundqvist”, a famous Swedish ice hockey player) and the Alpaca (named for having fur similar to alpacas).

Guinea pigs were a big hit when they first arrived in England and were sold as pets. The Abyssinian name sounded more exotic than calling them "Rough Haireds".
Guinea pigs were a big hit when they first arrived in England and were sold as pets. The Abyssinian name sounded more exotic than calling them "Rough Haireds".
Many Abyssinians can have a little fluffy moustache or beard like this one.
Many Abyssinians can have a little fluffy moustache or beard like this one.
This Abyssinian guinea pig has an interesting "lion" look, due to its dark brown, fluffy mane.
This Abyssinian guinea pig has an interesting "lion" look, due to its dark brown, fluffy mane.
A red and black Brindle coloured Abyssinian.
A red and black Brindle coloured Abyssinian.
A tortoiseshell and white Abyssinian guinea pig.
A tortoiseshell and white Abyssinian guinea pig.

The Distinctive Abyssinian Coat

The hair of an Abyssinian guinea pig is straight and coarse and stands up to a height of 3cm (1.5 inches) all over the body. The fur curls around in definite “rosette” patterns and often there is a ridge of fur meeting from different directions on the spine.

Some Abyssinians look like they have a moustache, or other features and “clothes” due to the different colours and fur behaviour.

The Abyssinian rosette gene is a dominant gene, which means that breeding a smooth haired guinea pig and an Abyssinian will usually result in baby partial Abyssinians.

Crossbreeding in this way means that sometimes there might only be one or two rosettes as the dominant gene is mixed with the recessive smooth haired one.

Abyssinians bred from two parent Abyssinians (purebreds) with the dominant rosette gene have more rosettes on their body and are more suitable for competing in shows.

Show Quality Abyssinians

An Abyssinian guinea pig participating in competitive shows has more rosettes than normal pet guinea pigs. Having rosettes in the right places (four on the saddle, two on each leg and one on each shoulder as a minimum) for a total of eight to ten rosettes gives an Abyssinian guinea pig a good chance of scoring higher, as does having correct colouration.

Rosettes should be clearly defined, with crisp edges and be symmetrically placed along the body.

Obtaining a show quality Abyssinian guinea pig usually involves contacting a professional breeder, who can produce evidence of an uninterrupted genetic line of purebred Abyssinians.

For further information about rosette placement and show quality standards, contact your local Cavy Breeders Association.

Common Guinea Pig Colours

Name Of Colour
Characteristics
Agouti
A “salt and pepper” greyish look where each hair has lighter and darker colours on it.
Albino
White, with red eyes.
Brindle
One dark colour mixed with a white colour over the body.
Dalmation
A white body with dark spots on it.
Dutch
A white face and white band around the middle of the body, while the rear and a patch on each side of the face is brown or black.
Himalayan
Brown or black nose, ears and feet with a white body and red eyes.
Roan
Mixed lighter and darker coloured hairs (eg blended colours).
Self
One solid colour (eg Self Black or Self Chocolate).
Tortoiseshell
Black and red rectangles of colour that are well defined.
Abyssinian guinea pigs can be bolder, friskier, more playful, louder and more aggressive than other breeds.
Abyssinian guinea pigs can be bolder, friskier, more playful, louder and more aggressive than other breeds.
Kids love Abyssinian guinea pigs because they have lots of personality.
Kids love Abyssinian guinea pigs because they have lots of personality.

The Abyssinian Guinea Pig Personality

Abyssinian guinea pigs have loud personalities – they act as definite individuals with their own characteristics, habits and idiosyncrasies. I have owned both Abyssinian and smooth haired guinea pigs and the smooth haired ones tended to be shyer and quieter, while the Abyssinians are more like leaders. Males have a more intense personality than the females, but whether this is due to hormones is unknown. This intensity can be interpreted as mischievousness or aggression, but it is really just part of their behaviour.

One of my Abyssinians (Milo) was placed in an outdoor cage for his breakfast grass. Whether it was the sound of birdsong or a sudden longing for more company, he decided to squeak very loudly across the yard – I could hear him inside and came out to find out what the fuss was about! When placed a metre away from other guinea pigs, Milo would “shout” at them while they squeaked quietly back. He could be quite loud at times, as any females or even new guinea pigs within ten metres were mercilessly flirted with, with accompanying noises.

My albino Abyssinian guinea pig, Theodopoulos.
My albino Abyssinian guinea pig, Theodopoulos. | Source
Theo adores his pats!
Theo adores his pats!

My other Abyssinian, Theodopoulos, also had a quirky nature. He grew to like the pats I gave him and wanted to show that he liked them so much that he would keel backwards in a relaxed, dreamy way into my hand from a simple head pat. He also liked to be carried around on my palm, limply hanging his legs off, like a cat (very unusual behaviour for a guinea pig). Visitors were amazed at his devotion to me.

Theodopoulos would jump up in his indoor cage and “talk” to me, trying to get food, water, pats or action. He would stand on his hind legs and hold himself up on the walls with his paws to find out what was going on. Both of my Abyssinians were not afraid to come outside of their outdoor shelters and see what I was doing in the garden. They often observed me and other animals. The smooth haireds I owned would hide away for a long time before being brave enough to come out and would scurry back inside the shelter if other animals appeared.

Many people on the guinea pig forums I visit also agree that the Abyssinian personality is quite lively and stands out from other guinea pig breeds.

Caring For An Abyssinian Guinea Pig

It is easy to care for an Abyssinian. They require the same care as other guinea pigs, in terms of feeding, exercise and housing.

You might find that they like to have more attention and get lonely and bored easily if there are no companions or petting owners around. They can also get moody and depressed if their basic needs for attention are not met, if their diet is boring, or if they are prevented from going outside regularly, and this will be obvious by their lack of enthusiasm and aversion to being petted.

The best solution for this is to pay more attention to your Abyssinian and involve others in petting it too. Let it have another guinea pig companion to talk to and play with. Give your guinea pig more interesting things to eat and let it spend time outside every day. Guinea pig toys can also be useful, but petting and making life interesting works much better.

All guinea pigs enjoy having companions, but Abyssinians in particular are happiest with a friend.
All guinea pigs enjoy having companions, but Abyssinians in particular are happiest with a friend.
Abyssinians love having their hair brushed and it helps to keep the hair healthier.
Abyssinians love having their hair brushed and it helps to keep the hair healthier.

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As with all guinea pigs who have longer fur, high temperatures in summer can be a problem for Abyssinians. Imagine living through a hot summer with a fur coat on! That’s what it can be like for them, so on particularly hot days, it is a good idea to provide cooling foods (such as refridgerated carrots, watermelon and cold water). You can also provide a bath and a fan to cool them down.

Most guinea pigs don’t like baths, but if you try heating the water to a lukewarm temperature, letting the guinea pig put its feet in the bottom of the tub and only filling the water to chest height, you’ll find that bath time doesn’t have to be a struggle. Don’t use perfumed products – a neutral soap or shampoo is appropriate. After the bath, wrap your Abyssinian in a towel and gently rub its fur dry, then place it in front of a fan to cool it down in hot weather.

For most of the time, your Abyssinian probably won’t need a bath. They like to groom themselves and they prefer their own smell and hair oils to manufactured ones. But sometimes, if they smell rather strongly, it is advisable to give them a bath to wash off excessive skin cell buildup and promote better skin and hair (not to mention you will feel like patting them more!)

Another good way to give an Abyssinian attention is to brush its fur with a soft brush or even a toothbrush. They like the feeling of this kind of grooming and will happily sit for hours while you do their hair. This is not a requirement of caring for an Abyssinian, as the only place an Abyssinian will get knots is on their rear, when they age and compaction can occur (a blockage of faeces in the rectum). But brushing your Abyssinian’s coat will reduce fungal infections.

Keeping your Abyssinian clean from time to time will make it feel happier and it will get the maximum amount of attention from the household!

Agouti Abyssinians have a "salt and pepper" look.
Agouti Abyssinians have a "salt and pepper" look.

© 2014 Suzanne Day

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    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Loved this suzanne! so fascinating to read about them, and I never knew where the name guinea pig came from, but that does make sense about costing a guinea. Beautiful little creatures, and I never realised that the Capybaras were related, loved your photos too! voted up!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Interesting article! We only studied these little guys for about 3 weeks in vet school s0 I picked up some new facts here. Theo sounds great.

      --writing from Capybara country. Yes, they really do taste like chicken!

    • Susan Recipes profile image

      Susan 3 years ago from India

      Awweee.... They look so cute. Thanks Suzanne for sharing this interesting hub. Voted up.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 3 years ago

      Wow, what a great Hub. Wonderful pics, information and style of writing. Thank you! Voted up for interesting and awesome.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      You are a wealth of information on these cute little animals. The photos were adorable, too, and both Milo and Theo sound like entertaining little companions. Voted up+++, sharing, and pinning this to my Animals board.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 3 years ago from London

      A fascinating read! So now I know that we have one Abyssinian guinea pig, (Dutch I think), as well as one smooth haired one! Your description is extremely accurate. The Abyssinian is very bold, outgoing and frisky. (I call him hyperactive), while the smooth one is much calmer - he has a much more "typical" guinea pig temperament.

      Thanks a lot for this hub, it's really useful to know what kind of guinea pigs we have. :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Hi Suzanne

      I learned so much. They are cute cute.

      We had some when my daughter was a child (not this variety) and we adored them.

      Thanks for sharing. Angels are on the way again today. ps

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 3 years ago from California

      First of all, adorable pictures. Quite a lot of good info here. I never knew they were part of the porcupine family.

    • Suzanne Day profile image
      Author

      Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi WriterJanis - thanks for your comment. They aren't part of the porcupine family, though the word Porcellus can be confusing. Guinea pigs are part of the Capybara family though.

    • profile image

      Domenica 2 years ago

      My little guy seems to be bititng more and more, he is super feisty and won't sit still. I keep his life interesting with lap and floor time, and I give him his favourite treats to reward him, but still he bites hard. I can't pick him up without a towel to protect my hands and a struggle. Any suggestions?

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Domenica, it might be a remembered thing where he has always bitten hard and will continue to do so unless his lifestyle changes (even then it might be a bit of a gamble). However, if he is energetic and won't sit still, it sounds like more exercise might help - does he have an outdoor run? If not, you might like to consider one so that he can burn off more energy and settle down. Also, it might be hard to find him a suitable companion but maybe he could be a bit lonely and crave company? Obviously, you would need to assess with him spending time with another that they were suitable companions and no biting will get in the way. Could be tricky.

    • profile image

      Sunshine 2 years ago

      Hi Suzzane, Our guineapig Abyssinian bites us...They don't want to hold them or pet them and they are scared of us and running,running and running more

    • profile image

      Kusha Jane 2 years ago

      Hi Suzzane, My Guineapig is being scared of me and always tired when playtime and always sleepy... They don't want to get touch and petted...Any suggestions?

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Sunshine, this is a reaction to an emotionally rough time for the guinea pig. It has learned, somewhere in its life, to be frightened of humans. This can be changed and will require further research by you on how to build trust and treat the animal differently.Over time and with patience, it is possible to change its behaviour.

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Kusha, you will need to find out more with research about patient handling and over time, allow the guinea pig to trust you. Many guinea pigs will be responsive to this, but some will always be distrusting. My first suggestion would be to practice learning why the guinea pig is scared of you - are you noisy? too big? rough when handling it? Find out more about that and change it, then focus on the eating, sleeping and other activities that scare your guinea pig.

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      Kusha Jane 2 years ago

      Hi Suzzane, is it dangerous for me to be bitten by guinea pigs? and how about their urine, does it cause the so called leptospirosis?

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Kusha, to be honest, I don't know about the leptospirosis but unless the guinea pig has rabies, you should be fine regarding the biting.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Awww...how cute! When my elder daughter was in her last year of high school, she got an Abby. .... (she looked almost identical to your photo of the reddish/white and black cavy you have right under the capybara photo), and, she WAS a loudmouth! LOL "SQUEEP! SQUEEP!" we'd hear all the way down stairs, if that little stinker hear you open the refrigerator! (They have exceptionally good hearing!)

      After a bit, though, it became obvious a companion would be a good idea. As we did not want to go into the breeding business, and had never heard of such pets being spayed/neutered, we got another female. She was a Peruvian, with a beautiful, long coat, and 'bangs' that covered her face.

      That is, until Patches (the Abby) fancied herself a barber, and gave poor Cocoa a Mohawk! After that, we put them in separate cages, but touching, so they could see each other and have conversations.

      We'd let them out to play in the room, in a specially cordoned-off area, under supervision, only. They would chase each other, run circles around us, try to gnaw our shoelaces, and yes, Patches would still attack Cocoa's bangs if we were not vigilant.

      We had kindergarten wood building blocks we'd use to build little mazes for them to run through...though that Abby liked to cheat, and climb over the tops!

      They were delightful pets, and they both lived about 6 years. We never knew they could go outside, but they got plenty of love and attention and good food and treats.

      Voted up, interesting, awesome, shared and pinned.

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Lizzy, thanks for your comment! I really liked the sound of the little mazes you built for them. I used to let mine have a wander around the house occasionally as a treat, so they could explore different environments. They really like that if they have a curious nature.

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      Ms. Kenna 2 years ago

      My little guineapig always soo biting me...She always running and wants to go out of the cage..Any suggestions?

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Maybe let her go out of the cage under controlled conditions? Ie., guinea pigs can have personalities a little like people, they want things and you need to let them have what they want occasionally. Feed her some treats if you can too - the red part of a watermelon is really enjoyed by guinea pigs.

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      Henna 2 years ago

      Hi , my guinea pig don't want getting touch or hold inside his cage he also kicks me when im about to hold or touch him , he runs away inside the cage and started hiding from me when im trying to hold him at his cage , he have a friend guinea pig to talk to , they also get easily bored when im not around or we're out of the house im trying to search some games for them to play I also give them carrots , pellets and some grasses to eat different kinds of food everyday I also mix some like carrots mixed with pellets to make their food a little bit interesting but still they get bored easily and they don't want being petted . I'm trying to hold them sometimes when other people in the house help me but when i'm holding them they try to escape . They are also looking around when im holding them even if its too high they are looking at the floor , I'm concerned maybe they'll fall so im trying to get them up . Any suggestions?

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hold them in your lap and feed them in your lap. Talk to them, pat them. After a lengthy time of this, if they are still trying to escape its because they are either afraid of you or they have been already trained to be scared of humans.

    • profile image

      Lia Azinakia 2 years ago

      Hey Suzzane! Thanks for making this helpful Hub about guinea pigs.. I just wanted to ask , I bought my guinea pig 3 months ago but she is still scared of me , she never leaves her cage and run away from me.. Well , we dont have a permanent schedule every day so she must've been confuse of what we are doing every day.. So last week , I decided to give her a bath for her to be clean .. but just right when we are starting she jumped out of the sink and doesn't trust me anymore.. I tried to give her treats but.. when I'm the one who's giving she wouldn't eat it.. She also has a friend inside her cage , but still shes afraid of me after that bathing time.. Do you have a daily routine for her? Or trusting tips? Thanks Suzanne.

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Lia,

      Guinea pigs are not fond of baths anyway, so don't worry. They will try and jump out, that is normal. If you can bath your guinea pig and let it put its feet on the floor of the bath, that helps a bit. Everyday, try holding your guinea pig on your lap, making sure it can put its feet down on you. Pat it and feed it food.

      Some guinea pigs have been taught not to trust humans from when they were babies. I think having the guinea pig on your lap and feeding it treats every day helps with the trust, as well as not lifting the guinea pig too quickly through the air and not startling it. Special food treats and calming noises help and possibly a companion guinea pig too.

    • profile image

      Lia Azinakia 2 years ago

      Thank you Suzanne I know you'll help me :)

    • profile image

      Roti 2 years ago

      Do you have a Guinea pig routine that I can use?

    • profile image

      Rebecca 2 years ago

      Hello Suzanne , I really love the hub you made about Abyssinian guinea pigs. Its actually amazing , Anyway ... I've notice these questions here , and I wonder if you could also give me an advice? well , I got a 3 month old guinea pig , I bought him at the pet shop last April ... Well ,the guinea pig is kind of different from others. Its like , I gained trust for today but when I was just trying to touch him , Its like I did a big big wrong thing :( The guinea pig wont come near me .. I am so tired gaining trust then losing it when I did one single thing? Do you have a suggestion?

    • Suzanne Day profile image
      Author

      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Rebecca,

      It can be really hard gaining trust with a guinea pig that has been taught not to trust humans. Moving too fast is one thing that scares them, or touching them hard. Try moving very slowly and acting slowly around your guinea pig. They won't like it at first, but will get used to the slow movements. Then try putting the guinea pig on your lap in a blanket or fleecy top (let its head stick out) and feed it some grass or carrot. Pat the guinea pig while it is eating. Do this for about half an hour and you will build trust. Guinea pigs like to hide (even when they're happy!) so if you let the guinea pig "hide" under a blanket or in a piece of clothing while it sits on you, it makes the guinea pig feel safer.

    • profile image

      Cassie 2 years ago

      Hello Suzanne ,Well I have a guineapig who's the same with Rebecca well , I have it 5 months but I dont bath is because I will lost its trust.. I just wanna ask is should I bath it? Or I should just let it dont bath? Please help me.

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Cassie, you will need to bathe the guinea pig if it smells or if the weather gets hot. But not very often unless it is needed. When bathing, make sure the guinea pig's feet can touch the bottom of the bath. It will still try to jump out, but it will feel happier because it can touch the ground. Make sure the water is warm, not cold too (and not too hot). Lukewarm water works well.

    • profile image

      Cassie 2 years ago

      But.. How about the trust? It would come back to zero if I bathe it.. please help

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Don't bathe it until it needs it (ie., the piggie smells a lot or needs a flea wash).

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      Silva 24 months ago

      Hello Suzanne! I love the way you make the Hub, actually I was having a different problem with my guineapig. He's been 4 months since we adopt him but he got a leg injury, I'm not sure if it is.. But he walks normally he also runs and jump normally every action is normal. The problem is he doesn't want his other leg walking or getting moved. Actually the other guineapig we have had that leg thing first but it got easily gone by resting. Now its been a day since he have that injury... I need your opinion please...

    • Suzanne Day profile image
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      Suzanne Day 24 months ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Silva, it might be best to take the guinea pig to a vet. I'm not a doctor and I can only recommend you inspect the leg very carefully while looking for sores, fleas, burrs and other things. But a vet will help you a lot more than I could.

    • profile image

      Silva 24 months ago

      Thank you. The injury had gone for today..

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      Alisha 17 months ago

      I love that you put the fact there is a difference between show quality and pet, as most pages only show the pet aspect, I respect this because I am a breeder of show quality Abyssinians and Abyssinian satins here in the US.

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