How Do You Care for a Long-Haired Peruvian Guinea Pig?
Peruvian guinea pigs are the best known and most spectacular of the long-haired guinea pig breeds, and their long, silky hair can grow to floor length (12 to 14 inches) or even longer in show specimens. They were one of the first long-haired breeds to be selectively bred for showing in the fifteenth century. As their hair is so long, they can sometimes be mistaken for wigs and attract many comments ranging from “Which end is which?” to “May I pat it?”
Caring for a Peruvian guinea pig can be a lot of responsibility, so they are not suitable as a first guinea pig or as a first pet. People often keep Peruvian guinea pigs for showing and breeding, but they are high-maintenance and require far more care than other breeds, including attentive grooming and bathing routines and a focus on excellent hygiene and health.
General Hair Care and Daily Grooming
Peruvians come in Agouti, Marked, Tricolour, Bicolour, Self or Solid colours, which are a lighter shade of colour than other guinea pigs. The breed is curious, fun loving and alert. Other long haired guinea pig breeds include the Sheltie (Silkie) which has hair growing backward from its face (or from the neck in a mane) and Texels, which have coarse, curly ringlets.
The long hair of a Peruvian guinea pig is caused by a gene and they are unable to groom themselves because of the length. The hair parts down the back and falls towards the floor, covering the face.
Dealing With Matting and Soiling
Many Peruvian owners keep the hair rolled up between shows to prevent matting, as a matted coat causes discomfort and irritation and the skin underneath may become sore, infected and ulcerated. Large mats can also affect the guinea pig’s ability to feed itself if it occurs under the chin or interferes with leg movement if on the legs.
Regular clipping, daily grooming and daily examinations are a must to check for soiling, particularly during warmer weather or in warmer climates. Check especially around the rear end for a clean bottom and bathe the hindquarters when they become soiled.
How To Give A Peruvian Guinea Pig A Haircut
Basic Peruvian Haircut
- Pat your guinea pig and give it something to eat.
- Comb the hair in the direction that it grows (mostly down) to remove knots.
- Trim the hair away from the body with small, sharp scissors.
Daily Grooming Regimens
Groom your Peruvian guinea pig daily, brushing the hair in the direction it grows. Use a soft brush that removes loose hairs, tangles and pieces of twig, dry leaves or burrs that may be caught up in the hair. Having a grooming routine from a young age will allow your Peruvian guinea pig to get used to gentle daily grooming.
If you are not planning on showing your Peruvian, then it might be better to keep their hair trimmed so it won’t tangle or get dirty so easily. Many show breeders tie up the hair on tissue paper and fasten it with rubber bands to keep it beautiful and out of the way.
Beware of Fly Strike
It is important to keep Peruvian guinea pigs in sanitary conditions, or their hair will become matted and they will be at risk of fly strike. Fly strike occurs when flies are attracted to urine and faeces and lay their eggs on the guinea pig, causing maggots to feed on its body tissues. A Peruvian guinea pig can die within days of getting fly strike.
Hair Loss and Barbering
Sometimes when Peruvian guinea pigs are bored or hungry, they will nibble away at, barber or “strip” their companion’s or their own hair. This hair chewing has several causes, including boredom, excitement, hereditary tendencies or even dietary deficiencies.
To help with boredom, spend more time with your guinea pig, acquire a companion or improve the cage. Excitement and anxiety are especially noticeable when your pet is cared for by a stranger and becomes nervous. Gentle handling and a quiet environment will help them to settle down and relax.
Barbering could be a family trait, handed on from parent to child. If a mother chews guinea pig hair, then babies can learn to chew too. Baby Peruvians can be made quite hairless by this, so it is important to provide Peruvian guinea pigs with enough hay and food for them to chew, as well as an interesting environment and companions.
Guinea pigs can also chew hair if they have a lack of roughage or are lacking a nutrient in their diet. Providing a wide variety of foods to chew will help with this.
If hay, a peaceful setting, the right diet and attention from you do not stop the hair chewing, then it may be time to arrange a haircut.
Some people are unsure about using hay if a guinea pig’s hair is kept long, as it can cause issues with matting and add to tangling. If you are trying to keep your Peruvian guinea pig’s hair long, try using dust free shavings instead of hay.
The Impact of Diet on Hair Loss
Guinea pigs shed hair all year round but moult more in spring and autumn, when they renew their coats. Unusual amounts of hair loss can indicate an internal health problem, such as scurvy or a lack of Vitamin C. As they do not make their own Vitamin C, they need it provided in their food.
Guinea pig pellets (that are less than 8-12 weeks old) may have Vitamin C in them. Vitamin C breaks down easily, so having fresh pellets regularly is a must, or the Vitamin C won’t be present. Make sure to add vegetables and greens to a guinea pig’s diet, and do not rely on pellets alone to fulfil this requirement.
Vitamin C drops can be added to a guinea pig’s water source (add 1-3 mg of Vitamin C for each 100g of body weight), however opinion is divided on this.
Vitamin drops have been known to cause dehydration, which is compounded by potential heat stress in Peruvians, so it is not recommended. Providing Vitamin C in food is the best way. Do not give your guinea pig multivitamins as they can be poisonous to them.
Recommended Fresh Foods For Guinea Pigs
What do guinea pigs eat?
- Bok Choy
- Green Beans
- Mustard Greens
- Red Bell Peppers
- Sweet Potato
Keeping Your Long-Haired Pet Comfortable
Peruvian guinea pigs may be more at risk of heat stress, due to having a lot of fur. Hence, owners must be vigilant about ensuring the correct temperature, with cooling methods employed during hot weather.
As they are more likely to have vet visits, Peruvian guinea pigs can find it more stressful to go to the vet, so extra comfort is needed around these occasions, including attention and food rewards. Sometimes, Peruvians may find grooming and trimming stressful, so taking extra care to do it gently and make it a pleasant experience will benefit all.
Mothers may find it difficult to nurse their young, as babies can have trouble finding the nipples under the long hair, so tying it up or providing a haircut would help in suckling.
Long hairs touching a Peruvian guinea pig’s eyes can cause irritation and damage the surface of the eyeball, so rolling up hair or having a haircut can also help with this.
You can tell if your animal is healthy as it will have clear, bright eyes, a clean nose and clean ears. Its coat will be smooth and shiny and it will be alert and active. A veterinary examination is required at least once a year for an annual check up to make sure that the guinea pig is in good health physically.
More Guinea Pig HairstylesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Hygiene and Bathing
A Peruvian guinea pig’s cage should be cleaned daily. Some owners replace the soiled bedding every day, while others clean the whole hutch. A Peruvian guinea pig’s appearance and emotional state will suffer if it is kept in a dirty cage. Faeces, urine, decaying food and soiled hay make the cage unhygienic, so frequent cleaning is needed to avoid health problems.
Remove the floor litter and replace it if it becomes dirty. Replenish hay, water and food bowls, making sure that nothing sticks to food containers and that they are washed periodically. As soon as the cage walls look dirty or smell, it will need to be hosed out, scrubbed with disinfectant, rinsed and allowed to dry before it is used again.
Baths Are Essential for Peruvian Guinea Pigs
Many people will tell you that guinea pigs should not be bathed, but for Peruvian guinea pigs, it is an essential part of life, to keep their hair and skin clean. Heat water to a lukewarm temperature and only fill it to chest height. Place your guinea pig in so it can put its feet in the bottom of the tub. Most guinea pigs try hard to escape from water, but Peruvians need a lot of bathing, so getting them used to having a positive experience with gentle handling and extra attention often help.
Use non perfumed products for washing – a mild baby shampoo or soap is recommended. After the bath, wrap your Peruvian guinea pig in a towel and wait for the fur to dry off a bit. Hairdryers can be scary for guinea pigs and heaters can cause heat stress in Peruvians, so if you have a means of drying the hair without too much heat or noise, use that. Otherwise, air drying in a warm environment is fine. Brush or comb the hair and give your pet a cuddle and food reward to calm them down afterwards.
Did You Know?
Peruvian guinea pigs may love to have their long fur gently pulled under their chin. They will lift their chin and stretch like a cat.
How to Make Your Pet's Cage Interesting
- Have both an outdoor and indoor cage to provide different environments.
- Provide a nesting box made of wood or an upside down flower pot with an entrance for nesting.
- Provide low rising ramps for climbing practise (but be careful that they are low rising – otherwise it can cause spinal injuries).
- Add a compatible companion guinea pig if there isn’t one.
- Add toys for entertainment, such as tunnels and hidey holes.
- Provide a variety of food to choose from.
Peruvian guinea pigs are judged primarily on their mane of hair (about 70%). Attention is placed on the density and condition of the coat and the sweeps of hair to the sides, rear and over the head. Show Peruvians must have two rosettes on each side of the rump and their hair should fan out so that it is difficult to tell the front from the back.
Owning a Peruvian guinea pig is a lot of work, but can also be lots of fun too. Of all the guinea pig breeds, Peruvians need the most amount of attention, love and involvement. Due to daily routines of grooming and hygiene, Peruvian guinea pigs are more closely bonded with their owners and they are more likely to become an important friend in your life. They also provide excellent photo opportunities and attract lots of attention for both owner and pig!
Do you own a Peruvian guinea pig?
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.
© 2014 Suzanne Day