MSD Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Introduction to Guinea Pigs


Katherine E. Quesenberry

, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian);

Thomas M. Donnelly

, BVSc, DVP, DACLAM, DABVP(ECM), The Kenneth S Warren Institute

Reviewed/Revised Nov 2019 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

Guinea pig breeds

Guinea pig breeds

Guinea pigs, also called cavies, are members of the Caviidae family, a group that includes several species of rodents from South America. All cavies are social animals that prefer to live in groups. The domestic guinea pig species, Cavia porcellus, does not exist in the wild. Related species live in the wild on grassy plains and feed on vegetation including grass and leaves. Domestic guinea pigs are popular pets and valuable research animals.

Cavies were domesticated at least by 900 BCE and possibly as early as 5000 BCE. It is likely that the domesticated cavies originated in the highlands of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. In these areas, Native Americans used them for food and religious purposes. Europeans discovered these domesticated animals soon after their arrival in South America. Cavies were first imported into Europe in the 1500s. Today, they are kept as pets around the world.

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