For those who are curious, my Patagonian cavy (Benny) is doing very well. He's a year and a half old now, and he's becoming quite the distinguished gentleman.
I do get questions about him from time to time, since the Patagonian cavy is not a well known animal, so I thought that I would start collecting them here.
Do you have any questions about Benny, cavies as pets, or cavies in general? Ask them here, and I will either reply or add it to the FAQ!
General Patagonian Cavy Information*What the hell is a Patagonian cavy?
Patagonian cavies (Dolichotis patagonum
), also called maras, are rodents native to Argentina in South America. They are fairly large, for rodents, weighing anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds (Benny only weighs 16 pounds). They are gentle herbivores that are one of the few truly monogamous animals; males and females mate for life. Cavies are built for speed. They can run up to 30 miles per hour over long distances, and they can jump six feet. They are considered near threatened in the wild, due to habitat loss and competition with the introduced European hare. In captivity, they are calm, friendly, and breed easily.*What sort of noises do they make?
Oh man, they make so many different noises! They weep like guinea pigs, growl like dogs, and make little "brunk" noises that run the spectrum between grunting and purring (usually when curious or content). They grind their teeth, called bruxing, when either relaxed or feeling threatened (the relaxed brux is like gentle clicking, while the aggressive brux is more like grinding). They make quiet "ooo" noises when exploring, and more punctuated "OOOO! OOOO!" sounds when nervous. They can also make a low roar/snarl; I have only heard it from Benny once, when he got his leg caught on a bookshelf. Interestingly, the growling seems to be non-aggressive. Benny does it sometimes when he plays or when he wants something (usually a treat).
Here's a video of Benny "brunking": moonsongwolf.tumblr.com/post/1…
Patagonian Cavies as Pets
*Are Patagonian cavies legal to keep as pets?
This depends on where you live! Many places treat them the same as other rodents like hamsters and gerbils. Some places that they are completely legal and do not require permits: Oregon, Alabama, Washington, Texas, and all provinces in Canada except for Alberta. Some places that they are illegal or require permits: California, Georgia, New Hampshire, Colordao, and Hawaii. Also, be aware that even if your country or state/province allows cavies, there might be municipal or county restrictions. For example, although the province of Ontario allows them to be kept as pets, they are illegal to keep without permit in the city limits of Toronto!
*Can cavies be housebroken?
Yes! Benny is trained to use a dog pee pad placed under a towel. Cavies can also be trained to use litterboxes. It is not as easy as housebreaking a cat, though. It took Benny about a month before he was reliably using the pee pads. He's 100% on using the pads for urination, but he does occasionally have poop "accidents," especially if something startles him. Luckily, cavy droppings are just big, dry, odorless pellets, so it's not a big deal to just pick them up and throw them away. Still, though, if the thought of finding a stay poop pellet on the floor disgusts you, a cavy is probably best kept in an outdoor enclosure!
*Can cavies be trained to walk on a harness?
Yes! Most cavies will wear a harness without any issues, and some cavies even keep theirs on 24-7. They won't chew their harnesses off like rabbits will.
*Can cavies be taught commands?
Yes! They are treat-motivated and can learn simple tricks. Benny knows "sit up," "come here"/"Benny", and "you know where to go." The last one is the command to go to his crate for the night. I'm working on teaching him "turn" right now, which means he'll spin in a circle. They are a bit like cats in their consistency to respond to commands. They may or may not obey, depending on whether they think you have a treat or not!
*What do cavies eat?
In the wild, cavies are grazers, like deer. As pets, guinea pig food is ideal, since it contains vitamin C (like guinea pigs and humans, Patagonian cavies can not produce their own vitamin C and must get it from their diet). They can also be fed rabbit or horse chow, as long as it is dusted with absorbic acid or something similar. They should have timothy hay available at all times. They can also be given fruits and veggies to supplement their diet. I have heard that most cavies will eat almost anything (they are rodents, after all), but Benny is very picky. He won't eat vegetables, and there are only a few fruits that he will eat. He does, however, like breakfast cereals, dried spaghetti noodles, and cotton candy. He doesn't get these very often, though, of course.
*Do cavies chew on furniture and other things around the house?
Yes and no. They do not chew nearly as much as other rodents, as long as you provide them with some pumice blocks and hemp/sisal chew toys. In general, they leave furniture alone, since they don't seem to enjoy gnawing on wood or soft materials. Benny usually leaves electrical cords alone, but he will chew on thin cords (think headphone cords, video game controller cables, things like that), so I have to be careful to keep things like that out of his reach... which can be challenging, because he is very tall when he stands up on his back legs! He will also eat anything made out of paper, so again those things have to kept out of reach. It took about a month to train him to stop chewing on the plastic bags in our garbage bins. And for a short period of time, he started chewing on the corners of the drywall in the house. This was easily remedied with an application of cayenne pepper to the corners for a few weeks. Overall, their chewing isn't too much of a problem to deal with as long as you are diligent with training, keep paper/plastic products out of reach, and provide chew toys.
*What is his personality like?
Benny is shy around people that he doesn't know. This is mostly my fault for not socializing him well enough as a baby (husband and I had recently moved, so we didn't have many friends in the area yet to introduce him to). However, he can be quite the character around the house! He does spend a lot of time napping, like a cat, but he also likes to play. He will play tag by both chasing me and running away. He also runs, jumps, spins, and kicks. Again like a cat, he loves to be petted, but only when he wants to be petted.
Sometimes he will roll onto his back for belly rubs, or just for the sheer fun of rolling around. He doesn't like being picked up, but he tolerates it. An interesting thing that he does is "guard." If my husband or I decide to lie down on the couch, Benny will hop up next to us and stand watch while we sleep. Looking for predators, I guess.
Here's a video of him play-jumping as a baby: moonsongwolf.tumblr.com/post/1…
Playing in his tent: moonsongwolf.tumblr.com/post/1…
Rolling a treat ball: moonsongwolf.tumblr.com/post/1…