Guinea pigs have been pets in Europe for centuries! Some evidence discovered just a few years ago points to this…a guinea pig skeleton was found in the backyard cellar in a district of Belgium (which at one time had been part of the Spanish Empire.) With radiocarbon dating of the bones, it was revealed that this little piggie lived at the beginning of the 17th century, just after the Spanish made their discovery of South America. The fact that the guinea pig was buried on the property indicates it was an affectionate human companion.
Flemish guinea pig paintings from the time show multi-colored guinea pigs, obviously pets. The wild cavy, of course, is a brown color.
It makes sense. These little guys are so cute, so companionable that they have been winning the love of humans for a very long time.
I have never had a guinea pig for a pet, but so many of my customers have them. And I’ll bet my guinea pig jewelry is up there with the top 10% of popular items I create! This surprised me at first, but then I learned some interesting things about guinea pigs. Like:
- Guinea pigs make excellent family pets
- They rarely bite
- They are fairly long-lived for rodents (5-7 years)
- They make some very cute sounds, described as humming and purring
- They respond well to handling
The stewardship of guinea pigs sound like a wonderful way to introduce responsible pet care to a child. Of course, you as the parent would need to oversee this and make sure the guinea pig was being treated properly. But since they are so gentle, they might be a good start for a child old enough to actually keep the cage clean, feed the guinea pig and so on.
So it makes sense that guinea pigs have been pets for so long…I can imagine a Renaissance era maiden holding a little guinea pig in her hands, perhaps inducing it to take a bite of some delicacy. And it’s kind of humorous imagining a painter sitting at his easel, trying to capture a little piggie as it moves around. I’ve seen at least one painting from the 1600s with a couple of little guinea pigs in a central position. (They were black and white)
It has been postulated that it only took a couple of guinea pigs brought back from South America to be the parents of all the little pets in Europe that resulted. But I imagine more than that had been collected by the travelers. I like to think they were given as gifts by the people of South America, and that they enjoyed a pleasant journey across the water.
Who knows? Maybe that guinea pig you now have as a pet had “ex-pat” parents in Europe, and their progeny ended up back in the Americas, to be bred once again, and become the great great many great grandparents of that little guinea pig you cuddle today! If you do like the little guys, stop by The Magic Zoo and see what guinea pigs I have come up with, and also make a suggestion of what you would like to see me make in the future!