Guinea pig history

Guinea pig looksThe history

The Latin name for guinea pigs is Cavia Porcellus. So I bet you want to know the history of these popular pets, well keep reading and find out.

They are classed as being rodents, you are probably thinking eeek rodents. But guinea pigs are lovely creatures and are nothing like wild rats. They are very clean, sociable and friendly.

It was said that domestication occurred up to 7000 years ago in the Andes mountains, where they were mainly located and were most probably used as an important food source. It was then in the 15th century, when the Spanish invaded Peru where the Incan people lived, that they were amazed to have found these unique animals that they had never witnessed before. In places like Peru and Ecuador, guinea pigs as pets are far from the majority of minds. Rather, being a food delicacy called cuy and were used in religious ceremonies and still are today, because it is said that they could heal and help the dying of people. They were such big religious symbols in this part of the world, that statues had been found in archaeological digs.

Guinea pigs do stretch back a very long period of time. 18 million years ago to be precise. In 2003, remains were found in Venezuela, of a massive guinea pig measuring a staggering 9-foot long, this was dated back to about 8 million years ago. More recent ancestors from the wild looked a little different to how the domestic ones appear, being grey, to help blend into their environment, from predators.

The wild version called cavy, is smaller and can be quite vicious. Today our friends measure 9 to 11 inches long and can weigh anywhere from 1 to 2 kilograms. Some maybe weighing over 2kg.

It’s common that now some of us humans, even like to compete in shows with them, in terms of how good they look.

Coming to EuropeGlobe showing Europe

In the 1600s, Europe started bringing them in, to be pets. In England even Queen Elizabeth 1st had one as a pet. Remains had been found in Belgium and South America to prove the fact of domestication from the 16 and 17th century. Also in artwork from various periods of history, they had been painted into scenes.

It was thanks to the Dutch that England first gained these brilliant creatures. It was the wealthiest of society that actually kept them. By the 1900s British immigrants had travelled to the rest of America, to introduce to the people.

Medical advancement

In the medical field of the 18th century, they were so important. They actually were quite similar to the make up of humans and therefore were used and along the way amazing discoveries and solutions were made. Vitamin C was one of them, as well as adrenaline and tuberculosis bacterium. It did not end there, new heart valves, blood transfusions, kidney dialysis, diphtheria and TB vaccinations.

To finish it all of, also what was discovered thanks to them, was the all so important antibiotics, anticoagulants, asthma medications and beta blockers. So in this period of history and still now guinea pigs were very vital to the medical landscape, with things that we rely on a lot today. Scientists and the Nobel prizes recongnise them in what has been gained.

Used as a food source

As mentioned they were and still are used today as a food source in a lot of areas in South America. It’s simply because they are easier to look after than other livestock and can be fed on left over veggies from their kitchens. They reproduce a lot quicker than common farm animals. Also, the fact that they are high in protein. In the western world we know them as pets, but its just a way of life and culture in South America.

What’s in the name?

There is no definitive reason on the first part of the name (Guinea). A rumour was that in the 1600s the South American country of Guyana, which was a dutch colony at the time, had guinea pigs, that guinea was derived from the name of Guyana. Maybe because it was the cost of one guinea pig in British money being a guinea, which makes a lot of sense to, it was a substantial amount of money back then.

Pig is quite simply that they sounded like little pigs squeaking about and the bum also looking similar in appearance.

Let’s talk ancestry and relatives

Guinea pigs are in the same group of caviomorpha, this includes a certain similar number of animals that include chinchillas, capybaras and porcupines to name a few on top of over 200 other species. Current wild relatives and ancestors behave in more untamed ways.


Guinea pigs have such rich history and have been important for many things. They sure are very special creatures.


Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will reply back as soon as possible.



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20 comments found

  1. Amazing! I just watched an Anthony Bourdain episode where he is in Peru and they were talking about roasting guinea pigs! I understand the food source idea, but guinea pigs are so cute! Who could eat one!
    I went looking for information on that giant guinea pig and that is pretty cool as well. We started out with hamsters and we are now considering a guinea pig. Thank you for all this cool information!

    1. Yes guinea pigs are very cute and I certainly wouldn’t eat one if I was visiting Peru. I just couldn’t do it, but its just a way of life for them in South America.
      The giant guinea pig creature that was discovered is amazing from 8 million years ago. I currently have a syrian hamster called Henry, its good that you are considering getting a guinea pig, as they make brilliant pets.

  2. Hi Eden,

    Your article here is very interesting. I say that because you say they found a guinea pig that was 9 foot long! My mind immediately looked at the picture up top and yes they are small as anything. What happened? I recall watching a really great documentary on something on TV years ago. I recall that when food resources are scarce the wild life will do an incredible thing.

    They will begin to produce off-spring that is smaller. Thus, their intake is less and less with ever generation so to help them flourish. I am supposing that is what happened with the guinea pigs. They were born smaller and smaller to help them survive on less and less.

    Great article here Eden and thank you for your research 🙂 .

    1. Hello Philip, it makes sense about the off spring being smaller. I think the guinea pig has developed so much over the centuries, especially the wild ones, gradually scaling down in size. Also its interesting where the guinea pig has so many relatives in terms of the capybara essentially being a larger guinea pig. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  3. Wow, I never really thought about where guinea pigs come from. I do remember hearing that they eat them in Peru. Bet you don’t get much meat from them though! I’m glad they’re not very ‘rodent-like’ even if they are in that animal family. They are so cute and I love the sound they make!

  4. Great history, thanks Eden, amazing that they go back so many years, 18 million? Hardly to contain. And I read that the Dutch had something to do with their history too. I am just feeling proud now to be Dutch:) I know, they are very bright too, you can teach them tricks. It’s a pity, some cultures eat them. But as a veggie, I think that no animal should be bred for consumption. Anyway, nice history:)


    1. Hello Loes, 

      They sure do go back far. Yes the Dutch did play a big part in their history. You can teach guinea pigs to do quite a few tricks, which is fantastic. 

  5. I always wanted to know the origin of the saying “I don’t want to be your guinea pig”, came from. Haha. The guinea pig is commonly known for lab experimentation, but I never understood why. They don’t appear to have a lot of resemblance to the human structure, but you’ve explained how they do. Very interesting.

    1. I love when people always say “I am going to be a guinea pig” 🙂 and its fascinating that the term came from when they were used in lab experimentation. Thank you for stopping by Tiffany.

  6. Hi again, I just popped over from your other post about vitamin C for guinea pigs. This is another interesting article! 18 million years, I never knew! Hmm, and as a food source makes me uncomfortable in my stomach, as I only know them as pets too. I guess that’s something unavoidable, with different cultures all over the world. Thank you for the loads of information provided here, I have learnt much. 

    1. Hello, yes there is no way I would eat Guinea Pig if I visited Peru, but I respect the culture. That’s great to hear, thank you Joo 

  7. I do love Guinea pigs. I never realized there was a European connection, that is fascinating. I did know about South America, I have a friend who’s dined on Guinea Pig. It’s how he grew up. We’ve always had one or two little squeakers in our house. I love how they speak. 

    1. They are fascinating creatures with an interesting past that stretches back centuries. Yes Guinea Pigs love to speak and squeak 🙂

  8. Wow, there is a lot of information here in quick doses.  I was unaware that guinea pigs were used as test subjects for the medical field, thus the phrase.  It makes a lot of sense now, but that was a neat piece of information to learn when reading your post.

    I think that it would be cool to have more information about how guinea pigs were vital for the advancement of the medical field.  This seems to be an important fact that a lot of people, like me, do not have enough knowledge of.  Could you provide a link to a site that would have more of this information available?

    1. Hello Josh, I just included a short piece about Guinea Pigs being used in the medical field, which I summed up from all the research I found. But I will see if I can find even more information and include the link. Many thanks 

  9. Thank you for your elaborate lectures on Guinea pig it was interesting to learn so much from your research, indeed they are cute.

    I made an investigation recently on rodents, their adaptability and transformation from temperate regions to another, and noticed that at some point in time they developed an immune system where they could eat anything and drink any kind of waters and would still survive. 

    This development has made some of the rodents carriers of viruses like Arenaviridae which are deadly to human.

    I would like if you extended your search, to finding out if Guinea pigs as rodents can as well develop such tendencies, when migrated from one temperate zone to another.

    Thanks for sharing, hope to read more from you.

    1. I am fascinated from your investigation on rodents, I never knew about this and I will definitely be finding out if Guinea Pigs also develop the same tendencies when moving from one temperate zone to another. My findings will be added to this article.

      Thank you so much Azogor 

  10. I had guinea pigs growing up, I never would have thought we could keep them outside.How interesting! 

    We only had one or two, and I always thought they were really cool and so cute!!! Ours got along very well so we didn’t have any issues with behavior thank heavens.

    They didn’t really do tricks, but  they seemed smarter and more sociable than most other rodents we had owned. 

    I really enoyed this article, and I learned a few things from your other articles, I wish I knew when I had my little guinea pigs. 

    1. Hello Stacie, it is nice for Guinea Pigs to be kept inside if possible because of more social interaction and easier to control temperatures. Although people do have them in big sheds outside, which are cool. Its good yours got along, they are such special creatures. Thank you for stopping by. 

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