The range of different colours in guinea-pigs is large but full of interest. The most popular are those known as selfs. They are of the same colour all over. These occur as black, chocolate, lilac, red, cream and white. The agouti or ticked varieties are found in several colours, of which the golden, cinnamon and silver are among the more frequent.
These are called ticked because, if the hairs are examined closely, it will be observed that each is banded or ticked in more than one colour. Though not as common as the self, many people consider that the ticked varieties are far more handsome animals. This is a matter of personal preference, of course.
One of the most beautiful guinea-pigs, however, is the tortoiseshell-and-white. The ideal animal is a tricolour patchwork of black, red and white. The patches should be symmetrically placed over the body and solid in colour. That is, the red must not contain black hairs, nor the black contain red hairs (known as brindling) and neither must have intermingled white hairs.
A well marked animal is extremely rare and is worth a lot of money. Badly marked animals can be obtained at more normal prices and these should not be despised on this account. Well marked animals are just as likely to be bred from them as from the more perfect. A great deal of luck is involved in breeding superbly marked tortoiseshell-and-whites and breeders have to spend years of work to produce outstanding specimens.
The marked group consists of four varieties. The Himalayan, which has a white coat in the body but dark ears and feet. The Dutch is an attempt to produce a guinea-pig of the same pattern as the Dutch rabbit. Ideally, the fore part of the body should be white while the hind quarters should be coloured. In addition, there should be two distinct circular patches of coloured fur on the head. One on each side of the head, taking in the eyes and ears but separated by a streak of white from the nose to between the ears. Any of the self and ticked colours may be found as Dutch marked but the most frequently met with are the black and the red. It is very difficult to breed a symmetrical and well-marked Dutch (as defined by the breed standard) but even a nearly perfect animal is a joy to behold.
The normal guinea-pig is known as the smooth-coated and the reason for this is the existence of two other coats. These are the rosetted or Abyssinian and the long haired or Peruvian. The use of these names is simply descriptive; these varieties did not originate in Abyssinia nor in Peru. The rosetted guinea-pig has the hair thrown up in several whorls on the head and body. The ideal Abyssinian has at least eight, evenly spaced over the animal. To the touch, the coat appears rough and wiry, quite different from the soft smoothness of the normal animal. The Abyssinian is a quaint looking little fellow which appears to invoke either expressions of ecstatic delight or aversion ! It is only the coat which is unusual, of course, in other respects, the Abyssinian is a typical guinea-pig. The Abyssinian may be found in almost all of the colours mentioned above.
The Peruvian has long silky hair and a well-kept animal can be most attractive. The variety is as easy to feed and house as any other except for the attention which has to be given to keeping the coat clean and in good condition. The secret is to provide a large hutch with plenty of floor space (have only a thin sprinkling of sawdust) and to cover the sawdust with a good layer of meadow hay. The hay must be clean and new—never old or musty. Also it must be replaced with new at the first signs of becoming dirty and damp. The coat of Peruvian requires regular grooming for it to remain in tip-top condition. Some soiling is inevitable but it is important to prevent the coat from becoming seriously dirty or matted in the first place.
Fortunately, the natural cleanliness of the guinea-pig helps ‘in this respect and you can contribute by seeing that he has clean bedding. Combing and grooming should be done daily but not to excess. The main purpose is to prevent the hair from matting. Any mats which are found should be gently teased out. Do not tug and, above all, do not pull out or cut off matted tufts unless you are absolutely forced to. These operations will almost certainly show and, therefore, must be avoided. It is a sad reflection on the care the guinea-pig is receiving for the coat to become badly matted.
Guinea-pig shows are held regularly all over the country. The larger shows may consist entirely of guinea-pigs but it is more usual for the shows to be held in conjunction with those for rabbits. Agricultural and council fetes often have livestock sections which feature classes for guinea-pigs. Anyone who has a yen to exhibit should visit a show to study the sort of guinea-pigs which are exhibited and to observe the procedures. A beginner will no doubt be surprised at the difference between a show animal and those of the pet shop. This is to be expected since show guinea-pigs are the outcome of decades of patient selective breeding; whereas pet shop animals are not. However, do not be put off by this. Most shows have “pet classes” where the animals are judged by condition and health, not primarily by show points.
Special show pens are not required but it is advisable to use special travelling boxes to convey the guinea-pig from your home to the show venue. In a sense, any soundly constructed and properly ventilated box would suffice but some shows may refuse to accept any exhibits which are insecurely boxed. This is a reason why a visit to a show is worthwhile. One can see the travelling boxes which are in use and either ascertain where to buy one or obtain details of their construction so that one can be made. Most shows provide wire show pens in which the guinea-pigs are placed until they are taken to the judging table. Some shows do not, however, and, in these cases, the animals have to remain in the travelling box until such time as they are wanted on the show table. This is why a proper box should be employed. Provided the box is well ventilated and not too small, the animal will come to no harm.
A proper travelling box is essential to despatch a guinea-pig by rail to a distant show. However, when this stage has been reached, it is to be assumed that one is no longer a novice and is properly equipped. Notices of shows are advertised in the fancy paper “Fur and Feather”, a periodical which should be read by all serious aspirants to guinea-pig breeding and exhibiting.