Small Animals, Big Differences; RECORD PETS

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL McINTOSH

THEY both originate from South America and weigh less than a kilo, but that's where the similarity ends for guinea pigs and chinchillas.

I've decided to look at their suitability as pets after last week's look at hamsters and gerbils - and they could hardly be more different.

Guinea pigs have been known since 1000BC and are quiet, clean, fairly docile and easy to handle. They don't like climbing and rarely jump and, unlike most rodents, their response to danger is usually to freeze or to run, rather than to bite, so they are popular with vets.

There are three main types: the English, with a short, fine coat; the Abyssinian, which has rosettes of rough, wiry hair; and the Peruvian, whose very long coat makes it more suitable as a show animal, rather than a pet. A wide range of coat colours can be found.

Rabbit hutches are perfectly adequate for guinea pigs and they can spend time happily outdoors in summer, if protected from cats.

They can withstand a wide range of temperature and it has to be pretty hot to cause heatstroke.

There are plenty of readily-available commercial diets and these need only to be supplemented with hay and a little green food. Sudden changes in diet may be upsetting and they need daily vitamin C.

They can be messy eaters and may need a little adult supervision, but it is possible for them to be well looked after by a relatively young, caring child.

The same cannot be said of the small squirrel-like chinchilla. It has been bred in captivity since 1923 when Mathias Chapman captured 11 animals and transported them to California.

Despite normally living at altitudes of 4500m, it has been hunted to extinction in the wilds of the Andes. Its downfall has been its exquisite, dense, soft coat, which contains 2000 hairs per square inch. Me? Jealous? You bet.

Chinchillas rarely bite, but they are easily frightened and can move very rapidly. …