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Patagonian Cavy
(Dolichotis Patagonum)

Article By Shannon Grange Exotics

These unusual animals are from Argentina. They are the 2nd largest rodents in the world. They can grow up to 25-30lb, and are said to look like a cross between a rabbit and a deer. They have the head of a rodent, but they walk with their hind ends up like a deer. They share many deer characteristics. They have very fine bones in their legs, they are flight animals, and in order to be tame, should be hand raised from a very young age. When tame, they can be trained to a harness, and will jump up on your lap to be petted. They make many different sounds, but the most common is a sound like a guinea pig. It is said that they can run 45 km/hr and can jump 7 feet. They are prolific diggers, but they dig burrows in the ground for their young, and do not burrow out like rabbits. In our pen, we have a run from their inside area to a yard, which has 4 foot high fence with a mesh on top. Around the perimeter fence, we have laid about 2 feet of wire on the ground so that when they dig, they do not dig out of the fence. However, they have not dug outside as yet, because their pen has a large quantity of straw which they re-arrange daily.

These are easy animals to feed, as they like most things (they are rodents after all). We feed rabbit pellets (which they aren't really fussy on), brood-mare ration which they love, dried corn which they love but will eat too much of if you let them, and free choice hay. They get fruit or vegetables daily, and seem to like most kinds. Branches for them to chew on are also a good idea for their teeth.

They reach sexual maturity very early (females at 2 months, males at 6 months), and can have 1-4 babies twice per year. If they do not have somewhere to build a proper den, they will kill the babies. If there is more than 1 female in a pen, they will share the den. They are monogamous animals, but that appears to be only if there are enough males to go around. These are unique animals. They are fun to watch on those sunny mornings when they are playing and jumping and twisting in the air. But they do require proper facilities, because should they escape if they are not tame - well - good luck.

Interview with Wildlife Wonders

Positives of patagonian cavies as pets?
A bottle baby cavy is very laid back and sweet. It will follow you around and allow petting and other interaction. They can be litter trained. I have never had one bite. If bottle raised they tend to suck on your fingers way past adulthood. They also make the cutest grunting type noise when happy and content.

Negatives of patagonian cavies as Pets??
They can scratch at your doors, is one example Example. The only time claws seem to be a problem is if you put them in one room and they want out. They will scratch at the floor attempting for get out. They don't have sharp climbing claws but they have digging claws, so they can leave marks on your floors and doors. The only reason my cavies would claw is if they knew I was out and I wasn't letting them out.

Anecdotes/stories about your cavy pet?
There are so many stories I wouldn't know where to start! They like sleeping with my dog. You canl find them jumping straight in the air and turning complete circle just for fun or because they are excited to see you. They like to visit all the other animals and "talk' to them, and there's nothing funnier then a cavy with a pile of newspaper!

Do they have scent glands or an offensive smell?
No. Although if someone has not been around animals they may notice a typical "animal" smel I suppose. They are easy to give baths to. In general they are not "smelly" animals.

What is their average lifespan?
10 years

Do they enjoy interaction?
They are very social and curious animals and will greet you anytime you come to them. They investigate all new items and travel well in carriers.

What is their general personality, disposition, and attitude?
Overall they have a very steady personality. They simply like to run, jump and sometimes roll. I have one that loves to roll but the others don't. Most of the time they walk around the pen, eat, and grunt, sunbath and seem to simply enjoy life as is. If you are there they follow you around and love a good petting. They are very curious. I have found mine not to be afraid of anything.

Are they sweet and petable, or mischievous and playful?
They are very petable and sweet. They are playful in the sense that they will run and do little circle jumps but they don't play with toys like a cat or dog. They are not mischievous at all.

How destructive are they for an average household?
Depends on what is average, ha! They don't climb so you don't have to worry about displays. They do chew on newspapers. In fact they love paper of any kind.nbsp; They will chew on it. They don't chew on other things though just paper and plastic bags. Oh and they will try to chew on your hair every once in a while. I think a lot of that is a curious baby thing. Babies will try to suck on you hair.

Do they climb or tear up furniture?
They don't climb but they will jump up on a chair or couch to be with you. I have never had on tear upfurniture.

Are their any problems associated with their claws?
In the wild they are burrowing animals so they have strong claws and every once in a while they may scratch (as if digging) at your door. The only other place I had one scratch is under my bed. It was as if he where trying to dig.

How messy are their droppings?
The droppings are solid little pellets, about the size of a rabbit pellet. w Very easy to clean.

Can they be litter box trained?
With patience, yes! They are clean animals that like to go in one spot anyways. Use that to your advantage and put a litter box there and then attempt to train them to the spot you would have them go.

Can they be trained?
They can be leashed trained but not in the sense of a dog. You can not expect them to heal, come, sit, etc. You can teach them to understand that the end of the leash is as far as they can go, for the most part they will simply want to follow you anyway. The only thing that stops them from following you is other people or pets that they want to visit. Sometimes in a new environment they will be very curious and want to go up to every person there and see what they are up to and sometimes even put there feet on you like a dog looking for a treat! A good patch of grass to munch on will sometimes stop them dead in there tracks and they won't budge. You might have to either pick them up or offer a better treat!

How are they with other pets, larger and smaller?
They wouldn't hurt a flea! I would be more afraid of them getting hurt by others. Mine play with my dog. They are curious and would probably go up to any animal. Mine wouldn't hesitate to inspect the wolves but of course I don't let them as they would be lunch meat!

What size cage do they need?
Ideally, as a pet you would want to be able to house one indoors and outdoors. Inside is best to let them run free. Since they are grazers they love going out and chomping grass. When I first started with cavy's I was told a 6 foot fence with a wire underground so they could not dig out. And the high fence because if need be they could jump that high. This would be a good set up for NON TAME and skittish cavyies. If a cavy is not well acclimated they WILL dig deep holes and attempt to build burrows. Mine have never dug any holes. They will scratch a little at the door when I am coming to there cage but have never attempted to get out by digging under the fence. I know of a lady who keeps hers in a 4 foot high livestock fencing. Her's are also very tame. Obviously the more room you can give them the better. 10x10 dog kennel would be a minimum set up but would work if the cavy was a part of your household and was let out on a leash etc. A fenced in backyard would be great for them but you want to make sure that yours is very social. I had 2 escape one day because I left the front door open. One was a rescue and very skittish and nervous and the other, Zacky, was very tame. I called for Zacky and he bounded up to me like a dog. The other we had to trap to get back.

What do you feed them?
They get a mixture of rabbit/deer/wallaby food and oats. A lot of owners feed there's a mixture of rabbit and guinea pig feed which would work fine. Because I have other animals here they get a variety mainly because I have found the wallaby chow their favorite. They also get a whole lot of fruits and vegetables. They love sweat potato, whole wheat bread, greens, corn, apple.. just about any type of grain, fruits and veggies.

What vaccinations/vet care do they require?
I would check with a good exotic vet and see what they recommend. There is such a difference in opinions on vaccinations that I don't feel it would be appropriate for me to give vaccination advice.

At what age would it be best to get one?
You definitely want to get a bottle baby from GOOD stock. Preferably where the parents are tame. Between 7-8 weeks is ideal but if the cavy comes from a good home and is well socialized they adapt just fine when older also. Cavyies not bottle fed from real young make LOUSY pets. They are skittish, jump and usually not handleable. My experience has been that if the parents of the baby's are real wild you are more likely to have wild babies EVEN if bottle raised.

What kind of person should own these animals?
I think Cavies can appeal to a wide variety of people. Someone with a love for animals. Cavies are a very simple animal and therefore a good choice overall. Hoverve, as with all animals do your research and understand the commitment to having a Cavy.

About the author?
Hope and Tom Bennett run Wildlife Wonders. Wildlife Wonders main focus is Animal Education. Hope and Tom Bennett bring the animals to schools, camps, churches, parties etc to help educate on all aspect of animals. Wildlife Wonders houses about 180 animals. Many were raised from bottles here while others were rescues and have permanent housing at Wildlife Wonders Sanctuary.

While we do not promote ANY wild/exotic animal as a pet I also do not believe in taking away the rights on owning exotic animals as pets. There are qualified owners out there that will do there research and provide great homes for these animals while others just like the "idea" of owning an exotic and expect there new exotic to be like a cat or dog. I don't know of any exotic animal that can take the place of a domestic dog and cat. When children at programs ask me what my favorite "pet" is I say my dog and that is the truth. The other animals here are WONDERFUL but each animals has it's own natural behavior that it comes with.

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