Capybaras are affectionately called giant guinea pigs, but they are not as simple to care for as their smaller cousins. Smart, sociable animals, capybaras are the largest rodents in the world, weighing up to 170 pounds. They are relatively pleasant household pets that fare best in pairs or groups, so you must get more than one. Since they are so large, they require plenty of space and an accessible pool of water.
COMMON NAME: Capybara
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
ADULT SIZE: 3 to 4 feet tall, weighing up to 170 pounds
LIFESPAN: 8 to 12 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Capybara?
Depending on where you live, it may be illegal to own a capybara. Some vicinities may require a permit or health certificate. For some examples, capybaras are banned as pets in California and Georgia. However, they are legal to possess in Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York. Even if a state allows it, some cities may not. Capybaras are considered illegal pets in the five boroughs of New York City. Before you buy one, contact your local city government or humane society to find out if it is legal to own a capybara where you live.
Owning a capybara or two is a huge expense and an even bigger commitment. These are enormous animals, more about 170 pounds each, times two. Capybaras really need to live in the kind of environment provided by professional zoos.
Things to Consider
Capybaras are large, expensive pets that need a great deal of living space which includes aquatic space. They are social creatures that do best in pairs, so you would need to purchase and house a pair of them, either two females or a male and a female; two males, even if they're neutered, may be aggressive toward each other. Unless you're able to carve out this kind of living situation, a capybara is not for you.
Capybara Behavior and Temperament
Hand-reared capybaras are typically quite tame, but if you are getting an adult capybara as a pet, you will have to be patient until it warms up to you. Capybaras are not prone to biting humans. However, if they feel threatened or provoked, they will use their giant teeth to defend themselves and may bite. In general, capybaras tend to be nervous and shy.
Scent glands in males are located on the top of their snouts and are used to mark their territory. Females also have these glands, but they are not as visible. Both sexes also use their anal glands for marking. Capybaras are very vocal with each other.
In the wilds of Central and South America, they are found in large groups anywhere there is standing water since they have dry skin that needs constant hydration. Capybaras have webbed feet, making them excellent swimmers. They can hold their breath for about five minutes underwater.
Capybaras like areas with plenty of grasses, which they eat and use to hide from predators. Similar to pigs, these big rodents may cover themselves in mud to help regulate their body temperature and prevent sunburn since they have thin fur and don't have many sweat glands.
Just like guinea pigs, capybaras are highly social and communicate with each other using a variety of sounds. They use purrs, barks, grunts, whistles, squeals, coughs, and more. A capybara housed alone, unable to communicate with anyone, can become stressed out and depressed. You can imitate these sounds to reassure your capybara. But the best way to ensure your pet's happiness is to make sure they have at least one friend to talk to, groom, and swim with.
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Capybaras need a marshy environment, similar to their native habitat: capybaras come from the jungles of South America.
Since capybaras should not be kept solitary, you will need to make sure you have plenty of space for your rodent family. You will need a large fenced-in area, roughly 12 feet by 20 feet per pair, as well as a safe enclosure indoors or covered at night. The outside fence should be at least 4 feet high. Make sure that there are no gaps that your pet can squeeze through.
Scatter items that are safe for your capybara to chew on, such as untreated wood or large dog toys that can be picked up or floated in the water.
Capybaras are diurnal; they need daily exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. They can handle a vast gradient in temperatures from 45 degrees Fahrenheit up to 100; however, they require a warmer area to retreat to on cold days and a watering hole for cooling off when it is sweltering. If the seasonal temperatures get too cold where you live, and they must retreat indoors for the season, make sure you provide UVB lighting indoors for at least 12 hours per day. If their enclosure drops cooler than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, provide heat lamps to warm up the area. If you live in a subtropical or tropical zone, then they should be able to live outdoors most, if not all, the time.
Specific Substrate Needs
The best substrates for your capybara are hay and straw, sterilized soil, or grass; foundations that can be replaced easily, to keep the cage clean and odor-free.
What Do Capybaras Eat & Drink?
Capybaras only eat about three to six plant species in the wild. The most common ingredient in a pet capybaras diet should be high-quality grass hay offered in piles or bales. Orchard hay and Timothy hay are both readily available from pet stores and large animal feed stores.
This hay will not only provide the necessary nutrients and roughage a large rodent needs but will also help keep a capybara's teeth at an appropriate length. Like other rodents, capybara teeth continuously grow throughout their lives. Hay, grass, wood, and other course objects help to file down their teeth. If their teeth do not file down, they will develop an overbite, which can lead to mouth disfigurement and pain while eating. If that happens, they will require the care of a specialized exotics veterinarian.
Also, capybaras should be fed guinea pig pellets with vitamin C in a feeding bowl every day. Like guinea pigs and humans, capybaras do not produce enough vitamin C naturally in their bodies. These pellets help prevent scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency. You can give vegetable treats, like carrots, apples, or yams, but only sparingly. Too much sugar—even natural sugar—is addicting. You do not want your capybaras to become selective eaters.
Spread hay around the enclosure; this will help recreate natural grazing. You can allow your capybaras to graze on your grass as long as you are 100 percent certain that there are no toxic weeds, fertilizers, or insecticides.
Monitor its droppings. Normal poop looks olive-shaped. If it gets too loose, your pets may be getting too much sugar or moisture. It may be a sign they need more hay and roughage and fewer treats.
Common Health Problems
Aside from vitamin C deficiency, they are relatively hardy creatures. Like most rodents, capybaras are prone to respiratory infections and infestations with mites or lice in their fur. To prevent these issues, keep the pen clean. If your capybara appears listless or stops eating, it may have a digestive problem. Now would be a good time to call your exotics veterinarian to make sure your capybaras stay in good health.
As a semi-aquatic species, capybaras need the ability to loll in the water and swim sometimes. Provide a pen that will allow your capybaras to move around freely with a pool of water that allows for swimming and wading (over 3 feet deep). The pool and a shaded area should be accessible at all times.
Capybaras are not big shedders, just a few hairs at a time. Nothing to worry about if you're going to adopt one.
Grooming is a calming icebreaker among capybaras. Offer your new capybara some food and gently comb them; it can be a relaxing, bonding experience.
Capybaras grow to be about 3 to 4 feet tall, and adults weigh up to 170 pounds.
Training Your Capybara
Capybaras are intelligent, social animals that can be taught to be house-trained. You can try both wet and dry pans. You'll have the most success training a capybara when it's young. Just be aware, these giant rodents have a habit of eating their own waste. We know, it's gross. But they are indeed wild animals and do in fact get nutrients this way.
Some people are able to train their capys to wash on a lead, leash, or harness. If you join an online capybara community, you're sure to get loads of advice on how to do this.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Capybara as a Pet
Capybaras shed very little, have no odor, and aren't aggressive, though it's best to let them come to you if they seek affection. But, capybaras are wild animals: they need access to a lot of water, which is where they prefer to defecate. Capybaras might be better off as the pets you visit at the zoo.
Purchasing Your Capybara
Ideally, try to buy a capybara from a reputable breeder. The cost of these creatures runs about $1,000 to $3,000. Females are usually more expensive. Keep in mind, you have to buy at least two. First, make sure there is an exotics veterinarian in your area who has experience treating large rodents like capybaras.
No matter what you do, never take in a wild capybara. You will not be able to domesticate it, you will not know if it has been exposed to diseases, and you will shorten the animal's life by causing it undue stress.
The breeder should be able to give you tips on handling your capybara. As well as some information about its origin and health history. Give the ones you're adopting a really good once-over: make sure it is alert and active, although it may take time to warm up to people it does not know (even those bearing food). Its fur should be soft without any bald patches or redness, which may be signs of parasites or mites.
Also discuss spaying/neutering with the breeder, as you don't want to become a breeder yourself.
Similar Pets to the Capybara
If you are interested in pet capybaras, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Are capybaras really rodents?
They are! They're the largest rodents on the planet. We know when people think about rodents they think about little animals, but this 170 pounder is a rodent just the same.
Can you domesticate a capybara?
No, capybaras are not able to be domesticated. With training and care, they can be tame and friendly.
How long do capybaras live as pets?
Up to 12 years old.