The Patagonian cavy is definitely one of the more unusual kinds of exotic pets. They are seen more often in zoos than in households and are unique in their appearance as well as their care.
The Patagonian cavy (Dolichotis patagonum) is a large, herbivorous rodent. They are distant relatives to guinea pigs and somewhat resemble a cross between a rabbit and a small deer. They have small, compressed feet that make them resemble hooves from a distance and longer ears resembling those of a rabbit. An adult Patagonian cavy will grow anywhere from 18 to 35 pounds and will reach a height of about 18 inches tall. In captivity, they have a lifespan of about 14 years.
Feeding Patagonian Cavies
These animals are herbivores. Patagonian cavies eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, grasses, and some commercially prepared rodent food. Dark, leafy greens, fresh hay, and grass should make up the bulk of the herbivore's diet. Some owners use commercial primate food but protein content is of concern in that kind of food.
Housing Patagonian Cavies
Patagonian cavies dig, so an enclosure that is lined with heavy wire sunk underground several feet or lined with concrete is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, your pet may dig out of the enclosure. They need access to the outdoors so usually an enclosure about 10 feet by 10 feet with indoor and outdoor areas are used. This will allow access to grazing and relief from the elements. Patagonian cavies are not suited for cold weather so heating lights should be provided in the winter if you do not have an indoor winter enclosure for your pet.
If raised from a young age and hand-tamed, these large cavies can be friendly pets. They are quite skittish and although they are typically active during the day, they have been said to alter their waking hours in the wild to avoid human interaction. Patagonian cavies are not known to be biters or very noisy, although they do make a variety of vocalizations, much like that of a guinea pig. Urine and anal marking is common in both sexes and if you have a pair of cavies, you will probably see them marking each other.
There are numerous diseases that Patagonian cavies can get but some illnesses and problems are more common than others in this pet. Due to their long, skinny legs, fractures are not uncommon. Along with many other herbivores, teeth issues are quite common. Other health issues include heart and gastrointestinal troubles. Your cavy should be checked out at least annually by an exotics vet and have a fecal screening performed to make sure your pet doesn't have any intestinal parasites feeding off of him.
Do Patagonian Cavies Make Good Pets?
These cavies are more of a farm animal than a house pet. If you have the proper space and time (considering they live for 14 years) to care for this kind of pet, understand that they won't be potty trained and roaming about your house like a cat, and raise them from a young pup, you can have a nice outdoor pet. These aren't noisy animals so they could be good for someone with a small piece of land that is still concerned about keeping things quiet for their neighbors.