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. These cavies are more of a farm animal than a house pet. If you have the proper space and time to care for this kind of pet, understand that they won't be potty trained and roaming about your house like a cat. 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.
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. They are known as the Patagonian cavy, Patagonian hare, or dillaby.
- Scientific name: Dolichotis patagonum
- Lifespan: 14 years
- Size: 18 to 35 pounds, 18 inches tall
- Difficulty of care: Moderate
Patagonian Cavy Behavior and Temperament
If raised from a young age and hand-tamed, 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 are common in both sexes and if you have a pair of cavies, you will probably see them marking each other.
Although similarly sized to some dogs, they are not as well-behaved or trainable as dogs. These animals are rodents and avid chewers. They also like (and need to) dig. If living inside, they will dig into carpet, flooring, couches, or anything else available. Since they chew on everything, take extra care if any electrical wires or cords are near them. They will definitely chew through them and could become injured. The Patagonian cavy has extremely strong hind legs. They can jump horizontally, up to 7 feet high and run extremely fast.
Housing the Patagonian Cavy
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 an enclosure about 10 feet by 10 feet with indoor and outdoor areas should be sufficient. This will allow access to grazing and relief from the elements. They need enough room to partake in their daily activities. If kept as pets, they should have the ability to run a short distance and jump regardless of whether the enclosure meets a suggested size. 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. The enclosure should include a shelter or a place for the animal to hide. If you have more than one Patagonian cavy, you should have more than one shelter. Each animal needs its own area.
Food and Water
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.
Like guinea pigs, Patagonian cavies need 24 access to hay and then should be fed the rest of their food every day. Hay options could include timothy hay, meadow hay, bluegrass, or oat hay. They need this hay because eating it files down their back molars. Also like guinea pigs, they need supplemental vitamin C. You could sprinkle powdered vitamin C (the same as for humans) onto their food or purchase special vitamin C-based treats at a pet store. Since they love to chew, other chewing snacks (or toys) are a benefit to them.
Common Health Problems
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 it.
Purchasing Your Patagonian Cavy
Only purchase your Patagonian cavy from a certified breeder. If you need help locating one, speak to an exotics vet who can likely connect you with a breeder. Most cavies are sold as babies and will be bottle-raised from the start. Check with your state and local municipality to find out if it is legal to own a Patagonian cavy. Each state is different and some may require a game breeder's license if you own more than one.
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