The Patagonian cavy or mara is one of the more unusual kinds of exotic pets. These rodents are distantly related to guinea pigs and somewhat resemble a cross between a rabbit and a small deer. They have little, compressed feet that make them resemble hooves from a distance and longer ears like those of a rabbit. They are commonly kept as zoo or farm animals. They are best housed in pens instead of kept roaming free in your house. These pets are not noisy animals, so they're a good pet option for those who have a small piece of land with nearby neighbors.
Common Names: Patagonia cavy, Patagonian hare, Patagonian mara, and dillaby
Scientific Name: Dolichotis patagonum
Adult Size: 18 inches, weighing 18 to 35 pounds
Life Expectancy: 14 years in captivity
Patagonian Cavy Behavior and Temperament
In the wild, Patagonian cavies are typically active during the day, although to avoid predatory humans, they may alter their waking hours and become nocturnal.
If raised from a young age and hand-tamed, cavies can be friendly, affectionate pets, although, they are somewhat skittish. Patagonian cavies are not known to be biters. Depending on the strength of their bond with you, they might even love a belly rub and snuggle.
They may not be noisy, but they do make a variety of vocalizations, much like the squeals and grunts of a guinea pig.
Although similarly sized to some dogs, they are not as well-behaved or as easily trainable as dogs. Some owners report success with clicker training used for dogs. They can even learn to walk on a leash. And, like cats, you might be able to train it to use a litter box.
Urine and anal marking are frequent in both sexes. If you have a pair of cavies, you will probably see them marking each other. They prefer to live in male-female bonded pairs, and a male will fiercely protect its mate.
Housing the Patagonian Cavy
In the wild, they are social animals that live in spaced out communities or settlements, which consists of a collection of dens or warrens. Usually, one pair inhabits each burrow.
They are not good indoor housemates since they will dig into carpet, flooring, couches, or anything else available. They will also chew on everything, including electrical wires or cords, and could become injured from live current. If you do keep them indoors, get a metal litter box as they will chew through plastic containers.
Since Patagonian cavies are expert diggers, line your enclosure with heavy wire sunk underground several feet or even line with concrete. If not, your pet may dig out of the pen. The outdoor enclosure should be 10 feet by 10 feet for grazing with access to an indoor area to escape the elements. The fencing should go up at least 6 feet high. Patagonian cavies have powerful hind legs; they can jump horizontally up to 6 feet high and run up to 25 miles an hour. Make sure your pet can run a short distance and jump in their enclosure.
Patagonian cavies are not suited for cold weather. Heating lights should be provided in the winter if you do not have an indoor winter pen for your pet. Make sure you include a shelter like an insulated dog house in the enclosure for the animal to hide. If you have more than one Patagonian cavy, provide at least one accommodation for each animal.
Food and Water
These animals are herbivores. Patagonian cavies eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, grasses, and commercially prepared rodent food or guinea pig food. Dark, leafy greens (collards, dandelion leaves, parsley, kale), fresh hay, and grass should make up the bulk of its diet.
You can offer an assortment of fruits and veggies as well, such as romaine lettuce, cabbage, sweet potatoes, apple, and squash. Fruits and vegetables should only comprise about 10% of their diet. These foods may be too rich for the Patagonian cavy to stomach in large quantities.
Some owners give commercial primate food or monkey biscuits as part of their diet regimen, but the protein content in this food is too high for cavies if it is fed regularly.
Like guinea pigs, Patagonian cavies need 24-hour access to hay. Make sure they get fed the rest of their food once a day. Hay options could include timothy hay, alfalfa, meadow hay, bluegrass, or oat hay. Hay helps them file down their back molars. Also, like guinea pigs, they need supplemental vitamin C. You can sprinkle powdered vitamin C (the same used by humans) onto their food or purchase vitamin C-based treats for rodents at a pet store. Since they love to chew, other chewing snacks (or toys) are another excellent option.
If you have more than one Patagonian cavy, provide several food stations to avoid aggression at feeding time. Use metal troughs or trays for feeding; they are chew-proof and are your best option. Provide fresh water daily in heavy metal bowls.
Common Health Problems
Since they have long, skinny legs, bone fractures are common. They are also prone to dental issues like overbites and mouth deformities due to overgrown teeth.
Cavies are susceptible to heart and gastrointestinal troubles. To check for any issues, make sure your animal has an annual health check by an exotics vet, including a fecal screening to look for intestinal parasites.
Is It Legal to Own a Pet Patagonian Cavy?
Many localities consider Patagonian cavies as rodents like hamsters and gerbils. Each state is different, and some may require a game breeder's license if you own more than one. As of 2020, only the state of Connecticut lists a "Patagonian mara" by name as being legal to own in the state.
Other states where they are legal without requiring a permit include Oregon, Alabama, Washington, and Texas. States that ban them or require permits include California, Georgia, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Hawaii. Laws do change all the time, so check with your state and local municipality to find out if it is legal to own a Patagonian cavy before you get one.
Purchasing Your Patagonian Cavy
Patagonian cavies cost $200 to $300. Purchase your Patagonian cavy from a certified breeder. If you need help locating one, speak to an exotics vet who might have a lead on a breeder. Most cavies are sold as babies and will need to be bottle-raised from the start. Reputable breeders should be able to provide you with documentation, information on its parents, and exhaustive care instructions.
Similar Pets to the Patagonian Cavy
If you are interested in pet cavies, check out:
Otherwise, check out other small animals that can be your new pet.