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Because of their roles as laboratory test animals, guinea pigs have gained an unfair reputation as completely docile, lifeless pets who just sit in a cage and stare blankly at the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Guinea pigs are very social animals and provide hours of entertainment with their curious antics and interaction with humans. They are less fragile than hamsters and gerbils, which is good for active children, and are very close in temperament to a rabbit, but not as "high maintenance." They rarely bite and are natural vegetarians. But not all guinea pig breeds are suitable for specific households and lifestyles. Before purchasing a guinea pig as a pet, consider the following differences between the three most common types of guinea pigs sold in America today.

One common breed of guinea pig is the short-haired variety. This is probably the first image of a guinea pig that will pop into your mind. The short-haired guinea pig is very sleek and clean in appearance, with a closely cropped coat of soft fur. It does have variations in color, mostly combinations of white, brown, cinnamon, and black. They resemble oversized mice in many respects, or large hamsters. Short-haired guineas do not shed much, which is a consideration if you prefer to keep a very tidy household. They are extremely easy to hold but can be a little slippery. Small children who do not have as much experience holding animals may find the short-haired variety a bit too challenging. I would recommend the short-haired variety for people who like their pets clean and sleek in appearance, with minimal shedding, and have older children who have handled animals in the past.

The second breed of guinea pig you might consider is the rough-coated variety. These crosses between the smooth-haired and long-haired variety are a little easier to hold for little hands because of their rough coats. There is a little more shedding involved, so you may notice a few more hairs around the house if the pet is handled often. The color scheme for a rough-haired guinea is the same as the smooth-hair, but occasionally the colors come out in tufts, which can give a rough-haired guinea a more comical appearance. Their fur's texture contains many whorls and cowlicks, so you'll never be able to completely groom a rough-haired guinea pig to "showroom quality." I recommend the rough-haired guinea pigs to parents with smaller children, and those who aren't as concerned with a pet's aesthetic qualities or shedding tendencies. Rough-hairs are wonderful pets but will always look like they just woke up with bad bed hair.

For the guinea pig enthusiast, long-haired guineas are usually the choice. With hair very similar to cats, the long-hairs are beautiful animals to behold, and very affectionate. Their colors can range from a solid white, black, brown, or cinnamon to a three-colored collage of shades. If you prefer an animal that is breathtakingly attractive, you may want to purchase a long-haired guinea pig. Although they still make wonderful family pets, the long-hairs may be too much work for small children. They require daily and diligent grooming because they are highly susceptible to matting. Trimming is not recommended because a guinea pig does not grow hair quickly. Whatever cuts you make in a guinea's fur are going to be there for a long time. Shedding is also considerable in a long-haired guinea. A long-haired guinea is not the sort of animal that can handle a three-day vacation with just some extra food and water. Other varieties may be left alone for several days if necessary, but long-hairs must be groomed religiously if you want them to maintain their beautiful coats. Therefore, I would recommend a long-haired guinea to the real guinea enthusiast who has the time to groom his/her pet and does not mind a buildup of pet hair around the house. Small children can enjoy a long-haired guinea but should be instructed on proper care and maintenance.