Cuys are a somewhat mysterious breed of guinea pig.
Cuys are bred in Peru as a meat source. Guinea pigs are common cuisine in South America, so breeders found a way to breed guinea pigs that are much larger than an average guinea pig to provide more meat. Petco and Petsmart stores in southern California import cuys to their stores because they are cheaper to buy at wholesale than normal guinea pigs.
Here are some facts about cuys:
- They massive in size, sometimes nearly 3x the size of an average guinea pig, and can weigh up to 6lbs (if not more)
- Their coloring is always consistent: a mixture of white and orangish-brown
- They are extremely skittish, constantly nervous, and frantic almost all the time
- They have large, floppy ears and big pink noses and lips
- Their front and back feet are very, very big, and sometimes they have multiple toes on one foot (known as polydactyl)
- When they are nervous, they huff and puff out of their nose very audibly
- Health problems and blindness are very common in cuys because of their size
- Cuys generally only live 2-3 years, whereas a normal guinea pig may live (on average) 5-7 years
- Because of their skittishness and panicked state, cuys are very hard to tame
Our cuy, Bea, weighs about 5lbs whereas Penny, our average female guinea pig, weighs about 2lbs. We try our best to make her feel comfortable, but she is very fearful and nervous because it’s in her nature to be terrified of her surroundings.
Cuys are not meant for new guinea pig owners. Often times, someone will buy a cuy at Petsmart or Petco and not know it is a cuy, and realize after a few days that the guinea pig is not what they expected (an easygoing pet). It is very common for cuys to be abandoned in the wild—a pair of sister cuys survived in a Los Angeles park for over a year before they were rescued and brought to a shelter. Cuys are commonly surrendered to shelters; the Los Angeles Guinea Pig Rescue has over 20 cuys in their shelter.
When we got Bea, she was what would be considered “average size” for a young guinea pig (she was probably 3-4 months old). As the weeks went by, she grew EXPONENTIALLY. She soon surpassed the sizes of the other 6 pigs, including the male of the group. She is huge and seems to grow in size every single day.
Taming Bea is nearly impossible. After holding her for quite a while in one sitting, she eventually calms down and if we are lucky, we will hear a small, quiet wheek peep out of her. But hearing a wheek from her is totally a rarity, even if she seems to be relaxed in our arms or in a cuddle cup.
In the C&C cage, she is always hiding, or ready to hide. At the very sight of a human she darts into a hut. Sometimes she becomes so frantic and can’t find the hut and instead runs around the C&C cage at lightening speed until she bumps into the hut and then dives into hiding.
Attempting to pick her up is always a challenge. She is extremely fast despite her size. When we manage to hold her, she uses every ounce of strength in her body to “paddle” away from us, swatting at our bodies. We use the word “paddle” because it seems like she is paddling in water the way her paws move.
When we bathe her, she makes an extremely loud, shrieking/screeching sound the entire time. When she first made it we were so startled. It only happens when we bathe her.
As far as her health goes, we had one health scare a few months back, when she was probably 4-5 months old. She was lying on my chest and when I lifted her to put her back in her cage, there was blood on my shirt where she had been sitting. Upon further inspection, it seemed as though the blood was coming from her vagina. We took her to the vet immediately. The vet remarked on how large she was and told us the blood was either from a urinary tract infection, or cancer in the uterus. She gave us antibiotics hoping it was the infection. Luckily, the blood incident never occurred again so we think it was an infection rather than the horrifying thought of a piggie having cancer.
We love our Big Bea. She is so cute and adorable—her floppy ears and big pink nose make our hearts swell with love for her. She’s a sweetheart and a gentle giant, even in her times of franticness and terror. Cuys are not pets for everyone and we are angry at stores like Petco and Petsmart for selling them to people who have no guinea pig experience, let alone experience for a cuy.
An interesting thing to note – we have never seen a cuy on the east coast in a pet store. We recently moved from Los Angeles to NYC and when we go into Petco’s and Petsmarts here on the east coast (in NY, NJ and MD), there are no cuys. But when we were in the LA area, we saw cuys frequently in those chain pet stores.
If you live the in the southern California area and have room in your heart and home, consider adopting a cuy from a shelter. While they are harder to handle than an average guinea pig, they are absolutely adorable sweethearts and truly gentle giants.