Keeping Capybaras as Pets - Giant Guinea Pigs

Capybaras are affectionately called giant rodents and giant guineapigs but they are not as simple to care for as their smaller cousins.Capybaras can be found in households as pets, usually in groups, but arenot legal to own everywhere.

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In addition to it's common name, the capybara is also known as a capy and it's scientific name, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris. It also has over 190 local names depending on the language spoken in that region. It is native to Panama and Brazil,as well as other areas in Central and South America. In the wild theyare found in large groups anywhere there is standing water.

Riverbanks,marshes, streams and lakes are popular hot spots to find these bigrodents where they keep their dry skin hydrated, munch of various waterplants and grasses, and escape from predators. They are such avidswimmers that in the 16th century the Catholic Church classified them asfish so that they could be consumed on Fridays during the Lentenseason.

Capybaras stand about two feet tall at their shoulder, areover three feet long, and also have webbed feet. They can hold theirbreath for about five minutes underwater, are highly intelligent, andcan weigh over 170 pounds when they are full grown. In the wild theserodents live an average of nine years but captive capybaras typicallylive a few years longer.

Feeding Capybaras

The information that is available on feeding pet capybaras comes from the knowledge that zoos have accumulated. Capybaras only eat about three to six plant species in the wild therefore specific diets must be offered to our pets. Themost common ingredient in a pet capybara's diet should be a highquality grass hay. Orchard hay and Timothy hay are both readilyavailable from pet stores and large animal feed stores and should beoffered in unlimited piles.

This hay will not only provide the necessary nutrients and roughage a large rodent needs but will also help keep a capybara's teethat an appropriate length. Like other rodents, capybara teethcontinuously grow throughout their lives and if they are not filed downwith hay, grass, and other coarse objects they will need to be manuallycared for by an exotics veterinarian.
In addition to unlimitedgrass hay, guinea pig pellets should be provided. These pellets havevitamin C in them and since that specific vitamin is light sensitive andhas a short shelf life it is important to monitor the expiration dateon the bag of food and keep it out of light. Dump any uneaten pelletseach day and refill the bowl with fresh pellets. Like guinea pigsand humans, capybaras do not produce enough vitamin C naturally intheir bodies so these pellets are an important part of the diet toensure your rodent does not get scurvy.Large bags of food can be purchased from a feed store or ordered onlineif your pet store does not carry 25 and 50 lb. bags of guinea pig food.

Grazingoutside can be allowed if you are 100% sure there are no toxic weeds,fertilizers, insecticides, etc. in the grass. If you are not sure aboutwhat is in the lawn or field you are considering allowing your capybarato graze in then it is safer to keep them off of it. Treats of vegetables can be occasionally offered but try avoidingsweet veggies and fruits otherwise your capybara may become addicted tothe natural sugars. The droppings (feces) of your capybara will changefrom a normal olive shape if you are giving an inappropriate diet withtoo much moisture and sugar and not enough roughage.

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Housing Capybaras

Sincecapybaras should not be kept individually you will need to make sureyou have plenty of space for your rodent family. A pool of water thatallows for swimming and wading (over three feet deep) should beaccessible at all times in addition to a shaded area (capybaras areprone to sunburn due to their thin fur), piles of hay, and a bowl fullof fresh guinea pig pellets. Items that are safe for your capybara tochew on should also be provided (such as untreated wood, large dog toysthat can be picked up and floated, etc.).

A large area fenced outside (over 12 feet by 20 feet per pair) shouldbe provided for your capybaras in addition to a safe enclosure indoorsor covered at night. Make sure the outside fence is at least four feethigh and that there are no gaps that your rodent can squeeze through.Capys are diurnal so they need sunlight (not through a window) but ifwhere you live gets too cold for your capybara to be outside during theday you will need to provide a UVB light (like reptiles need)for about 12 hours a day to mimic the sun. Heat lights may also benecessary if their enclosure gets too cold. Capybaras are fairlyresilient so unless it gets extremely hot or below 45 degreesFahrenheit, your rodents should be able to live outdoors.

Capybara Behavior

Knownfor their ability to swim and be extremely smart, capybaras can be veryrewarding pets. One has even been known to be seeing guide rodent for aman! Rewarding your capybara's good behavior and tricks with sweettreats may be tempting but positive praise is just as effective, if notmore effective for these smart pets. Male capybaras may becomeproblematic if they are housed together (even if they are neutered) soit is best to only keep one male per group of four to fourteen femalesin captivity. Fights may break out if you have multiple males attemptingto live together and your enclosure is too small. Scent glands in malesare visible and located on the top of their snouts that are used tomark their territory. The females also have these glands but they arenot as developed. Both sexes also use their anal glands for marking.

Capybarasmay cover themselves in mud to help regulate their body temperature(they don't have many sweat glands) and protect themselves from gettingsun burnt. A shower with a hose or a quick dip in their pool will cleanthem up. They typically spend most of their day either in the pool orthe mud. Capybaras do not travel very much at a time consideringtheir size but they have been known to walk almost half a mile whilegrazing during the day therefore an enclosure that will allow yourcapybara to move around and exercise out of the water is also importantin addition to their swimming pool.

Spreading out hay around the enclosure will help recreate natural grazing and motivate your capybara to move around. Handreared capybaras are typically quite tame but if you are getting anadult capybara as a pet you will have to be patient and move slowlyuntil they warm up to you. Capybaras can be nervous and shy and are veryvocal with their own kind. Grooming each other lessens tensions so byoffering your new capybara some food and combing them you can help relaxyour pet.

Capybara Vocalizations

Just like guinea pigs,capybaras are very social and communicate with each other using avariety of sounds and actions. Purrs, barks, grunts, whistles, squeals,coughs, and more can be heard for various reasons. If your capybara washoused alone they would be unable to communicate with anyone and becomevery stressed. Just imagine if you couldn't speak to anyone!

Imitatingsounds can help but the best way to keep your capy happy is to makesure they have at least one friend to talk to, groom, and swim with. Capybarasaren't for most people, and they may not even be legal where you live,but if you are prepared for a large pet and would like one that is notaggressive then perhaps a capybara is right for you. (source :