Guinea pigs, also called cavies, are members of the Caviidae family, a group that includes several species of rodents from South America. All cavies are social animals that prefer to live in groups. They can be found in many habitats, including plains, marshes, and rocky areas. In the wild, cavies live in burrows and feed on vegetation including grass and leaves. They are popular pets and valuable research animals.
Cavies were domesticated in pre-Incan times (around 1400 ad). It is likely that the domesticated cavies originated in the highlands of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. In these areas, Native Americans used them for food and religious purposes. Europeans discovered these domesticated animals soon after their arrival in South America. Cavies were first imported into Europe in the early 1500s. Because Europeans believed they came from Guinea, cavies soon became known as guinea pigs. Today, they are kept as pets around the world.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Katherine E. Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian); Kenneth R. Boschert, DVM, DACLAM