Often called the Siamese cat of cavies, the Himalayan isn’t truly a breed but rather a genetic anomaly. Defined by a recessive gene that affects coloration, Himalayans sport mostly white coats with points of darker hair at the ears, nose, and feet, as well as pink or rose-colored eyes.
Do you know the origins of the Himalayan? And did you know that they require some special care?
Interested in learning all about them?
Himalayan Guinea Pig Origins: The Breed That Isn’t!
Let’s get a common misconception out the way immediately–Himalayans aren’t a breed of guinea pig like Texels or Americans. Instead, they’re a genetic anomaly possible in any breed of cavy.
Affected by a recessive gene that causes changes in pigmentation, Himalayans come in every size and coat type found in the guinea pig world. But they’re not albinos: strictly speaking, there’s no gene for true albinism in cavies.
What do these four cavies have in common? That’s right–they’re all Himalayans!
What defines a Himalayan is coloration–not coat style or head shape. And since they’re not technically a breed, they’re unrecognized by organizations like the American Cavy Breeders Association.
That doesn’t mean they can’t be shown–they are! But what makes a prize-winning Himalayan are those clearly defined patches of color called “points.”
Himalayan Guinea Pig Characteristics
A Silkie Himalayan.
An American Himalayan
Given that the Himalayan is a genetic variation possible in any breed (including mixed breeds), they can have any coat type. They come in all sizes and weights and every coat type out there.
So what defines a Himalayan?
Nothing less than a recessive gene that confers a pale, white coat at birth that slowly darkens at the nose, ears, and feet. This color pattern is affected by temperature, and the colder the climate, the darker the contrast. As you’d expect, warm climates can cause these points to fade.
Himalayans will also have pink or rose-colored eyes.
Himalayan Guinea Pig Grooming
One challenge in talking about Himalayans is that their care depends in part on their breed.
Long-haired Himalayans from breeds like Silkies, Peruvians, and Texels will require significant grooming. By contrast, American, Rex, or Teddy Himalayans won’t.
Our recommendation is that the long-haired Himalayans are best reserved for experienced cavy enthusiasts, while the short-coated variants make great family pets and are ideal for new piggie parents.
Extra grooming requirements for long-haired Himalayans
If you’re considering a long-haired Himalayan, keep in mind that there will be more or less constant grooming involved:
Daily brushing – Gnawrishing’s Flea Comb Combo
With Himalayan Silkies, Peruvians, and Texels, you’ll need to brush them every day to keep their coat in top form.
As guinea pig grooming expert Melinda Wolff-Foster explains, all long-haired breeds “require careful daily combing with a stainless steel comb, along with regular, professional grooming so their coat, skin and nails remain in good condition.”
That daily grooming session is a great way to bond with your cavy buddy, and it lets you check for mites and other pests, too.
Vets and grooming experts recommend fine-tooth combs, and we really like Gnawrishing’s Flea Comb Combo. Safe for your cavies, it offers the super-fine teeth needed to catch each hair.
But be careful! You don’t want to hurt your guinea pig when loosening tangles, and some pet parents like to use baby brushes for daily care. As long as you’re gentle and slow, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Regular bathing – Earthbath All Natural Pet Shampoo
If there’s one thing owners of long-haired cavies can agree on, it’s that hair gets dirty fast! And whether we’re talking urine and feces, food, or soiled bedding, these breeds need regular bath-time–probably once a month.
Most guinea pig breeds don’t need this kind of care, but for Himalayan Silkies and other long-haired cavy breeds like them, it’s essential. But as PetMD warns, “Guinea pigs do not typically like to be immersed in water, so just an inch or two of warm water in the sink, with a sink sprayer to rinse off the shampoo, works great.”
Vets recommend using liquid Dawn or Ivory soap, and you need to be careful to rinse your furry buddy carefully to remove all those suds. Follow with a towel dry, or a hairdryer on low heat, to get your friend warm and dry. But we also really like Earthbath All Natural Pet Shampoo, a common choice among professional groomers.
Whatever you pick, bathing a cavy can be interesting!
Regular trimming – Oster 76
Long-haired Himalayans can’t control where their coat drags, and unlike you, they can’t sweep their long hair out of the way!
That can mean some regular trimming on their rear-end and sides to keep their coat clear of urine and feces.
You can use scissors for this, but I really like electric clippers because they work quickly and precisely and pose no danger to a delicate piggie. Using scissors demands more skill, and with a reluctant piggie in the mix, it can be a real hassle.
My favorites clippers for pets are the time-tested Oster 76–there’s no coat they won’t trim! And the included 000 guard is just what you need to clip a clean edge on your Texel’s side.
A couple of handy tutorials:
Grooming requirements for all Himalayans
All Himalayans demand the following grooming practices:
Regular ear check-ups
Just like people, guinea pigs produce ear wax. And as it builds up, it can provide a haven for bacteria, so it’s worth taking care of regularly. In fact, longer-haired breeds like Silkies and Texels tend toward more ear wax, and it’s definitely something to keep on top of.
If you suspect a serious build-up of wax, make an appointment with your veterinarian!
Every two weeks, you’ll want to work a good outer-ear cleaning into your cavy’s care rituals, but never try to clean deep in your guinea pig’s ear! Instead, you’ll want to use high-quality cotton swabs and a drop of mineral oil to gently clean any loose debris and wax from your furry friend’s ears.
If you’re not sure how to go about this, just watch this video:
Monthly nail trimming
According to PetMD, “All guinea pigs need to have their nails trimmed periodically, typically every month to two months. The frequency of trimming depends on the guinea pig’s age, diet, cage substrate, and activity level. Younger guinea pigs’ nails typically grow faster than older ones’, and those that are fed nutritionally balanced diets generally grow faster as well.”
Cavy parents can use nail clippers designed for cats and work as a team to carefully trim their furry friend’s nails, being careful not to cut to the sensitive quick. If nail trimming stresses your guinea pig, you can work on one or two nails per session, resuming when it has had time to calm down.
Here’s a good how-to guide:
Special Care for Himalayan Guinea Pigs: Sun Sensitivity
While all long-haired breeds are susceptible to overheating, an added concern with all breeds of Himalayan is that they don’t tolerate direct sun very well.
With their genes expressing themselves in pale coloration, they’re pretty sun-sensitive, and we recommend always keeping these beautiful piggies in the shade.
Final Thoughts: Is the Himalayan Guinea Pig Right for You?
Himalayans are striking in their appearance, making this a popular choice for cavy owners the world over.
But as we’ve explained, the Himalayan isn’t a breed unto itself, but rather a genetic anomaly possible in any breed. As a result, you’ll find Himalayans featuring every coat type, making one-size fits all recommendations impossible.
Longer-haired Himalayans are probably best reserved for experienced owners who have the time and expertise to care for their luxurious coat. But Himalayans hailing from the Rex, Teddy, and American breeds–among others–make great additions to new pet parent’s homes.
As long as you match a Himalayan’s coat length to your experience, you’ll be making a well-thought-out choice, especially if you keep their sun sensitivity in mind.