Guinea Pig Breed Guide: How Well Do You Know the Merino?
Is there any guinea pig cuter than a Merino? Probably not!
This rare breed is a good match for experienced owners and people who are looking for an inquisitive, outgoing, sociable cavy. Keep in mind, though, that their long coats demand quite a bit of care.
Do you know the origins of the Merino breed? What about grooming that beautiful coat? And do you want to know if the Merino is right for you?
Table of Contents
- 1 Guinea Pig Breed Guide: How Well Do You Know the Merino?
- 1.1 Merino Guinea Pig Breed Origins
- 1.2 Merino Guinea Pig Breed Characteristics
- 1.3 Merino Guinea Pig Care
- 1.4 Final Thoughts: Is the Merino Guinea Pig Right for You?
Merino Guinea Pig Breed Origins
Cuteness level = infinite!
The origins of Merinos, also known as English Merinos and Merino Peruvians, are something of a mystery.
Probably first bred in the UK, it’s likely that they were born from a mix of a Coronet and a Rex. Cavy geneticists tell us that a Coronet carrying a double-dose of the Rex coat gene (rxrx) produces the distinctive appearance the Merino is known for.
Coronet + Rex = Merino!
Think of the Merino as a Coronet with curls!
The lack of recognition by any professional association hasn’t stopped the Merino from gaining admirers, but this is a hard piggy to find!
Merino Guinea Pig Breed Characteristics
Merinos are typically a bit smaller than the average guinea pig, and you can expect an adult to measure from 4 to 11 inches with lighter weights to match. Males tend to be a bit larger than females.
The dominant characteristics of this breed are long, curly coats and short forehead crests. We’ve seen Merinos with coats that look like Texels, but we’ve also seen some so fluffy that they look like tiny sheep–and that’s probably where they take their name.
Is this little Merino cute or what? Its big brother is no slouch, either.
But what allows you to identify a Merino right away is the combination of a curly, long coat and forehead crest. If you find a single rosette between the eyes of a curly-haired piggy, you’ve got a Merino!
Adventurous, curious, and inclined to socialize, the Merino makes a great companion for pet parents willing to give it the space to roam.
Merino Guinea Pig Care
Merinos aren’t the easiest breed to groom, and we only recommend them for experienced owners or people who really understand the time commitment this will entail.
What grooming chores can you expect?
The Merino’s beautiful coat demands more or less constant care, and you’ll need to brush every day to keep its coat in top form.
As guinea pig grooming expert Melinda Wolff-Foster explains, “They require careful daily combing with a stainless steel comb, along with regular, professional grooming so their coat, skin, and nails remain in good condition.”
To keep your Merino in tip-top shape, you’ll need to spend a lot of time with it–and the bright side of that is that you’ll have plenty of time to bond and cuddle!
Our favorite combs are Gnawrishing’s Flea Comb Combo. Vets and grooming experts alike recommend combs with fine teeth, and Gnawrishing’s combo delivers the tight gaps that are essential for proper care.
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 brushing. As long as you’re gentle and slow, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Another concern is basic hygiene. All that beautiful hair tends to pick up anything it comes in contact with, including urine, feces, food, and soiled bedding. And as much as they may not like it, Merinos need regular bath-time–probably once a month.
Guinea pigs tend not to like water, and bath time can be a challenge without treats and coaxing. 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.” But for long-haired breeds like the Merino, it’s essential.
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!
To cut down on bathing, and keep your Merino healthy and happy, a trim here and there–especially there–goes a long way. Take special care of the rear end, where urine and feces will definitely become a problem for an untrimmed Merino.
Scissors are fine, but they require a bit more skill than I can muster. Instead, I prefer to use electric clippers, which have the added bonus of no sharp points!
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 Merino’s side.
A couple of handy tutorials:
Regular ear check-ups
Guinea pigs need some ear wax, but too much can create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Long-haired breeds, in particular, tend toward ear problems, so if you’re thinking about a Merino, this is something to keep in mind.
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 Coronet’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.”
You can use nail trimmers designed for cats to carefully manicure your Merino, and it’s often best to work in pairs so one person can do the clipping while the other holds the cavy still.
Most guinea pigs don’t love this process, so do your best to keep your cavy calm.
As you’d expect, treats help!
Another tip: if trimming is stressful for your piggy, slow down! 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:
Final Thoughts: Is the Merino Guinea Pig Right for You?
Merinos are among the rarer breeds of guinea pigs, but their undeniable cuteness and outstanding temperament make them super popular.
But there’s just no denying that they’re pretty high-maintenance, and if you’re new to the guinea pig world, an American, Rex, or other short-haired breed would probably be a better choice.
Indeed, if you’re not up for daily brushing, monthly trimming, and occasional bathing, the Merino is a breed that should probably get a pass.
New piggy parents and young children will struggle with some of these grooming tasks, and make no mistake: it is a time commitment to consider.
That said, their playful, sociable temperament can make them great additions to families that understand that adults (or older children) will need to take good care of these cavies.
For experienced guinea pig parents, the Merino–if you can find one–is a wonderful option. Among the more sociable breeds, they make excellent companions if you don’t mind the grooming challenges.
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