Since their origin in the early 1970s, Silkies have taken the guinea pig world by storm. Generally the best match for experienced owners and those interested in shows, Silkies make excellent companions, though their long coats demand quite a bit of care.
Do you know the origins of the Silkie breed? What about grooming that beautiful coat? And do you want to know if the Silkie is right for you?
Silkie/Sheltie Guinea Pig Origins: What’s in a Name?
Is anything cuter than this?
Rumor has it that Silkies first appeared by accident in the 1960s, essentially as genetic surprises in otherwise “normal” litters.
But by the early 1970s, breeders in the UK produced the first intentional Silkie, a cross-breed of a Peruvian and a self black short hair.
Peruvian + self black short hair = Silkie
First recognized in the UK in 1973, the Silkie is known as the “Sheltie” in Europe–but don’t be confused! Silkie and Sheltie are just two names for the same adorable guinea pig. And since then, these long-haired cuties have done nothing but grow in popularity, especially with the show crowd.
Silkie Guinea Pig Breed Characteristics
Silkies grow to about average size for guinea pigs, and you can expect an adult to measure from 8 to 16 inches and weigh between 1½ to 3 pounds. Males are typically larger than females.
The dominant characteristic of this breed is its long, flowing coat. Unlike the Peruvian to which it is closely related, the Silkie’s coat grows rearward from its face. It’s also slightly shorter than the Peruvian’s coat, and should never feature a rosette.
When seen from above, the Silkie’s long, flowing mane should form a distinctive tea-drop shape.
Can you tell the difference between the Silkie and the Peruvian?
It’s obvious that the beautiful coat is one reason people are drawn to Silkies, but their laid-back, gentle personality is another. Shy and somewhat reserved at first, Silkies crave daily attention, and pet parents who meet this need will find themselves blessed with a fast friend.
Silkie Guinea Pig Care
Silkies offer their pet parents significant grooming challenges, and as a result, they’re best reserved for experienced cavy owners.
In addition to the standard dietary and space requirements common to all guinea pigs, this breed demands additional grooming:
The Silkie’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.”
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.
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, Silkies need regular bath-time–probably once a month.
Most guinea pig breeds don’t need this kind of care, but for Silkies, it’s essential. However, 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!
Silkies can’t control how long their coat is or where it grows and 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:
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 Silkie’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.”
Silkie 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:
Final Thoughts: Is the Silkie Guinea Pig Right for You?
Silkies are definitely show-stoppers–but is this the right breed for you?
Like other long-haired breeds, Silkies require serious grooming. And from daily brushing to monthly bathing–not to mention careful trimming, especially on their hind-quarters–Silkies simply can’t be called low-maintenance!
Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall in love with those gorgeous locks and forget that they demand constant care.
Given those needs, we don’t recommend Silkies for new guinea pig parents, and they don’t make great pets for young children, who just aren’t up to the daily grooming demands this breed places on their owners. But their calm temperament can make them great additions to families that understand that adults (or older children) will need to take good care of these cavies.
If you’re an old-hand with breeds like the American and Rex, and you’re looking for a guinea pig with a beautiful mane and personality to match, the Silkie might be just the option to consider. And if you’ve ever considered the show ring, you can count on Silkies as the perfect partner for competitions.