The white guinea pig is characterized by its stunning white coat. Most people know that white guinea pigs exist, but that’s about it. They don’t know much else about them.
People also know that albino guinea pigs exist and that they also have a white coat. This is where the confusion creeps in. Are white guinea pigs the same as albino guinea pigs? Let’s take a closer look at each of these cavies to get an answer to this question.
What is a white guinea pig?
The white guinea pig has a white coat and black eyes. The white coat that characterizes these guinea pigs is caused by a condition called Leucism. Leucism is a genetic condition that causes a partial loss of pigmentation in the hair, but not in the eyes. As a result, leucistic guinea pigs have white hair and black eyes.
Leucism is something that occurs in many animals. Lions, birds, horses, and indeed, guinea pigs, can all have it.
It’s important to note that white guinea pigs are not a distinct breed. All guinea pig breeds, from Texels to Peruvians, can be white, and all guinea pig breeds with white coats are accepted into guinea pig shows (with the exception of the White Crested guinea pig).
In addition, there are also guinea pigs that have white in their coat in addition to other colors. This is caused by the white spotting gene.
Completely white guinea pigs are quite rare. There are no statistics on how often they occur, but leucism is quite a rare condition meaning that not too many completely white cavies exist.
Lethal White Guinea Pig
There’s also the lethal white guinea pig. According to the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, lethal white guinea pigs “occur as the result of a recessive gene carried in roan and dalmatian coat colored guinea pigs. Breeding two of these coat types together gives a 25% chance of a baby having the lethal white gene and being affected by the disorder.”
Lethal white guinea pigs have many health issues on top of almost always being born blind and deaf. As a result, their lifespan is typically very short compared to that of guinea pigs that do not have this condition.
Lethal white guinea pigs are characterized by having a lack of pigmentation. Because of this, they always have white fur and pink eyes.
To avoid this condition, it’s recommended not to breed roan and dalmatian coat colored guinea pigs together.
What is an albino guinea pig?
Albino guinea pigs have a genetic mutation that affects the genes that produce melanin. They have a complete absence of melanin and as a result, they have very little pigment, resulting in pale, white fur, red eyes, and pink ears.
Just like white guinea pigs, albino guinea pigs are not a distinct breed. Albinism can occur in any of the guinea pig breeds.
There is a bit of a debate in the guinea pig community on whether or not albinism in guinea pigs is actually real.
Many breeders and fanciers believe that albinism has never occurred in guinea pigs and that what people perceive to be albinism is actually a result of the color dilution gene known as Ca, which reduces the amount of pigment in a guinea pig by a large enough amount to make their coat white and their eyes pink.
People who adhere to this theory call them pink-eyed white guinea pigs rather than albinos.
The outcome of albinism and the color dilution gene Ca is the same: a white guinea pig with pink eyes. The only difference is the genetic process of getting there.
About Albino Guinea Pigs
Albino guinea pigs (or pink-eyed white guinea pigs, depending on who you ask) are generally healthy and do not suffer from the same ailments that lethal whites do.
They generally live long and happy lives. However, there is some evidence to suggest that they might have slightly worse hearing than pigmented cavies.
The Himalayan Guinea Pig
You can’t have a discussion about white and albino guinea pigs without mentioning the Himalayan guinea pig.
This breed is known for its white fur and pink eyes. Interestingly enough, the Himalayan is often referred to as being albino even though it clearly has pigment in their ears and feet, further muddying the definitions of what being albino for a guinea pig truly means.
So, are white guinea pigs the same as albinos?
There are distinct differences between white guinea pigs and albinos. The primary difference is in the eyes. White guinea pigs have black eyes while albinos have red or pink eyes. These differences are a result of genetic differences between them.
In addition, there’s also the lethal white guinea pig. These piggies are very different from white and albino cavies because they have a plethora of health problems and often have a very short lifespan.
Caring for white and albino guinea pigs
White and albino cavies have almost exactly the same care requirements as other guinea pigs. They have the same diet, which consists largely of timothy hay, supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies. In addition, you have to make sure that they get plenty of vitamin C in their diet, either through the fruits and veggies you give them or through additional supplementation.
The difference in caring for white/albino cavies and pigmented cavies is that you have to be a little more careful about sunburn. Because these cavies have a lack of pigment they’re more vulnerable to the sun’s rays. It’s generally not recommended to let them stay in the sun for too long. If you’re going to let your albino or white guinea pig stay in the sun for extended periods make sure that you apply some pet-friendly sunscreen and that they always have the option to retreat to the shade if they need to.
I hope that this cleared up any confusion you might have had about albino and white guinea pigs. At first glance, they seem very similar but under the surface, their genetics are very different! Also, if you know what to look for, telling them apart is easier than you might expect – it’s all in the eyes!
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