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Exotic Pets: Capybaras ('Giant Hamsters') Aren't for Everyone

Exotic Pets: Capybaras ("Giant Hamsters") Aren't for Everyone (via Babble Pets)Most people probably shouldn’t have pet capybaras. But a handful of people consider these “giant hamsters” to be the best pets ever.

Melanie Typaldos is one of those people.

“Capybaras are not the right pets for most people, or even for very many people,” writes Ms. Typaldos on her blog, Capybara Madness. “They require a tremendous amount of time and attention, they can be aggressive, their teeth are extremely sharp, they need a pool for swimming and fresh, non-toxic grass for grazing, their food is expensive as are any veterinary expenses.”

Native to South America, capybaras are the largest rodents in the world. Although they’re closely related to guinea pigs, capybaras weigh in at about 100 lbs.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Ms. Typaldos about caring for these exotic pets. She adopted her first capybara, Caplin Rous, after falling in love with capys on a family trip to Venezuela. After Caplin Rous died, she adopted Garibaldi Rous. (Rous, by the way, is a tip of the hat to the R.O.U.S., or Rodent of Unusual Size, of Princess Bride fame.)

“When I got Caplin Rous in July 2007, I couldn’t even find another person with a pet capybara,” said Ms. Typaldos. “I found very little information on pet capybaras at all. That lack of information was one of the main motivations for starting my blog; I wanted to make sure that the next person to contemplate a pet capybara would have a better idea of what they were getting into than I did.”

Ms. Typaldos is also focused on helping veterinarians get more information about capybaras. “It is almost impossible to get a vet who has any experience with capybaras,” she explained, “and capybara physiology and anatomy differs significantly from that of most rodents. A good exotic vet with guinea pig experience is pretty much the best you can hope for.”

“After Caplin Rous’ sudden death in January 2011, I started the ROUS Foundation for Capybara Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. This terrible event confronted me with the gaping lack of information about capybara veterinary needs. For example, while we know that Caplin died of liver damage, we don’t know what caused that damage.”

The ROUS Foundation is funded through donations and an online shop where supporters can purchase things like capybara calendars, necklaces, and plush toys.

While these exotic pets come with lots of challenges, Ms. Typaldos wouldn’t trade her capy for anything.

  • 11 Things You Should Know If You’re Considering Adopting a Capybara 1 of 12
    capybara

    Click the arrows to scroll through capybara photos & facts!

  • Capybaras are semi-aquatic mammals. 2 of 12
    01

    "The first question to consider when contemplating a pet capybara is, do you have the facilities required to keep a capy healthy and happy?" said Ms. Typaldos. "This is a big stumbling block for a lot of people. For example, people in cold climates really need to think long and hard about this. Capybaras like to swim year round and if it gets cold where you live, this might be a real obstacle. Not to mention that you need to have enough land for a good sized swimming area. Some people use stock tanks as small as 8-ft. round with a depth of about 2-ft. While that's apparently enough to keep capys happy, it doesn't provide a big enough area or enough depth for them to really exercise or swim freely. Probably, the bigger a swimming area you can provide, the better."

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • You probably will never have to mow the lawn again. 3 of 12
    10

    "Grazing is essential to capybara health," explained Ms. Typaldos. "Like all rodents, their teeth grow throughout their lives and so need to be constantly worn down. In a natural setting, grass is sufficiently abrasive to provide this service but, since capys eat about eight pounds of food per day, a big yard would be needed for a sufficient grass supply. Of course capys can also eat hay, leafy vegetables, fruit, corn and some processed food such as guinea pig pellets, but this can get expensive."

    Yes...I would imagine that would be a LOT of guinea pig pellets.

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • Capybaras can be aggressive, and have sharp teeth. 4 of 12
    14

    "With their super sharp teeth, a capybara bite can be quite nasty," said Ms. Typaldos. "Caplin Rous went through a very aggressive stage when he was about nine months old and 70 lbs or so where he was constantly attacking me. This came on very suddenly with an initial bite that took out a quarter sized piece of my thigh. Over the course of a month or so we worked through it with my gradual realization that I was not the dominant party in our relationship. Once that was settled, he went back to his previous, lovable self. I don't think many people would have had the patience to go through that. Caplin was also always a little territorial. He didn't mind visitors as long as they didn't stay too long. Generally a day or two was okay but after more than that, he would start to threaten them. On the other hand, he was great when we were out and about town, never displaying any aggression at all, no matter how badly he was provoked."

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • Capybaras and children should be closely supervised. 5 of 12
    04

    Because capybaras can potentially be aggressive, Ms. Typaldos doesn't recommend them to families with children younger than early teens. However, she does bring Garibaldi, who has been well-socialized, to nearby schools for educational presentations.

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • The owner’s temperament is also important. 6 of 12
    06

    "The owner's temperament is important," notes Ms. Typaldos. "Since capys are not domestic animals, they don't have thousands of years of human selection to mold their personalities. This means that they can be more temperamental than domestic pets, potentially even becoming aggressive."

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • They get separation anxiety. 7 of 12
    11

    Capybaras aren't good pets for people who travel, Ms. Typaldos told me. They tend to have separation anxiety, and it's hard to find a good pet sitter for a capybara.

    In the photo above, Garibaldi had accompanied Ms. Typaldo and her husband to an outdoor restaurant. When Ms. Typaldo's husband had to step out to get something from the car, Garibaldi watched and waited until he returned.

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • Capybaras are social animals. 8 of 12
    02

    In the wild, capybaras are social animals who live in herds. Other animals, and their human owners fill those social needs when capybaras are kept as pets.

    "Capybaras seem to bond very strongly with their human family," said Ms. Typaldos, "but they also get along with a large variety of other animals. I know of capybaras that have chicken, dog, cat, llama, duck, turtle, and rabbit co-pets. Garibaldi pretty much ignores his chickens. He seems most attracted to Flopsy the Killer Cat, who visits often."

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • The capybara is closely related to the guinea pig. 9 of 12
    09

     "He loves the guinea pig," said Ms. Typaldos, "but must be closely supervised with him due to the size difference."

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • Capybaras like to play. 10 of 12
    03

    Garibaldi will play with a friend's Boston Terriers when they visit, sniffing and chasing them. He'll even rub their bellies with his nose.

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • They are pretty darn cute. 11 of 12
    07

     This is Garibaldi, all tuckered out after chasing two Boston Terriers around the yard for a while.

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

  • Capybaras are smart. 12 of 12
    13

     Ms. Typaldos has found that capys are quick to learn tricks. Garibaldi, for example, can wave his paw to say "hi." In order to balance with his front paw up, he has to move his heavy head to one side.

    Personally, I think in this photo it looks like he's saying "you da man."

    (Photo Credit: Capybara Madness)

(Photo Credits: All photos used with permission of Capybara Madness)
(Inspired by: Buzzfeed)

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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