Albino guinea pigs are very special creatures. They’re not to be confused with white-crested guinea pigs, which feature a white ruff on the crown of their heads. While a true albino guinea pig is extremely rare, lethal white guinea pigs are slightly more common (but still err on the side of rare, for sure!).
The terms are often confused, and commonly interchangeable, as these two kinds of guinea pig look very similar. So, for clarity, when we say albino guinea pig, we’re referring to guinea pigs with the lethal white gene (yep, the pure white, pink-eyed furry animals). To further confuse matters, pink-eyed white guineas (PEW’s) are another, very similar looking breed, but do not suffer from the disadvantages and health issues that lethal whites do.
Read on for the sad and tragic tale of the lethal white guinea pig, and tips on how to care for them if you do find a bright white bundle of joy in your guinea pig’s nest:
How long do albino guinea pigs live?
Ah, the stickler question. When you begin to learn about how long albino guinea pigs live, you’ll realize they come with a myriad of difficult and tragic health issues. Of course, these dramatically decrease their typical lifespan. More on that below. However, in short, an exceptionally well-cared-for albino guinea pig might survive for around 3 years.
So far so good, right? Well, not when you compare it to the lifespan of a ‘normal’ guinea pig, say, a pink-eyed white: With the average lifespan of a non-albino guinea pig being roughly 4 to 8 years, the prospects of the albino guineapig start to look a little dire…
For this reason, and the plethora of health issues that generally come with these poor guinea piggies, it’s best not to try to breed them, however cute you think they look. It’s simply not fair. Not to mention, you’ll be in for a hella expensive vet bill. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
So, do albino guinea pigs have health problems?
These tragic little creatures are unfortunately destined to suffer a whole lot of health issues throughout their short little lives. Thanks to the genetic deformation, they can expect to experience some of the following symptoms:
- Born blind in one or both eyes
- Very low immune systems
- Difficulty absorbing nutrients from the food they digest
- Dental problems
- Born deaf in one or both ears
- Neurological issues (brain damage)
So, as you can see, the straight answer is yes. These white, pink-eyed cavies have to deal with a lot in their lives. They’ll often die of an infection they can’t fight off (thanks to that pesky low immune system), or from complications in corrective surgery, whether it’s dental, or relating to their eyes and ears.
If you do end up with one of these gorgeous, but tragic guinea piggies, make sure you get them regularly checked up at the vet. Most importantly, make sure you’re financially prepared for the steep vet bills that will inevitably come with looking after an albino guinea pig.
Are albino guinea pigs blind?
True albino guinea piggies (if they exist, and that’s up for debate among the guinea pig community) are not blind, despite their interesting-looking eyes. However, lethal white guinea pigs are very often born blind, in either or both eyes. While this is not always the case, it is very common in these animals thanks to genetic mutations.
Oh, and check out this fun fact: All lethal white/albino guinea piggies have pink eyes, but not all guinea pigs with pink eyes are lethal white/albino. Nope, sometimes they’re just born that way.
Are white guinea pigs rare?
While the existence of the true albino guinea pig is very much a cause for contention (like Bigfoot-level contentious), and white-crested guinea pigs don’t really count (although, they are rare), it’s a fact that lethal white guinea pigs do exist, but they’re pretty hard to come by. That said, we cannot stress enough that lethal whites are not the same as pink-eyed white cavies, which do not suffer from the same genetic deformation- they were simply born that way.
As it takes quite a specific set of genes, plus a deformed gene threw in just for fun, lethal white guinea pigs can be hard to come by. However, this does not, and should not, make them desirable to breed intentionally due to the suffering they will inevitably endure.
Simply put, albino/lethal white guinea pigs are genetically compromised. That means albino guinea pigs often suffer from genetic complications and disabilities. The reason why they’re pure white and pink-eyed is due to a lack of pigment in their skin and eyes.
To set the record straight, this is not a result of interbreeding, as is commonly suggested. No, before PETA members grab their pitchforks and torches, let’s clear up exactly how an albino guinea pig is born:
The medical name for this gene is microphthalmia (jot that down for extra points in science class), and it occurs when roan x roan or Dalmation x Dalmation breeds are bred together. Then, the odds of the baby guinea pigs being lethal white is 25%. However, it can be dangerous to attempt to breed two pure white guinea pigs together, as albino guinea pigs could be harboring a mutated form of the roan gene, which can result in a pink-eyed lethal white guinea pig.
As cute, pink-eyed, and adorable as they are, thanks to their health problems, these animals don’t make the most user-friendly pets.
That’s not to say you can’t love, cherish, and enjoy your lethal white guinea pig though. If you research information on how to care for it properly and with regular vet trips, love, and affection, your guinea pig may well be a beloved part of your household for a few years.
How to care for a lethal white guinea pig
Due to the fact lethal white guinea pigs are inherently disabled, they’ll need more care than your run-of-the-mill guinea pig pal:
They’ll likely need syringe feeding for most of their little lives, and quite possibly regular dental work, too. Make sure you house them in a large hutch, keep the decorations to a minimum. Leth whites enjoy stability, consistency, and regularity, so create a feeding and cleaning schedule, and stick to it.
If you’ve got another furry guinea pig to look after and you’d like to pair them up in a nice, big hutch, make sure the other guinea pig is laid back and benevolent. Your lethal white guinea pig has enough on its plate, without being bullied by other animals as well!
How to work out if a guinea pig is a lethal white
Unfortunately, pet stores and breeders will sometimes market a poor lethal white guinea pig as an ‘albino’ to make it appear more rare and appealing. Sadly, this is hardly ever the case, and it’s been known to happen in the United States. Read on for some tips on identifying a lethal white (other than their white fur and pink eyes, which remember, can be a feature on non-lethal whites too):
Is he a similar size to the guinea pigs around him? Or does he seem smaller, thinner, and weaker? If so, he could well be a lethal white. They’re usually smaller partly due to their genetics, but also because the other guinea pigs in the litter will prevent him from getting enough food.
If he does eat, it may seem painful and labored. This is because of the dental issues and deformed teeth that are common in the breed.
Check his eyes:
If his eyes are pink and pretty much closed, the chances are he’s a lethal white and possibly blind. The eyes remain semi-closed because they don’t function properly, so the guinea pig does not need to open them fully.
Often, lethal white animals will have teeny tiny eyes which have not developed at all. This is a tell-tale sign of a lethal white and not a pink-eyed white.
What noises is he making?
‘Wheeking’ is the term for that cutesie noise guinea pigs make. If you suspect a lethal white guinea pig (but it’s being marketed as an albino) listen and observe how and when he’s wheeking:
If he wheeks loudly and at random intervals, it’s because he cannot hear himself. Yes, these fluffy, cute animals do wheek naturally, but it’s usually a quiet, rather calm sound.
Check out the forum Guinea Lynx for more information on albinos, lethal whites, PEW’s and more.
Just remember: They’re special
White lethal cavies are tragic, cute, long-suffering, and require extra love and attention. Truly, it’s not all doom and gloom- looked after properly, and providing their disabilities are not too, well, debilitating, they can live a good few years. So, enjoy that precious time you have with your gorgeous white baby.