Capybaras, the world's largest rodents, are increasingly popular pets. They're cute, intelligent and affectionate. But they're not legal everywhere, and housing, food and shelter costs quickly add up. Also, capybaras -- even those raised in captivity -- are wild animals; they react instinctively to perceived threats, which means they sometimes bite. If you have the time, space, finances and dedication, though, you might find a capybara to be a fascinating and rewarding pet.
Consult a vet who specializes in rodents or exotics. Capybaras are usually healthy in captivity, as long as they receive proper care. Ask your vet about the frequency of checkups, vaccinations your pet needs, parasites you might encounter and health risks specific to your area.
Set up a habitat with food, shelter, water and room to wander. Adult capybaras can reach 4 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds, so they need as much space as you can provide. An outdoor enclosure for one to three capybaras should be at least 12 feet by 20 feet, although the larger you make it, the better. Select an area that has both sunny spots, where your pet can soak up rays, and shady spots, where he can cool off. If you opt to keep your capybara inside, he should get around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness every day.
Provide a year-round shelter, such as a shed or large doghouse. Supply hay bedding to help keep your capybara warm during the winter, and use a heat lamp, secured out of reach, cord and all, when temperatures fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer, keep a water bowl in the shelter so he can remain hydrated and cool. Extreme heat and cold can cause illness and even death, so bring the capybara into your house if temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit or drop below 10.
Provide a swimming hole that's at least 3.5 feet deep; it can be 6 feet or deeper if you create an incline so your capybara can walk into and out of the water. He should be able to submerge his whole body and ideally has room to swim. Semi-aquatic creatures with webbing on their feet, capybaras need to spend time in water every day to keep their skin from drying out and, in summer, to stay cool.
Prevent escape with a strong fence that's at least 4 feet high and has no cracks or gaps at the bottom. Capybaras don't usually dig, but they're masters at finding ways to squeeze beneath a fence, chew through wood or tear holes in wire mesh. A cement wall, with the base several inches beneath the ground, can be effective, and so can a wooden fence enforced with wire mesh on the outside and a cement barrier at the bottom.
Feed your capybara a vegetarian diet. In the wild, capybaras eat grass and supplement with fruit, vegetables and aquatic plants. Yours might serve as an organic lawn mower, keeping your grass short. As treats or as dietary supplements, fruits, vegetables, bread, grass hay, and cattle or rabbit pellets are suitable for feeding, along with the untreated grass in your yard.
Provide branches or other objects for your capybara to chew. His teeth will grow throughout his life; if they become too long, they can keep him from eating, starving him, or they can injure his mouth otherwise. Chewing keeps them at a healthy, safe length. Birch and willow branches work well to file down teeth. If you want to give your capybara other types of foliage, first research to ensure it's OK.
- "People": People Pets: 5 Things to Know About the Capybara, the World’s Largest Rodent
- Animal Port: Capybaras
- Capybara: Masters of the Grass
- Capybara: Masters of the Grass: Capybaras in Captivity
- Capybara Madness: FAQ
- Capybara Madness: Capybara Aggression
- Peoria Zoo: Husbandry Standards for Keeping Capybaras in Captivity
- Kapi'yva Exotics: Capybara
- Pet capybaras can live as long as 12 years.
- Capybaras need social interactions -- with their fellow capybaras, people or, in some cases, other animals. Spend plenty of time with your pet, or find him a capybara buddy. Don't put two males together, though, because even neutered males don't usually get along.
- Some states don't allow pet capybaras, others require licensing. Make sure you can keep a capybara legally where you live; many states provide lists of legal and illegal pets on their wildlife department websites.
- Moving slowly and respecting your pet's space can reduce the risk that you'll be bitten.
capybara image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com