How to Look after a Pet Capybara – The Capybaras Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know

                                                                    What I Have Learned About Keeping a Capybara Happy and Healthy, Emotionally and Physically, From People Who Live with Capybaras

A very special capybara. I wish all humans were as thoughtful and loving as Romeo.

A very special capybara. I wish all humans were as thoughtful and loving as Romeo.

You may think that a capybara is an incredibly cute, cuddly animal who would enrich your life immeasurably, but have you given a great deal of in-depth thought to the happiness of your future pet? Having a capybara in your home is not at all like having a pet dog or cat.  Dogs and cats have been domesticated over more than 20,000 years, possibly for as long as 35,000 years according to the latest research, during which time they have adapted to living with humans. This is not true of a capybara.

 

Possibly the Cutest Capybara in the World. Little Tuff'n, Aged about Three Months. He lost his eye and part of his ear in an horrendous, mystery accident shortly after he was born and before his breeder found him. Amazingly it didn't seem to affect him at all, he was as playful and hungry as the other baby capybaras, and nowadays he is completely fearless and very mischievous.

Possibly the Cutest Capybara in the World. Little Tuff’n, Aged about Three Months. He lost his eye and part of his ear in an horrendous, mystery accident shortly after he was born and before his breeder found him. Amazingly it didn’t seem to affect him at all, he was as playful and hungry as the other baby capybaras, and nowadays he is completely fearless and very mischievous.

The capybara is not there to entertain you, animals are not entertainment. They are living creatures who have feelings and emotions. The capybara did not ask to come and live with you, its happiness is in your hands and that should be your first consideration. You will have to make sacrifices in your life to ensure the happiness of your pet capybara – are you prepared to make the sacrifices, most people are not?

You can see and feel how much Marvin loves Romeo in this video:

Romeo Capybara ” Feel the Love” ロミオカピバラはあまり愛されている    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON-WoauTmp4

Capybaras are particularly sophisticated emotionally and very needy. As they are herd animals they should never be left alone. A capybara on its own in the wild could be in mortal danger from predators. Leaving your pet capybara on its own will evoke fear and anxiety, a response which has evolved over 30 million years.

Capybaras at Telêmaco Borba, in the state of Paraná in the Southern Region of Brazil.  In the Wild a Capybara Would Never Be on Its Own. They are incredibly social animals and very playful, they love to interact with each other.  Photo by Luciana Nakai

Capybaras at Telêmaco Borba, in the state of Paraná in the Southern Region of Brazil. In the Wild a Capybara Would Never Be on Its Own. They are incredibly social animals and very playful, they love to interact with each other. Photo by Luciana Nakai

In the Wild a Capybara Would Never Be on Its Own. They are incredibly social animals and very playful, they love to interact with each other. In this photo the baby capybaras are playing with a female member of the herd, not their mother. She is in a blissful, Pouffy state as they clamber all over her and nibble her under the chin. (Capybaras love being petted and nibbled under the chin, and baby capybaras seem to know this. Ears are another favoured nibbling spot.) Photo by Mahia Minteguiaga

In the Wild a Capybara Would Never Be on Its Own. They are incredibly social animals and very playful, they love to interact with each other. In this photo the baby capybaras are playing with a female member of the herd, not their mother. She is in a blissful state as they clamber all over her and nibble her under the chin. (Capybaras love being petted and nibbled under the chin, and baby capybaras seem to know this. Ears are another favoured nibbling spot.) Photo by Mahia Minteguiaga

 

Capybaras do not make good house pets. It is natural for a capybara to mark its territory with urine or faeces. Most people would not want to spend much of the day mopping up urine from the floors of their home. Elizabeth and Marvin have removed all the carpets and most of the furniture to create a capybara friendly environment in their home. Very few people would make the sacrifice. It is utterly wrong to punish a capybara when it marks its territory with urine or faeces in the home as it is behaving quite naturally.

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Here are two things you should know about the natural lifestyle of a capybara which make them unsuitable as house pets: (research into rodent behaviour has identified these two traits which I have also observed in capybaras. Firstly, capybaras like to be in control of their lives. This makes them quite different from dogs who will adapt their behaviour to please you. Not many people want a pet that very often will not do what you want it to do.

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Secondly, marking their territory is an essential part of capybara behaviour. Leaving a trail of urine where ever they go is a normal social courtesy. Their urine is like a signature. It contains chemical information that communicates an individual’s sex and social status. A capybara’s urine also allows other capybaras to discern genetic relatedness, a process which may have evolved to avoid inbreeding. There is even evidence that female mice can discriminate the degree of parasite infestation in males based on the smell of their urine, and that this may in turn influence females mating preferences

Tuff'n sleeping on his bed of hay in the living room. Romeo and Tuff'n never chew on the furnishings because they always have hay or guinea pig pellets to chew on in their home. The hay has the most beautiful, refreshing smell. Tuff'n likes to toss the bale of hay around and make himself a comfortable bed. Tuff'n lives with Romeo, Elizabeth Ojeda-Reeder Romeo-Tuffn and Marvin. リビングルームの干し草の上に眠ります。決して家具を食べません。自身の快適なベッドを作成します。トス乾草

Tuff’n sleeping on his bed of hay in the living room. Romeo and Tuff’n never chew on the furnishings because they always have hay or guinea pig pellets to chew on in their home. The hay has the most beautiful, refreshing smell. Tuff’n likes to toss the bale of hay around and make himself a comfortable bed. Tuff’n lives with Romeo, Elizabeth Ojeda-Reeder Romeo-Tuffn and Marvin. リビングルームの干し草の上に眠ります。決して家具を食べません。自身の快適なベッドを作成します。トス乾草

If you are going to keep a capybara as a house pet I believe it is essential  to treat it as a friend and member of the family. When the baby capybara first arrives treat it as if it was one of your own young children.  Love it and discipline it,  teach it and bring it up with the loving you would give if it was one of your children. Talk to it as you would your own child, explain things to it, reason with it, praise it and ask it what it wants. Capybaras are highly intelligent and very sophisticated emotionally. They may not understand every word, but they will understand the emotions you are conveying, and with time and repitition they will understand what you want them to do, and most importantly they will learn right from wrong, and they will understand right and wrong. And if they feel like it some of the time  they may try to please you.

Capybaras need sun. I have just learned about a young capybara who was kept inside the home in an enclosure. He did not get enough sun, if any, and his bones are now in a very poor condition.

Romeo relaxing

Romeo relaxing

When they do something you want them to do, or something you have just asked them to do, reward them with praise, using their name “good boy, Precious, good boy” (substitute the name of your capybara for Precious, of course!). Praise is a far more effective reward for a capybara than a food treat. It will strengthen the bond between you and your capybara, whereas the food treat may result in your capybara only performing if there is a food treat in store. Thus the bond between you will be weakened rather than strengthened by using food as rewards. Capybaras will know whether you are sincere or not, so the more energy and feeling you put into your words of praise the more effective your communication will be.

 

Capybaras Are Semi Aquatic and Must Have a Large Pool or Pond in Which to Swim. . Romeo swimming in his pool, so graceful and swift

Capybaras Are Semi Aquatic and Must Have a Large Pool or Pond in Which to Swim. . Romeo swimming in his pool, so graceful and swift

For example, to reinforce the capybara’s good behaviour and therefore your pleasure that they have learned to “go potty” in the designated pooh bowl, every time you notice them poohing, you could say “Good Boy, Precious, Good Boy”.   Romeo really revels in this praise from Elizabeth or Marvin, and swells up looking so proud. He then becomes pouffy, blissful and happy with the pleasure of having poohed in the potty pan, and basking in the praise of his best friend Elizabeth and of Marvin number one in his hierarchy.  As he has grown older Romeo has spent more time using his faeces and urine to mark his territory. He still uses the potty pan but not all the time!

Capybaras prefer to eliminate in water, although in the wild they will excrete their perfect little olive shaped poohs as they walk along searching for vegetation.  Although they are very easy to house train as babies, being naturally extremely clean animals, as they grow older they usually want to mark their territory using urine and faeces around your home.  Most people will find this difficult to live with but capybaras are only behaving naturally.

The carpets in Marvin’s home have been removed, for reasons of hygene, to make it easier to clean the floors after Romeo and Tuff’n have marked their territory using urine, and occasionally faeces.

Provide your capybara with a suitably sized bowl of water which you could keep in the corner of your bathroom. When they are babies, also keep a Pooh bowl in the bedroom where they are sleeping with you, for ease of access. You will probably want to take them over to the pooh bowl several times during the night to try and avoid accidents in the early days while they are getting used to your new house rules.

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Romeo on his Potty Pan doing his Pooh. Tuff’n has already finished.

 

Capybaras are very social and will often choose to do their poohs at the same time as you. This is a good reason for keeping their pooh bowl in your bathroom, so they can join you if they want to. Tuff’n often came to do his poohs when I went to the bathroom!

If you want to get your message across you may have to go down to their level physically, by crouching, kneeling, lying down or sitting beside them. Marvin is number one in the hierarchy and just going down to Romeo’s level often ensures compliance from Romeo.  Capybaras perfectly understand right from wrong, but it’s up to you to teach them the behaviour you want from them.  Unlike dogs they may frequently decide not to comply with your requests.

 

Romeo and Tuff'n snuggling with Elizabeth

Romeo and Tuff’n snuggling with Elizabeth

In a completely different way going down to a capybara’s level or better still lying on the floor evokes a different relationship and response from the capybara. Often they will become much more loving and playful, as if they now view you as a friend and member of the herd.

You can see the wonderful relationship Elizabeth has with Romeo and Tuff’n in this video:

Loving Capybaras Cuddle Elizabeth カピバラ寄り添うエリザベスを愛して   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0gltPk3D3A

If you live in a very dry climate I would advise having  an Evaporative Cooler installed to make the atmosphere as humid as possible for the capybaras. In their native South America capybaras live in a moist, tropical environment.   Romeo and Tuff’n can also have a hot bath on demand if they want it during the winter when it is sometimes too cold to swim outside in their pool.  They also have a large plastic tub that can be filled with hot water for them to play in outside in winter.  Romeo likes to create his own tropical environment by going down under the bed covers to the bottom of the bed where he sweats profusely and creates a nice damp atmosphere.

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Romeo and Tuff’n Waiting Expectantly, Hoping Somebody Might Give Them Some Milk

The capybaras thrive on your communication with them, talking to them and praising them. But you must really mean what you are saying, put great feeling into it. They can sense truth and insincerity. Try to act like you were one of their herd, coming down to their level, vocalising.   See if you can develop a sound that vaguely imitates some of their vocalisations and always use it in the same context as appropriate.  Listen to the vocalisations that the capybaras make and see if you can imitate any of their sounds; you should note the circumstances in which they use this particular sound and only reproduce your imitation of it in the same appropriate circumstances.

 

For more information on the sounds capybaras make with links to videos where you can hear all the wonderful sounds and vocalisations which capybaras make, and what they may mean please see my blog:

 

The Sounds Capybaras Make. Capybara’s Vocalisations, Calls and Barks

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https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/the-sounds-capybaras-make-capybaras-vocalisations-calls-and-barks-%e3%82%b5%e3%82%a6%e3%83%b3%e3%83%89%e3%81%af%e3%80%81%e3%82%ab%e3%83%94%e3%83%90%e3%83%a9%e3%83%a1%e3%82%a4%e3%82%af%e3%80%82/

Romeo dreaming on his bed of hay

Romeo dreaming on his bed of hay

You may well have to consider neutering a male capybara to prevent him  becoming aggressive. It’s a horrible operation which should be done when your capybara is as young as possible, at six months or possibly earlier if the vet thinks it is suitable.

Capybaras seem to like flipping their bowls of food or water over, even when they are still half full. You will probably have to teach them not to do this! This may take time but you may succeed if you persevere and if you have developed a good relationship with your pet capybara. Each time the capybara flips over its bowl, tell it very firmly “NO”. Then turn the bowl upright and replace the contents. To make your point even more strongly, each time the capybara flips the bowl over, remove the bowl and its contents. The capybara will soon learn that if it doesn’t want to lose its food it better not to flip over the bowl.

Romeo in Marvin's Lap. Romeo loves going out in the car with Elizabeth or Marvin. He often accompanies Marvin in his work, stopping off at different stores and other public places, where he immediately becomes the centre of attention. Everybody loves Romeo.

Romeo in Marvin’s Lap. Romeo loves going out in the car with Elizabeth or Marvin. He often accompanies Marvin in his work, stopping off at different stores and other public places, where he immediately becomes the centre of attention. Everybody loves Romeo.

If you want your capybara to be at ease in a noisy environment some people suggest that you keep your TV or radio on to provide a level of background noise to habituate your capybara to noise. (You can decide how loud and noisy a channel is appropriate for the noise level you want them to get used).    In this way a capybara should become accustomed to loud noise levels and learn to ignore background noise. Having a constant noise in the background also means your capybara might not react in a frightened or startled or anxious way to a sudden noise near them.

Romeo, on a shopping trip to get a bale of hay, decides to explore the store

Romeo, on a shopping trip to get a bale of hay, decides to explore the store.

The Critical Period of Socialisation: If you want to be able to take your capybara out in a car, or to crowded areas, for example a park, a shop, even a shopping mall, THIS HAS TO BE DONE AT A VERY YOUNG AGE. With any wild animal there is a small window of opportunity when the animal is young, when you can introduce it to potentially fearful situations and it will learn not to be fearful. If this is not done at an early age during what scientists have called The Critical Period the evidence indicates that the animal will never become comfortable in those situations that it views as fearful and potentially threatening, and you will simply cause your capybara an unacceptable level of stress and anxiety. If you want it to be happy and at ease in the presence of dogs this must also be done during The Critical Period, at this young age.

(Here is some interesting research on the critical period of socialisation for dogs and wolves.   The study reveals new information about how the two subspecies of Canis lupus experience their environment during a four-week developmental window called the critical period of socialization, and the new facts may significantly change understanding of wolf and dog development.

When the socialization window is open, wolf and dog pups begin walking and exploring without fear and will retain familiarity throughout their lives with those things they contact. Domestic dogs can be introduced to humans, horses and cats at this stage and be comfortable with them forever. But as the period progresses, fear increases and after the window closes, new sights, sounds and smells will elicit a fear response.

The same is true of cats with regard to a Critical Period. When the kittens are between 3 and 7 weeks old, they are in prime socialization mode, and their brains are forming patterns that will last a lifetime. To some extent a kitten can still be socialized up to 12 weeks old. Between the ages of 12 weeks to 6 months old, a kitten can still get some socialization training, but it will not be as effective or complete.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130117152012.htm    )

Romeo in Elizabeth's arms at the Bass Pro Shop in Las Vegas. The crowds didn't bother Romeo or Tuff'n at all. As you can imagine they were a huge attraction and great crowds gathered round to pet them.

Romeo in Elizabeth’s arms at the Bass Pro Shop in Las Vegas. The crowds didn’t bother Romeo or Tuff’n at all. As you can imagine they were a huge attraction and great crowds gathered round to pet them.

Being so intelligent and sensitive they react negatively to any tension they pick up from the humans around them. If you are tense and anxious they will react to this. They also react and get upset by people arguing.

In Elizabeth and Marvin’s home there are haysacks in the bedroom in case the capybaras want a snack during the night. (These haystacks are designed for horses. They are made of a course material and are about 2 1/2 feet high by about 18 inches wide, with an oval shaped hole in the front so that the animal can access the contents).  There are nightlights throughout the house so that the capybaras can move about during the night and see where they are going without bumping into something and hurting themselves.  Capybaras do not have good night vision.   Even in daytime Capybaras eyesight is not that good compared with their superb hearing and sense of smell.   There were also two haysacks in the living room. On at least one occasion Romeo seemed to deliberately choose the haysack in which Tuff’n was resting, at the third bite Romeo delved in as if he was trying to make life uncomfortable for Tuff’n, or perhaps just to amuse himself at Tuff’n’s expense. Within seconds Tuff’n jumped out! These two haysacks in the living room have now been replaced by two bales of hay.  The hay is a mixture of Timothy grass and Orchard grass which the capybaras love.

It is very important to provide capybaras with coarse food to chew on 24/7. This will ensure that they do not chew on the furnishings, a very common problem with pet capybaras. Romeo and Tuff’n never chew on furnishings as there is always hay or guinea pig pellets in the home for them to chew on. Another equally important reason for providing this course food is to ensure the health of their teeth. Capybara teeth grow continually and they need to chew on something to keep this growth under control. In the wild capybaras chew on twigs or stones.

Be sure you get good quality hay. You will need a supplier who you can trust, and who will tell you honestly about the quality of any given batch of hay he is selling.

Romeo and Tuff'n on their bales of hay. Romeo and Tuff'n never eat the furnishings. If they want something to chew on there is always hay and guinea pig pellets, available 24/7 and along with grass the best possible things they could eat

Romeo and Tuff’n on their bales of hay. Romeo and Tuff’n never eat the furnishings. If they want something to chew on there is always hay and guinea pig pellets, available 24/7 and along with grass the best possible things they could eat

 

Romeo and Tuff’n often like to laze or sleep on the bales of hay. At dinner time they will often join the humans in the dining room, munching on their hay and then fall asleep as the evening wears on.

Pool – What Size Pool Does A Capybara Need

A recommended minimum size of pool/Pond is 9 ft x 16 ft with a depth of 4 ft. The pool or pond should have a few shallow places where the capybara can sit and rest while still remaining mostly submerged. If your pool does not have any steps or ledges that would provide this, you should put something like a plastic table in the pool for the capybara to sit on. Make sure it is securely anchored and does not tip over when the capybara climbs onto it.

A large, 8 foot, cattle tank is not sufficient. There is no way capybaras can swim properly in something this small. And of course it is not very deep either.

Capybaras are outstanding swimmers and need a pool/pond that is at least 4 feet deep. They love to swim underwater and are very playful, rolling and turning. Capybaras can stay under water for up to 5 minutes.

In the wild capybaras spend much of the afternoon in water. Submerging in water is a way for them to thermoregulate, i.e. cool themselves.

Capybaras are very agile and graceful in water. A cattle tank is not big enough to allow them to express themselves aquatically, as they would in the wild. To swim, and roll, and play with gay abandon.

Here are links to 2 of my blogs about swimming pools for capybaras:

Capybara Health Warning: it might be potentially dangerous to let your capybara swim in a chlorinated swimming pool designed and intended for human use.

https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/pet-capybara-health-warning-it-might-be-potentially-dangerous-to-let-your-capybara-swim-in-a-chlorinated-swimming-pool-designed-and-intended-for-human-use/

Pet Capybara Pool Size. What Size Pool Does My Capybara Need?:
https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/pet-capybara-pool-size-what-size-pool-does-my-capybara-need/

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If you do decide to live with a capybara and it is coming by air, try to find another animal that can accompany it (in a cage with a chain link barrier so it can smell and see another). It is very, very frightening for a capybara to fly on its own; the loneliness and isolation , the strange noises, the effects of pressurisation, the takeoff and landing. These stressful, negative experiences are a very bad start to a baby capybara’s life.

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Here are links to some videos:

Capybaras are semi aquatic and it is essential that they have access to a good-sized pond or swimming pool. Some people use a large sized cattle tank (intended for cows to drink from). Personally I do not think this is large enough, but it is better than nothing. You can see how much Romeo enjoys swimming and frolicking in his pool in this video:

Romeo Capybara Swimming ロミオカピバラ水泳 – YouTube     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slUBooqIy0Q

These are the two videos featured in the blog above;  for convenience I am posting the links again:

You can see and feel how much Marvin loves Romeo in this video:

Romeo Capybara ” Feel the Love” ロミオカピバラはあまり愛されている    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON-WoauTmp4

You can see the wonderful relationship Elizabeth has with Romeo and Tuff’n in this video:

Loving Capybaras Cuddle Elizabeth カピバラ寄り添うエリザベスを愛して   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0gltPk3D3A

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6 thoughts on “How to Look after a Pet Capybara – The Capybaras Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know

  1. So similar to guinea pigs in so many ways, and just as misunderstood. My family criticized me for lying on the floor with the pigs, but the pigs understood, and included me. I really do wish only people who truly bother to relate to animals had them as pets, but this is rarely the case. Excellent tutorial🙂

    Like

    • Laurie thank you very much indeed. I really appreciate your comments especially as you are someone who really understands animals. I was so pleased to read that your experience lying on the floor with your guinea pigs was the same as my experience lying on the floor with the capybaras. I wish people would put the same amount of thought into what their animal’s need, the way I assume most people do when they have a baby. But I’m not sure there is very much information for people about to adopt an animal, where is there is masses of information on looking after a baby. Perhaps that’s a book we should write?

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  2. Liz, I love your blogs! Hope all is well with you? Spring is trying to come to Montana, we are still at the farm, for about another 7 weeks. We will all be happy to go home. Pat

    “Solvitur Ambulando”

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    • Thanks very much Pat. I didn’t know you were all having an extended stay at the farm. I hope your spring arrives soon, although the snow can be so beautiful. We will be thinking of you going for your long walks, enviously!

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  3. Pingback: Pet Capybara FAQs. The Questions People Always Ask. | capybaraworld

  4. Pingback: A Pet Capybara: Should I Have One? | capybaraworld

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