A Pet Capybara Should I Have One?

I am afraid I have had to remove the photos as some nasty person has been removing the watermark from my photos and uploading them to the internet. It is illegal to remove a watermark.

I think this will impress you: Capybaras are much more intelligent than most people realise. The ability to conceptualise is a mark of high intelligence. Not every human can conceptualise. However Tuff’n can! Tuff’n works out, in his mind, how to get the ring, which is stuck around his tummy, off.カピバラは、人々が知っているよりもはるかにインテリジェントです。タフンが彼の問題を解決するのを見てください。 水豚比人們知道的要聰明得多。看塔夫解決他的問題 水豚比人們知道的要聰明得多。看塔夫解決他的問題。

Please also see my blogs:

 

Capybara Diet. Includes Treatments for Dietary Health Issues.

https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2021/10/10/capybara-diet-includes-treatments-for-dietary-health-issues-%e6%b0%b4%e8%b1%9a%e9%a3%b2%e9%a3%9f-%e3%82%ab%e3%83%94%e3%83%90%e3%83%a9%e3%83%80%e3%82%a4%e3%82%a8%e3%83%83%e3%83%88/

 

Not this blog: What Should I Feed My Pet Capybara?:

Protect Your Capybaras and Guinea Pigs from Power Cords and Electric Cables

Pet Capybara Pool Size. What Size Pool Does My Capybara Need?:

Capybara Health Warning: It Will Be Potentially Dangerous To Let Your Capybara Swim in a Chlorinated Swimming Pool Designed and Intended for Human Use

Capybaras Beware of Toxic Plants, Chemicals and Poisonous Animals Like Scorpions and Snakes. Humans Remove These from Your Land, Garden and Yard.

Capybara Enclosure Design. Husbandry and Welfare of Capybaras in Zoos and Captive Environment

Critical Care for Capybaras. Capybara Health Care. This Could Save the Life of Your Capybara.

If you get a pet capybara and decide you cannot keep him/her, contact Janice Wolf at Rocky Ridge Refuge in northern Arkansas who has an Animal Sanctuary and has capybaras she has rescued.

I have never met a pet capybara, who is bonded with a human, who is happy. Capybaras bond so intensely, and are so emotionally sensitive, that they suffer greater separation anxiety than any other species, when that human leaves the home, or goes to work in a part of the house or garage to which they are denied access.

For this reason, if you truly care about animals and their welfare, and want to have capybaras in your life, you will ensure that the capybara is bonded with another capybara or animal that is always accessible to the capybara.

I have witnessed too much stress and anxiety in capybaras who are kept as pets and bonded with a human. It is heartbreaking to experience this.

wn-branfere-july-2012-murmel-tier
This is the perfect enclosure for a capybara: lots of grass and a large pond. Photo by Martin MurmelTier Hees

Also, you have to remember that capybaras are herd animals so if they are bonded with a human, that human becomes part of their herd. If a herd member disappears that means he/she is probably dead, eaten by a predator. This increases the pet capybaras anxiety exponentially.

Every person I know who lives with a pet capybara bonded to them has been bitten. The pet capybara views the human as part of the herd and treats them as they would any other herd member. Capybaras can be quite aggressive to each other, but since they have extra thick skin, their bites are not as harmful as when they bite a human, as humans have thinner skin.

You will also need to be a person with discipline. Once the excitement and novelty of living with a capybara wears off, you must be the sort of person who has the discipline to do the work necessary to ensure the health and emotional well-being of a capybara. Some pet capybara “owners” are happy to pay for expensive vet treatment, but may not have the discipline to do things that require time or hard work.

It is essential that your capybara has access to grass. If your garden does not have enough grass you must be prepared to lay down grass that will grow year round and ensure that the lawn is kept in good condition by scarifying and aerating it every winter.  A less satisfactory alternative is to provide fresh vegetables as a major part of the daily diet.

In their natural habitat a capybara’s diet is made up of 100% fresh vegetation. Of this 70% is grasses. Capybaras spend 45% of the day grazing in the dry season and 31% of the day grazing in the wet season. Grazing is a natural capybara activity, so quite apart from the nutritional benefits, it is very important for your capybara to be able to “graze” whenever they want to.

I have spent many years in close/intimate contact with both pet capybaras and capybaras who live as part of a herd with other capybaras.

I Believe that very, very few people would be able to provide the conditions necessary for their capybara to be happy as a pet.

Keeping a capybara as a pet, is nothing like having a pet cat or dog.   Cats and dogs have been domesticated over possibly as long as 35,000 years and have evolved so that they can coexist with humans and still have their emotional and physical needs met.   This is not the case with capybaras, who have evolved over 30 million years to be herd animals and to understand the communications and behaviour they encounter in the wild and from other capybaras.

Levels of the stress hormone cortisol are much higher in some wild animal species kept as pets and bonded with humans than in these species when they are bonded with other members of their own species. From my observations I suspect the same is true with capybaras.

Capybaras are intensely social, herd animals. They are very complex and sophisticated emotionally. They are also highly intelligent, at least as intelligent as the most intelligent dogs.

As herd animals they need a constant companion. If  a capybara’s primary bond is with a human and he becomes separated from that human, the separation anxiety the capybara experiences is far more intense than that of a dog. For this reason if  you care about the capybara’s happiness you must be prepared to be with him/her day and night. Not many people have the time and commitment needed to have a pet capybara.

There is a great deal of misinformation and inaccurate information about capybaras on the Internet.

Our video: Even the Most Sweet Natured Capybara Can Turn Aggressive 甘い性格のペットカピバラは攻撃的になる

Two very important aspects of rodent behaviour have come out of research and from my observations these apply equally to capybaras. Firstly, capybaras NEED 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 him to do.

If you are a control freak do not even think of having a capybara. Capybaras are NOT like dogs, who can be trained to behave in an appropriate way so that they can fit into your family and lifestyle. If you try to train and control a capybara, or indeed any rodent, you will only increase the stress level and anxiety of your captive pet.  Capybaras are very sensitive emotionally and they know when they are being controlled. If you expect to be able to control your pet capybara, your failure to do so, will probably harm, or even destroy, the relationship between you and the capybara.

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 or business card. It contains chemical information that communicates an individual’s sex and social status and any health issues the capybara may be experiencing. A capybara’s urine also allows other capybaras to discern genetic relatedness, a process which may have evolved to avoid inbreeding.

Capybaras have not evolved to understand human behaviour. Watching pet capybaras interact with humans I often observe their frustration as they try to understand and make sense of the way their human behaves, and I believe this may be the reason why some capybaras become aggressive from time to time with no apparent warning. If the capybara was bonded with other capybaras he/she would understand their behaviour and not be under stress.

I believe that being bonded with a human is inherently stressful for a capybara.
Romeo is the most fantastic Capybara as anyone who has seen the videos of Romeo kissing his human will realise. But sometimes he becomes aggressive with no prior warning.  I believe that being bonded with a human, whose behaviour he often does not understand can be very stressful for a capybara,  Capybaras are wild animals and you never know how your actions might play out in the mind of a wild animal. It’s too easy to show how incredibly adorable capybaras are. I’ve seen a couple of blogs lately suggesting capybaras make great pets. This is absolute rubbish and very irresponsible. Capybaras need an immense amount of love, time and commitment. Very few people would be able to give this. Too many capybaras get rejected as they get bigger and older and end up in refuges or die prematurely.

No capybara should ever sleep alone at night. A capybara in the wild would have the herd around him at all times. Even subordinate males are tolerated by the alpha male, on the periphery of the herd, as they act as a lookout and emit alarm calls to warn the herd if any danger approaches. (Subordinate males emit more alarm calls than the alpha male or the female capybaras in a wild herd.   Although each subordinate male mates with a female on fewer occasions than the alpha male, the total number of matings of all the subordinate males put together, is greater than that of the alpha male.)

Baby capybaras are incredibly adorable but people should not be seduced into thinking that this makes them suitable as pets:

In the video below:  Four-year-old Butter loves being nibbled by two-month-old Ko, Zabon’s two-month-old baby boy. Adult capybaras particularly love to have their ears nibbled and the babies seem to know this. Butter looks absolutely blissful as she rolls over.

If you are going to keep a pet capybara his/her needs MUST come first. It is potentially cruel to force the capybara into situations that make it anxious or fearful, to satisfy your needs or ego at the expense of the capybara’s happiness.

Capybaras need sun.  There is at least one capybara who lived inside the home in an enclosure and did not get enough, if any, sun. His bones were in a poor condition and his vet believed he should be put down so that he wouldn’t suffer any more.

To live with a pet capybara, you need to be very intelligent, very sensitive emotionally, and you need to understand animals.

Capybara’s natural behaviour includes marking their territory.  This is mostly done with urine, occasionally with faeces.  Not many people can cope with an animal marking its territory in their home.   My friends have removed all the carpets to make cleaning up this urine and faeces easier.  To segregate these very loving herd animals and confine them to a small area of your  home is cruel.  It may also lead to aggressive behaviour as the capybara will be unhappy.

The secret of living with Capybaras is to be sensitive to their body language and vocalisations, they will tell you what they want.   Being sensitive to their needs is essential to creating the necessary bond that will encourage them to want to do what you want them to do.  And to prevent them becoming unhappy and aggressive.

My friends are very strict in adhering to an optimum diet that most closely approximates what a capybara would eat in the wild. This is essential for capybara health and for their teeth.   The capybara digestive system evolved over 30 million years to take advantage of a diet that was high in fibre and low in nutritional content.  (See my blog:  ” What Should I Feed My Pet Capybara?”

https://capybaraworld.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/what-should-i-feed-my-pet-capybara/

Romeo and Tuff’n eat grass, hay and guinea pig feed. The hay and Guinea pig feed are available 24/7.   There are two bales of an Orchard Hay and  Timothy Hay mix in the living room. Whenever the capybaras want to chew on something, or they feel hungry, they go to the hay (or guinea pig feed). This means they do not chew pillowcases, plastic, comforters or any other inappropriate items of furniture.

Romeo and Tuff’n are never fed junk food, candy or table scraps. Romeo can sit on my friend’s lap at the dinner table and he will show no interest whatsoever in the food my friend is eating. If just once my friends had given him a treat from their dinner table he would constantly expect this to happen again.

It is worth noting just how sensitive capybaras are to any change in their routine, or any stress. Their faeces become softer.  And their mood changes.

As is the case with the best informed animal trainers, my friend does not use food as a reward. As the Naval officer in charge of training dogs said to me:  “You should not introduce food into the training process as it creates problems”.  Voice is a much more effective reward and Romeo positively fills with pride when my friend says “Good Boy Romeo”.

Additionally, while it may be easier to get an animal to perform a certain act or trick if it is given food as a reward, unfortunately, the end result is that the capybara will only perform or comply with your request if there is a food treat as a reward. Romeo knows what my friend’s expectations are and he sometimes chooses to behave himself.   My friend’s approval is very important to him.   He is an exceptionally good and well behaved capybara. Another thing I like is that my friend doesn’t ask Romeo to do senseless tricks just for the sake of it. There are plenty of useful things for Romeo to learn without turning him into a circus act.

I mention only Romeo as Tuff’n automatically learns from Romeo what behaviour is expected and appropriate, and therefore seldom needs any lessons from my friend. There were a couple of occasions when Tuff’n wet the bed. These occurred after a long and very tiring day, and perhaps Tuff’n felt too tired to make the effort to go to the “potty room”. On the third occasion my friend picked Tuff’n up, put him on the damp spot, gently pushing his nose down, and said very firmly “No”. He then picked Tuff’n up and carried him to the potty pan. Romeo also gave him a little ‘nose to nose ‘ talk, rubbing noses with him.  Tuff’n never wet the bed again.

Capybaras are capable of learning a surprising number of words. In addition to food related words Romeo knows “inside” and “outside” and “in the house”.  He knows the words “tell me a secret” and “give me a kiss”. And many other words and phrases as well!

In this video,

My friend is playing with Romeo, giving him an outlet for the sparring and play fighting that young capybaras enjoy in the wild. Romeo loves it and it allows him to release any pent-up energy and adrenaline. Romeo knows that ‘Inside’ and ‘In  the house’  mean this is designated as my friend’s territory, where he is the boss Capybara, and where Romeo does not spar.   Outside Romeo can play the boss. My friend always lets Romeo win the sparring contests outside so that Romeo feels that he is a successful and important male capybara.

At 2.07 secs you can hear Romeo clicking his teeth. Capybaras do this as a warning signal. The intention is to avoid a fight by persuading your opponent to abandon his attack and run off.   In the wild relatively few fights break out; the dominant male capybara who is number one in the herd hierarchy will warn the subordinate male, who almost always runs away.

Capybaras are highly intelligent and emotionally very sophisticated and complex. Very few people have the understanding, sensitivity and intelligence to keep them as house pets in a happy, fulfilled and stress free state.

Having two capybaras who are bonded with each other rather than with a human would be much better, as a fellow capybara can supply all the emotional needs that most humans would be unable to meet. However there can sometimes be problems with this due to the hierarchal nature of capybara society. It is usually impossible to keep two male capybaras, even if they are neutered, as their inclination would be to compete for dominance, i.e. fight.

Even with two females there can be dominance problems leading to injuries. One of my friends has two female capybaras who live in a field. The dominant female is often aggressive towards “her friend” and on one occasion inflicted such a severe injury that the exotic vet had to attend to the wound. Several trips to the vet followed which do not come cheap.

Now that Tuff’n is bigger than Romeo he often challenges Romeo leading to frequent minor injuries. Initially Romeo would walk away and try to avoid getting into a fight, knowing that my friend did not want him to bite Tuff’n. Eventually he realised he had to defend himself but Tuff’n’s playful aggression puts Romeo under a lot of stress and may be one of the reasons Romeo becomes aggressive to those humans who are part of his herd.

When I first met Romeo and Tuff’n, it was obvious that Romeo knew he was expected to behave in a friendly manner towards Tuff’n and not be aggressive to him. Romeo seemed to tolerate Tuff’n rather than to like him. There was one amusing scenario out by the pool, where Romeo was sitting in a tub of hot water. Tuff’n seeing Romeo, jumped in the tub to be beside him. Romeo moved to the far side of the tub to get away from Tuff’n.   Tuff’n moved over to be next to Romeo, and Romeo jumped out of the tub!

You can see this behaviour in this video:

Early on in their relationship, Tuff’n realised he had far more in common with Romeo than with the two humans. In fact when Tuff’n arrived my friends heard vocalisations from Romeo that they had never heard before; Romeo and Tuff’n were speaking their own language, even though neither had spent any time with adult capybaras from whom they could have learnt it. Tuff’n started to follow Romeo everywhere, and of course he learnt from Romeo’s behaviour.  Tuff’n shows separation anxiety if he cannot see Romeo, or if they are too far apart.  At least Romeo is always nearby.   Romeo, however, is bonded with humans and his life is much more stressful.

On one occasion Tuff’n came to sit with me on the beanbag for his afternoon nap. When he realised that Romeo was not going to join us, and indeed that he had no idea where Romeo was, he started to panic. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him in the direction of the bedroom at the far end of the house. As he jumped on the trunk to reach the bed he noticed a lump under the bed covers on the bed, and his relief was palpable as he smelt Romeo’s odour coming from the lump. He then nestled down next to the lump as close as he possibly could (he doesn’t like going under the covers).   You may notice that the “lump” moves very slightly away each time little Tuff’n snuggles up to him in this video:

Capybaras have very sharp teeth and nip each other constantly when playing. As capybaras have very thick skin this does not cause any harm, but to a human it would result in constant injury (not serious but painful). Capybaras also occasionally bite each other either in play or when being aggressive. Not many humans could cope with this.

It is essential to have an exotic veterinarian and one with capybara experience. If you do not have access to an appropriate exotic vet, are you willing to accept that the animal you love, may very likely die sooner than it should?

This photo was taken on 13th October 2012, the day her twins were born and 5 days before she died. She doesn’t look at all well. It makes me cry to see her like this (Bio Park Photo) 2012年10月13日、この写真で撮影。この日は彼女の双子が生まれた。彼女が亡くなった5日前まで。彼女は非常に病気に見えます。涙。 (写真バイオパーク)
This photo was taken on 13th October 2012, the day her twins were born and 5 days before she died. She doesn’t look at all well. It makes me cry to see her like this. I still miss her. (Bio Park Photo) 2012年10月13日、この写真で撮影。この日は彼女の双子が生まれた。彼女が亡くなった5日前まで。彼女は非常に病気に見えます。涙。 (写真バイオパーク)

Another friend who has two capybaras who live outside in a hot climate, wrote this: “My husband does not think that capybaras make good exotic pets for beginners. People need to know that capybaras are a lifestyle, and not an accessory to their lifestyle. As you said, the owner needs to be sensitive to the animal’s needs.   Is the person willing to provide the amount of time that is needed to spend with a capybara, willingly?”

She continues: “My husband thinks that too many people are drawn in by the cute factor and aren’t prepared for the work.  There are a wide variety of things that contribute to happy, healthy capybaras and it is hard for busy people to provide them, especially people who have little or no experience with exotics. It’s pretty obvious that most ordinary pet owners don’t want to mentally make accommodations that their beloved furbaby isn’t human. They think that if they give the animal the things that the human desires, then the animal will be grateful and behave in a human fashion. When a dog bites, there is some shock that it would do such a thing.   So, then you take that mentality and bring an exotic animal into the scenario. An animal that doesn’t have hundreds of generations trying to please or get along with humans. Capybaras have significant needs too. If the human-animal partnership fails, it will definitely be the capybara that suffers. There is a bit of resentment from professional animals keepers, towards exotic pet owners, because of this unrealistic attitude that many pet owners have. Bad husbandry or bad expectations, lead to injuries or death and public backlash. I don’t know who said it first, but the saying goes that many people falsely believe that not treating animals like humans, is itself inhumane. Just as I wouldn’t expect humans to want to live like a squid, I think it’s unrealistic to assume that a different species will think we do things best.”

She continues:  “Exotic pet owners have to accommodate to the lifestyle of the animal. As I see it, the big key with general animal ownership – and this would hold true for domestics or exotics – is sensitivity/attentiveness to their subtle body language. With professionals this is usually easier, because a professional animal keeper will spend all day long with the animals – it’s their job. The professional will  pick up on little noises or postures which might indicate that the animal is stressed or needs something. Sadly, in my country at least (USA), many people are more self involved. They are also occupied by lots of distractions. Paying close attention to what their animal is saying, or thinking, or trying to convey may well be beyond the capability of most people.( I certainly believe it is.) Your average person will jump to the first assumption regarding its capybara pets needs and not have the intelligence, sensitivity or depth of understanding to go beyond this.”

It takes a great deal of time and commitment to ensure the happiness of a pet capybara.

How many people are prepared to put the happiness of their pet capybara before their own happiness? This means ensuring that there is always somebody at home to keep an eye on the capybara and make sure it doesn’t get into difficulties. One of the major causes of death with pet capybaras comes from dangers encountered in the house or yard/garden, such as unsecured equipment, furniture etc.  Just as important is being there in the home to provide emotional support for your pet capybara. As I have said before, a capybara in the wild would never be alone. You only have to hear the plaintive calls of a capybara suffering separation anxiety to never want your capybara to experience that.

I haven’t even mentioned:

1)  Exotic vet bills which can run into thousands of dollars.  Having a capybara neutered by an experienced exotic vet cost at least $600 in 2013. Other bills may be far higher if the capybara becomes ill.

2)  Emptying the potty pan many times a day; at least 10-12.

3)  Capybara are semi aquatic.  This means you must provide them with somewhere to swim.  Capybaras are so graceful and playful in a pool or large pond;  would you want to deny them this pleasure?   In the wild they would spend much of the day submerged in water.   See my blog:  “Pet Capybara Pool Size. What Size Pool Does My Capybara Need?”:

4)  I personally don’t think it’s fair to keep a capybara in a cold climate. Their native habitat is semi tropical. You only have to see how much livelier Romeo is when the temperature reaches 65°F, to appreciate the effect of a warmer temperature on a capybara. A surprising and unacceptable number of capybaras have suffered frostbite.

Are you prepared to give up social engagements, and never travel away from home to ensure the happiness of your pet? I think there are very few people who could make this commitment.

Please also see our blogs:

Essential Information If You Already Have a Capybara, Or Are Thinking of Getting a Capybara

These are blogs you might find useful if you are thinking of getting a pet capybara and you want your capybara to live a happy and healthy and long life:

A Pet Capybara Should I Have One:

Pet Capybara FAQs: The Questions People Always Ask

What Should I Feed My Pet Capybara? The Capybara Diet

Pet Capybara Pool Size. What Size Pool Does My Capybara Need?

Capybaras Beware of Toxic Plants, Chemicals and Poisonous Animals Like Scorpions and Snakes. Humans Remove These from Your Land, Garden and Yard.

Capybara Health Warning: It Will Be Potentially Dangerous To Let Your Capybara Swim in a Chlorinated Swimming Pool Designed and Intended for Human Use

Protect Your Capybaras and Guinea Pigs from Power Cords and Electric Cables

Critical Care for Capybaras. Capybara Health Care. This Could Save the Life of Your Capybara

For 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

Capybara Enclosure Design, Husbandry, the Welfare of Capybaras in Zoos and Captive Environments:

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