Once people learn about capybaras I find they are either intrigued or repelled. Among the intrigued, there are always a few who are tempted to have their own pet capybara. This leads inevitably to the question of cost. Truly, the cost of the animal is never the end of the story, as anyone who has received a “Free Puppy” surely knows. So, how much does that capybara cost? Capybaras actually cost about the same as a pedigreed dog, not even a fancy breed. However, the cost is only the tip of the iceberg. First, let’s examine the process of obtaining one.
There are only a couple of capybara breeders in the United States, and they have only a few breeding pairs. I was on several waiting lists for over a year before Dobbye became available. If your capybara is shipped, it will fly as cargo, and shipping costs are in addition to purchase cost. Not all breeders ship, and even ones who do may hesitate to ship if the weather isn’t cooperative, so you may need to travel to get your capybara. Most airlines will not allow rodents in the cabin, so even though your 3 week old capybara is the size of a guinea pig, it is required to travel in the hold of the plane, down there with the big dogs. Dobbye was perfectly healthy when I picked him up from the breeder, but we flew home during cold weather, and I waited a while for my “baggage” to arrive. Two weeks later he nearly died of pneumonia! That’s how long he sat on the tarmac in freezing weather while I pestered the baggage folks to expedite his little carrier. If I had to do it again, I would fly out to the breeder, rent a car, and drive him home. At that age, they are tiny, quiet, and manageable, and no motel would ever guess you had a pet with you. Remember that we are talking about cost here, so flight, car rental, a couple of motel rooms and restaurant meals, for two, unless you want to go it alone.
The first thing you should do is take your baby capybara to the vet for a checkup. You’ll want your vet to be captivated by this cute little animal so that when you bring back your big bruiser to be fixed at 6 months, the vet isn’t completely intimidated by the wild animal your pet has turned into. At a minimum, you’ve got those two vet visits. It’s probably best to interview a few veterinarians to make certain you have one willing to treat your pet at all. *
At about 5 months of age, my Dobbye made it very clear that he wanted to be an outdoor pet. Like some guinea pigs, Dobbye began to urinate in his bedding as he slept. If you have a cure for that, I’d love to hear it. Meanwhile, I built him an outdoor pen. He has an enclosed area with a bed. Under several blankets is a heavy-duty kennel heater. Mounted on the wall is a supplemental microtherm heater for winter. He has paved and dirt areas, hay racks, water, and lots of toys. His pen is secured at night and an intruder would have to pass through two gates before they would reach the gate to his bedroom. I don’t really want a burglar to accidentally surprise Dobbye at night. Figure the cost of fencing your yard, add double gates and a huge sturdy fenced pen, at least 6′ high. They can get over a 4′ fence. I wired a top over Dobbye’s pen to keep the raccoons out.
Capybaras, like house rabbits, chew wires and bite cords, so you need to rodent-proof your house in advance. You’ll probably want an assortment of dog/baby gates to keep him within sight. You’ll need to set up your bathroom with a little potty bowl which you’ll be dumping about 5 times a day. It’s really nice if you can dedicate a bathroom to your pet so guests aren’t surprised. Most capybaras are pretty tidy, but there will be accidents. Dobby does his business outdoors these days, and herbivores are prolific. I built an outdoor bathroom to dispose of his daily gallon of poop. What would a spare bathroom cost you?
Capybaras in the wild graze all day and all night. How much grass do you have, and is it food quality? Is it fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide-free? I don’t have enough grass in the back, so I escort Dobby to the front yard each afternoon for grazing. Because the fence is only 4′ tall out there and it isn’t double gated, I have to watch him and ensure the safety of accidental visitors like the postman. I have fenced him out of the Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and Pieris, which are extremely toxic to capybaras. In the winter, all the grass is scarce and I have to ration the cut bamboo foliage until spring. You might want to consider re-landscaping.
I’ve mentioned hay, grass, and bamboo foliage, but that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to feeding your capybara. The diet of any captive animal must be supplemented. Just as you don’t expect your cat to hunt for all her meals, a capybara needs more than grass to survive. Little ones need milk, goat’s milk is preferred, but their diet is remarkably similar to a guinea pig. Lots of hay and grass. They should get a low-protein pelleted food (Dobbye gets Equine Senior) plus vegetables, lettuce, and fruit. Dobbye eats 3-4 corn-on-the-cob daily, husk with cob, and that’s fun to find in January! We special order that by the case, and his romaine, too. He eats at least one head a day. Dobbye eats pears, apples, and about eight different kinds of potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes. I would be real happy if he would start eating carrots and broccoli again, but he’d rather have a handful of oats. You guessed it, he has his own refrigerator!
He eats the blankets on his bed, and those that survive need washing all the time. I’m down at Goodwill OUTLET quarterly for new blankets, and we’re on our second washer. He has his harness and leash, and a little ramp to get up into the car. Actually, the ramp is so he can get out without bumping his chin on the ground, they are just not designed for going down steps. I line the car with blankets and bedding, but he has still managed to bite a gigantic chunk out of the car door. He’s always looking at the seat belts, too, so I know they’re next to go. The car interior is just a sacrifice, and anyway it’s impossible to get all the hay out of a car once you’ve hauled any bales in there. Duct tape takes care of the unsightly blemishes.
Do you plan to ever leave home again? Travel, visit relatives? Find a pet sitter. I dare you. I have been through several. Dobbye doesn’t like strangers. At all. You’re going to pay a significant daily rate if you can even manage to set your place up so that it is safe for the capybara and sitter. If your sitter is going to stop by to dump that potty bowl in your bathroom five times a day, you need to add that to the cost of your trip. And if your sitter decides she can’t handle it, be prepared to cut your trip short.
A pet capybara is no simple fancy substitute for a dog. So far, the survival rate among first-time non-zoo owners is not encouraging. I have been extremely lucky with Dobbye, and I have had the good fortune to have excellent veterinarian support, willing pet sitters, and the experience of many breeders and experienced owners to back me up. My family has been dragged into this enterprise, like it or not, and while my grown children are free to walk away, my partner is Dobbye’s chief rival. This creates some interesting dramas, and compromise isn’t something Dobbye cares about. The cost of a capybara must also be measured in terms of time and lifestyle adjustments. It’s not about the cost, is it?
* The ROUS Foundation has a veterinarian who can coach your vet when treatment is necessary.