Dogs may be man’s best friend and cats may rule the Internet, but the month of March is dedicated to America's 12th most popular pet: the guinea pig.

In 2002, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals declared March to be National Adopt A Rescued Guinea Pig Month to raise awareness about guinea pigs in animal shelters.

Most pet stores sell guinea pigs that come from breeding mills, but thousands of the adorable critters are at shelters waiting for their forever homes.

The furry rodents make fun, low-maintenance pets, and there's a lot you probably don’t know about them. For starters:

1. Guinea pigs aren't pigs, and they aren't from Guinea. The rodents come from the Andes of South America, and the "guinea" in their name may be a corruption of Guyana, which is part of their natural range. Pet guinea pigs are descendants of wild ones that still roam the mountains and grasslands of South America.

2. They're herd animals. In the wild, guinea pigs live in small groups of five to 10. The group shares territory and acts as a community. Because they're social animals, pet guinea pigs do best when they're kept in pairs or small groups.

3. Guinea pigs are important to many indigenous South American groups, and they're often used as a food source and in medicine. Folk doctors have used the rodents to detect illness by holding them to different parts of a sick person's body. When the animal squeaked, it was thought to be because it had found the source of the disease.

4. Using the term "guinea pig" for test subjects came about because the animals have been experimented on since the 17th century. Today, mice and rats are more commonly used in research.

5. Guinea pigs have open-rooted teeth, which means they grow continuously. This is why it's important for pet guinea pigs to be provided with chew toys to keep their teeth at a proper length.

6. When guinea pigs are happy, they'll often hop up and down repeatedly, a behavior that's aptly referred to as "popcorning." The behavior is most common in young guinea pigs, but older animals may also exhibit it.

7. Like humans, guinea pigs can't produce their own vitamin C, so pet owners must be sure to provide the critters with fresh fruit and veggies daily.

8. Guinea pigs can be very "talkative" animals, and they make a variety of sounds, including purring, squealing and chattering.

Still not sure about adopting a guinea pig? The adorable photos below may persuade you.

guinea pig

Photo: telepathicparanoia/flickr

guinea pig in tiny car

Photo: Jlhopgood/flickr

three guinea pigs

Photo: Roni G/flickr

napping guinea pig

Photo: ploush :DD/flickr

rabbit and guinea pig

Photo: Chris_Parfitt/flickr

gray guinea pig

Photo: photogirl7.1/flickr

guinea pig playing outside

Photo: Cowboy Dave/flickr

guinea pig closeup

Photo: MJames/flickr

people hugging guinea pig

Photo: mitch98000/flickr

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