Are Guinea Pigs Smart? The Brainy Side of Cavies

Are guinea pigs smart

Have you ever looked into your guinea pig’s blank stare and wondered, do you have even one brain cell? Or perhaps you’ve been teaching them tricks and been amazed at how fast they learn! Either way, you might wonder: how smart are they really?

Guinea pigs are commonly thought to be unintelligent, but this isn’t necessarily true. They can learn their names, how to perform tricks, and have excellent long-term memories. Science is continuously learning more about animal intelligence and how smart our pet piggies are compared to other animals.

In this article, I’ll discuss how smart guinea pigs are, how their memory works, and more.

How Smart Are Guinea Pigs?

Scientists are still learning about how smart guinea pigs are as new studies are released. Although many people think of guinea pigs as unintelligent animals, they actually have decent learning abilities.

Guinea pigs can learn some language, recognize their owners and cage mates, and have great long-term memories. They have a good sense of direction as well.

Domestic guinea pigs have been shown to have greater problem-solving abilities than wild guinea pigs, despite their brains being 13% smaller. Despite it being a common myth, a smaller brain doesn’t actually mean an animal is less intelligent!

This study also showed that domestic guinea pigs make associations faster than their wild counterparts.

Over time, domesticated guinea pigs have changed to do better in man-made situations, because they’ve adapted to depend on us for survival.

How smart are guinea pigs

Guinea Pigs Understand Some Language

Guinea pigs are smarter than most people realize. They can learn to recognize their names, perform tricks, and know some human language.

There’s even a guinea pig named Millie who uses buttons to communicate in human words. As could be expected, she mostly asks for food!

Many people are surprised by how many words their guinea pigs learn to understand over time. Of course, it takes a lot of repetition to teach language to any new pet. Even you and I can’t learn a new language overnight.

Your guinea pigs won’t understand what you say to them right away, just like human babies don’t come out of the womb knowing English.

It’s a good idea to use the words you want them to know in context as much as possible. For instance, you might say “veggie time!” when feeding them their vegetables for the night, or “hay” when topping up their hay pile.

Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners

Yes! Guinea pigs are incredibly social, and for this reason they can recognize both other guinea pigs and their human families.

Your guinea pig is likely to recognize the difference between you and other humans, especially if you’ve known one another for a long time.

They likely use their sense of smell and hearing alongside their sense of sight to recognize you. Weirdly, guinea pigs do act strange during bonding with other guinea pigs. If you separate and reintroduce them, they’ll often have to reestablish their bond and might act as if they don’t know one another.

This is why it’s recommended not to separate your guinea pigs unless you have to, such as for medical reasons. It’s also why allowing your piggies to meet each other slowly by putting them together for a few hours and then separating them until tomorrow doesn’t work well, and is actually more stressful than one long bonding session.

Even piggies who see each other through their cage bars and are then introduced seem to act like they don’t know one another–but maybe they just behave differently when the other is in their territory.

This might have more to do with us as humans not understanding guinea pigs, than the piggies themselves not understanding. Or, they might really get confused!

But Do They Remember Us?

It’s thought that guinea pigs don’t have very good short-term memory, which means remembering something that just happened for a short period of time. For instance, your short term memory can help you right now to remember the beginning of this article.

Guinea pigs do have good long-term memories, which is awesome! It means they’re very likely to remember their old owners and cage mates.

They can also remember things that have scared them in the past, and will try to avoid these things in the future. In the wild, guinea pigs know their way home and remember the places they find food so that they can go back later.

My late guinea pig, Baby, used to wander down the hallway and back to my room, where his cage was kept, if I kept him out for too long during floor time. The first time it happened, I was shocked he found his whole way back!

But now, with more research, I know that this is common knowledge for piggies.

How Smart Are Guinea Pigs Compared to Other Animals?

Guinea pig intelligence vs other pets

Although I wasn’t able to find much solid research on the topics, it is believed by most people that dogs, cats, rabbits, and rats are smarter than guinea pigs.

Many people believe that guinea pigs are smarter than hamsters, however.

Without studies, we can’t really say for sure! I’d say dogs and cats are almost certainly smarter than piggies, in my own experience, but comparing them to other rodents might be more debatable.

Of course, it also depends on what kind of intelligence you’re testing for. For instance, guinea pigs likely have a higher emotional intelligence than hamsters because they’re social animals, and hamsters aren’t.

When it comes to language, dogs are likely best at learning human words because they’ve been domesticated so long, and expected to follow human commands–whereas fewer people work with their hamsters or guinea pigs to teach them English or other human languages.

Number of Neurons in the Forebrain

One way to look at intelligence is through the number of neurons in the forebrain, although that is only one of the many factors that contribute to animal intelligence.

Let’s see how many neurons different animals have in their forebrain.

AnimalNumber of Neurons in the Forebrain
House mouse14 million
Syrian hamster17 million
Hedgehog24 million
Brown rat31 million
Ferret38.95 million
Guinea pigs43.51 million
European rabbit71.45 million
House cat249.83 million
Golden retriever627 million
Human21 billion

I hope this article has helped you learn more about guinea pigs and their intelligence. They might not be the smartest critters out there, but guinea pigs can learn more than most people think!


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