Depression in guinea pigs can happen for a number of reasons, including living alone, lacking space in their cage, losing a cage mate, or recovering from illness. Signs of depression in guinea pigs include lethargy, poor appetite, aggressive behavior, and barbering.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about depression in guinea pigs, including its symptoms and causes, and how to help.
Can Guinea Pigs Get Depressed?
Guinea pigs can get depressed. This often happens when they’re kept in improper conditions or when they’re grieving a cage mate.
However, we should never assume an animal is depressed before ruling out physical illnesses first.
If you think your guinea pig is depressed, bring them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. If your guinea pig stops eating, please know that this is an emergency, as they can go into GI Stasis in as little as six to eight hours.
Causes of Depression in Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs can become depressed for several reasons, ranging from poor care to health issues. The most common causes of depression in guinea pigs include:
Guinea pigs are social animals–you should never have just one. While some people think they can be enough for their piggy by spending a lot of time with them, this is like expecting a human to socialize only with guinea pigs!
We don’t speak the same language. Hard as we try, just can’t provide them with the socialization and comfort as their own species. We also have other obligations and cannot be with them around the clock.
The same goes for housing guinea pigs with other animals. Being kept with rabbits, dogs, cats, or other pets is dangerous and can lead to illness or injury. Rabbits, dogs, and cats can all be silent carriers of Bordetella, which can kill guinea pigs.
After losing a cage mate, guinea pigs will often experience grief. This can result in short-term depression or even continue for longer, especially if they are alone after the death.
As we discussed above, keeping just one guinea pig won’t meet their social needs. It’s okay to give yourself and your piggy time to grieve, but keep in mind that they will need a friend soon and that remaining alone can worsen their depression.
If you know that you don’t want more guinea pigs after yours passes, consider fostering for a rescue or shelter. Many will allow you to return the new guinea pig after yours dies, and will then find them a forever home.
While grief is very normal after losing a cage mate, it’s important to confirm with your vet that they’re healthy. This is especially true if the cage mate died of an unknown cause or contagious illness, as it may have been passed to your current piggy.
Pain or Illness
Not only can pain or illness cause depression-like symptoms, but these things can also cause depression. Your guinea pig may become depressed while recovering from an illness or surgery as well.
As we discussed above, it’s important not to assume depression is the cause of your guinea pig’s behavior. Especially as they’re recovering, these symptoms may actually mean they’re getting sick again or having complications after a surgery.
Please rule these things out with your veterinarian first!
A Small Cage
Small cages can lead to reduced activity and depression. Just like us, guinea pigs need room to stretch their little legs!
They need enough space to run around, popcorn, and also to get space from their cage mates. This keeps them both physically and mentally healthy.
The minimum cage size for two guinea pigs is 7.5 square feet, but 10.5 square feet or more is highly preferable. Three or four guinea pigs need even more room (see our guinea pig cage calculator).
Unfortunately, most cages sold in pet stores don’t meet this criteria. The good news is that you can make your own cage easily and for much less than the cost of pet store cages!
There are also pre-built cages that meet the minimum requirement such as the Midwest guinea pig cage, and you can put two or more of these together to give your piggies more space.
Signs of Depression in Guinea Pigs
Symptoms of depression in guinea pigs include:
- Hiding and decreased interaction with people or cagemates
- Lack of interest in enrichment items or treats
- Decreased appetite
- Aggressive behaviors
- Barbering (or pulling out their fur)
As we’ve discussed, many of these symptoms also occur when a guinea pig is very sick physically–so it’s vital to see a vet before assuming your guinea pig is depressed.
How to Help a Depressed Guinea Pig
The first thing you must do if your guinea pig acts depressed is to see a veterinarian. They may be severely ill and need treatment.
Once your vet has given them a clean bill of health, you should look at meeting your guinea pig’s basic needs.
A cage mate is the best enrichment you can offer a guinea pig. They take cues from one another and find comfort in just the presence of another piggy.
Before adopting a cage mate for your guinea pig, please research guinea pig bonding to learn about normal and abnormal behaviors.
It’s important to introduce them in a completely neutral area with items that are clean or haven’t been used before so that they don’t have either piggies’ scent on them. It’s also important not to separate them unless they hurt one another or show true aggression.
Chasing, humping, and rumble strutting are normal behaviors, though they understandably make some piggy parents nervous!
Expanding Their Cage
Cage expansions, especially if your cage is at or below the minimum size, can encourage your guinea pig to run around and explore.
Exercise is important for a guinea pig’s mental health as well as their physical well-being. The most popular (and cheapest!) cage option is a homemade C&C cage. There are also pre-build C&C cages on the market as well as the Midwest and Kaytee Open Living guinea pig cages, which have slightly different materials.
You can see some of the best guinea pig cages here.
Helping Guinea Pigs Through Grief
If your guinea pig is depressed because they’re grieving a cage mate, they may simply need time. Everyone goes through grief at their own pace, piggies included.
If they’re now living alone, you should also consider a new cage mate. Though it doesn’t have to happen right away, it should happen soon, especially if they’re already depressed.
Some people give their guinea pigs small stuffed animals while they search for a real friend for them–some piggies won’t care, while others may treat it like another guinea pig. Just make sure they don’t chew it!
Helping Healing Guinea Pigs with Depression
If your guinea pig has just been through illness or surgery, this is another thing that may require time. Once they heal up and feel better physically, the depression will likely subside.
If you’ve ever faced a severe illness or injury, or undergone surgery yourself, you’ll know that it can be more difficult to live your life normally. Pain can make guinea pigs irritable, tired, and not quite themselves.
Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment, and don’t be afraid to ask for another check-up or pain medication if you feel your guinea pig needs it.
Again, don’t assume depression until it’s confirmed by a veterinarian, as it’s possible your guinea pig is actually getting sicker and needs help.
Can Guinea Pigs Die of Depression?
Depression can weaken guinea pigs because they’re not eating or exercising as they should be. However, depression alone won’t kill them.
They may be more susceptible to disease or have less fat or muscle to lose, thus making disease progress more quickly than it would in a healthy, plump piggy.
Do Guinea Pigs Get Depressed by Themselves?
Yes, guinea pigs can get depressed by themselves. While not all guinea pigs will react this way to living alone, all of them do need to socialize with other piggies! Please never keep just one guinea pig for an extended amount of time.
While there is the rare piggy who cannot get along with others, they can usually bond if given enough chances. This can be difficult to facilitate on your own since you can’t just keep adopting piggies hoping they’ll get along!
I highly recommend asking rescues and shelters near you if they’ll let you bring your guinea pig in for bonding. Often they will allow this, and you can then try pairing your piggy with multiple others until you find a good fit.
Others will allow you to foster a guinea pig temporarily, and return them if they don’t get along with your current guinea pig.
If your piggy truly can’t get along with others even after providing additional resources to keep them from fighting, they should still be kept side-by-side with other guinea pigs in a different cage. This is the second-best option as it still allows them to see and hear other piggies, which will make them feel less isolated.
I hope this article has helped you to learn more about guinea pigs and depression. Remember to see your veterinarian first, then look for ways you can help your piggy such as adopting a cage mate for them or giving them a larger cage.