The vast majority of the time, guinea pigs do not bite. With adorable faces and endearing personalities, these gentle little creatures are an excellent choice if you’re in search of an easy-to-care-for family pet – especially if you have kids. However, in rare instances, cavies can bite.
While young guineas may test boundaries with tiny nibbles, they’re simply learning about their environment, exploring their surroundings and mean no harm with this action. Typically, this behavior ends just as quickly as it appeared.
Yet, in other cases, a bite from your cavy can mean something else entirely. Above all else, it is essential to note here before we move on that with this action, your cavy is attempting to communicate something. Now, the key is to try and decipher what they’d like to tell you.
Are they unhappy about how you’re holding them? Do they need to pee? Is there something that’s causing them pain? If you’ve had your cavy for a while, you’re likely accustomed to their personality and may be able to figure out what’s going on relatively quickly. But, if you’re a newbie guinea parent or are seeking insight into this new behavior, then it may take a while to narrow down what’s causing your pet to react this way.
Let’s go over some reasons why your guinea may bite you or a fellow cage mate, and possible solutions for this biting behavior.
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Reasons why guinea pigs might bite
There are various scenarios that may create a situation wherein which your pet may bite you. The following is a list of such reasons, so you can get a clear idea of how to avoid them.
Uncomfortable or painful holding positions.
Picking up a cavy is not like picking up a toy. It is of utmost importance to properly, comfortably hold and carry a cavy. The key is they need to feel safe and secure. If they don’t, they may just nip you to signal they’re scared and want to be put down.
Young guineas testing boundaries.
As with human children, young guineas test boundaries, too. Typically, we’re referring to cavies between the ages of 4 months to a year, the period from adolescence to adulthood. As mentioned before, this biting behavior fades naturally, usually in a short amount of time.
Unfamiliar surroundings, stressful situations.
Also, stressors like unfamiliar people or surroundings, unusual activity, and high noise levels can create a scary scene for cavies. Thus, they may try to communicate their fear with a big nibble or bite.
The urgent need to go potty.
The need for a potty pit-stop can come at any time. Sometimes, guinea pigs can feel this urgency and try to let you know they need to go. If you ignore their message, they may just give you another, clearer one – with a bigger bite.
The desire to go back home.
After a while, your pet may get tired of snuggling or playing, and may wish to return to their cage.
Not feeling well or in pain.
Whether they’re not feeling well because of sickness, a skin condition or parasites, or are in pain because of an injury, your cavy may bite you because they don’t want to be touched. In these cases, their natural reaction would be to get away, and if you insist on picking them up, they may lash out and give you a big nip. Should your pet display this behavior coupled with excessive fatigue, scratching or simply does not look well, bring them to a vet immediately for an assessment.
Some guinea pigs don’t like to be touched on their hindquarters. It can be tricky to distinguish localized sensitivity from pain, so you may need the assistance of a vet to figure out what’s going on in this case.
Petting against hair growth direction.
When petting a piggy, it’s important to follow the direction of hair growth. Going against this direction is very uncomfortable and annoying, possibly resulting in a nip.
The need to groom their human.
Did your piggy just bite you, or were they trying to groom their favorite human? During their grooming process, cavies sometimes nibble themselves or each other. To test this theory, offer the flattened palm of your hand if they’re nibbling you. The tight skin of this area proves difficult to groom, so they should stop the nibbling if grooming was their intention.
Unhappiness about habitat.
Is your guinea cage too small? Does it lack hiding spots or entertainment? If your pet isn’t happy about their habitat, it may cause them a great deal of stress. Another sign that this could be the case is excessive chewing of their cage, resulting in its destruction. Make sure the cage you have your guineas in is the ideal size – or bigger – for your pets. Also, it’s essential to provide each guinea with their own hiding spot and toys for entertainment.
Dude just has a lot of ‘tude.
Lastly, you may simply have a pet that, for lack of a better term, simply has an attitude. Truly, this is an unusual case, but it happens. Every cavy has a unique personality, but a rare few are a bit on the grumpy side – and seem to live there permanently. If you eliminate every other factor in this list and still have a pet that bites, then perhaps your dude (or dudette) just has a lot of ‘tude.
What to do if your guinea pig bites you – potential solutions for biting behavior
If you’ve ruled out health issues to be the root cause for the biting, then you may want to consider some of these potential solutions. Rest assured, it is certainly possible to eliminate biting behavior entirely, but it will require some patience on your part.
Wash your hands before picking them up.
To avoid getting nipped because you smell like something they can eat, wash your hands before picking them up, especially if you’ve been preparing or handling food. You don’t want your cavies to mistake your fingers for a delicious treat!
Pet your guineas before picking them up.
Before picking them up, pet them gently for a few minutes, so you don’t scare them inadvertently. That way they’re likely to be less stressed when you scoop them up for some cuddles.
Use a towel for a cozy feel and extra security.
It’s often a lot less stressful for them if you wrap your pet in a small towel when you pick them up. That’s because the towel acts like a security blanket, calming them down further. However, make sure the towel is loosely wrapped – you’re not making a cavy burrito!
Don’t reinforce biting behavior.
If you get a nip, don’t put your pet down immediately – this will only serve to reinforce the negative behavior, as they’ll associate biting with getting their way. Instead, consider changing your holding position to ensure their comfort and wrapping them loosely in a towel to provide them with an added sense of security, as you continue to hold them a little while longer. After a few minutes, return them to their habitat.
Provide wood structures, sticks or toys.
Guinea pigs have teeth that grow and grow and grow. They need wood to keep those teeth short and healthy, so make sure there are a few items they can gnaw on to keep them happy (and comfortable).
Get a good-sized cage.
Very often, pet stores will sell you a cage that’s too small. Make sure you purchase a cage that’s the ideal size for your number of pets – the bigger, the better. This ensures they have ample space to move and play, as well as their own separate hiding spots for when they want to sleep, be alone or hide.
Assess the location of the habitat.
Are your pets in a calm area that sees a moderate amount of action? Too much noise and commotion can be stressful, but too little can be lonely. Also, when choosing a place, make sure it’s a safe locale, away from other pets that might see them as prey, little hands that need supervision, and cold drafts or too much heat.
Do they have enough hay?
Hay is essential for proper dental, nutritional, and gut health, so provide unlimited access to it. When you give them something yummy to chew on all day long, they’re less likely to bite other things to alleviate tooth discomfort – like you or a cage mate.
Add boredom-busters to their cage.
Provide entertainment and chewable toys by adding challenging guinea-safe items throughout their habitat, like hay-filled paper towel tubes.
As you can imagine, patience is the key to overcoming biting behavior. While you won’t see a drastic change overnight, you should see improvement over a few weeks, perhaps as long as a few months.
Why would a guinea pig bite their cage mate?
Indeed, cavies are social creatures. Without at least one cage companion, they can fall into depression from lack of interaction and loneliness. However, they can get into a skirmish with their cage mate once in a while. Here are a few tips to avoid this situation:
- Before bringing them home, find out the gender of your cavies. That way you’ll know right away if you can house them together. Typically, it’s just a whole lot easier to stick to same-sex pairs. In doing so, you avoid both aggressive situations and unwanted pregnancies.
- Don’t house several females and males together. Males will compete and fight with each other for the attention of the females. This situation creates undue, near-constant aggression and a whole lot of stress.
- While two males can live together quite peacefully, they can get into a few scuffles. After moving into their new home, they’ll test each other to assert dominance. Though it may seem aggressive, it’s a natural, necessary process in the animal world. As long as they don’t go for blood, everything should calm down after a few seconds. But, if there’s too much biting going on, you’ll need to separate them until they calm down.
- Most likely, guineas that have lived together for a while will rarely argue, unless they’re unhappy about their environment or are in pain. Eliminate these possibilities by checking the physical state of your pets regularly, making sure the cage you chose is the ideal size for the number of cavies you have, keeping their habitat clean, providing hiding spots as well as entertaining toys, ample playtime outside the cage, and ensuring they have enough food, fresh water, hay, and pellets.
If these things don’t resolve the biting issue, then it’s time to consider separating your guinea pigs permanently. You can always try reintroducing them for short periods of time over the course of a few weeks. By doing so, you’ll be able to see if the biting behavior resolves itself and they can go back to living together.
Why you shouldn’t discipline or punish your guinea pig if they bite
It is crucial to understand that cavies do not have the ability to associate their biting with your discipline or punishment. Yelling, poking, pinching, tapping, and the like will only result in one thing: your pet fearing you. In turn, that will make the problem worse, not better.
Muffy, my lovable Abyssinian, has certainly nipped me a few times over the past 5 years. But, I can honestly say, there has always been a reason for it. A few times, I was able to associate her light biting to her nails, and the fact that they needed to be clipped. Muffy gets lots of floor time everyday, so I’m well-aware of her physical state. And, although I stick to a regular cage cleaning and grooming schedule, I must admit that I’m very, very hesitant with clipping her nails – and perhaps don’t clip off as much as I could when I do. Those itty, bitty paws are so small, I’m afraid I may clip off too much! So, I tend to keep them a smidgen bit longer than shorter. Well, Muffy didn’t have a problem telling me something was up, and she did so as best as she could – with a nip.
Are you listening to the message they’re trying to convey?
In the end, biting is a message they’re trying to convey to you – a method of communication. If they’re unwell or unhappy, they can indeed nip your finger. Are they being manhandled? Are they lonely? Or are they simply a young little guy who’s trying to get more information about their new surroundings?
Your pets need your protection and acceptance, so try to respect these small, vulnerable creatures and take the time to decode their encrypted message. With time and patience, you’ll surely be able to figure out what those bites were all about!