Guinea pigs are very gentle pets and if they are well cared for and happy they won’t usually bite. However, there are occasions when they may gently nip or bite.
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Why do guinea pigs bite?
Remember that if a guinea pig wants to communicate with you, the only real way they can do this is with their teeth. If they are distressed, unhappy or trying to tell you something and you ignore the signs, they may nip.
If your guinea pig does bite you, it is important you know why so you can preventing it happening again. Here are some reasons why they may bite or nip.
If they need the toilet
If you are holding a guinea pig for a few minutes, they can become fidgety. This is usually a sign that they need to pee. If you don’t do anything, they might start to lick you or they may give you a gentle nibble. This doesn’t usually hurt as it’s a bit like them giving you a light poke to say “I’ve had enough of a cuddle - put me back!”.
Bear in mind that they usually need to have a pee every 15 minutes or so. Holding them for longer may result in a nip or a wet accident!
Our male guinea pig, Mr Jaffas, will give a very gentle nip when he wants to go back in his cage. Then he’ll give a slightly firmer nibble the next time (it still doesn’t hurt) and subsequent nips will get progressively harder. When you think about it, this is a great way for them to speak to you. They are able to let you know they need something and you can respond to it.
If they are in pain
You may not always realise when your pet is experiencing pain. This is not your fault as it might not be visible or obvious. It may be they have a tummy ache or perhaps something more serious. If there appears to be no reason for them to be nipping you it is a good idea to make an appointment with the vet to see if there is some underlying cause that is distressing them.
If they have mites
They might be trying to groom themselves and in doing so bite you. If there seems to be no reason why your usually docile guinea pig has started to bite you, it could well be mites. You may not be able to see these minute creatures but if you are in any doubt then you should see your vet. Left untreated, mites can lead to seizures in guinea pigs.
If they are stressed
Guinea pigs are intelligent pets and will become bored if their housing is too small or if they don’t have enough variety in their cage to provide stimulation. This can cause stress and may result in them biting you when you take them out of the cage for a cuddle.
Do you have more than one guinea pig? If you have a single guinea pig you should seriously consider finding them another guinea pig friend. It may be that your pet is lonely which can cause them to become extremely unhappy. (Read article "Can a guinea pig live alone?")
They will also become distressed if they don’t have enough food or the right type of food which can lead to biting.
If they mistake your fingers for food
If you are hand-feeding your guinea pig, they may accidentally bite you.
They don’t mean to hurt but if the food is too close to your fingers they may not realise and chomp down on you as well as the piece of carrot or lettuce! Always make sure they can reach the food from your hands or fingers easily to avoid this happening.
Another reason why they may bite your fingers is if your hands smell of food that is attractive to them. Again, this is a case of mistaken identity as they are not meat eaters and a finger certainly isn’t a tasty meal for them! For this reason, always make sure you wash your hands before handling your guinea pigs.
If they are mis-handled
If you hurt your guinea pig, they may bite. This is totally understandable and a natural instinct for most animals. You must pick them up properly and handle them gently. Always make them feel secure and loved to avoid them getting hurt.
If you have adopted a guinea pig who has previously been handled roughly, they may be very timid and scared when they are picked up for a cuddle. This may result in a bite so make sure you allow them time to get to know you and don’t handle them for too long to begin with. You first need to gain their trust with kindess and care - something they may not be used to.
There are certain areas where your guinea pig doesn’t like to be touched. All guinea pigs are different but generally they don’t like their bottoms touched and often dislike their tummies being stroked. When grooming or stroking, always move in the direction their hair grows. This is not always easy with Abyssinians and their rosettes but they may protest if you happen to stroke them the wrong way.
Find out more on how to pick up and hold a guinea pig here...
How to train your guinea pig not to bite
If a guinea pig does happen to bite you, you should never hit or hurt them in return. Carefully and calmly put them back in their cage and try to work out why this happened so you can avoid this happening again.
Always approach your pet slowly and gently rather than rushing in or chasing them around the cage. You want them to trust you, not to be scared of you.
Do guinea pigs bite hard?
If a guinea pig wanted to hurt you by biting, they really could as they have pretty sharp teeth. However, they are placid creatures who don’t naturally show aggression unless threatened.
If they are distressed or you don’t listen to them after a couple of gentle nips, or if they think your finger is food, they can bite very hard and even draw blood.
Always make sure that if a young child is holding a guinea pig, that they are doing so properly. They should always be supervised to avoid any accidents to either the guinea pig or the child. Young children should never pick up guinea pigs but have an adult do this and place the guinea pig safely on their lap. Read more on how a young child should hold a guinea pig here...
Guinea pigs are incredibly docile and loving animals. They don’t naturally act agressively to humans unless there is something wrong. If they do continue to bite for no apparent reason, take them to the vet as their may be an underlying problem which is making them unhappy.
Always handle and treat your guinea pigs with the love and care they deserve and they will reward you with their trust.