Have you noticed a recent change in your guinea pig’s behavior? It could be stress. Although stress is normal, it’s important to look for signs of illness.
A guinea pig won’t die from stress itself. That being said, stress is still dangerous because it can lead to serious health concerns. It is important to pay close attention to the various signs.
There are several signs to look out for and precautions to take when you suspect a stressed-out guinea pig.
Guinea Pigs and Stress
Guinea pigs are prey animals, and because of this, they are susceptible to stress due to frequent threats. Several different things can stress out your cavy, mostly surrounding how safe your pet feels.
Also, the range of stress can be moderate to severe, depending on the stressor. For example, a slight change in diet will be less stressful than introducing a new person into the guinea pig’s life. Some stressors are relatively low and won’t cause significant health concerns, but others can cause severe health issues and infections.
The most common stressors are listed below:
- Environment change- new bedding, a new cage, or a whole new room they live in, are all stressors for a guinea pig. Guinea pigs have sensitive noses, so if the world they live in smells different, it can scare them.
- Diet change- like people, guinea pigs like certain foods more than others. Some pellets or hay brand changes they might not like can cause stress. It might be trial and error before you find foods your cavy likes, but try not to change it once you do.
- New people- if you remember when you first got your guinea pig, you might also remember the time it took for them to love you. It takes time for a guinea pig to recognize your scent and be comfortable with it. They have to separate what is dangerous and what’s safe. A new person might scare them and cause some amount of stress.
- New Guinea Pigs- although very social creatures, the initial meeting of two guinea pigs can be a stressful event for the piggies and the pet parent. To reduce stress, start slow with the two cavies getting used to each other’s scent.
- Being too lonely- on the flip side, if a cavy is too lonely, they might get stressed out as well. Guinea pigs are social animals and feel safe in a herd.
Although this list is not exhaustive, just think about what might scare a prey animal. (Things like loud noises or a cat creeping up on the pig’s cage.) It is likely that whatever would scare them or make them feel threatened would also stress them out.
Guinea Pigs Stress Symptoms
There are several ways you can tell if your guinea pig is stressed out. Thankfully, guinea pigs are very expressive creatures, so it’s easier to tell when something is wrong.
It is essential to recognize the signs of stress before they lead to illness. Stress is much more manageable than certain diseases. Stress itself won’t cause sudden death.
However, stress does cause various health concerns. When any animal is stressed, including people, they are more susceptible to diseases. Small mammals are especially at risk. These health concerns can, unfortunately, cause a cavy to pass away.
If you plan on moving, introducing a new family member (cavy or person), or anticipate any other potential stressors, be sure to prepare for them. Introduce new things, people, or environments as slowly as you can to reduce the stress level of your cavy. Another way to prevent stress is to provide plenty of hiding spots for your guinea pig.
Be aware of the following symptoms:
- Aggression- this includes biting you and other piggies
- inactivity/ hiding- guinea pigs like to hide normally, but it’s not good if they are always hiding
- Not eating/drinking- this is also a sign of illness if prolonged
- Drinking too much water
- Diarrhea- this can also be a sign of illness
- Chewing the cage
- Loss of fur/ over-grooming
- Not grooming
- Does not want to be held
Use your best judgment in determining your pet’s stress. This list does have some opposites, and you know your pet better than a list. If your cavy usually is very cuddling and suddenly doesn’t want to hang out, they could be stressed out. Any sudden behavior change, especially after introducing something new, could point to a stressed-out piggy.
Illnesses Resulting from Stress
There are several different types of illnesses as a result of stress. Stress weakens the defense of a guinea pig’s immune system and makes them more susceptible to sickness.
As a disclaimer, this list is not exhaustive, nor am I a veterinarian. This list simply summarizes a scientific paper about guinea pig illnesses. Your vet will be able to give a complete answer as to what your guinea pig may have.
- Bacterial Infections
- Chronic Dermatitis– This is when your cavy’s feet get cut or scraped, and bacteria then affect the area. Your piggy may have swollen feet, cuts and scrapes, scabs.
- Salmonella– Although more common with wild guinea pigs, this can still happen to domesticated pigs. Be sure to always give them fresh vegetables. Symptoms present are lethargy, not eating, or drinking.
- Various types of pneumonia- This is a common illness in guinea pigs, especially from stress. Your cavy may show signs of wheezing, sneezing, and nasal discharge.
- Parasitic Infections
- Parasites can cause mange and generally thrive after various stressors cause your piggy to stop grooming.
- Reproductive Complications
- Stress can cause the loss of the baby or for the mother to pass away suddenly.
- GI disorders
- These are the most common disorders because guinea pigs have a very sensitive stomach- this disorder is characterized by a change in feces, bloating, and not eating.
- These disorders are especially harmful because backed-up feces can enter the body, causing more infections throughout.
Other signs of illness could include:
- Not eating
- Not drinking water
- Loss of hair
- Increased drinking of water
- Increased urination
- Lack of urination
If you feel like your guinea pig is showing signs of illness, please see a vet immediately. Guinea pigs are sensitive creatures and need to be treated right away.
What to do if Your Cavy is Stressed Out?
If you think that your guinea pig is stressed out, it’s essential to act quickly before they get sick. Remember, it is easier to handle a stressed pig than a sick one. There are several different options you have and various steps you can take:
- Identify the stressor- if something new recently occurred, it is likely the cause of the stressor. For example, new food or a new guinea pig. Other times, it might be something more subtle, like a temperature change. If there is no apparent reason, start removing different things to see what works and what doesn’t.
- Get rid of the stressor- if possible, get rid of the stressor. Obviously, you can’t get rid of a new pig, but things like a new food or a cat approaching the cage can be removed. For other people or pigs, introduce them slowly. If the other pig is causing stress, remove the stressed guinea pig and reintroduce them later.
- Give them space- guinea pigs have mood swings and need their alone time. Once the stressor is removed, they might need to decompress from all the craziness.
- Provide plenty of space- cavies need more space than you might think. If they are too confined, it might be stressful. Make sure you provide enough room for them to run around. It is suggested to have a cage that is 7.5 square feet.
- Provide toys- toys provide a way to stimulate your pig and help them release any pent-up energy.
- Playtime – give them plenty of playtime out of cage so that they are not confined to the small space in the cage.
- Provide something to chew on- not only is this important for their health overall, but chewing is an integral part of emotional development as well.
If the guinea pig does not seem to relax or get back to normal behavior, they could be ill or begin to get sick. If they do not get back to normal soon, take them to an exotic vet as soon as you can.
Guinea pigs are sensitive to stress. They can’t die from stress directly, but it can lead to sudden death due to other illnesses. It is essential to know the signs of stress, and it is easier to handle a stressed cavy than a sick one.
Look for any behavior changes and changes in eating habits. If your pig starts to show signs of illness, such as different bathroom habits or a lack of eating, see your vet immediately.
To handle a stressed guinea pig, simply remove the stressor and give them a channel to decompress from the stress. Taking the proper steps to care for your piggy results in less stress not only for them but also for you.