Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guinea Pig Pain

Writing about a sick guinea pig isn't fun.  I am sure it's not uplifting reading, either, but I hope this is informative.

A somewhat puffy Pinni
It has been said, again and again, that guinea pigs are masters at hiding illnesses.  They can be stoic little creatures when they want to be.  Pain and illness can show up in some odd ways; not all of them are obvious.

First, there is the classic puffy-corner-sitting.  This behavior is the easiest to observe and understand.  I've seen this with Victoria, Willow, Bertie and Pinniped.  They'll huddle into a corner of their cage, nose pressed into the corner, curled into a ball and fur puff out.  It would be cute, if they didn't look so darned miserable doing it.  Willow and Bertie did this in the open and in cozies and cuddle cups, too.  My pigs gravitated towards any spot that they felt somewhat removed from everything else around them.

Bertie was constantly at the water bottle
Another fairly straightforward pain indicator is a sudden increase of drinking water.  This may indicate something else wrong - constant thirst can be it's own symptom apart from pain.  Willow and Victoria would focus on their water bottle when they didn't feel well.  Some pigs will truly drink the water, others just let it dribble.  Their fascination with the water bottle diminished when they started to feel better.

Willow was Queen Beggar when she didn't feel well
One of the counterintuitive pain symptoms from a sick guinea pig is constant begging.  I first encountered this with Willow.  She would wheek to get attention, then not be satisfied with anything we gave her.  Some pigs may eat some of the food they receive, but then immediately wheek for more.  Willow was a very noodgy pig when she wasn't feeling well.  Sometimes that was the only symptom she displayed; she otherwise ran around the cage and acted normal.  (A decrease in her weight was often the only other obvious indicator something was wrong.)  I've noticed that Pinniped is always looking for attention, too, when she's feeling her worst.

The last pain symptom I've seen many times is a willful destruction of the cage and it's contents.  Victoria's favorite victim was her cuddle cup.  Willow went for the bars of the cage and the fleece bedding.  Pinniped's favorite is coroplast, with cardboard and cotton fabric as secondary targets.  I know Pinni is really uncomfortable when she pulls apart the fleece bedding to get to the coroplast underneath.  It's amazing how focused she can be.

Victoria focused her pain at the cuddle cup
(additional holes by Bertie)
A guinea pig that is in pain or otherwise not feeling well may exhibit any (or all) of these behaviors.  Sometimes it is clear that they're sick.  But occasionally a guinea pig may appear in good spirits, eating and acting like their typical self, except for one of these activities.  Combined with a measurable weight loss - it's very likely the guinea pig is sick, even if it otherwise seems hale and healthy.


  1. It is sad to hear about Pinni, but thank you for your diligence in keeping and sharing these observations for all curious n concerned guinea pig owners. I sincerely hope Pinni will be up 100g soon. Get well Pinni!

  2. I've seen all of these behaviors too, particularly the last one. Peaches' preferred method of demonstrating frustration at being unable to eat involves pawing the air and stomping angrily on vegetables.

  3. Did you need to bring them to the vet or could you tell they were ok just a little off? Hope all your little ones are doing good these days! ~ Sherri H

    1. Most of these cases, we were treating an ongoing illness, such as stones or tumors. We knew it could be painful and adjusted their pain meds as their vet instructed. In some cases, it indicated a new illness, at which point we hauled them to our vet.

      Generally speaking, if your guinea pig is suddenly showing any of these signs, it indicates they're in acute pain. You should bring them to the vet ASAP.

  4. Hey, I just want to add a few things as a long-time piggie owner and animal behaviorist (not a vet!). Puffing, change in water intake, begging, and chewing/destructing can all also be absolutely normal guinea pig behaviors.

    1. Pigs puff when they're a little chilly, when they're exhibiting dominance language, and sometimes when they're enjoying a good meal.
    2. Just like people, pigs will drink more when it's hot out and as they get bigger (and pigs grow constantly!). Also, just like us, they need more fluids if they're recovering from something. So yes, while it may indicate that your piggie is trying to intake more fluids to feel better, it doesn't have to mean they're in pain. It's a far bigger issue if your pig is drinking LESS water.
    3. Who's never had a pig who hasn't begged constantly and then been like, "um actually mom I'm not really feeling spinach today"?
    4. Destructive behaviors, as well as dominance behaviors, can increase under a lot of different circumstances. Cage changes, new humans/pets, new enrichment - pigs won't lose any time making sure they reestablish the status quo.

    These are are some scenarios in which these behaviors may NOT indicate pain. As an owner it was a little alarming to see these relatively normal behaviors labeled as reasons to take your pet to vet. I think your blog is full of great resources, but if your readers are looking for some good indicators for pain I would encourage them to visit Guinea Lynx @ . This information more closely mirrors the kind of thing your vet is going to tell you.

    I also want to add that ONLY YOU know your piggie's baseline and abnormal behaviors and if you think it's time to go to the vet then it probably is. As Sally indicated, weight loss combined with really any other symptoms is a bad sign. These may be very helpful indicators for Sally to tell when her pigs are uncomfortable, but they may not necessarily work for you. Just keep an eye on them, do body checks and weigh them every week and trust your gut and the cumulative research you do. Again though - not a vet. Keep up the good work Sally.

    - Bryn Kelley


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