Behavior Essentials: The Guinea Pig

Key Points

  • The guinea pig is a gentle, docile, rodent.
  • Guinea pigs do not tolerate dietary or enrichment changes well.
  • Food preferences are established early in life, and a guinea pig can refuse to eat if their food type or presentation is changed. Therefore juvenile guinea pigs should be exposed to a variety of chows and vegetables in small amounts.
  • The guinea pig’s response to perceived danger is immobility or, less commonly, flight.
  • Guinea pigs are highly social, vocal animals.
  • Guinea pigs practice coprophagy.

The guinea pig is a gentle, highly social rodent, that commonly serves as a companion animal and an experimental model in North America and Europe. Food preferences are established early in life, and a guinea pig can refuse to eat if their food type or presentation is changed. For this reason, small mammal veterinarians recommend exposing juvenile guinea pigs to a variety of chows and vegetables. Guinea pigs also do not tolerate environmental changes well. When exposed to something perceived as dangerous, the response of the guinea pig is generally to freeze, or less commonly flight . . .

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2. Balsiger A, Clauss M, Liesegan GA, et al. Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) drinking preferences: do nipple drinkers compensate for behaviourally deficient diets? J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2016 Jul 23. doi: 10.1111/jpn.12549 [Epub ahead of print].

3. Bradley Bays T. 2006. Guinea pig behavior. In: Bradley Bays T, Lightfoot T, Mayer J (eds). Exotic Pet Behavior: Birds, Reptiles, and Small Animals. St Louis (MO): Saunders Elsevier; 2006: 207–238.

4. Clemons DJ, Seeman JL. The Laboratory Guinea Pig. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press Taylor & Francis; 2011.

5. Donnelly TM, Brown CJ. Guinea pig and chinchilla care and husbandry. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 7(2):351-73, 2004.

6. Dunbar ML, David EM, Aline MR, Lofgren JL. Validation of a behavioural ethogram for assessing postoperative pain in the guinea pig. J Am Assoc Lab Anim Sci 55(1):29–34, 2016.

7. Iburg T M, Arnbjerg J, Rueløkke ML. Gender differences in the anatomy of the perineal glands in guinea pigs and the effect of castration. Anatomia, Histologia, Embryologia 42(1), 65-71, 2012.

8. Kimura BK, Lefebvre MJ, Defrance SD, et al. Origin of pre-Columbian guinea pigs from Caribbean archeological sites revealed through genetic analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 5:442-452, 2016.

9. Lee KN, Pellom ST, Oliver E, Chirwa S. Characterization of the guinea pig animal model and subsequent comparison of the behavioral effects of selective dopaminergic drugs and methamphetamine. Synapse 68(5):221-233, 2014.

10. Manning PJ, Wagner JE. The Biology of the Guinea Pig. New York: Academic Press; 1976.

11. Padilla-Carlin DJ, McMurray DN, Hickey AJ. The guinea pig as a model of infectious diseases. Comparative Medicine 58(4):324–340, 2008.

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13. Weir BJ. Notes on the origin of the domestic guinea pig. Symp Zool Soc Lond 34:437-446, 1974.


Further reading

Adrian O, Sachser N. Diversity of social and mating systems in cavies:  a review. Journal of Mammalogy 92(1):39-53, 2011.

Sachser N, Künzl C, Kaiser S. The welfare of laboratory guinea pigs. In: Kaliste E (ed). The Welfare of Laboratory Animals. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer; 2007: 181-209.

Suckow M, Stevens K, Wilson R (eds). The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents. Boston, MA: Academic Press; 2012.

To cite this page:

Pollock C, Arbona N. Behavior basics: the guinea pig. Nov 7, 2017. LafeberVet Web site. Available at