Guinea pigs are excellent pets for those who do not have the space for larger animals. However, these small mammals have some lesser-known habits that can gross out prospective owners. If you’ve heard rumors that guinea pigs eat poop, for instance, you might be wondering whether this is true.
Guinea pigs do eat their own poop in a behavior called coprophagy. This is due to the structure of their digestive tract in which more than one pass is required to fully digest their food. This type of digestion is common in herbivores, especially small ones with limited digestive tract lengths.
Because this is a natural behavior, it can be a cause of concern, or even life-threatening when guinea pigs are not properly performing coprophagy. To learn more about the process, what is typical behavior, and when to consult a veterinarian keep reading.
Reasons Why Guinea Pigs Eat Their Own Poop
Guinea pigs are herbivores, eating primarily grass and hay. Grasses are very fibrous and difficult to digest, meaning that guinea pigs have had to evolve a strategy to successfully process this food. Some herbivores, such as cows, utilize rumination to digest grass. However, guinea pigs use a different strategy called coprophagy. Coprophagy is the practice of eating feces.
While it may seem gross to us, this behavior is a necessary part of their digestive process. The first time material has passed through their digestive tract, there are still many nutrients inside. Additionally, the animal risks losing the gut bacteria still present in the food, which can lead to gut problems over time. To prevent this, they then eat it again to give it another pass, allowing for more complete digestion.
As a result of this two-pass system, guinea pigs produce two types of poops:
Extrecta is poop that will not be eaten and is dark in color. Cecotropes are those that need to be digested again (often green or yellowish).
Is It Healthy for Guinea Pigs to Eat Poop?
Not only is it healthy for guinea pigs to eat their own poop, but it is also necessary. Preventing your guinea pig from eating its cecotropes can result in serious illness and nutrient deficiencies.
Can A Guinea Pig Get Sick from Eating Their Poop?
While coprophagy is natural in guinea pigs, it is important to note that eating the feces of other animals or contaminated feces can lead to illness and disease. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your guinea pig has access to clean and fresh food and water and that their living environment is kept clean and hygienic to prevent the spread of disease.
Will My Guinea Pigs Eat Each Other’s Poop?
It is not unheard of for guinea pigs to consume each other’s c-poops. In the wild, guinea pigs live in groups and engage in social grooming. During grooming, they may consume feces produced by their companions, which helps maintain cleanliness within the group. This behavior can carry over to pet guinea pigs, especially if they live in groups of three or more.
While this behavior is gross, it is natural and not a sign of illness. If you are concerned that one guinea may be unable to eat sufficient cecotropes for their health, you can separate them temporarily.
How Often Does a Healthy Guinea Pig Eat Poop?
Guinea pigs eat large quantities of food and poop often, meaning that they may consume c-poop as many as 150 times per day. During this behavior, you will often see the animal curling inwards on itself.
However, there is no hard and fast rule for typical coprophagy frequency. The frequency of poop eating is a characteristic unique to each guinea pig and driven by instincts.
Some conditions, such as heat in female guinea pigs can increase the instincts that drive coprophagy. The result is a guinea pig that eats their poop more frequently. This typically passes in a couple of days and is not a cause for concern.
What Does It Mean When Guinea Pigs Don’t Eat Their Poop?
If a guinea pig is not eating their own poop, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue or a lack of fiber in their diet. Common issues that result in a guinea pig no longer consuming cecotropes include:
- Loss of muscle tone around the anus (most common in elderly animals)
- Lack of fiber
If the guinea pig otherwise seems healthy, you might also consider that you are observing them not eating excreta, which is normal, and they are eating sufficient cecotropes while you are not paying attention.
What To Do If Your Guinea Pig Doesn’t Eat Cecotropes
The amount of coprophagy varies between individual guinea pigs, but it should be consistent over time. It is important to monitor your guinea pig’s diet and eating habits and consult with a veterinarian if you notice any changes or concerns.
For new animals, or as a solution while waiting for test results, you can try moving your guinea pig’s cage to a quieter place. Sometimes guinea pigs can become stressed or distracted by:
- other nearby animals
This causes them to discard cecotropes they would otherwise be eating.
Guinea pigs engage in a behavior called coprophagy, which refers to the consumption of their own feces. While it may seem unusual, there are several reasons why guinea pigs exhibit this behavior. The primary reasons are to absorb further nutrients from incompletely digested food or to reclaim beneficial gut bacteria that may otherwise be lost.
If you have concerns about your guinea pig’s health or behavior, it is always recommended to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in small mammals for professional advice.