Guinea pigs experience pain the same as humans. However, as prey animals, guinea pigs tend to naturally try to hide their pain to not attract attention to themselves. Many signs of pain in guinea pigs can easily go unnoticed or misinterpreted as normal behavior.
While some guinea pigs show more obvious signs than others, many will suffer silently until their illness progresses too far. Acute observation is crucial as a guinea pig owner so you can catch any health problems early and potentially save your piggy’s life.
Throughout the article below, I’ll cover all the signs you should watch out for in your guinea pig to tell when they are in pain. While some sounds can indicate distress in guinea pigs, it is more typical for guinea pigs to show their pain through nonverbal behavior.
Noises Guinea Pigs Make When In Pain
As mentioned above, most guinea pigs show their pain silently through their behavior. However, there are a couple of noises that can indicate pain in some circumstances, particularly if the pain occurs in sudden or short bursts.
Shrieking or Screaming
Not to be mistaken for wheeking or squeaking which is a happy noise, a shriek is a very short and distinguished high-pitched noise. Shrieks are typically a response to a sudden, sharp pain, not general chronic pain.
Usually, guinea pigs shriek in response to being nipped by another guinea pig, often when they both run into a small confined space together like a hidey house. They may also shriek loudly if you touch a sore spot while handling them.
If you hear a shriek from your guinea pig and there is no interaction with another guinea pig, it could be a sign of pain. Usually, you will see accompanying body language like sitting alone, hunched up, or fluffed up fur.
Whining is usually a noise that guinea pigs use to communicate to others that they are unhappy. However, if it occurs when they are not interacting with a person or another guinea pig, it could be a sign of pain.
As with the shrieking noise above, guinea pigs may whine while peeing if they are experiencing some pain. They may also whine while hiding or hunched up alone.
Signs Your Guinea Pig Is In Pain
Guinea pigs may show many different signs when they are in pain. Some guinea pigs will show them slightly differently than others, so it’s important to know your guinea pig and their usual quirks. Some of these behaviors can even be normal on their own, depending on the guinea pig.
Most guinea pigs show a couple of different pain signs, but they are often subtle. By knowing your guinea pig’s usual personality, you can detect any sudden changes from their regular routine. If something seems “off,” this is sometimes the best indication that there is a problem, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.
1. Hunched Up Posture
Guinea pigs frequently sit hunched up when they are in pain. This behavior is often accompanied by fluffed-up fur, sitting in a corner, and hiding away from the other guinea pigs.
2. Aimless Chewing
Chewing is normal for guinea pigs to file down their ever-growing teeth. Guinea pigs love to chew on wood, tree branches, twigs, hay-woven toys, and similar objects.
However, relentless or aimless chewing of regular cage objects is not normal and can indicate pain in many cases. This can include chewing of newspaper, shavings, fabric, or other regular objects in the cage. Some guinea pigs chew cage bars, but this is more often a sign of impatience or boredom than pain.
Some guinea pigs will also hide in their house and chew the sides of the hide relentlessly. Guinea pigs in pain will often chew for several minutes at a time as a way to cope with the ongoing pain. This type of chewing is quite common in the middle of the night as well.
Of course, not all chewing is pain-related, so it’s important to look for accompanying signs of pain to know for sure.
3. Fluffed Up Fur
Fluffed-up fur can be normal in some circumstances, particularly when a guinea pig is eating around other piggies. It is often a way to try to get other guinea pigs to leave them alone by appearing bigger.
However, if it occurs without food present, fluffed-up fur is a very common sign of pain. Typically when it’s pain related, you’ll see your guinea pig isolated from other guinea pigs or hunched up in a corner.
4. Sitting in the Corner
If you notice your guinea pig acting withdrawn and sitting alone in a corner, this could be a sign of pain. This behavior is often accompanied by a hunched posture or fluffed-up fur, as mentioned above.
Hanging out or sleeping in a corner can be completely normal. However, if they are not lying down or doing anything in the corner, just sitting there uncomfortably, this can mean there is something wrong.
Many guinea pigs will stop and come over to you when you approach the cage, but this doesn’t mean the behavior is normal. Most guinea pigs will hide their illness from you as long as they can. Try to observe your guinea pig from across the room so you can see how they act before you approach.
5. Pain Response to Touch
If your guinea pig flinches or even tries to nip you while you are handling or petting them, this can indicate a painful or sensitive spot on their body. Some guinea pigs may also act this way if they have mites that are itching them under the skin.
While a reaction to touch can indicate pain, some guinea pigs simply do not like being touched in a certain spot and may be more forward about telling you so. It’s good to know your guinea pig and their usual vs. abnormal behavior. If they’re usually fine with being touched in a certain spot and suddenly start reacting to it, this can mean something is wrong.
6. Hiding a Lot
Some guinea pigs hide a lot normally and this doesn’t necessarily correlate to illness. However, hiding more than usual relative to what is normal for your guinea pig can indicate stress or sickness. If your usually friendly and social guinea pig suddenly starts hiding excessively, this can be a cause for concern.
Guinea pigs in pain often spend a lot of time in one spot, either lying down or sitting hunched up. You may also notice that they do not come out to greet you as quickly as usual.
Pain can make it uncomfortable for guinea pigs to be active, so they may only move around when absolutely necessary. They may also sleep more depending on the type of pain.
8. Stumbling or Difficulty Moving
If you see your guinea pig stumble, hop, drag their legs, move in a strange manner, or appear unbalanced, this is a much more obvious sign that there is a problem and they should be checked out by a vet as soon as possible. This can be a sign of joint pain, an injury, or an issue with the nervous system.
9. Isolating Themselves From Other Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs that are ill will usually want to be alone more than usual. They may seek out spots away from their cagemates to sleep and be by themselves. You may also notice them being uncharacteristically grumpy towards their friends whenever they cross paths.
10. Teeth Grinding
Teeth grinding is similar to teeth chattering, but it is a softer, and more constant noise. You will also hear grinding normally when the guinea pig is alone, where the noise is not triggered by anything or directed at any other piggies. It’s usually accompanied by other signs of pain like isolation, chewing, lethargy, and hunched posture.
11. Shivering or Quivers
If you notice your guinea pig shivering or shaking at a time when they shouldn’t be cold, this is a cause for concern. Shivering is an unusual behavior for a guinea pig and usually means there is something wrong.
12. Biting At Themselves
Guinea pigs sometimes bite at their fur while grooming and this can be perfectly normal. However, if it happens frequently or at random times, this behavior can indicate mites or internal pain. If your guinea pig bites at random spots, this is more than likely mites, but if it occurs in the same area of their body, it could be pain-related.
You may even notice a wet spot on your guinea pig’s body where they repeatedly lick or groom one particular sensitive spot. If you notice them giving repeated attention to one spot on their body over multiple days, it can indicate a problem around that area.
13. Refusal to Eat
Guinea pigs are huge foodies by default, so a refusal to eat anything usually indicates very severe pain. Some guinea pigs will only eat their absolute favorite foods when they are in a lot of pain. Usually guinea pigs with chronic or longer-term pain will continue to eat as usual.
One of my girls stopped eating for a day when she was passing a bladder stone and this resulted in a small bout of GI stasis. As soon as the stone was out, she improved rapidly.
When guinea pigs stop eating, it is always an emergency. GI stasis causes the digestive system to shut down and stop processing food. Guinea pigs are designed to be constantly eating, so even a day without food can be dangerous for them.
Vets can give you medication to restart the guinea pig’s digestive tract and get them eating again, but it’s crucial to address the cause of the pain first and foremost.
14. Weight Loss
Chronic, long-term pain can cause guinea pigs to eat less over time. This is often hard to notice, especially if you have other guinea pigs that simply eat the leftovers. Many other conditions can cause weight loss as well in the early stages.
To catch problems before they manifest into a bigger issue, it’s a good idea to get a small pet scale and weigh your guinea pigs weekly. Keeping a record over time can help you catch any patterns and notice a gradual decline in weight.
15. Any Other Changes in Behavior
Signs of pain can vary from one guinea pig to the next, so it’s important to keep an eye out for anything unusual. You know your guinea pig’s routine and day-to-day behaviors better than anyone else, so if something seems off, trust your intuition.
Anytime your piggy starts acting out of character, it’s a good idea to monitor them more closely and take them to a vet for a checkup.
While some guinea pigs show more obvious signs or sounds that they are in pain, many symptoms are subtle. It can be very easy to discount some of these signs or misinterpret them for something else.
Anytime you have a sense that something could be wrong, it’s always a good idea to go to your vet to get them checked out. Guinea pigs show signs of pain differently than humans even though they experience it all the same.
Your vet is the best resource to determine the root cause of your guinea pig’s pain. They can also prescribe pain medication to alleviate any discomfort for your piggy. Meloxicam, also known as Metacam, is frequently prescribed to control pain in guinea pigs until the underlying cause can be addressed.