Do Guinea Pigs Bite? Everything to Know About Guinea Pig & Human Interaction

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: September 20, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Partsey Galyna
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Key Points

  • The short answer is yes, guinea pigs can bite. They generally only do so if frightened or threatened but they can certainly bite.
  • Guinea pigs often mouth at things they are exploring, but this should not be confused with biting. If a guinea pig does bite, you’ll know it!
  • Guinea pigs only bite to defend themselves. If you do get bitten, think about what happened to scare the animal into feeling like it had to defend itself. Back off, slow down and use positive reinforcement to gain you guinea pig’s trust.

Guinea pigs make wonderful pets, but it is important to treat them with care. Their small size means that gentle handling is necessary to avoid scaring them or even injuring them. Guinea pigs are generally good-natured, and will not bite unless they feel they have no other option.

Before assuming that a guinea pig is trying to bite, it is important to understand how they explore the world. Much like babies, guinea pigs use their mouths to explore their surroundings. If you are nervous, you may assume the guinea pig is preparing to bite, but this mouthing behavior is normal and harmless.

Do Guinea Pigs Bite?

Yes, guinea pigs can bite. They don’t bite often and they don’t bite without a reason, but it is important to know that these fluffy creatures can bite.

The most common reasons for guinea pigs to bite are because they feel frightened, threatened, or bullied. They will also bite if handled in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Finally, a guinea pig that isn’t feeling well may bite as a signal that it wants to be left alone.

Do Guinea Pigs Bite
Three guinea pigs grazing in the garden. A guinea pig may bite when feeling threatened.

Weiming Xie/Shutterstock.com

Reasons Why Guinea Pig Bites

There are a few different reasons why a guinea pig may bite. The most common reason is due to fear. A guinea pig who feels cornered or frightened may attempt to defend itself by biting.

Another reason that a guinea pig may bite is when defending its space. The home where your guinea pig lives, his food dish, and his other possessions make up his world. Sticking your hand in the enclosure to grab a dish or clean may cause an aggressive reaction.

Just like humans and other animals, each guinea pig is an individual. There is no one right answer for how tolerant a guinea pig will be when frightened or startled. When handling a guinea pig you are unfamiliar with, it is important to pay attention to cues from the animal to recognize whether or not he is comfortable with your level of human interaction.

If a guinea pig shows any signs of fear or stress when you reach into its cage, you should take it as a sign that you are rushing your interactions with him. Slow down, back off, and offer treats to reward any sign of relaxation. The easiest way to gain trust and train a guinea pig is to ignore behaviors you do not want and reward those that you do. This is called positive reinforcement as you are reinforcing good behavior with a positive reward. Remember that guinea pigs are small and the world is big. They will need time and patience to learn to trust you.

Signs of Nervousness or Fear in Guinea Pigs

There are a few warning signs that indicate a guinea pig is uncomfortable. Noticing these signs and putting a stop to whatever situation is creating anxiety for the animal will help him calm down and, over time, help him become less fearful.

When a guinea pig is frightened they often open their eyes extra wide. If you can see the whites of your pet’s eyes around the colored area, that is an indication he is frightened. Another easy to recognize sign the guinea pig is frightened is if he begins squeaking an excessive amount. Once you become accustomed to the normal noises your pet makes, you will easily notice if he is more vocal than usual.

Other signs your pet is frightened are shivering and grinding his teeth. These mannerisms are a little more difficult to notice, but if you have reason to believe your pet is nervous, take a second to notice his body language before continuing with what you are doing.

What To Do If You Are Bitten By a Guinea Pig

By paying attention to your pet’s body language, you should be able to avoid a bite from your guinea pig. These good-natured creatures do not have a tendency to bite, and typically only do so when they feel they have no other option.

If you are bitten by a guinea pig, there are a few things you should do right away. The first is to control the impulse to overreact. If you are holding your guinea pig, gently return him to his enclosure. Dropping him may lead to injury, and smacking, screaming, or otherwise punishing him will only lead to additional fearful behavior.

Once you return him to his enclosure, treat the wound. Wash the bite thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Wash the wound thoroughly, lathering up and washing for five minutes. Rough scrubbing is unnecessary and can cause further damage. Pat the wound dry and keep it covered with a sterile bandage.

While most bites heal quickly on their own, look for signs of infection such as redness around the wound, oozing from the bite, pain that increases rather than decreases, or a fever. If you have any concerns that the wound is infected, seek medical attention immediately.

Do Guinea Pigs Bite
Guinea pig mother and baby. A guinea pig may bite to protect her baby.

iStock.com/Pascale Gueret

How To Stop a Guinea Pig From Biting

If you have a guinea pig that has a tendency to bite, there are a few things you can do to help break this bad habit. The first is to always be patient. Your pet will pick up on frustrations and his heightened anxiety will make it much more likely that he will bite.

Choose a time when you are relaxed and not rushed to work with your pet. Patience is your best tool in training your guinea pig not to bite. Always be gentle when handling your pet. If he is worried that you will scoop him up roughly, he is more likely to bite. Instead, spend time sitting alongside his enclosure, letting him know you are there. When he is calm, use both hands to gently scoop him up, approaching his body from the side rather than from directly overhead. This lets him know you are there and will prevent him from being startled.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to build a bond with your pet by sticking your fingers in his enclosure. While this may seem non-threatening, it often results in having your fingers nipped. Instead, use your hand to pet your guinea.

If your guinea runs off when you try to pick him up, be patient. Don’t corner him in his enclosure. Feeling cornered or trapped is one of the main reasons guinea pigs bite.

Encouraging Positive Guinea Pig and Human Interaction

The best way to prevent guinea pig bites is to encourage positive guinea pigs and human interaction. Spend time with your guinea pig every day. Take time to talk to him and reward him with a treat for coming up to you in the enclosure. Gradually increase the amount of time you hold him outside the enclosure. He can get cranky or even sore when held for extended periods.

One of the most important responsibilities you have as a pet owner is to protect your guinea pig from injury or frightening situations. This means keeping him safe from other pets and friends and family members.

No matter how much he trusts you, if someone else handles him roughly or allows him to be frightened, it can take a long time to rebuild the relationship. If others want to hold or pet your guinea pig, make sure they know how to do so safely and supervise the visits.

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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

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