Anxiety and stress in guinea pigs: symptoms

Unfortunately, the symptoms of anxiety and stress in guinea pigs are not that easy to spot as their anxious behavior is very different from humans. The following tips will help you to avoid misunderstandings and to avoid stressful situations for your Meeris if possible.

When guinea pigs snuggle up so tightly together, it can be a symptom of stress - Shutterstock/yurilily

When guinea pigs snuggle up so tightly together, it can be a symptom of stress – Shutterstock/yurilily

Guinea pigs are prey animals in the wild and need to be constantly on the lookout for hunters and other dangers. Therefore, the rodents quickly feel fear and stress if they cannot correctly assess a situation. However, humans often misinterpret sea creatures’ fearful reactions because the signals are very subtle.

How do guinea pigs get stressed?

Guinea pigs feel most comfortable in an environment that they know, in a harmonious group with their own kind. They also need the ability to hide or flee whenever necessary. Stress in guinea pigs arises when they become frightened but do not know how to escape from the situation and get to safety. This is the case, for example, in an unfamiliar environment, such as a new enclosure.

It also becomes difficult for the rodents when the hierarchy in the group has not been clarified, when a new member joins or a conspecific leaves the guinea pig family. Sometimes there can be bullying among the animals: A little pig is denied access to the shelter or to the food. In addition, extreme temperatures, illness and pain cause stress in guinea pigs.

Typical symptoms of anxiety in guinea pigs

Most of the time, frightened guinea pigs will either flee or freeze. So-called freezing can often be observed, for example, when a Meeri is placed in an unfamiliar room or picked up, although it feels uncomfortable there. It then sits very still and doesn’t move a millimeter from the spot. However, this is not because the animal feels so comfortable that it does not want to leave. But because it sees no possibility of escape or retreat and quietly surrenders to its fate. Usually the eyes are wide open and the coat is smooth. Sometimes, however, it lets itself hang completely limp and gives up any attempt to defend itself.

If there is an option to escape or a place to hide, the pig will usually choose to do so. Sometimes the rodents switch between fleeing and freezing at short intervals. It is also possible that the animal is in a conflict, for example when it is sitting in a new enclosure and cannot decide whether it should explore the new place curiously or flee. Then it can usually be seen moving forward slowly, almost crawling, dragging its abdomen close to the ground.

Fear in guinea pigs occasionally causes the animals to snuggle up close together. This so-called stress cuddling may look cute, but it is not common for relaxed sea creatures – this leads to problems when keeping rabbits together, for example. They prefer to lie side by side without physical contact or in front of each other in visual contact. Aggression and threatening gestures in frightened pigs is rare, but it can happen. This includes snarling or attacking other dogs. Stress can also cause indigestion, loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss in guinea pigs. Sometimes chronic stress also manifests itself in frequent scratching, severe scaling and an increased susceptibility to diseases and parasites such as mites. Stressed rodents occasionally make themselves known through chirping, chirping noises.

Guinea pigs often take a long time to adjust to being petted and picked up - Shutterstock / Ocskay Mark
  • Animal

  • animals and people

06/20/2016 – 11:12 am

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Summary: Watch out for these stress symptoms

● Freezing (“Frightness”)
● Wide-eyed
● Tight fur
● Flabby body
● Escape / Hide
● “Stress cuddling” with conspecifics or humans
● Digestive disorders such as diarrhea
● Loss of appetite and weight loss
● Severe itching without a physical cause
● Increased susceptibility to infection
● Chirping and chirping
● Snarling and aggression

So you can save your guinea pig stress

Try to introduce your guinea pig to new situations gently and slowly. For example, how you can introduce a new member to a group can be found in our guide “Socialize guinea pigs: How it works”. The animals also have to be introduced carefully and in small steps to a new enclosure and to being picked up.

If you notice that your Meeri is getting scared, carefully remove it from the situation. In addition, a sufficiently large enclosure with plenty of protective houses, shelters, accessories and employment opportunities as well as a harmonious group are the best prerequisites for avoiding stress in guinea pigs.

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