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6 Reasons Guinea Pigs Bite, and How to Stop It

Nicole Cosgrove

June 30, 2021

If you have just purchased your first guinea pig and notice that it seems to be biting you or the objects in its cage, it’s common to have questions about why your pet is exhibiting this behavior and what you can do to stop it. Keep reading while we tackle these questioned and show you how to figure out what’s going on with your guinea pig.

Before We Start

The first thing you should know about your guinea pig is that its bite will not harm you. A bite from a guinea pig will rarely break the skin, and it’s much more of a nibble than a bite. It can be startling to have a guinea pig suddenly begin gnawing on your finger, but there is no danger, and these pets are perfectly safe for children.

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Reasons for Biting

While no one is sure why hamsters or any pets do the things they do, there are some good ideas backed up by strong evidence that we can discuss.

1. Exploration

guinea pig in the arm
Image Credit: The Escape of Malee, Shutterstock

Your guinea pig is a kind of rodent, and like all rodents, it learns more about its environment by chewing (nibbling) things. It will often nibble on any new objects you place into its cage, but not to destroy them and learn about them. It will also nibble on things to learn its way around your home, and it can use this system to learn complex paths to food, and it will remember them for several months.

How can I stop it?

You can’t stop this behavior because it’s how they adapt to their surroundings. The best thing to do is remove anything poisonous and let them do their exploring. They won’t damage anything, and once they learn their way, the nibbling will stop unless you introduce something new.


2. You smell like food

guinea pig licking human hand
Image Credit: Lipatova Maryna, Shutterstock

If your pet continuously nibbles on your fingers when you pick it up, even after it has had time to get to know you, there is a chance that you smell like food to it. Guinea pigs love fruits and vegetables, and if you have recently handled some, your pet might smell it on you and start to nibble.

How can I stop it?

The best way to prevent your guinea pig from mistaking your hands for food is to wash them before handling your pet. However, it’s important to remember that many soaps contain fragrances, like lilac, orange blossom, and others that can trick your pet into thinking your hands are food. Once you find a brand that works, stick with it to minimize surprises for you and your pet.


3. Feeling uncomfortable

Veterninary nurse holding Guinea Pig
Image credit: Mark William Penny, Shutterstock

If your guinea pig is a baby or a stranger is handling it, there is a good chance it feels uncomfortable and needs time to adjust. In the meantime, it might do some extra nibbling to learn more and to convince you to put it down.

How can I stop it?

Your guinea pig will need time to adjust. If it’s a baby or a member of the family is holding it, limit the holding time to a minute or two, but do it several times a day so the pet can become accustomed to the person in short intervals. If the person is not part of the family, it’s better to prevent them from holding it, especially if it doesn’t seem comfortable. Reducing interactions with strangers will help your pet feel safer and more at home.


4. Needs to use the bathroom

guinea pig in girl's arms
Image Credit: Evgeniy pavlovski, Shutterstock

If you often handle your pet and feel it knows who you are, it could need to use the bathroom if it suddenly starts to bite you. Your guinea pig will try to warn you it needs to use the restroom long before it relieves itself in your hands. It’s important to learn this signal so you can return them to their cage in time to prevent an accident.

How can I stop it?

It’s better to learn when your guinea pig needs to use the bathroom instead of trying to prevent it. If they stop signaling you, they may begin to relieve themselves wherever they want, and it can be hard to convert them back.


5. Fear

sad silver fox guinea pig
Image Credit: Pixabay

One of the more serious reasons your guinea pig might start to nibble on you is that it’s frightened. Since these pets are fleeing animals, they will only bite when feeling trapped or pushed into a corner.

How can I stop it?

The most common cause of this type of nibbling is because a stranger is attempting to lift the guinea pig out of the cage from one of the corners. As the strange hands are coming toward it, it tries to back away, but the cage walls block the way. Instruct the handle only to lift the animal from the center of the cage, and if it gets away, give it a few minutes to adjust before making another attempt.


6. Feeling unwell

guinea pig on neutral background
Image Credit: Svetlanistaya, Shutterstock

If you have handled your guinea pig for years and are sure that the biting you are experiencing is something new, it could be that your pet is not feeling well. Nibbling is a primary way to communicate, as we know from them telling us when they need to use the bathroom. They will also tell you if they are not feeling well.

How can I stop it?

If you suspect that poor health is the reason your guinea pig is nibbling on your hand or other surfaces, the best thing to do is to take them to the vet immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to run some tests and quickly tell you what is wrong so you can get your pet back on track to good health.

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Summary

The most likely reason your pet is nibbling is that it is simply exploring its environment and learning how to get around. If you have just placed something new in its cage or in its regular path, it will need to explore that as well. Guinea pigs will not hurt you, and you should not be afraid to let it nibble on your finger to bond with you and to let you know when it needs to use the bathroom.

We hope you have enjoyed our look into this strange behavior and what you can do to stop it. If you have learned something new, please share this guide to the six reasons that guinea pigs bite on Facebook and Twitter.

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Featured Image Credit: Dmytro Vietrov, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.