Are guinea pigs nocturnal? Have you ever watched your guinea pig and wondered when they sleep? Most guinea pigs seem awake and alert all day. However their owners hear them moving and chewing in the night as well. This “always active” behaviour can often confuse guinea pig owners into thinking that their Guinea pigs never sleep!
Some guinea pigs seem to move around mostly at night which can also make their owners wonder if they are nocturnal like their rodent cousins hamsters and rats.
Guinea pigs are not nocturnal and also don’t sleep for long periods like us humans. They can be active for up to twenty hours a day, leaving them just four hours to sleep.
Guinea pigs love to nap! They nap standing up, sitting down, lying down, in their hay, eating… They have active and restful periods similar to cats.
Wild guinea pigs needed to be alert and responsive purely for survival. Guinea pigs are prey animals and so are always alert and ready to run if needed. This instinct remains in our domesticated friends which may explain their unaltered sleep patterns.
Some guinea pigs do alert their sleep schedule slightly for humans but this is usually if the house is extremely noisy and active during the day. The guinea pig will have to take its sleep at night when it feels it is safe to do so.
If you have never seen your guinea pig sleeping then take some time to think again. Guinea pigs usually sleep with their eyes open and can be standing up. If you think your piggie has been standing in the same spot for a while, chances are they are probably having a nap!
They really only do this when they go into the REM stage of sleep.
However, since the animals really only need about one hour of REM sleep, you can expect your guinea pig to only rest for a little over one to two hours, at most, at one time.
Guinea pig sleep stages
Guinea pigs do not enter the same full sleep stages as humans. In fact they only enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
REM is the most important sleep stage for all small animals since it is when the body is able to heal and fully restore itself.
Guinea pigs fall into REM as soon as they nod off to sleep and only require one hour of sleep in a twenty four hour period!
The reason they need such little sleep could be linked to the fact that they are so well developed from birth. From birth a baby guinea pig is able to eat solid food and is born with claws, teeth, fur and open eyes. It only takes then one hour from birth to start walking too!
Other animals that only require one hour of REM sleep are sheep and giraffes. Research is still ongoing into why guinea pigs require such little sleep.
Eyes wide open
Guinea pigs are able to sleep with their eyes fully open! This is one of the reasons owners often think their little piggie could be nocturnal. Us human always assumes that creatures require their eyes closed in order to sleep but guinea pigs prove this simply isn’t the case.
Guinea pigs actually rarely close their eyes at all this is thanks to their survival instincts. Having their eyes open means they are always alert and ready to run for cover if danger appears.
There are rare occasions when guinea pigs have been known to close their eyes. This is a rare display and symbolises total and complete trust from your Guinea pig to you.
We have been lucky enough that all our guinea pigs have closed their eyes whilst sleeping. Currently Chocolate (our long-haired piggy) hasn’t napped with her eyes open since she was ten weeks old! Orange (our short hair) is less trusting and only closes her eyes occasionally.
Remember every guinea pig is different. If your guinea pig never sleeps with its eyes closed, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happy or means that you are doing something wrong.
A tray filled with hay, a comfy fleece and a tunnel, or Fluffy plush bed all help encourage your guinea pigs to get comfortable and nap. A guinea pigs tummy is very sensitive and so they are very careful what surfaces touch it. If your guinea pig in on a hard, cold surface chances are they will never lie down.
Guinea pigs also like to rest their heads either on the floor or on their front paws to get cosy and warm. Some burrow into their bedding and lie on their sides.
Don’t assume lying down is a part of natural guinea pig behaviour. It can unfortunately be a sign that something is very well. If your guinea pig is lying down for several hours during the day and night its time to take action.
Firstly start by opening the hutch or cage and keeping your hand as still as possible hold a treat and bring it toward them. A healthy piggie couldn’t resist a hand-fed treat and will snap it up. If your guinea pig fails to do this it is a sign that your guinea pig is ill.
Viral infections such as cold and cough are uncommon in guinea pigs however bacterial, fungal and parasitic conditions can be fatal.
If your guinea pig is presenting cold-like symptoms, medical attention is required immediately since it could a respiratory infection such as pneumonia (which is most common in winter)
Be aware of any other symptoms such as lethargy, depression and loss of appetite.
A regular health check should be carried out on your guinea pig often and is really easy to do. We complete a quick health check every time we handled them.
Eat, sleep, be happy, repeat!
Guinea pigs are fascinating creatures as well as being great companions. Now you know that guinea pigs are not nocturnal. Its amazing to know how little their sleep and yet how energetic they can be! The next time you spot your guinea pig standing still, staring off into space – they could be napping.