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Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies? (The Surprising Truth)

Tim Rhodes
Written by Tim Rhodes Last Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Guinea pigs are docile small animals. They are cheerful and love to run around, squeak, eat, play, and poop. That’s what they do while also making your life a much brighter place. Yet, sometimes, guinea pigs can eat their babies. Why would a pet guinea pig eat its own babies?

Female guinea pigs don’t intentionally eat their babies nor do they kill them to eat them. The mother may eat her babies if one or more of her litter dies, or she is under a lot of stress. A male guinea pig might seriously injure his babies because he is territorial and feels intimidated.

Many people believe that male guinea pigs eat their babies as well. However, male guinea pigs shouldn’t eat their young at all because guinea pigs are herbivores. If that happens in captivity, that’s extremely rare. And, when it happens, it is usually an accident, not a rule, and intentional behavior.

Guinea pig cannibalism may occur in extreme cases of starvation. An adult guinea pig will never deliberately harm or eat a newborn guinea pig.

Let’s explain why guinea pigs may eat their babies.

Guinea pigs weigh between 700 and 1200g. A fully grown guinea pig is between 20 and 25 cm long. The average lifespan of the guinea pig is four or five years, but it can live much longer. As herbivores, they don’t eat meat at all. Guinea pig’s diet rests on grasses, herbs, hay, and raw fruits and vegetables. 

It’s important to remember that guinea pigs are prey animals and they can get intimidated very easily. Any sudden movement or noise can scare them. In captivity, they cannot run away, which increases the stress.

When the pregnant guinea pig is about to give birth, the male guinea pig must be separated from her because, within 12 hours after giving birth, she can become pregnant again. This is extremely taxing on the body of the female guinea pig and dangerous to her.

One baby guinea pig burrowed in hay

Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies And Why?

Guinea pigs eat their babies not because they want to kill them for food but for other reasons. 

The Behavior of Guinea Pigs

  • Guinea pigs are intelligent; they can easily learn a specific path and remember it for a long time. The strategy which guinea pigs use is known as motion.
  • Guinea pigs can jump over obstacles but these obstacles should be small.
  • When they recognize they are in danger, guinea pigs stand in one place for a long time then suddenly run very fast with a darting movement. This way they can easily confuse their predator and a group of guinea pigs doing this is known as a “stampede.”
  • Most guinea pigs show surprise and happiness by running fast. When guinea pigs are happy, they hop, similarly to a ferret’s war dance.
  • Guinea pigs are also good swimmers.
  • Like other rodents, guinea pigs are self-groomed.
  • A particular substance comes from the eyes of a guinea pig; they rub it on their hair when they are grooming.
  • In the group, guinea pigs chew each other’s hair based on hierarchy. At this time, they appear very social.
  • Compared to humans, the eyesight of guinea pigs is not good; they cannot recognize distance and colors. However, guinea pigs have a wide angle of vision of about 340°. Guinea pigs have dichromatic vision. Nonetheless, their sense of hearing and smell is very good.

What Are Common Health Problems in Guinea Pigs?

  • Common diseases in domestic guinea pigs include respiratory infections, diarrhea, itching, and boils due to infection (often the neck, throat, or external scratches).
  • Mange worms (Trichocross cavia) are a common cause of hair loss, and other symptoms may include excessive scratching, abnormal aggression when being touched, and, in some cases, seizures.
  • Guinea pigs can suffer from “running lice”, a small, white worm that can be seen roaming in the hair. Eggs that appear as black or white spots are sometimes called “static lice”.
  • Other causes of hair loss due to underlying medical conditions such as ovarian cysts may occur as a result of hormonal distress.
  • Foreign bodies in the eye of a guinea pig result in tearing, and corneal ulcers, which, in some cases, form a translucent film over the eyes.
  • Although guinea pigs occasionally sneeze, frequent sneezing is a sign of pneumonia, especially in response to climate change.
  • Pneumonia can occur with torticollis and can be fatal.
  • The body temperature of a guinea pig is between 101–104 F (38–40 C), so its ideal ambient air temperature is similar to that of humans, approximately 65–75 F (18–24 C).
  • Genetic abnormalities have been reported in guinea pigs, similar to those found in other breeds of animals (such as hip dysplasia in dogs).
  • In general, the color of Abyssinian guinea pigs is associated with congenital eye defects and digestive problems.
  • Other genetic diseases include “vaulting disease”, stroke, and seizures.

Four guinea pig babies of different colors

Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies?

Yes, guinea pigs eat their babies albeit very rarely, mostly by accident.

When female guinea pigs eat their babies, they can do so because they are excessively hungry and because they are under a lot of stress that they cannot handle. Also, after delivery, the mother guinea pig can eat babies accidentally, while eating the placenta.

Sufficient nutrition, a mixture of alfalfa and timothy grass, keeps female guinea pigs hydrated and can prevent guinea pigs from eating their babies.

On the other hand, a male guinea pig eats guinea pig babies when they recognize that the babies are not theirs, also because they are intimidated and territorial.

Why do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies?

Pet owners know that keeping a guinea pig as a pet is a wonderful experience. However, new guinea pig owners should be prepared for a long-term commitment.

Most people find guinea pig babies sweet and beautiful. They have small bodies and big eyes.

It’s natural for you and me to humanize the behavior of animals. We try to conform to the same standards and expectations when it comes to animal interactions and instincts. This can be very misleading – especially when it comes to motherhood as many animals eat their offspring in certain circumstances.

For instance, most rats eat their babies. Hamsters and rats are famous for such practice. A female guinea pig usually won’t eat a baby guinea pig deliberately.

The same goes for males. A male guinea pig eats the babies only by a strange occurrence. Male guinea pigs are more likely to harm their babies but they shouldn’t eat them. If that happens in captivity, it’s a rare exception.

Besides, always separate baby guinea pigs from male guinea pigs. Yet, the mother guinea pig will take care of them during the first few weeks, so don’t separate them from her.

Every baby guinea pig needs its mother’s milk, which provides enough nutrition during the first crucial days of their lives.

These small pets need a lot of food and nutrition. Baby guinea pigs feed on their mother’s milk but soon they will need lots of alfalfa hay that’s rich in calcium. Calcium is very important for baby piggies as they are growing and developing. 

However, too much calcium is dangerous for an adult guinea pig. Adult guinea pigs eat timothy hay, orchard hay, or any other hay that’s high in fiber. Make sure to feed your guinea pig hay of high quality. They need it in unlimited amounts, as it helps them keep their teeth trimmed and ensures the proper functioning of their sensitive digestive system.

Besides, guinea pigs should eat about 1/8 of pellets, and about a cup of a mixture of herbs, vegetables, and fruits, but all in moderate amounts.

A pregnant guinea pig requires a lot of extra nutrition. Pregnant and lactating guinea pigs also need alfalfa hay to sustain their babies. The sow eating her pups may be starving.

If she is pregnant, her chances of suffering from some illness will also increase, which will tempt her to eat a lot.

There are several major ideas about why would a guinea pig eat the babies:

  1. Guinea pigs may be Darwinian in their process toward motherhood, meaning only strong individuals can survive and reproduce more
  2. To prevent the attraction of carnivores
  3. If the baby is stillborn
  4. To eliminate competition, guinea pigs are reluctant to share their enclave, especially when other male guinea pigs are around. This may confirm why male guinea pigs eat baby guinea pigs
  5. Guinea pigs are stressed out during placenta feeding and may eat the babies thinking it’s the postpartum part
  6. They lack food and energy after their babies are born

A litter of three baby guinea pigs in hay

How Can I Prevent Guinea Pigs From Eating Their Babies?

When they are small and weak, it’s much easier to keep baby guinea pigs away from male guinea pigs. If you have an affectionate male guinea pig, you can introduce the babies when they are in the same cage. However, don’t keep them in the same cage for long. And make sure that the guinea pig mother is not present.

When you decide to introduce baby guinea pigs to an adult guinea pig, follow their behavior (monitor them for aggression) and respond quickly.

How To Prevent a New Mother from Eating Her Babies?

The best thing you can do is provide adequate and proper nutrition to the new guinea pig mother. Provide a pregnant guinea pig with extra food, water, and nutrients.

While carrying babies, the guinea pig mother needs extra energy. She needs more food and more nutrients to prepare her for the process of giving birth and nursing her babies.

Giving birth is very stressful for guinea pigs and the mortality rate of pregnant guinea pigs is quite high due to complications that occur during the delivery process.

Your pregnant and lactating guinea pigs should have access to alfalfa hay in the last weeks of their pregnancy. Also, they should have unlimited amounts of timothy hay and water all the time.

Give her enough food as she needs nourishment, so never have her food bowl empty. When properly fed, you don’t have to worry that she will eat her babies.

To avoid the risk of your guinea pig, eating her babies, take these safety steps.

Watch after your guinea pig while she gives birth. She is more likely to eat her babies as she can confuse the placenta and the babies. Increase the protein content in your pregnant guinea pig’s diet. Make sure she always has enough food. This way, your guinea pig will not feel the need for extra nutrition.

Show some tender feelings towards your guinea pig. Explain to them that they have not been replaced or that their babies have replaced your guinea pig. They will understand.

This should reduce their spatial and jealous tendency.

Your guinea pig will be frustrated if their youngsters are upset or stressed.

Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies if You Touch Them?

hands holding a baby guinea pigYour guinea pig won’t eat its babies if you touch them. That is a common myth and is not true.

You cannot do any harm by touching your adult guinea pig or its babies.

However, you shouldn’t touch the babies right after they are born. At those moments, the guinea pig mother can be very protective and you can be mistaken for a potential predator. Giving birth is very stressful for the guinea pig mother and the babies

How to Care For Baby Guinea Pigs?

We’ve already covered the reproductive cycle of guinea pigs and pregnancy and how to tell if a guinea pig is pregnant, so you can learn much more about these topics in our articles.

In this article, we will focus on some important aspects of caring for guinea pig babies.

Female guinea pigs take care of the hardest part as much as possible.

Unlike many other animals in the animal kingdom, guinea pigs are not self-sufficient. They need to stay with their mother guinea pigs and suck their milk, but they will quickly become active.

Don’t separate them from their mother too soon.

However, separate male guinea pig babies from their mothers when they turn about two months old.

The reason is that male guinea pigs mature sexually very soon and can impregnate their mother as young as 2-3 months of age or even earlier. On the other hand, female guinea pigs mature sexually at 2 months of age, so make sure to keep them separated from their brothers and father.

Guinea pigs are peaceful creatures. If you look after the guinea pig mother regularly, she will allow you to touch her baby guinea pigs. The earlier and more regularly you handle them, the more likely they are to accept you.

The next thing you need to take care of is that make sure that their cages are heavy, comfortable, and not escapable. Baby guinea pigs are much smaller than their parents, so they can escape from the cage. So as long as the enclosure is secure and the bars are tight, you should be fine.

A cage with a deep pan will make it more difficult for your guinea pigs to escape, but it’s not necessary. You have to remember that these babies are coming out of the womb ready to run around the cage and have fun very quickly.

Babies grow fast. They reach their adult size very quickly.

So, consider getting a cage large enough for them to play around. The advantage of choosing the Midwest Habitat Plus is that it offers up to 8 square feet of space, it’s very affordable, and you can transfer your male guinea pig to a different section early.

It’s better to have a cage that is much larger than a cage that is too small.

Can a Guinea Pig Baby Live Without the Mother?

To most people, guinea pigs are cute pets, and having just one will suffice.

However, we always recommend having more than one guinea pig because these small animals are social creatures and they need company.

Other guinea pig owners would like to breed their piggies. A female needs to give birth for the first time before the age of 7 months. Guinea pigs make the best mothers and give puppies the best chance of survival.

Guinea pig babies can walk, see, and hear, as soon as they are born, and most start nibbling on solid foods within a few days. However, they will continue to feed on their mother’s milk as well.

If a guinea pig mother cannot nurse her babies due to illness or death, keep the orphans with as many pet guinea pigs as possible. Keep in mind that guinea pigs are not the best choice to raise other female guinea pigs’ babies.

Raising an orphaned guinea pig is not very difficult because mothers feed guinea pig pups only a few times per day and then leave them alone.

Orphans should be fed by an eyedropper or pet nurse within the first 12 to 24 hours of life.

Feed the guinea pig pups for the first 5 days around the clock every 4 to 5 hours. Over the next 2 weeks, decrease the feeding time gradually.

Give the orphaned puppy the same amount of water and evaporated guinea pig milk. Soak guinea pig pellets in water from the first day of life. Continue to give milk to puppies for 21 days even when they start eating solid food.

Baby guinea pig with blue eyes on white background

Why Do Guinea Pigs Sometimes Kill Their Young?

Guinea pigs and other rodents do not eat their babies because they are hungry. They are not cannibalistic because they are starving. 

Almost the only reason why a female guinea pig can kill her babies is that she is so stressed that her mind cannot handle the strain.

This is why you should do everything in your power to make your female piggy feel at ease. Keeping the father around is a very bad idea and adds to the stress of the female guinea pig about to deliver her litter.

Do everything you can to fulfill the wants and needs of the pregnant female, to make her feel safe and comfortable.

You need to make the entire environment guinea pig-friendly. Make sure there’s always enough food in your pregnant guinea pig’s bowl. Once the baby guinea pigs turn 3 to 4 weeks, separate them from their mother, especially male guinea pigs

Final Thoughts

Guinea pig pregnancies are dangerous and the mortality rate is high both among guinea pig mothers and babies.

Guinea pigs eating babies is a rare but possible occurrence. A mother guinea pig can eat her babies if one of the babies is born dead. Also, female guinea pigs eat their young if they are overstressed and afraid because they cannot handle the situation.

Equally, male guinea pigs shouldn’t eat their babies because they don’t eat meat. However, they can seriously injure them when they recognize that the babies are not theirs, also because they are intimidated and territorial. However, in captivity that shouldn’t happen at all because responsible pet owners keep them separate from pregnant and lactating sows and their babies.

An adult female guinea pig will never harm or eat newborn babies. Keep the male guinea pig separate from his female partner to keep her safe and reduce the stress.

Author

Tim Rhodes
Tim Rhodes

Hi there! My name is Tim Rhodes and I'm a guinea pig enthusiast through thick and thin. My mission is to teach others useful tips and tricks about these cute creatures. When I'm not writing, I enjoy kickboxing and work as an animal trainer.

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Last update on 2022-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API