Does Swimming Freak Out Guinea Pigs? (Or Do They Like It?)

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Capybaras are relatives of guinea pigs that live in the water. They are known for their swimming skills, which may make you think that all guinea pigs can and like to swim. So, do guinea pigs like to swim?

Typically, guinea pigs don’t like swimming. Their short arms and legs make it difficult for them to tread water, and they can easily get overwhelmed by fear and anxiety in water. But, guinea pigs are able to swim when they need to. If they find themselves in a situation where they’re in deep water and can’t touch the bottom, they’ll start paddling their legs frantically to stay afloat – and to stay alive.

guinea pigs wondering if they like swimming

Can guinea pigs swim? Yes.

Do they love swimming? Oh, heck no. No to the no, no, no.

But, this doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many other ways cavies can touch the water, and it may or may not be desirable to them. Find out more about cavies and water below.

Why Don’t Guinea Pigs Like To Swim and Why Is Swimming Dangerous To Them?

a tip about taking guinea pigs swimming in a chlorine pool
Unless you’re trying to give your furry friend, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you need to keep them away from deep water.

There’s tons of reasons why guinea pigs don’t like swimming. And a lot of them revolve around why swimming is so dangerous for your little friends. Here’s the risks of putting your cavies through grueling swimming experience. 

1. It’s Stressful

Forcing cavies to swim gets them stressed – the max. Now, I’m talking about a situation where your piggies are wading in water that’s only covers their feet or is up to their stomachs. In those cases, their feet on solidly on the ground and they’re not as likely to freak out.

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But, if the water is deep and they can’t touch the bottom, the stress of trying to keep their heads above water while paddling their legs frantically will hurt them mentally.

(It might even cause your little friends not to trust you. After all, why would they if you put them in such a scary situation?)

I guarantee you that your piggies first priority (if you plop them into deep water) is to get out of the water – not to have a fun time swimming.

Think about it.

Piggies are tiny, little things. And they’re nervous by nature because they’re prey animals.

So, not only are they freaked out with swimming for the first time, but your fur babies will struggle keep their heads afloat.

Do you really think they can handle the physical and mental stress of being in deep water?  Do what’s right to keep your little friends’ stress levels as low as possible.  Ditch the swimming.

an infographic about the reasons why swimming is dangerous to guinea pigs

2. Can Inhale Water

Guinea pigs aren’t used to having gallons of water in their ears, mouth, nose, and – God forbid -lungs.

While some piggies may enjoy a dip in very shallow water, piggies in deep water can easily aspirate on their water by inhaling it through the nose and lungs. And the very act of choking is dangerous to piggies, because they can’t naturally vomit or cough up the water they inhale.

Plus, if the water that your piggie is swimming in is dirty, then there’s a chance that your little friend can end up with bacterial or viral pneumonia, which is a serious and potentially deadly infection of the lungs.

So it’s best to avoid letting your furry friend go swimming in deep water. Serious health issues of your cavies can cost you a fortune, disrupt their peace of mind or even lead to their death. 

3. They Can Drown

Drowning is a distinct possibility if your fur babies are in water that’s too deep for them. They may paddle their legs to stay afloat, but eventually, they’ll get tired and drown.

Now you might be thinking: “But, I would NEVER let my piggies drown!”

And I believe you.

But, accidents happen.

Your attention strays for a moment (your cell phone rings, your human kids start fighting) and suddenly there’s a life and death situation dropped in your lap like a stick of dynamite.

It doesn’t take much water for one of you furry friends to drown. So, it’s important to be extra careful when your piggies are around any water – whether it’s a bathtub, sink, or even a bowl of water (I’ll cover bathing a little later)

So it’s important to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent them from getting into a dangerous situation in the first place.

And let’s be honest.

Even if they don’t drown, the experience of being in deep water and trying to keep their heads above water (so that they can actually breath) will be so traumatic that it could cause lasting damage to them mentally and to their relationship with you. #facts

So, it’s best to avoid putting your guinea pigs in any situation where they’re near deep bodies of water.

4. Aspiration Pneumonia

Guinea pigs are social animals that enjoy the company of their fellow guinea pigs. However, they shouldn’t go swimming in deep water because they can get pneumonia.

This isn’t regular pneumonia that’s caught by a virus or bacterial. Aspiration pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that’s caused by inhaling water or other liquids into the lungs.

While it’s possible most mammals to get pneumonia, guinea pigs are particularly prone to it (poor babies) because they have small lungs and they’re not able to vomit naturally.

If your fur babies do develop pneumonia, it’s important to take them to the vet immediately. It’s the leading cause of death in guinea pigs.

Treatment will usually involve antibiotics and supportive care. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

To prevent pneumonia, it’s best to keep your guinea pig out of deep water. Even if you give your little friends a bath (which they do need on occasion), you have to be careful that no water gets in their mouth or nose – that’s how they can aspirate and get pneumonia.

5. Can Cause Depression

Human beings aren’t the only ones that can get depressed. Animals can suffer from depression, too. And, there’s nothing more anxiety-inducing and depressing than being in a situation where you’re struggling to stay afloat and keep your head above water.

Research had previously tested antidepressants on guinea pigs, and scientists were able to give them depression through forced swimming.

Yep, you heard me right.

Let me break it down for you.

  • A study was done where researchers made guinea pigs swim and then monitored their behaviors (before, during, and after the forced swim).
  • And, they found that the guinea pigs became depressed. The piggies stopped eating as much, were less active, and generally just didn’t seem as happy.
  • Then they tested different types of antidepressants on the guinea pigs, and they were able to find one that helped with the depression.

While this particular study was done for antidepressant research purposes, it does show that guinea pigs can get depressed – even from something as seemingly innocent as swimming.

So, it’s important to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent them from getting into such a gut-wrenching experience. The terror of the situation can easily sink your fuzz spuds into a deep depression.

(I mean, no one is trying to give your little friends PTSD, right?)

6. Irritates Their Skin and Lungs

As any pet owner knows, cavies are very sensitive creatures. Their skin is thin and delicate, and easily irritated.

So, it’s important to avoid exposing them to chlorinated water – like what you’d find in a swimming pool. When guinea pigs come into contact with chlorine, it can cause their skin to become dry and irritated. In severe cases, it can even lead to burns.

In addition to causing skin irritation, chlorinated water can also cause respiratory problems in guinea pigs. When inhaled, the chlorine can irritate their lungs and make it difficult for them to breathe.

7. It’s Tiring

While it may seem like a harmless way to have fun, swimming is actually quite dangerous for guinea pigs – mainly because it’s so exhausting. Their bodies are not made to swim, and their short arms and legs make it difficult to tread water.

And if they can’t treat water then they’ll have a hard time keeping their heads above water.

“But, what it’s only for a short period of time?”

I hate to tell you this, but even a short swim can take a dangerous toll on the health and strength of your fur babies. They can quickly become exhausted, leading to muscle cramps and – in extreme cases – heart failure.

Listen: it’s just not safe.

And guinea pigs are helpless, precious creatures. They shouldn’t be an object of experiments.

I’ve seen a YouTube video where people put their guinea pigs in a pool and recorded their reactions (which basically consisted of the poor things looking absolutely terrified).

It’s not funny. It’s not cute. It’s cruel.

So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t force your guinea pigs to swim.

Here’s a little video about the topic that should be helpful.

Can Guinea Pigs Swim?

Yes, guinea pigs can swim. But as a rule of thumb, they would prefer not to swim. Guinea pigs aren’t swimming maniacs like their cousins, the capybara. Unlike capybaras, cavies don’t enjoy swimming, and they’re better off staying on solid ground. 

If a piggie needs to swim to escape danger, then he will. Or at least he’ll try. (Your little friends do want to live after all).

But, their body design doesn’t support any type of swimming. They don’t have the muscle or body features that’ll make it a safe and fun experience.

Forcing a guinea pig to swim is inhumane and can lead to severe health problems, depression, and even death. So please, don’t do it.

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Is Swimming Natural To Guinea Pigs?

Swimming doesn’t come naturally to guinea pig, and they’re not very good at it. They come from in-land South America. They never lived near water.

Instead, they camp their caves and tunnels in forests, grasslands, or rocks. Being primarily in a landlocked habitat, they had no need to swim, and never developed the skill or were urged to swim. 

Think about it. Why bother swimming if you’re never near water?

Now, I’m not saying that all piggies will sink like a rock in water. Some of them can tread water for a short period of time – sometimes even a longer period of time if they’re REALLY desperate.

But they’re not natural swimmers, and they would much rather stay on the ground where they feel safe.

Besides, cavies can’t maintain the ideal body temperature when they’re in water. Their fur helps keep them warm. Wetting their fur from swimming makes it challenging to keep warm, and this can put them in danger. 

As a result, they prefer staying out of water completely. Getting wet exposes them to a bunch of dangerous situations including hypothermia.

Can Guinea Pigs Swim In A Chlorine Pool?

No, guinea pigs shouldn’t swim in a pool with chlorine in it. Most made-for-human swimming pools usually have a good amount of chlorine. They stress the living daylights out of your cavies. And to top it off, chlorine pools expose guinea pigs to chronic skin irritation, eye, and respiratory problems. 

So, prevent your cavies from developing chronic health problems (or eventually dying), never expose them to chlorine pools.

Apart from chlorine, other chemicals used to sterilize pool water could be dangerous to cavies. So, it’s best to keep them off swimming pools altogether. 

Can Guinea Pigs Swim In A Bathtub?

Guinea pigs can’t swim in a bathtub. Any sort of deep water puts your guinea pigs at risk.

But, they’re a better option for giving your piggies a bath if you need to. Plus, they’re a great way to introduce them to water.

Never fill your bathtub with water and put cavies inside. You might just as well drown them.

Instead, only make the water as high as their feet or thighs. The most important thing is to make sure that they can easily touch the bottom of the tub without having to doggie-paddle.

Can Guinea Pigs Swim In A Pool?

a sarcastic guinea pig making fun of swimming
Guinea pigs have (and can) die from stress. Let’s keep things calm and cool. Avoid the pools, please.

No, a guinea pig can’t swim a pool – even if there’s no chlorine or chemicals in them.

Drowning hazards in bathing in a water-filled bathtub or chemically treated pool also apply to regular pools. Unless your cavies have developed an unusual knack for swimming (highly unlikely), taking them to pools for swimming could be a disastrous idea.

And even if your piggies love to swim (a very slim possibility), a pool is too big of an area for you to keep an eye on them all the time. So, they might just as well drown while you’re not looking.

The takeaway here is that guinea pigs don’t like to swim, and they’re not built for it.

So, never force them into the water or expose them to any sort of deep water – be it a pool, bathtub, or lake. They could just as well drown in any of them.

And if you must give them a bath, make sure that the water level is only as high as their feet or thighs. That way, they can easily touch the bottom of the tub without having to doggie-paddle.

How Long Can A Guinea Pig Swim?

Guinea pigs shouldn’t swim for any length of time. There’s no acceptable time frame that is safe for cavies. Forcing a guinea pig to swim is dangerous because they could aspirate on the water, have mental trauma from the experience, or even drown.

Ideally, cavies should never be forced to swim in any way. The only time guinea pigs should come in contact with water is if you’re giving them a wash up of some sort (which should only happen as needed, but more on that later).

And if that’s the case, the water should be very shallow (no higher than their feet or thighs) and only for a short period of time.

Are Guinea Pigs Scared Of Water?

Yes, guinea pigs are scared of water if they’re forced to swim in it. In 2007, research was done using guinea pigs to test the practical usage of antidepressant drugs. The study was named “guinea pig forced swim test.” The researchers thought that guinea pigs could get depressed from the fear and stress of swimming (and sadly, they were right).

Some pet parents say their guinea pigs enjoy playing in shallow water. I’m going to urge you to lean towards the side of caution.

Unless you’re bathing your piggie (because they’ve gotten really stinky or gross), there’s really no need for them to be wet. It’s seems like an unnecessary risk for them to catch a cold.

What If My Guinea Pig Isn’t Scared Of Water? 

Yes, some guinea pigs aren’t scared of water. There’s some exceptions. Your guinea pig may be a rare type that isn’t scared of water. Maybe there were taught and trained to love water at an earlier stage of life – like babyhood.

And if your piggie isn’t scared of water, then good for you. That means it’ll be a lot easier getting them bathed when the time comes.

But even if your piggie loves water, that doesn’t mean they should be swimming in deep water (or splashing through shallow water) day in and day out.

Can Guinea Pigs Go Swimming In Shallow Water?

No, guinea pigs shouldn’t go swimming in shallow water.  It’ll still stress them out, because a lot of them don’t like being in water in the first place

Now, if your piggie enjoys being in the water (and some do), it’s all right to let them wade around in foot or thigh deep water. 

But, make sure that the water is clean.  The space where you’re letting your little friend splash around should be warm, too.  Make sure you dry your little friend off completely before putting her back into the enclosure.

Should I Teach My Guinea Pig To Swim?

Considering all the health, physical and emotional stress you put your cavies to, you really shouldn’t teach your guinea pigs to swim. You have to prioritize their health and wellness over the potential reason why you’d want to put them through such a thing.

A guinea pigs natural habitat is on land, not in water. So, there’s really no need to expose them to such an environment – unless it’s medically or hygienically necessary.

How To Introduce Your Guinea Pig To Water

There’s times when a water bath may be necessary, such as if your guinea pig gets really dirty or develops a skin condition. And some breeds (like Teddies) tend to need preventative baths to avoid fungal infections more than others.

If you do need to give your guinea pig a water bath, the key is to do it slowly and carefully to avoid stressing them out.

  • Start by filling a sink or small basin with an inch or two of warm water. Put a wash cloth on the bottom, so your fuzz spuds can avoid slipping. And make sure the water doesn’t come over their thighs.
  • Then, gently place your guinea pig in the water and let them get used to the feeling of being wet.
  • Offer treats when possible.
  • Once they seem comfortable, you can start to lightly scrub their fur with a mild, piggie safe shampoo. But, make sure you always keep your hand on your piggie.
  • Be sure to avoid their face and eyes, and rinse them off completely when you’re finished.
  • Dry them completely before putting them back in their enclosure

Typically, guinea pigs don’t need to be bathed more than once or twice a year if they have short hair. Or 3 to 4 times a year for long-haired breeds like Peruvians.

But, honestly, it depends on your piggie’s lifestyle. If they live outdoors and roll around in the mud a lot, you might need to give them more baths. Either way, you want to make sure that you don’t overdo it on the bathing or your dry out your piggie’s skin.

Once every three months (if you prefer more frequent full body baths) is usually the maximum recommended, unless your little friend has a medical condition that requires more frequently baths.

Can I Take My Guinea Pigs Swimming On Hot, Summer Days?

No, guinea pigs shouldn’t be asked to swim to cool down. There’s plenty of better, safer options to help your little friends stay cool in hot weather.

Providing your guinea pigs with a frozen water bottle or ice pack to lay next to, making sure their cage is in a cool, shady spot, and giving them plenty of fresh water to drink are all much better ways to help your guinea pigs stay cool on hot days.

Can Guinea Pigs Sit In Water? 

Guinea pigs can sit in water. That is one of the best ways to make them used to the water. Cavies can enjoy themselves sitting on the water. Such water should not be higher than their thighs. So, it shouldn’t reach their head when sitting or standing. 

Sitting in water is not the best thing for cavies. There’s so many different ways they can enjoy themselves, that sitting in water should be one of the last things you do with them.

Piggie parents should only introduce their little friends to water when it’s necessary – such as for a butt bath or a full on water bath.

Otherwise, there’s really no need to put your guinea pig through the stress of sitting in water when they can have so much more fun doing other things.

What If My Guinea Pig Is Dirty and Smells Bad?

a helpful tip about guinea pigs and swimming

If your guinea pigs is dirty and smells bad, then it’s time to give your cavies a bath. There’s different reasons why you have to bathe your guinea pigs. It could either be dirty, smelly, or soil its fluffy furs with urine or poop.

And I know that a lot of people say that guinea pigs are “self-cleaning”.

But, that statement seems like it was more true when cavies lived in the wild. They roamed free over miles and miles of land, and they pooped and peed everywhere – not just in one spot – where they had to live.

Domesticated piggies live in a 2 X 5 foot enclosure (if they’re lucky). And unless their pet parents are really on top of keep their enclosure clean and dry, their home can get pretty rank, very quickly.

So, they’re not exactly “self-cleaning” when their only option is to roll and roam around in their own piles of poop and puddles of pee. #JustSayin’

And let’s be honest, some piggie parents haven’t quite got the hang of keeping their piggies as clean as they should be.

I’m not judging, anyone.

I’m just saying that there’s a learning curve with keeping a piggie enclosure clean and dry.

And if it’s not something that you’ve mastered (or if you have long-haired piggies which get funky easily because of their hair) then your little friends are going to need a little extra help with staying clean.

If you find that your guinea pig is starting to smell bad, it’s probably time for a bath.

How Often Should You Bathe A Guinea Pig?

Typically, short haired guinea pigs should usually be bathed at least once or twice a year. Long haired breeds should be bathed once every 3 to 4 months.

How often you need to bathe your guinea pig will ultimately depend on their activity level, health, and the type of fur.

There’s some exceptional circumstances that might require more baths for your little friends.

Usually, they involve your piggies getting into something dirty or smelly that they can’t seem to get clean on their own (like old age, a recent surgery, etc)

What Other Ways Can Cavies Enjoy Themselves?

Even if your cavies don’t like playing with water, there are other fun things they can do. Here’s some alternatives that will make them happy.

  • Toys: Instead of playing with water and maybe catching pneumonia, guinea pigs can play with toys. It could be balls, tubes, small steps, or ramps. Alternatively, you can buy them. A maze or let them enjoy themselves, too. 
  • Treats: As far as it doesn’t exceed the required diet, guinea pigs can have fun by having treats. You can give them delicious fruit and veggie cuttings and feed them to your cavies. Or hide them in paper bags or piles of hay for your piggies to find.

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The Wrap Up

While some guinea pigs are comfortable taking a bath in water that’s shallow, they don’t enjoy swimming. This is because guinea pigs have a body type that makes swimming (and even treading water) really tough on them. Their heavy fur gets soaked easily, making it difficult for them to move around.

In addition, guinea pigs have sensitive skin that can be irritated by chlorine and other chemicals often found in pools. Aspirating on water that they can’t cough up easily an also be a real problem for guinea pigs. And the mental trauma and depression from being forced to swim just screams “Don’t put me in a pool!”

So, while you may be able to get your pet guinea pig (or pigs) to take a dip in the shallow end, it’s probably not the best idea.

There’s plenty of other ways to keep your fur babies happy and healthy – like giving them toys and treats. So, skip the pool party and give your guinea pig something else to do.

Can Guinea pigs swim? Keeping your cavy safe around water. (2021, September 11). Home & Roost. https://homeandroost.co.uk/blog/can-guinea-pigs-swim/

The Guinea pig forced swim test as a new behavioral despair model to characterize potential antidepressants. (n.d.). PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17646967/

Guinea pig. (n.d.). ScienceDirect.com | Science, health and medical journals, full text articles and books. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/guinea-pig

Victories! PETA is ending near-drowning tests. (n.d.). PETA. https://www.peta.org/features/peta-ends-near-drowning-tests-small-animals/#

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