Why Guinea Pigs Don’t Need A Light At Night (Read This Now)

If you have a pet guinea pig, it is important to know how well they can see in the dark. After all, no caring pet parent wants their guinea pigs stumbling around (without a light ) when they’re trying to get their food, water or litter box. This makes some owners wonder: “Do guinea pigs need a light a night?”

As a general rule, guinea pigs do not need a light at night. Guinea pigs can’t see in the dark, but they have sharp senses and skills that help them navigate their cage – such as hearing, smell, and spatial memory. In fact, keeping their cage dark at night benefits guinea pigs in several ways.

do guinea pigs need light

Keep reading this blog post. You’ll learn the best options for providing lighting to your guinea pigs during the day, as well as what you need to know about night time lighting and how it affects them.

You’ll also learn how guinea pigs navigate at night and the details about how they do it so well.

Let’s get started!

Why Don’t Guinea Pigs Need A Light At Night?

When listening to the squeaks and scuttles of guinea pigs at night, it’s natural for us to think that our little critters can see perfectly well in the dark. But the truth is there’s no scientific proof that guinea pigs can see in the dark.

However:

There’s plenty of evidence to support that guinea pigs use other senses to help them navigate in little to no lighting.

Here’s how they do it:

Whiskers

Guinea Pigs have an amazing sense of touch, thanks to their whiskers (also called vibrissae!). These little hairs are so sensitive that a guinea pig in a dark room can tell what’s nearby just by changes in the air current from near objects like walls, food bowls, and hideaways!

When they’re exploring something new – sniffing out tasty treats or deciding if there is danger around – they’ll fan-out their whiskers for more information about size, texture and other details. Guinea pigs use these furry strands to detect dangers as well as find food…and sometimes even each other!

Smell

Guinea pig’s sense of smell is heightened in the dark, which allows them to easily find their food dish and water bowl at night.

Sense of smell is also important for piggies because it helps them communicate with other furry friends and humans. It’s done by using chemical messages that can be detected through scent receptors within a nasal cavity.

Spatial Memory

Domesticated guinea pigs have an awesome spatial memory – much better than their wild cousins. Scientists think that it’s their domestication which has let them adapt to man-made environments so easily and remember where bits of food, hideaways, or water bowls are without a light source.

What does this mean?

Piggies can work out how best to find the way around in dark spaces by remembering landmarks such as corners and ledges and distances between objects – for months at a time.

Some pet parents worry about their little guinea pigs bumping into things at night, but they’re worrying needlessly. Based on the trifecta of adaptations, it’s clear light isn’t needed for safety or for their little friends to successfully navigate their enclosures.

Pet parents everywhere can relax (and breathe a sigh of relief); their little furry friends will be just fine in the dark…

Benefits Of Keeping Guinea Pigs In The Dark (When It’s Dark Out)

benefits of keeping guinea pigs in the dark: do guinea pigs need light

Now, that we know that piggies can maneuver through the enclosures with ease without lights, let’s move on to the benefits of keeping guinea pigs in the dark at appropriate times.

It’s important that guinea pigs have dark spaces to enjoy (and occasionally retreat to) because of the following reasons:

  • Safety and Security: Guinea pigs are prey animals – small animals are hunted by bigger, predatory animals. So, they’re always skittish and hypervigilant about their safety. They need a dark space hide in order to feel safe and secure. In the daytime, it’s hideaway or cardboard boxes. At night, it’s the fact that there aren’t any lights on – simulating actual night.
  • More Restful Sleep: This sort of ties into safety and security. Guinea pigs seldom sleep. Guinea pigs are crepuscular animals – that means they’re more active at dawn and dusk. And they nap (only a few minutes at a time) on and off all day – and night. But, when they do, the absence of light helps them feel more secure when.
  • Simulates The Wild: Pet parents put a lot of consideration into food, bedding, and toys they provide their piggies. But, it’s not just supplies that needs consideration. It’s also about making sure their surroundings are as close to natural as possible – including when they’re exposed to daytime or nighttime conditions.

Help your guinea pigs regulate day and night cycles by being exposed to light or darkness at the right times. This can be achieved with natural sunlight or by when pet parents turn on or dim lights.

What Do Owners Use As Lighting For Their Guinea Pigs?

I wanted to figure out what lighting the average guinea pig owner used and when, so I did a little research.

Pet parents use a variety of lighting sources for to provide lighting to their guinea pigs. The following options are the most common:

1) Natural sunlight: But, be careful to never put your guinea pigs cage directly in sunlight. Guinea pigs are especially prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Instead let them enjoy filtered sunshine through a blinds – preferably from across the room and away from the direct heat

2) Lamps or ceiling lights: If your piggies are in a basement or in a room that doesn’t receive natural sunlight, then lamps or ceiling lights are the way to go. If you’re forgetful (like I sometimes am) you can set up a timer, so they don’t have their light on all day and night. And if your guinea pigs can’t be exposed to natural sunlight, consider taking them outside for a bit of sun (if the weather is nice).

3) Fairy, LED , other hanging lights: These are great for giving your piggies a day-time experience. As long as you keep them safely out of reach of your piggies and don’t leave them on all the time, they’re an excellent option!

4) Nightlights: When owners want to give their piggies an extra smidge of illumination in the evening, they’ll often use a nightlight. If you choose to use a night light, make sure that you balance it with a brighter source (e.g. sunlight or lamps) during the day. That way, you’ll make a clear distinction between day and night for your piggies.

I specifically looked for the most popular lighting options (natural or artificial) used by pet owners for the guinea pigs.

Here’s what I found:

do guinea pigs need light

180 guinea pig owners were surveyed and 165 (91.7%) of guinea pig owners used some form of artificial light with their guinea pigs.

Only 8.3% of pet parents used ONLY sunlight – meaning that sunshine was used during the day for their fur babies and at sunset, their piggies didn’t receive any more light in their areas.

This information lined up with my initial assumption. I figured that most guinea pig owners would have to use some form of artificial lighting with their pets.

Out of 165 owners the majority used regular lights (e.g. lamps, ceiling lights) or string lights (e.g. fairy lights, Christmas lights) so their guinea pigs can see.

However:

Things got interesting when I started searching for information to the question: Do you leave a light on for your guinea pigs at night?

I was able to gather information from 112 pet parents.

My assumption would be that the majority of pet parents would let their piggies sleep in the dark…

do guinea pigs need light?

Most pet parents leave some form of light on for their guinea pigs at night.

  • 56.8% of guinea pig owners leave a light on for the guinea pigs at night
  • 43.2% of pet owners turn them off at night for the guinea pigs

What was even more surprising was that the results were so close.

Something else interesting is that some of the owners, either used alternative lighting methods at night for their guinea pigs or other options to soothe their piggies to sleep.

do guinea pigs need light

The Dangers of Using String Lights In Guinea Pig Cages

do guinea pigs need lights?

Other than regular lighting (e.g. ceiling and lamps), string lights are a preferred artificial light source for pet parents – particularly around the holidays.

But, it’s important to use lighting safely; otherwise, you may end up with a disaster on your hands.

Keep wires, batteries and glass or plastic ornaments out of paws’ reach.

ASPCA

Since guinea pigs have continuously growing teeth, they will chew anything (and I do mean anything) – including those adorable fairy lights.

Which means…

Those string lights can give your little friends a nasty electrical shock (or kill them instantly) if chewed. And they can also get tangled in the wires.

Think your guinea pigs can’t reach them?

Think again.

Guinea. Pigs. Can. Jump.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

They can overheat and short out near wood shavings, paper bedding or hay which would quickly lead to disaster – like your house burning down.

If you’re going to use string lights, do so safely. And here are some tips to help you do so:

  1. Set up string lights high enough so your piggies can’t reach them. Make sure you take their height into account too! Some adult guinea pigs can jump or climb a 14″ C&C grid and easily get to (and chew) the lights
  2. Inspect them daily to make sure they’re not overheating or shorting out.
  3. Unplug them when you’re not at home (use an alternative light source) and at night
  4. Keep the them as far away from combustible surfaces (like wood shavings, hay or paper bedding) as you can

How Well Can Guinea Pigs See?

do guinea pigs need light

Guinea pigs are prey animals by nature, and this is reflected in their vision. In fact, guinea pigs have very poor eyesight.

There are three main factors which determine how well (or poorly) guinea pig eyesight works: depth perception (how close objects appear when they’re viewed), range or field (the distance within which an object will remain sharp), and visual acuity (clearness).

Depth Perception

Guinea pigs have horrible depth perception. And you know why?

Since their eyes are on opposite sides of their head, there’s virtually no overlap in the fields of vision between them; where as humans have nearly 140° overlapping field for our two eyes.

As a result guinea pigs lack three-dimensional sight and can’t visually measure depth properly like we do with ours – this makes it extremely difficult to judge distances when they’re up high or near vertical surfaces so be sure not to leave your pet guinea pig unattended on tables or other high surfaces!

Range of Vision

Due to the shape of their head and slightly off center eyes, they can’t focus on anything directly in front of (or behind) them.

But what the guinea pig lacks with straight forward vision, he makes up for by being able to see almost everything else from a 360 degree perspective. They can see in almost every other direction – without moving their eyes! Guinea pigs have an even wider field of view than humans do!

They also process images at 33 frames per second – meaning that no matter how much or quickly your piggie turns around things don’t blur when she turns her head.

Across the animal kingdom, most species “see the world with much less detail than we do…”

Eleanor Caves, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University Futurity

Visual Acuity

Visual acuity refers to how much detail an animal can see.

Apparently, most animals see objects with a lot less detail than human beings.

And that includes guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs are nearsighted and have a poor visual field. They can only see objects that are up to three feet (one meter) away vividly.

If an object is farther away than this distance it will appear blurry. However, guinea pigs will recognize movement along with bright patches and dark ones too!

Frequently Asked Questions About Guinea Pigs, Lighting, and Sight

Should I Cover My Guinea Pigs Cage At Night?

Typically, owners shouldn’t cover their guinea pig’s cage at night. Guinea pigs need good ventilation and tossing a blanket over the cage might inhibit airflow.

However, if you live in a very cold climate that makes it uncomfortable for your piggies at night, then covering the cage can be an acceptable option. Just make sure that you don’t cover the cage completely, so that they your little friends have proper ventilation.

Can Guinea Pigs Get Scared Of The Dark?

There’s no study that indicates that guinea pigs are afraid of the dark. Quite the contrary. Guinea pigs are comfortable in the dark, because it makes them feel secure – hidden from predators.

Are LED Lights Dangerous For Guinea Pigs?

As a general rule, LED lights are safe for guinea pigs. But, owners must follow certain precautions.

Guinea pigs should not live in a brightly lit environment all the time. They do best with indirect sunlight. So it’s important to make sure your LEDs aren’t too strong and to direct them away from your piggie’s cage (or turn them off) for a few hours each day – just enough to simulate the day-night cycle for your piggies.

Do Guinea Pigs Like Sunlight?

Guinea pigs definitely like to spend time outside in the sun – but only in moderation.

Direct sunlight is bad for guinea pigs because it can cause heat stroke and heat exhaustion – both potentially deadly for guinea pigs.

If you plan on letting your piggies outdoors to enjoy some sunshine fresh air, it’s important to do the following:

  • Keep an eye on your guinea pigs – always; never leave them unattended
  • Define a space for them to inhabit, such as a covered patio, porch area, or a guinea pig run; shade is key!
  • Make sure your piggies are protected from predators
  • Provide lots of fresh, clean water and shade from the sun

Final Thoughts About Guinea Pigs And Night Lighting

Some pet parents from giving their guinea pigs some kind of light in the evening; however, that’s not necessary.

Guinea pigs definitely don’t need a light at night.

Don’t get me wrong.

Guinea pigs have a lot going against them when it comes to their eyesight.

For example, they are:

  • unable to focus at long distances
  • nearsighted
  • lacking depth perception
  • riddled with eye illnesses

And yet …

Piggies have enough adaptations (e.g. whiskers, hearing, and smell) to navigate their way around their cage in the dead of night – quite well.

Hopefully, that fact gives pet parents peace of mind regarding their little piggies.

Beck, A. (2013). Guinea pigs: Keeping and caring for your pet. Enslow Pub.

Behrend, K. (1999). The Guinea pig. Barrons Educational Series.

Black mirror’s “Crocodile”: Can your pet testify against you? – The science of. (2020, April 20). The Science Of. https://thescienceof.org/black-mirrors-crocodile-can-your-pet-testify-against-you/

Bucsis, G., & Somerville, B. (2011). Training your Guinea pig. B.E.S. Publishing.

How do whiskers work? (n.d.). Discover Wildlife. https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/mammals/how-do-whiskers-work/

Keeping pets calm at Christmas. (n.d.). The Largest Animal Welfare Charity in the UK | RSPCA. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/seasonal/christmas/calm

Kurumiya, S., & Kawamura, H. (1988, February). Circadian oscillation of the multiple unit activity in the guinea pig suprachiasmatic nucleus. PubMed.

See how we view the world vs. dogs, cats, and goldfish. (2018, May 31). Futurity. https://www.futurity.org/visual-acuity-vision-eyes-animals-1772002/

Suarez, R. (2018, November 5). Curious kids: How do we smell? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/curious-kids-how-do-we-smell-104772

Why animals have whiskers: The ultimate sensory tool. (2019, July 26). LazyPaw Animal Hospital Frisco TX Veterinary. https://lazypawvet.com/blog/2015/12/11/why-do-animals-have-whiskers/#:~:text=Whiskers%20mostly%20help%20with%20vision,fit%20into%20a%20tight%20squeeze

Wild genius – domestic fool? Spatial learning abilities of wild and domestic Guinea pigs. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2859863/

Williams, D., & Sullivan, A. (2010, September). Ocular disease in the Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus): A survey of 1000 animals. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20840091/

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