Do Guinea Pigs Sleep With Their Eyes Open? (If So, Why?)

Guinea pig owners are often asked if their pets close their eyes when they’re asleep, and I wondered about this myself before I got my first guinea pig. I finally decided to do some research on whether or not it is normal behavior for guinea pigs to have their eyes open while they sleep. Here’s what he had to say…

Typically, guinea pigs sleep with their eyes open. In the wild, predators like hawks and wolves would be able to see them sleeping in order to catch them easily. So instead of closing their eyes while sleeping, most guinea pigs keep theirs wide-open so that they don’t miss any potential threats. 

So, how did all this come about? 

do guinea pigs sleep with their eyes open

What’s the deal with guinea pigs’ eyes seeming to always be open? 

Let’s explore together:

Why Do Guinea Pigs Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

do guinea pigs sleep with their eyes open

In the wild, every second counts – especially if you’re a prey animal with few ways to defend yourself (poor piggies!) against potential predators.

One second can make the difference between becoming a meal or living to raise a new herd of piggie pups.  

Cavies have developed the habit of sleeping with their eyes open to give them an advantage over predators to avoid becoming their next tasty snack.

Think about it.

If your eyes were closed, you’d never if something was sneaking up behind you. You wouldn’t even notice until it was too late. That means you could get eaten before ever having a chance to react.

But if your cavies’ eyes stay open, at least they’ll be aware of anything coming toward them. And they might still have enough time to escape

That’s the genius behind guinea pigs keeping their eyes open.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But, my piggie isn’t living in the wild. There’s no reason for them to keep their eyes open. They can relax.”

Yeah, nope.

Even domesticated piggies haven’t lost their prey instinct to keep their eyes open. It’s fused into their DNA (like their sleepyhabits) as something that helps protect them from danger – real or imagined.

Here’s a video of guinea pig asleep with open-eyes.

You: Just relax, sweeties. You’re safe now.

Your piggies: Yeah, right. *scurries into a corner, certain there’s a threat out there waiting to take them out*

In short, just because your cavies don’t live in the wild anymore doesn’t mean their instincts aren’t going to kick in. They feel safer when their eyes are open, which makes sense since they’ve been bred to be more alert than other animals.

Cavies are naturally nervous animals. And let’s be honest, you would be too if you were basically a walking lunch.

Predator, Prey, and Sleeping Habits

Guinea pigs always have to be on the lookout for danger since they are such easy prey when they sleep. Even though they’re resting, their open eyes give them protection from any possible threats.

There is a stark difference between the sleeping habits predator and prey animals.

For example, predators usually close there eyes while sleeping (hey, it’ a perk of being towards the top of the food chain!) while prey animals like guinea pigs don’t.

It’s only logical that your piggies’ eyes should always be open when sleeping since they don’t have any real physical protection from danger.

If something mean and toothy approaches, a guinea pig’s main defense is to get out of dodge – and fast.

Having open eye tricks predators, too – which increases their chances of survival in the wild.

Predators like to sneak up on their prey. When they see a “sleeping” animal with its eyes open, it kind of throws the predator off. They’re like “What? An awake animal? Should I attack? What’s going on?”

If predators can’t instantly decide whether or not their prey is awake, then they might not be as quick to attack. So having open eyes gives the guinea pig a potential advantage.

Plus, the brains of guinea pigs can see things that happen in the world around them even when they sleep. This improves their reaction time to danger, too.

Thinking about adding a piggie to your family or want to brush up on the essentials? Gotcha covered. What you need is a reliable, “all-in-one” resource to refer to when you’re struggling. A Beginner’s Ultimate Guide To Guinea Pig Care is a starting point with all the basics and more to get you on your way!

Do Guinea Pigs Have Any Other Unusual Sleeping Habits?

do guinea pigs sleep with their eyes open

First, let’s remember that what’s unusual to us is actually vital for survival in our furry friends. (I mean, it’s hard being at rock-bottom of the food chain, right).

Cavies’ sleeping habits (designed for survival) include:

  • short spans of sleep
  • snoozing lightly
  • strategic times awake

1. Short Spans Of Sleep

While humans typically take about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, guinea pigs only require four-to-six hours of sleep in a 24 hour span of time (or each day)

Normally, they doze off for small increments of time – just a few short minutes and they’re awake again!

If your guinea pig is older, he’s likelier to sleep more frequently than younger piggies.

This is because, like us, when cavies age , they tend to drift off more during the day.

It’s a way of conserving their energy and giving them enough rest so that they’re healthier for longer periods of time.

2. Light Sleepers

Doing this is another way that guinea pigs try to avoid getting caught by predators.

If you have a guinea pig, you’ll notice that it doesn’t take much to wake him up from his light slumber.

This isn’t surprising.

Reaction time = life expectancy

The faster your piggie is able to react, then the likelier it is to survive. If it misses its chance to escape, then it’s – well, some predator’s meal.

So how does a guinea pig stay alive? It sleeps very lightly!

3. Strategic Times Awake

Unlike most creatures in the world who only have one sleeping time (monophasic), piggies are polyphasic, which means they have multiple segments (or nap times) per day.

Additionally, cavies are crepuscular. This means their main activity times are at dawn and dusk

This doesn’t meant that they’re not active during other times of the day. They’re just more active in the early morning and evening.

These two behaviors help them conserve energy in small spurts and increase their chances of surviving, because most predators don’t see very well in dim light.

Contrary to popular belief, guinea pigs aren’t nocturnal animals. They’re active whenever or wherever, because they don’t have a set sleepy-bye time. 

Can Guinea Pigs Close Their Eyes?

Guinea pigs can close their eyes. They just don’t do it very often.

Guinea pigs do sleep with their eyes open, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to rest from time-to-time. They do.

Yes, guinea pigs have eyelids, and sometimes they’ll close them.

Don’t force your guinea pig to close her eyes. Watch to see when your little friends starts relaxing and then you might catch them letting down their guard.

At that point, you might notice them close their eyes.

Do Guinea Pigs Always Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Sometimes guinea pigs will close their eyes when they sleep. It’s one of the ultimate expressions of trust from your fur baby.

Cavies are naturally nervous animals. 

(And let’s be honest, you would be too if you were basically a walking lunch)

So, if your little friend chooses to close her eyes, that means that your furry friend feels safe and comfortable around you – enough to really, truly relax.

But, don’t expect to see this if you’ve brought a new cavy into your home

It’s likely that the poor thing will be too skittish and scared to be able to fall asleep at all until she gets used to her surroundings.

Plus, if she’s been traumatized by previous experiences, it might be harder for her to let go of those fears and really relax in your home

How Can I Tell If My Guinea Pig Is Asleep?

Omigosh. It’s sooo hard to tell if your piggie is asleep – especially since they usually keep their eyes open.  

That, said there are a couple of signs that can let you know that your little friend is asleep such as:

  • When a cavy is in a deep slumber, the ears and whiskers twitch, and if their eyes are open, you’ll see REM (rapid eye movement) talk hold of them.
  • They’re very still (almost trance-like)
  • It usually happens in a dark, safe space. Guinea pigs rarely sleep out in the open, because it makes them feel vulnerable.

Rats, hamsters, and lots of other rodents are nocturnal (which means they sleep during they day, but they’re active at night). Guinea pigs are the exception.

Are Guinea Pigs The Only Animals That Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Guinea pigs aren’t the only animals that keep their eyes wide open when they’re resting. Lots of other species do the same thing.

  • Snakes: don’t even have eyelids to close their eyes.
  • Ostriches: sometimes they’ll sleep standing up with both eyes wide open
  • South American sea lions: makes sure they don’t miss their prey and that they don’t become a meal themselves!
  • Blackbirds: let’s them rest without becoming lunch.
  • Rabbits: they’re prey animals, too, so they like to stay alert.

As you can see, guinea pigs aren’t the only ones who keep their eyes open during sleep. There are lots of different reasons why these animals choose to keep their eyes open. 

Do Guinea Pigs Like To Be In The Dark When They Sleep? 

Guinea pigs definitely like to be in the dark when they sleep. Guinea pigs are prey animals, so they have a natural fear of things that are bigger than them.

This means that they need to feel safe in order to calm down and feel less anxious. One way you can help this is by creating a dark area for them so they can feel secure throughout the daytime or when it gets dark outside.

If your piggie does drifts off in the open, that just means that they’re feeling confident around you. (actually, they’re feeling VERY confident around you!) Take it as a sign of trust.

Final Thoughts

Guinea pigs are designed to be alert and unassuming. It’s interesting that, while they have the option of closing their eyes while sleeping in order to hide from predators, guinea pigs typically sleep with their eyes open instead.

This is a reflection of how guinea pig bodies are made for survival-guarding against any potential threats by keeping an eye out at all times! Have you ever seen your pet do this?

If you do, see if you can catch them on video. I’d love to see your videos, pictures, and comments! Till next time.

Amazonia exhibit at the Smithsonian’s national zoo now includes a Guinea pig village. (n.d.). Smithsonian Institution. https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/amazonia-exhibit-smithsonians-national-zoo-now-includes-guinea-pig-village

Animals that sleep with one eye open. (2017, December 20). The Rainforest Site News. https://blog.therainforestsite.greatergood.com/cs-one-eye/

Are Guinea pigs nocturnal or diurnal; How long do they sleep? (2018, August 7). Pets. https://www.helpshelterpets.org/are-guinea-pigs-nocturnal/

Cavia aperea (Brazilian Guinea pig). (n.d.). Animal Diversity Web. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cavia_aperea/

Domestic Guinea pig. (n.d.). BioWeb Home. https://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2008/nickel_sara/interactions.htm

DVM, S. L. (2015). The Guinea pig handbook. Barron’s Educational Series.

Hillarys. (n.d.). The weird sleeping habits of the animal kingdom | Hillarys. Hillarys™ Made to Measure Blinds, Curtains & Shutters. https://www.hillarys.co.uk/static/sleeping-habits-of-animals/

A natural life for a Guinea pig. (2019, July 29). FOUR PAWS International – Animal Welfare Organisation. https://www.four-paws.org/our-stories/publications-guides/a-natural-life-for-a-guinea-pig

What is a crepuscular animal? (n.d.). Treehugger. https://www.treehugger.com/what-is-a-crepuscular-animal-4864558

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