What You Need To Know About Why Guinea Pigs Eat Hair
So, you’re cuddling with your pet guinea pig – snuggling on the couch. Suddenly, you feel a little tug on your arm. Uh-oh, what is that? You start to feel a little tugging sensation, and then realize it’s because your guinea pig just sawed off a piece of your hair. After the shock wears off, you wonder why guinea pigs eat human hair.
Typically, guinea pigs eat human hair due to a lack of fiber in their diet, boredom, or as a way to socialize with their owner. Guinea pigs are known to snip strands of hair from owners’ heads, arms, and knuckles. It’s fairly common and isn’t usually something to worry about.
Let’s take a look at why guinea pigs eat hair and how you can help stop it. We’ll also explore what happens if your guinea pig doesn’t stop eating human hair. But, before we dive in, let’s take a look at…
Barbering is when a guinea pig will bite, chew, and in some cases eat hair. This hair can be yours, their own, or the hair of cage mates and other piggies.
(Yes, it’s a bizarre guinea pig behavior.)
Particularly long-haired guinea pigs are most at risk or owners with long hair. But any coat length may be consumed.
If you want more answers to quirky guinea pig behavior, check out these posts I wrote: Why Do Guinea Pigs Twitch? (10 Surprising Reasons) & Are Guinea Pigs Nocturnal? (Sleeping Habits and More)
Why Do Guinea Pigs Eat Human Hair?
Guinea pigs are interested in anything that they can put their teeth on. When it bites down, a guinea pig could very well take an actual chunk out of your hair if you’re not careful.
If your piggies does take a chunk out, there are reasons why, including:
Lack of Fiber in Diet
Guinea pigs are herbivores and eat plants. They need plenty of fiber in their diet, which is typically found in vegan food sources. If your guinea pig isn’t getting enough fiber from his food, then it can lead to chewing your hair.
Piggies eat hair in order to fulfill their digestive needs. This includes a high-fiber diet, which fiber is the major component of their diet. Diet fiber for cavies ideally consists of hay and other fresh herbs.
Guinea pigs are naturally inquisitive and they love to chew and bite things. In fact, cavies are known for chewing on the things that they’re interested in. This behavior could include their owner’s hair or clothing, as well as stuffed animals and other toys.
If you have a very young guinea pig, it’s possible that it’s simply exploring what is (or isn’t) safe to eat. Or just taking a nibble to determine what your hair is made of.
If this is the case, your piggie might stop eating your hair because it’s realized that it is not edible.
Guinea pigs are easily bored, and will often find new stimuli to play with. Consider keeping hay and other toys in their cage, so they don’t feel the need to nibble on your hair for entertainment.
Your little friends groom each other for a number of reasons. It’s an activity that keeps them occupied, entertained, and helped establish their social hierarchy.
If your guinea pig is biting or gnawing on your hair, take it as a sign that your little friend sees you as part of the social group—however, that doesn’t mean that you have to let your fur baby continue chewing on your locks.
Guinea pigs generally eat hair because of a lack of fiber in their diet, boredom, and social grooming.
Is It Okay For My Guinea Pig To Eat My Hair?
Since guinea pigs don’t form “hair balls” in their stomach, there’s no critical danger to them eating your hair occasionally. However, if the biting becomes an intense habit, then that might pose a problem.
If your piggie keeps snipping and nibbling it, there’ll be negative consequences (mainly for you!), such as:
- you could end up with a bald spot on your scalp (yep, it can happen)
- your hair could end up a lopsided mess
Knowing why your piggie is doing this will help you in the long run when working to correct their behavior. (More on that later.)
How to Protect Your Hair
Avoid using yelling or hitting to punish your piggies for chewing on your hair. You’ll only frighten them, which could make matters worse. To protect your locks from being eaten by your piggie, you need to do the following:
- If you have long hair, it is very important that you keep it away from your guinea pig. Do not wear it down and be aware of what they can reach with their mouth.
- If your little friend prefers plucking strands of arm or hand hair, considering wearing long-sleeved shirts.
- Consider switching to shorter styles like a pixie cut if you have longer strands or wearing it in braids. Sometimes shorter hair styles work as a deterrent.
- Avoid holding your guinea pig too close to your face and shoulders where they can easily reach your hair. Your pet will start nibbling if the opportunity arrives.
Don’t “discipline” your guinea pig for trying to nibble on your hair. Guinea pigs don’t understand why you’re angry and could become terrified of you. Instead, create an environment that discourages them from trying to reach your hair and either cut it or wear head gear.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Barber Each Other Or Themselves?
It may come as a surprise. But, guinea pigs don’t just try to eat chunks of hair. They’ll also nibble on their own hair or other guinea pigs’ hair. Barbering occurs for various reasons & should be taken seriously. It’s important for guinea pig owners to know why this behavior occurs.
Dominance Over Other Cage Mates
Guinea pigs are social creatures and they often have a hierarchy in their group. Guinea pigs that feel dominant will sometimes barber other guinea pigs as a sign of dominance. It’s a way for guinea pigs to keep the group in line.
Barbering of each other, you, or themselves can be caused by stress. This could be caused by a new cage mate, a new environment, a too small cage or just life in general. It’s important to keep your fur babys’ lives as calm and stress free as possible. Too much stress can cause physical illnesses other than barbering.
Some guinea pigs will barber when they don’t have anything else to do. If your guinea pig is lacking enrichment items or chew toys, now is the time to invest in a few. That way, your furry friends will chew the toys and not your hair.
Self-barbering (or overgrooming) can occur when an animal is feeling acute pain. When this happens, your piggie is literally trying to “tear out” the source of their discomfort.
Bladder stones, arthritis, or tumors could be the cause of the pain. If this is the case, the best solution is to see a vet promptly in order to get the root cause and provide the appropriate treatment for their pain.
One reason why guinea pigs barber (human hair or themselves) is that sometimes they may over-groom as a result of stressful breeding or neglect. In this case, it’s more of nervous habit.
Guinea pigs will groom each other, you, or themselves for various reasons. One of the main reasons is to display dominance, stress, boredom, physical pain and accidental overgrooming.
You’re Wrong About The Barbering. So, What’s Going On?
Sometimes what owners suspect as self-barbering or barbering of others is actually something else.
The true reasons why your furry friend is missing hair might be something completely different.
That’s why it’s best to consider all options – particularly if you haven’t actually seen your piggies barbering themselves or each other.
If you guess incorrectly, then you’ll accidentally lead to your little friend suffering more because you’ll be trying to treat the wrong health issue.
- Hormonal Problems and Ovarian Cysts: Individual small cysts can lead to hair loss on your piggie’s side or belly. This is usually accompanied by signs of pain in your female guinea pigs. A vet should be consulted if you notice unexplained hair loss in those areas.
- Normal Bald Patches: Guinea pigs have a hairless patch behind their ears and no or little hair on the ears. There’s no cause for concern if you notice this. It’s quite normal.
- Mites & Ringworm: Guinea pigs sometimes develop skin conditions such as mange mites or a fungal infection (ringworm). If they bite their skin or scratch it until it bleeds, it’s easy to get one of the two conditions mixed up with barbering. Mites, in particular, are very painful. If your piggie has them, then she needs to be treated by a vet immediately.
What Can Be Done To Stop The Barbering?
Guinea pigs will often tolerate silent or disquieting antics from the barbering piggie and then complain, move away, slap at the barbering piggie, or disappear completely if it goes too far.
There’s a few things that can be done to attempt a guinea pig from barbering. What you need to understand is that modifying the behavior will take time and patience, so be prepared for this.
If anything is done too soon or in the wrong way it can make things worse and prolong the process of behavior modification – it’s important to remain calm and patient, and consistent with any training.
- Find the source. This is probably the most important thing you can do – if possible. Having pigs that behave destructively towards other pigs can result in injury and more stress than necessary. It’s important to identify at the root of the problem and fix it. Some common causes are stress, boredom or competition for resources such as food bowls or hiding places- but there could be others too! Prevention is definitely better than trying to find a cure.
- Avoid unnecessary changes. If your guinea pig starts to do things that it did not before, like self-barbering because of a change in its cage, food or location then you need to reverse the change. If you put something new in the cage such as an object or another animal then it might stress your guinea pig and jumpstart the barbering.
- Watch the barbering closely (if you can). If you have more than one guinea pig, it is best to figure out if a guinea pig is chewing on another or if your furry friend is doing it themselves. Spend some time observing the piggies. Does it happen all around the enclosure? Or in the same place? Is the dominant pig the aggressor or is it something else?
- Deal with medical problems that might pop up. Sometimes your guinea pigs eating their own hair is actually a sign of illness. This might be related to stress or even internal problems like tumors or an ovarian cyst. It is important to visit a vet with hair loss such as this and if you do, get a thorough physical exam done and make sure the vet runs some tests on your guinea pig.
- Offer toys to divert your guinea pig. To combat obsessive barbering, you can purchase toys from a pet store that your guinea pig will find to be interactive or intriguing. Wood and hay are good for chewing on as they are something it is safe to put in its mouth. Keep rotating the toys so different ones becomes interesting every week, month, or even day.
- Split them up. You can remove the offender from the group but make sure they remain in social contact with other guinea pigs – through a nearby cage. If competition between two guinea pigs is leading to excessive barbering, separate them so that the behavior does not spread. Or if you’re housing the barbering piggie with a long-haired friend, try pairing the barberer with a short-haired friend instead.
Don’t put repellant sprays to the barbered guinea pig’s fur. This might make your piggies sick, because it contains unsuitable ingredients that might be hazardous for their health. Plus, they oftenb don’t won’t. Save your money for something else.
Things To Remember About Guinea Pigs Eating Human Hair
The most important thing to remember about why guinea pigs eat human hair (or even guinea pig hair) is to try to identify the reason for the barbering. It’s not always easy to do and will require some patience.
If you can find the source, there are a few things that you can do in order to stop your guinea pig from barbering. But, there are some thing you need to remember.
- Be patient and consistent with any training provided.
- Take steps to keep your hair out of your guinea pig’s reach.
- Some common causes for this behavior are stress, boredom, or competition for resources such as food bowls or hiding places- but there could be others too!
- Be prepared to make your guinea pigs environment as stress free as possible.
- Be prepared to provide the right resources and a stable, healthy diet for your pet.
- It’s important to rule out any health problems before assuming that your guinea pig has barbering issues.
- Lastly, know that it may take a while for things to improve.
That’s it. Now you know just about everything that you need to know about why guinea pigs eat hair.
Barbering. (n.d.). Diseases of Research Animals – DORA — University of Missouri – Comparative Medicine Program and IDEXX-BioAnalytics. https://dora.missouri.edu/guinea-pig/barbering/
Chewing of hair in Guinea pigs. (2010, July 21). The Best Pet Health & Care Advice from Real Vets | PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/exotic/conditions/skin/c_ex_gp_barbering
Reinhardt, V. (2005, October). Hair pulling: a review. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16197702/