Guinea pigs have lots of quirky habits, and one of them is lying on their side. Why do they do that? Why do they lie on their side? And is that behavior normal or is it cause for concern?
Typically, a guinea pig laying on its side is a sign of a happy, relaxed guinea pig. However, if lying on his side is accompanied by twitching, shortness of breath, or other signs of illness, your guinea pig is ill and should be taken to a vet. Guinea pigs also lie on their sides if they’re shocked or scared.
There’s a lot more to know when it comes to understanding the body language of your piggie pal.
Let’s dive in to see exactly why your little friend may be laying on its side.
So, Your Guinea Pig Is Laying on Its Side (Do You Need To Freak Out?)
You stroll towards your piggie’s cage, stop, and suck in a deep panicked breath. Because you notice your fur baby slumped down or spread out on its side.
In a split second you wonder, “Is my fur baby dead?” You dart towards the cage only to have the life scared out of you when your startled piggie scurry away into a cuddle sack or hidey.
(I’m not judging you because you’ve done this myself. And after all, some people have found their little friends have passed on their side.)
But, how do you decide if your your guinea pig lying down on his side is a cause for concern.
But, don’t automatically jump to this conclusion.
Look at other factors or symptoms to know for certain if you need to be concerned. Consider everything in context.
Don’t just see your piggie on her side and think “Omigosh, she’s dead”.
If you’re an observant pet parent that gives your furry friends weekly health checks, you’ll be able to spot illnesses quickly before they progress too far.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why your piggie might be lying on his side.
1. Likes To Lie On Their Side
Well, laying sprawled out on their side like they’ve just wiped out off a surfboard is actually a normal position for many guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs enjoy lying in a variety of positions, just like us. Lying on their side is one of them.
It’s a sign that they’re relaxed and comfortable.
Bonus points if your piggie is stretched out in the open, because that means he really trusts you.
How To Tell
Here are a few questions. If your piggie is on her side and the answer to the following questions is “yes”, she probably feels comfortable and relaxed.
- Does your guinea pig seem comfortable and calm?
- Are she in good health (as far as you know)?
- Has she been eating and playing like normal?
- While lying on her side, is she breathing normally?
2. Mange Mites
I wouldn’t wish mange mites on any living things. They burrow into your piggie’s skin, causing intense pain and itching.
Guinea pigs get mites through direct contact with animals that already have them. The eggs can be carried to the animal and will hatch when they are in a host.
When there isn’t a host, mites will die after 3 weeks. But, that’s not really cause to celebrate.
The eggs stay on the animals skin. When they hatch do the same damage to your pet that their parents did. That’s why treatment has to be immediate and thorough.
Take a look at the following questions. A “yes” answer to a combination of them could point to your piggie lying on it’s side being from mange mites.
- Is your guinea pig twitching and scratching?
- Do you notice hair loss or bald patches on your piggie’s body? If so, do the bald patches seem red and inflamed?
- Has your piggie had contact with a new animal?
- Is your guinea pig’s appetite gone? If so, has she lost weight?
- Has your guinea pig been nipping or biting at herself? The pain from the mites might spark some aggressive behaviors in your piggie.
Dehydration occurs when your guinea pig uses or loses more fluid than she takes in.
When this happens her body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If the lost fluids aren’t replaced, your guinea pig will get dehydrated.
Guinea pigs are particularly sensitive to dehydration during hot weather. But, dehydration can happen any time they’re exposed to high temperatures or have diarrhea.
Piggies can’t sweat and don’t have an internal ways to cool themselves down. So, they need to live in a place that is 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
But, it can happen any time they’re exposed to high temperatures or have diarrhea.
How To Tell
To try to pinpoint whether or not your piggie is dehydrated, look at these questions. If your furry burrito is lying on his side and you answer “yes,” to a combination of the questions, there’s a good chance that your piggie might be dehydrated.
- Has your guinea pig been exposed to direct sunlight or heart sources (like fireplaces, heaters, etc.) for a long period of time?
- Does your piggie seem lethargic and limp?
- Are his eyes sunken into his head?
- Has your little friend had water recently?
- What about his feces? Has he had diarrhea or are his dropping small and hard?
If your guinea pig has diarrhea, it may also speed up the dehydration process. Piggies have sensitive digestive systems and eating the wrong things can make them sick.
A way to check if your little friend is dehydrated is to gently pinch its skin at the shoulder blade. If the skin doesn’t immediately bounce back to its original position, it means they’re in need of hydration.
4. Heat Stroke
Guinea pigs are most comfortable in temperatures around 65 to 75 °F. When exposed to heats greater than this they may struggle to keep cool.
Beware of guinea pig heat stroke when it’s too hot. Your piggie has around around 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to a heat source outside of their comfort range, before they start feeling the effects of heat stroke.
But, your fur baby is safe from heat stroke, because she’s inside, right?
Guinea Pigs don’t have to be outside to get heat stroke or heat exhaustion. They can also become overheated indoors. If your guinea pig is in direct sunlight or exposed to any powerful heat source, they’re in danger of heat stroke.
Take a look at the following questions. A “yes” answer to a combination of them could point to your piggie lying on it’s side being from heat stroke.
- Is your piggie’s saliva thick? Is her tongue bright red, possibly hanging out of her mouth?
- Do you notice if your little friend is breathing rapidly or does she have shallow breathing?
- Is your guinea pig unable to move?
- Did your guinea pig spend excessive time in direct sunlight or next to a fireplace, heater, etc.?
If you’ve caught this illness in time, get it sorted asap by cooling down the room and getting your guinea pig back into a comfortable environment.
But, heat stroke does require a vet’s attention. So, make sure you get your little friend to one as soon as possible if you suspect heat stroke.
Sometimes there are signs that show you your guinea pig may be lying on his side because he’s terrified.
Guinea pigs aren’t fighters and have very defenses. They’re prey animals. And other than hiding one thing that prey animals do well is “playing dead”. It’s a defense method they use when they’re in danger.
When a guinea pig feels threatened, its first impulse is to freeze. It just stays very, very still. This can last up to 20 minutes or just a few seconds.
Predators often play with their food in the wild. If the predators get bored or tired, they sometimes let go of the animal. Guinea pigs who “play dead” have a chance to escape if this happens.
How To Tell
Take a peek at the following questions. If you answered “yes” to any of them then the guinea pig may have been “playing dead”.
- Was there a sudden movement (made by someone or something) near your piggie’s cage?
- Did you notice a loud noise nearby?
- Is there a larger animal nearby that your guinea pig could view as a predator? (Yes, other household pets like dogs and cats count as predators).
6. Pneumonia Or Upper Respiratory Infection
Just like humans, your guinea pig can get a common cold. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death in piggies as they are prone to upper respiratory tract infections.
This can kill your fur baby in as little or less than 48 hours if they’re not treated and placed on antibiotics as soon as possible.
How to Tell
To try to figure out if piggies are lying on their sides, because of an upper respiratory infection, look at these questions. If you answer “yes,” to the majority of them, then your piggie might have an URI.
- Has your little friend lost her appetite?
- Is your piggie having difficulty breathing?
- Is he coughing, sneezing, or wheezing?
- Does your piggie have crusty eyes or a crusty, runny nose?
- Is your fur baby unwilling to move?
A respiratory tract infection can be caused by exposure to bacteria, a change in routine, stress and even pregnancy.
A good exotic vet can diagnose pneumonia from an examination or from tests of discharge from the eyes or nose. X-ray images may also show evidence of pneumonia in the lungs.
When You Should Take Your Guinea Pig to the Vet
It’s difficult to tell when your furry friends aren’t well. They don’t show it easily. You need to pay very close attention to what might be making them sick.
A good eye for observing your piggie’s behavior (what’s normal and what isn’t) will make it easier to spot indicators of illness that you wouldn’t notice otherwise. – like changes in eating or sleeping habits, weight loss and gain, discharge around eyes (and many other signs).
The best way to catch illnesses early is if pet parents are observant and perform weekly health checks. When you give your little friends a health check, do the following:
- Weigh them: You can use a kitchen scale or get a small animal scale. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of personal preference. If you get a kitchen scale, you can use it to measure out portions of your piggie’s food to make sure that you’re not overfeeding them.
- Inspect their coat: There shouldn’t be any missing hair or bald patches. Keep an eye out for flaky skin that might indicate a fungal infection or parasite infestation.
- Examine their face and eyes: Look out for runny, crusty noses or eyes. Eyes should be alert, bright, and clear. Be sure to check their ears as well, by lifting the flaps gently. Make sure your guinea pig’s teeth aren’t too long and aren’t broken or chipped.
- Check their undercarriage : Your guinea pig’s bottom should be free of poop and debris. Nails on their feet shouldn’t be too long (and definitely shouldn’t be curly). Watch for limping and shuffling.
- Habit overview: Take note of your little friend’s eating habits. Are they normal or not? As well as the frequency, consistency, and color of droppings and urine. If you find anything about their habits or behavior unusual, take it up with a vet.
Physical changes to your little friend might be the first sign that something isn’t quite right. If you notice something out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to take your piggie to the vet for an examination.
Here’s some questions the veterinarian might ask when you take your guinea pig for a visit.
- Do you check your guinea pig’s weight regularly?
- Have you noticed changes in their eating or drinking habits?
- Have they been more inactive than usual?
- Are they hiding more often than they usually would?
- What does its droppings look like?
- How long have you noticed their unusual behavior (i.e.: Lying on their side)?
How Can I Prevent My Guinea Pig from Getting Sick?
When you get into the groove of knowing what you’re doing, guinea pigs take very minimal effort to look after. It’s really not difficult to keep your cavy healthy.
You should also keep track of their behaviors and note any abnormalities when you see them. Keep the following things in mind when you structure the regular, daily care you give your guinea pigs:
- Up their Vitamin C a bit: Ensure their diet is high in fiber and Vitamin C . Vitamin C is excellent for their immune systems.
- Provide good food: Feed them unlimited amounts of good-quality hay (or fresh, untreated grass), 1/8 cup of Vitamin C-enriched pellets, and a half a cup of veggies daily. And don’t forget fresh water. Providing an appropriate daily diet for your furry friends is important daily care.
- No inappropriate food: Avoid inappropriate (or poisonous) foods like chocolate, potatoes, mushrooms, nuts, etc.
- Keep things tidy: Spot clean their cage bedding daily and fully clean the cage weekly. Fleece bedding and paper-based bedding are both good options. But, some owners use Carefresh, wood shaving, or wood pellets.
- Bigger is better when it comes to cages: Make sure that their environment is as calm and comfortable as possible. Get the biggest cage possible. An acceptable size for a cage for one guinea pig is 7.5 square feet. But, the preferred size is about 10 square feet.
All that said, you should still have your guinea pigs checked by the vet every once in a while. At least once a year.
Avoid Freaking Out Over Your Side-Laying Guinea Pig
As you can see, there are many reasons why a guinea pig lies on it side.
Take a deep breath, my friend.
For the most part, the reason behind the behavior of these adorable animals is harmless. Your piggie just likes to sprawl out like she’s at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.
Depending on your situation, there’s a small chance that lying on his side is an effect of some sort of illness. Don’t let that get you down or cause your to worry.
Figuring out if your fur baby is sick may be difficult. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s actually very doable.
You now have knowledge from these tips and resources listed in this post.
You know what to signs to look for to help you figure out what might be wrong (if there’s anything wrong) with your furry burrito.
And you have some information about what you need to look for to make sure your little friend is (and stays) healthy.
All that’s left is for you to take action by setting up a health check schedule. That way you can get into the groove of routinely monitoring your guinea pig’s health.
Are you ready to get started?
Uh-huh. I thought so.
Go ahead and get started.