When you hear the word hibernation, you may think of a sleepy bear or a hedgehog tightly curled up underneath a pile of leaves. Lots of animals go into hibernation every winter to make it through the colder months when there’s little food around. But what about our pet piggies? Do guinea pigs hibernate?
As responsible pet parents, we want to know what behavior is natural for our furry friends so we can give them the right care and visit the vet if needed. And while other pets, like tortoises, do hibernate, guinea pig hibernation doesn’t exist. Piggies are active all year round!
Some people think guinea pigs hibernate because they like to hide and burrow, but the truth is, some piggies are just a little shy. They don’t stay hidden for long, and they definitely don’t go into guinea pig hibernation in their hideys.
Let’s find out what hibernation really is, why some people think guinea pigs hibernate, and how piggy parents should prepare for the best winter cavy care!
Difference between hibernation and torpor
Hibernation is a deep sleep some animals go into during the colder months. During this time, they don’t wake up for weeks on end - not even to eat. Animals hibernate, so they don’t need as much energy and food during cold seasons.
Torpor is a different kind of deep sleep that animals use to get through tough times with limited food. Torpor doesn’t last anywhere near as long as hibernation, and the animals can wake up after just a few days or nights of sleep.
Let’s investigate these two sleepy states a little more closely!
When it gets colder outside, food becomes scarce and the animal kingdom has to find new ways to survive. And that’s why some animals go into hibernation, the long winter sleep.
When they’re in hibernation, an animal’s body functions slow down. That means their body temperature drops, their heartbeat and breathing slow down, and so does their metabolism. It helps them save energy they’d burn if they were awake and active because they need to eat food to make more energy. Instead, when their energy is on the lowest setting, they use up the extra chunk they’ve added by eating more before hibernation.
Animals hibernate for days, weeks, and even months at a time - and we’re sure a few humans would love to join them for the long sleep throughout the colder months.
You may be surprised to hear that only a few animals, like bears, squirrels, and hedgehogs, go into hibernation every year. Most animals go into a much shorter and milder state of sleep called torpor. It’s somewhere between normal sleep and full-on hibernation. So what exactly happens when an animal is in torpor?
When we fall asleep at night, our heart rate and breathing slow down - and that’s exactly what happens when an animal goes into torpor. Though torpor is a stronger sleep than normal, the animal isn’t as far gone as they are during hibernation.
Just like hibernation, torpor is a way to save energy when there isn’t much food around. Unlike hibernation, it often only lasts for a night or two - a few days tops. The animal usually wakes up when there’s food available again, depending on their usual dinner times. Some animals eat at night, some prefer snacking during the day.
So what does this mean for guinea pigs? We know guinea pigs don’t hibernate, but they can go into torpor. If piggies are left to live in a very cold environment, their hoomans could find them sleeping very deeply one day. If you spot a piggy who seems fast asleep in colder weather, you can try to warm them up and see if they’d wake up slowly.
Do guinea pigs hibernate?
No, guinea pigs do not hibernate, even if they’re staying in really cold temperatures.
Our floofy friends are related to wild guinea pigs who live in warmer climates around South America, so they just never had use for a long hibernation sleep. Living in a warmer part of the world means that there’s enough food available even during the coldest month.
Today, piggies live all over the world in different climates. At Kavee, we’re fans of indoor housing for piggies because it keeps them safe from being too warm or cold.
Piggies have a tendency to hide if they’re scared or stressed, so some people think guinea pigs hibernate. And although they enjoy burrowing into a cozy fleece hidey, it’s not the same as a hedgehog building their hibernation home. The cute cavies are just staying hidden until it seems safe to get back out.
So, since guinea pigs don’t hibernate, what extra cavy care do they need to stay snug as a bug during winter?
What is the ideal room temperature for guinea pigs?
Our furry friends are sensitive souls, and their bodies are fragile, too. Many piggy parents don’t realize that a steady, comfortable room temperature is important for their companions’ wellbeing, unlike other rodent relatives who are a little hardier in all kinds of weather. A sudden drop or rise in temperatures can be very dangerous for our floofs, so getting the temperature right for your pigs is key to healthy small furries.
Generally, guinea pigs do best in comfy room temperatures, and both heat and cold can make them unwell.
The Ideal Daytime Temperature: 65°F to 73°F (18°C to 23°C)
Your piggies will be popcorning happily at a temperature between 65°F to 73°F, or 18°C to 23°C. This is a comfortable room temperature, even for us humans. If the temperature drops below 60°F (16°C), it gets too cold for our warmth-loving pets, and anything above 75°F (24°C) can quickly lead to heatstroke.
Keeping a thermometer in your piggies’ room is a great way to make sure your guinea pigs are comfortable.
Ideal Night Time Temperature: above 60°F (16°C)
When it gets colder, guinea pigs sleep longer to use up less energy. They’ll be a little less active - probably no popcorn parties - and you may come across a piggy in deep sleep. Remember, this sleepy state is not guinea pig hibernation, but rather torpor.
To avoid your piggies getting too cold and going for a long sleep, the room temperature should always be above 60°F (16°C), even at night.
What happens if my guinea pigs get too cold?
If temperatures drop below 60°F (16°C), your piggies will think they need to conserve energy by going for a big, long sleep. Remember, this is not because guinea pigs hibernate, but rather because of torpor. Torpor can last a day or two, and it helps your furry friends stay warm without losing too much energy.
If you notice your piggies getting sluggish, being slow to respond, and even having a lower heart rate, it could be because they’re going into torpor. Sometimes, they can even appear half dead, giving piggy parents across the world a big fright! The best thing to do is move your floofs to a warmer space, so you can watch them as they come out of the torpor.
If the pigs are in cold temperatures for too long, they could get hypothermia. This is a serious condition they get when their body temperature drops too low. The best method is prevention by keeping them at comfortable room temperature. But if you do notice any signs of torpor, it’s best to speak to a cavy-savvy vet straight away. The symptoms of torpor overlap with signs of other pig diseases, so it’s better to get them checked.
Let’s find out a little more about hypothermia in guinea pigs, so we can keep our piggies safe.
Signs of hypothermia in guinea pigs
We now know that guinea pigs really don’t like any temperatures below 60°F (16°C), but when do colder temperatures become a danger to our furry friends?
If the sweet floofs are cold for a longer period of time, their whole body temperature drops, and that’s when hypothermia can set in. Your piggies’ normal body temperature is around 100°F to 102°F (38°C to 39°C), and if it drops below that, the floofs are at risk of hypothermia.
If you’re worried about your piggies being cold, these top tips will be helpful:
- Check for cold ears, nose, and feet: if these areas feel cold, it’s your first and best indication that yours piggies are feeling a bit chilly
- Use a thermometer: you can pop a thermometer near your cavies’ cage - as long as they can’t get to it - to keep track of the room temperature; your pigs are happiest at 65°F to 73°F (18°C to 23°C)
- Look out for cold shivers: just like us, guinea pigs shiver when they’re cold; they’ll also snuggle up to their piggy pals for extra warmth
- Watch their sleeping pattern: we’ve learned that piggies go into a deep sleep called torpor when they’re cold; if you notice them sleeping for hours on end during the day or night, it could be down to them being very cold
Like most animals, guinea pigs have a way of dealing with cold temperatures for a short time. Guinea pigs don’t hibernate, but they conserve their energy by going into a shorter deep sleep. If piggies go into that state of sleep, it’s because they’re kept in cold conditions that can make them very sick.
So if you notice your piggies are lethargic, sleeping much more, or seem uncomfortable, it’s best to call your vet straight away.
How to keep guinea pigs warm during winter
If your piggies live in an area of the world that has cold winter months, they’ll need your help to keep warm. Generally, it’s best to keep your cute cavies inside your home, so you can take charge of the conditions they’re living in.
Let’s have a look at some handy tips to keep your guinea pigs warm when it’s frosty outside!
Top Tips for Indoor and Outdoor Pigs
Especially during the colder months, your guinea pigs should really live indoors. While they can get used to slightly colder temperatures, their little bodies don’t deal well with a sudden change in temperature or temperatures below 60°F (16°C). Ideally, they’ll live in your home with the odd trip outside if the weather is nice.
If you can’t move your piggies indoors permanently, you can still use these tips to keep them warm:
Whether your piggies live indoors or outdoors, drafts are one of the biggest dangers to their wellbeing. Even if the temperatures are right, a cold draft can make a piggy sick. For your indoor pigs, this means keeping them away from windows and doors, and placing them in a draft-free area of your home. Outdoor piggies need a well insulated home that’s placed in a sheltered area, so no drafts bother them at any point.
Relocate their cage
To keep a steady and comfortable temperature for your pigs, their home’s location is crucial. Indoor pigs should have their pet palace far away from doors and windows, so they aren’t exposed to drafts or direct sunlight. They also shouldn’t be too close to any heat sources, like radiators.
Outdoor piggies also prefer a sheltered space free from drafts and too much direct sunlight. You can put their hutch in a wind-free corner of the garden.
Optimize the Temperature
To keep your pigs’ palace at the right temperature of 65°F to 73°F (18°C to 23°C), piggy parents may need to get creative. Indoor pigs enjoy warmth from the home’s heating system, but outdoor pigs may need extra help with this. In the colder season, piggy parents can add extra bedding, more cozy hideys, and cavy-savvy heat mats to keep their floofs warm.
Make sure they can exercise
It can be tempting to build a cozy burrow for your pigs during the colder months to keep them snug as a bug, but remember they’re active all year round. Because there’s no guinea pig hibernation, the sweet floofs need lots of space to keep their small bodies in top shape - even in winter.
Monitor Your Guinea Pig
Every pig’s different, and while some may be okay with a certain temperature, other pigs could struggle. Keep a close eye on your guinea pigs and watch out for signs of them being too cold.
Don’t Roast Your Piggies!
Yep, we have to make sure our floofy friends are cozy and comfy when it’s cold outside. But it’s just as important not to overdo it, or we could end up with super toasty piggies instead. Our furry friends can’t sweat, so it’s difficult for them to cool down if their home is too warm.
If you’re offering your cute cavies some extra warmth during winter, it’s a good idea to make sure they can move away from it if they want to. After all, if you’re bundled up in a sweater with thick socks, a scarf, and a hat, you may not want a hot water bottle, right?
Adding a cavy-savvy heat mat or other source of heat to your guinea pigs’ home is a lovely idea - as long as they can decide when they want to use it.
How to Keep Your Outdoor Guinea Pigs Warm
Depending on your location, winter time can be pretty tough for your floofy friends. Frost, ice, and snow aren’t gentle on piggy paws, so if your pigs have to live outside, it’s key to winter-proof their homely hutches. Let’s find out how!
Good Hutch Insulation
Good insulation makes or breaks a hutch’s suitability for guinea pigs. A poorly insulated hutch lets through cold and drafts to your piggies, leaving them feeling frosty. Good insulation makes the hutch a cozy den for your pigs.
While Kavee’s all about indoor housing for your pigs, we think it’s important every pet parent carefully checks their pets’ outdoor habitat for cavy-saviness.
Extra Cozy Bedding
Bedding of any kind is so important for your outdoor floofs. First and foremost, it gives them something to burrow into and snooze on, so it’s key to piggy comfort. Adding extra bedding also means extra comfy cavies, and another way for them to stay warm by huddling in their bedding together.
The other part that bedding’s so crucial for is keeping your pigs dry. Whether it’s their own bathroom breaks, a leaking water bottle, or a bit of snow drifting in, any moisture is uncomfortable for your piggies. When you’re wet and it’s cold… It’s never a nice feeling, right? Bedding absorbs the moisture, so you don’t have to worry about soggy piggy bottoms in the cold.
A Heat Pad
Luckily, there are a few cavy-savvy heat pads and mats out there. Some need electricity to warm up (watch out for cables or unsafe parts your pigs could chew), while others just need a few minutes in the microwave to stay warm for hours after. Whichever option you pick to offer extra comfort to your floofs, remember they should be able to move away from it when they’re toasty enough.