From delighted popcorning to excitable wheeks, guinea pigs display plenty of weird and wonderful behaviors. Whether it's through their body language or many noises, understanding how they’re feeling and what they want can come naturally once you get to know them (hint: 99% of the time they’re telling you that they’re hungry and want fresh leafy greens!).
However, there are some behaviors that would baffle even the most experienced piggy parents. Guinea pig licks, for instance - what do they mean?
If you’ve been around your piggy pal for long enough, you’ve probably noticed on more than one occasion that given even the slightest opportunity, they will happily lick your hands, fingers, or face. You’ve probably also caught them in the act of licking themselves or one of their favorite piggy roommates.
Well, we’re here to reassure you that piggy licks are perfectly normal! In fact, if you’ve been wondering whether your cavy feels the same way as you do about them - i.e. “do they love me to the moon and back?” - then this is a sure-fire sign of that!
In this article, we’ll explain everything there is to know about guinea pig licks - why they happen, specific licking behaviors, and when licking may be a cause for concern. Read on to get all your questions answered!
4 Reasons Why Your Guinea Pig Licks You
Let’s take a closer look at the 4 most common reasons for licking, and why your sweet ball of fluff may have taken a shine to you.
Your guinea pig really likes you
Every piggy parent has a deep curiosity about what their furbabies really think about them. Sure, they have no problem showing excitement when you approach their cage around meal times, but what about their affection towards you? Do they love you back?
You’ll be delighted to know that a guinea pig's lick is, first and foremost, a sign of affection and bonding. In fact, it’s common for guinea pigs to lick and groom each other - this is how they bond and establish happy relationships with their piggy companions. Therefore, when your piggy licks your hand, it’s usually an attempt to display love and affection the way they know best. By licking the hand of their favorite hooman, they’re telling you that you’re a beloved member of their family. It can also be a way of politely asking for unlimited attention, cuddles, and strokes!
Your skin is salty
Okay, affection aside, there is another specific reason why your piggy could be so interested in licking you: your skin is naturally salty. Guinea pigs are attracted to the salty taste of your skin and just can’t get enough of it. Like a tasty packet of ready-salted chips, your little piggy may be giving you a lick simply because you taste irresistible.
Anyway, if the way to a piggy’s heart is through their stomach, then we’re not fussy... We’ll take what we can get!
You smell like food
Another possibility is that your food-obsessed cavy has caught a whiff of something yummy - and it’s coming directly from their piggy parent! If you’ve recently been preparing food, then your fingers may still have some enticing smells and tastes lingering on them.
Piggies have fairly powerful little noses that are incredibly sensitive to new scents. When they pick up on a tasty smell on your hands, they may just be feeling curious and wish to explore that flavor.
While this isn’t usually any cause for concern, it’s always best practice to wash your hands thoroughly before handling your guinea pig.
Your piggie is trying to tell you something
Although much rarer, the final scenario shouldn’t be dismissed. Your guinea pig could be licking you out of fear or discomfort.
Before you begin to worry about how to tell apart a happy lick from a distressed lick, rest assured that it should be pretty self-explanatory when your furball isn’t happy about something. While a contented piggy will pancake on your lap or make sweet purring noises, a piggy who isn’t comfortable will nibble your finger while whining or squealing.
Maybe it’s just the way that you’re holding them, or they’re simply not in the mood to be handled right now. Other times, it may be a sign that they’re in physical pain.
In any case, if licking is accompanied by nibbling, scratching, or biting (which isn’t much fun for you, either!), it’s time to put your furry friend down and leave them be!
Is Guinea Pig Licking a Good Thing?
Unless your guinea pig is showing clear signs of discomfort, fear, or some other underlying health conditions, then you can take comfort in knowing that - yes! - your piggy is showing their affection by licking you. This is always a good thing!
That said, we all have different preferences, and just as some people will welcome licks from their dogs (perhaps even all over their face!), others may not enjoy this behavior quite so much. The same goes for your little piggy - whether you find it utterly adorable or a little bit odd when they lick your hands, there’s no right or wrong answer. Just know that it’s their way of showing love.
However, don’t take the fact that your piggies might not lick you at all as a sign that they feel no affection toward you! Remember that guinea pigs are prey animals so it’s no surprise then, that they may take longer to warm to us than other pets like dogs or cats. Of course, this can still feel disappointing for a new piggy parent but rest assured that your care and love won’t go unnoticed.
During this adjustment phase, it’s completely normal for piggies to spend a lot of their time monitoring their hoomans, and working out whether you’re someone they can trust. If they dive for cover every time you approach their cage, or freeze like a statue when you pass through the room, then be aware that this is just their instinct.
The bonding process between you and your fretful pig will take plenty of patience and understanding on your part. However, once your guinea pig gives your hand an inquisitive lick, you should take this as the most esteemed compliment.
Even if you don’t particularly enjoy it, you can bask in the glow of your budding bond of friendship.
Other Guinea Pig Licking Behavior Explained
My guinea pig is licking themselves
Just like a cat will regularly groom themselves, piggies are hygienic little rodents. If you watch them closely, they’re quite particular and attentive when it comes to their personal cleaning regimen. This is why with a well-maintained cage and responsible handling, your guinea pig shouldn’t need bathing too frequently.
If you catch your cavy in the middle of a grooming session, don’t be surprised to find them licking themselves. You’ll likely find that they repeat this behavior several times a day to keep every hair in place!
My guinea pig is licking other piggies
When guinea pigs lived in the wild, they would stick together in herds of 10 or more. As such, they’ve evolved to be friendly little animals who also maintain social hierarchies within their piggy packs. Showing signs of dominance and subservience was completely normal in the vast interconnectedness of burrows and crevices and even nowadays, piggies continue to do the same.
If you keep a couple of cavy companions in the same cage, you may notice one guinea pig licking the eyes and ears of the other, who keeps the head bowed. This scene may appear strange to the untrained eye, but your guinea pigs are actually asserting dominant and submissive stances, which is important for them to understand their roles and relationships with one another.
Licking other guinea pigs can also be a common sign of love and friendliness, through regular attention and grooming. Piggies will also lick their partners when they’re in need of some extra TLC!
My guinea pig licks his cage
All licking behaviors so far have been normal piggy behavior with no cause for concern. However, if you notice your guinea pig is licking their cage, then this can be something to keep an eye on. In general, it’s not much to worry about unless they start nibbling at the bars of their cage. This can be harmful because they may injure their teeth and gums.
Why is your guinea pig licking their cage in the first place? Well, it could be for similar reasons that they lick other objects - to show love. They might also like the taste of it, enjoy the sensation, or be trying to lick up any lingering food scents or treats. Another reason could be that they can smell another guinea pig (for example, if you have one housed on the other side of the bars), or perhaps they are picking up on the scent of a guinea pig that used to live in the same cage.
If you suspect the latter, then they’ll likely want to eliminate the smell and try to replace it with their own scent. They may even be attempting to groom the metal, as a way to groom the other pig they can smell.
Remember that any harsh cleaning products you use on your guinea pig’s cage are likely to be toxic, so observe carefully for any cage-licking.
My Guinea Pig Is Licking Excessively - Why?
You’ll know if your persistent piggy is licking too much if you can spot signs of physical damage or even parasitic and fungal infections. If your guinea pig appears to be licking one spot in particular, check this area thoroughly. Are there any cuts, scratches, visible bruises, or any other obvious signs of injury? If so, you’ll want to get the issue checked over by your local cavy-savvy vet.
Uncontrolled licking can also lead to the development of an issue known as ‘barbering’, aka the pulling and chewing of fur. This is quite normal to spot in pregnant sows who are getting ready to give birth. However, even spayed guinea pigs might sometimes do the same.
They have skin issues
Skin issues in guinea pigs have a myriad of different symptoms, but a common one is your piggy is licking themselves an excessive amount (or at least, more often than normal).
Too much licking could be both a symptom and a cause of illness and infection. We won’t get into the finer details here of each skin condition listed, but bear in mind that it could be a sign of any of the below - and definitely worth getting your poor pig looked over by a vet, just in case:
- Bacterial infections
- Skin tumors
They are bored
Last but not least, your piggy may simply be bored. While guinea pigs are generally mild-mannered and gentle little souls that delight in a simple life, they still need time to socialize with you, exercise, and receive plenty of mental stimulation.
When bored, guinea pigs can engage in destructive habits such as chewing, biting, fur plucking, excessive eating, and OTT grooming. Just like a child with too much pent-up energy and no way of releasing it, you’ll need to ensure your cute cavy gets their needs met to keep them healthy, happy, and free from destructive behaviors.
If your furball is licking or grooming too much, then think about ways in which you can make their cage and daily routine more engaging for them. This may just be all your need to nip it in the bud.
Guinea Pigs Licking FAKs - Frequently Asked Kavees
Do guinea pigs like kisses?
If you’re wondering whether you can bestow your piggy with smooches, then know that guinea pigs are typically happy to be kissed if they’ve formed a trusting bond with you. However, if your guinea pig is new to your home or appears particularly nervous, then it’s best to wait a while until they feel more comfortable.
Why is my guinea pig licking my finger?
There are a few reasons why a guinea pig may be licking your fingers. Usually, it’s a sign of affection. However, occasionally, they might just like the taste of your skin.
Do guinea pigs kiss each other?
Of course, guinea pigs don’t understand what kissing is in the same way that we hoomans do! That said, licking can be one of the ways in which cavies show their affection for each other. Other times, they may just be engaging in some mutual grooming to keep themselves fresh and clean.