If you’ve owned guinea pigs before then you should know that it’s not uncommon for them to exhibit strange and unconventional behaviors. If you’re new to owning a guinea pig you’ll want to make sure you understand what behaviors you need to look for and how to interpret them as many can have multiple meanings.
A behavior that many witness with their guinea pig is twitching.
Twitching, by definition, is when muscles contract in the body.
your guinea pig will shake or jolt almost uncontrollably for a period of time. Most owners view twitching as a healthy behavior but that’s a common misconception and not always the case.
If your guinea pig is “twitching” it may be a sign that something more serious is happening to them and they need medical attention.
Below we will step you through what you’re witnessing, help you understand it and help you understand some of the common reasons why your guinea pig may twitch.
Understand Why Your Guinea Pig is Twitching
Your guinea pig may do a small sudden jump or jolt around if they get excited and that is a normal part of their behavior.
However, if the twitching or jolting lasts longer than a minute or doesn’t stop your guinea pig may have a more serious condition.
To help your guinea pig you’ll need to understand why or how they started twitching. This comes with careful observation and management. If you follow a routine checklist for guinea pig care you should already know a lot about your guinea pig and what may have caused this.
Before you talk to your vet or try to self diagnose your guinea pig, you’ll want to make sure you observe the duration, frequency and intensity of the twitching.
You’ll want to make sure you monitor and keep track of any weird behaviors your guinea pig may have from the moment you adopt them or they are born. Your guinea pig’s personality will be vastly different from others and most don’t follow a “normal” pattern.
Generally, if your guinea pig is twitching for longer than 2 to 5 minutes you will want to seek medical attention. It’s likely there is a more serious underlying condition that can’t be tied to them being happy or excited.
The number of twitches or twitching episodes your guinea pig has should be documented. If the twitching happens at set intervals, such as every 15 to 20 minutes, it’s likely to be a more serious issue and you should consult a local vet.
If the twitching is occurring with a strong force and your guinea pig is unable to move or has difficulty breathing, this is largely due to some disease or a medical problem.
Common Reasons for Twitching in Guinea Pigs
There are many reasons for your guinea pig to be twitching or shaking. It’s very important to differentiate the abnormal causes from the normal causes to determine if your cavy is really healthy or not.
The most common reasons are:
- Excitement or Happiness
- Cardiac Arrest (Heartattack)
- Heat Stroke
- Respiratory Infections
- Ear Infections
- Injuries to the Head
Mites are small parasites that infest the skin and fur. You may also hear your vet call it mange. If your guinea pig has mites on them they will likely be more active in itching and scratching to try and remove them.
In the process of itching and scratching your guinea pig may shake and twitch. This is a common reaction to mites and you shouldn’t be concerned.
Your guinea pig can get mites from multiple sources such as other guinea pigs, contaminated bedding or other poor living conditions.
If you notice the skin of your guinea pig getting dry, flaky and thick you’ll want to take extra care during our grooming and talk to a vet. If neglected, your guinea pig will start losing weight, may develop alopecia and they may even stop eating entirely.
To identify if mites are the cause of your guinea pig’s twitching you should look for:
- Dry and flaky skin
- Hairless patches on the skin
- Crusts around ears, neck, and eyes
- Intense itching
- The recent addition of a new member with a history of itching and without proper quarantine
Excitement and Happiness
Guinea pigs are not shy to express their emotions. When a guinea pig is happy or excited it may start to twitch, roll around in its cage, start to shake, or lay down on one side. When twitching occurs due to happiness it is completely normal.
There will be no sign of any disease and the guinea pig will be in total control of its body and senses during normal twitching.
Your guinea pig is likely just excited and happy because of:
- Immediately after introducing a new guinea pig into the cage
- After providing food or favorite treats
- After you have changed the bedding or cleaned the cage
- No signs of any disease or illness are noticeable
Ringworm is a fungal infection caused by a specific species of fungi called Trichophyton, Microsporum and Epidermophyton.
Guinea pigs are known to twitch while having a ringworm infection due to their lesions scabbing over and becoming severely itchy. Your guinea pig will likely twitch or shake it’s body to rub against the cage or another object to satisfy the itch.
Your guinea pig is very susceptible to ringworm due to living in a confined environment and the sanitary conditions with it. Ringworm is a very contagious disease and can even pass on to humans if you’re not careful.
Most guinea pigs will get ringworm from other cavies but they can also get it from unsanitary living conditions if you don’t clean their cage and bedding.
Cardiac Arrest (Heart Attack)
A cardiac arrest, or heart attack, is rare in guinea pigs but not impossible. The most common reason guinea pigs will have a heart attack is from overheating. During a heart attack your guinea pig will exhibit signs of twitching and jolting.
The best place to keep your guinea pig is in a climate controlled and low traffic area. You’ll want to make sure your guinea pig says hydrated and is getting all of the vitamin C and nutrients they need.
Due to the absence of sweat glands guinea pigs are unable to regulate their body temperature in the summer months. They depend on their owners to provide them with a cool environment and plenty of water to keep themselves hydrated. If the owners fail to do so guinea pigs can suffer from a heat stroke leading to intense twitching in their bodies.
To identify if your guinea pig is suffering from heat stroke look for these:
- The environment’s temperature is over 75 degrees Fahrenheit
- Body is very warm to the touch
If your guinea pig has an upper respiratory infection it may lead to twitching because of them being unable to breathe. They’ll likely try to move around or shift their body around in a panic to make it easier to breathe.
Guinea pigs are very prone to respiratory infections, especially during colder months, so you’ll want to make sure you keep your guinea pig free of airflow and in a climate controlled area.
Your guinea pig may have a respiratory infection if you notice the following:
- Watery eyes and runny nose
- Wheezing sounds come mostly at night time
- Sneezing and coughing
- Abdominal breathing
- Lethargic behavior and hunched-up posture
- Loss of appetite
Ear infections can develop in guinea pigs due to poor sanitary conditions and poor grooming. If your guinea pig has an ear infection they can intensely shake or scratch at their ears to satisfy the itch.
An ear infection can be painful for your guinea pig and increase stress levels. You’ll want to thoroughly groom and check over their eyes during your normal care cycle.
Your guinea pig may have an ear infection you see the following:
- Discharge from the ears
- Rubbing ears with cage
- Scratching ears
- Constant head shaking
If your guinea pig is poisoned it can lead to twitching. If your guinea pig has consumed something toxic, such as chemicals, it may twitch as a side effect of whatever they consumed.
This is sometimes common when giving your guinea pig vegetables that are not washed and contain pesticides. You’ll want to make sure you fully wash all food and that you keep the environment of the guinea pig as clean as possible.
Although rare, it has been reported that female guinea pigs may display twitching when they are pregnant. The main reason for this is due to the changing hormone levels in the body during pregnancy.
Lice, just like most other parasites, can cause aggressive itching in guinea pigs. Your cavy will wildly shake their body in an attempt to get rid of these pests.
As you groom and go through your normal care you will want to inspect your guinea pig for any lice. This is especially important in guinea pig’s with longer hair such as the Lunkarya or Peruvian guinea pigs.
Your guinea pig may have lice if you notice the following:
- Small, pale insects moving in the fur
- Continuous scratching
- Rolling on the floor of the cage
Injury to the Head
If your guinea pig gets a head injury from falling or being hit with something it can lead to twitching. A hit to the head may lead to brain damage or other issues with their nervous system.
A guinea pig with an impaired nervous system can display random and intense acts of twitching, similar to a seizure. If your guinea pig is struck in the head you will want to visit your vet to have a full scan done to ensure your guinea pig is healthy.
Difference Between Seizures and Twitching
A seizure is a tremor or convulsion that is sudden and uncontrollable. These are electrical disturbances of your guinea pig’s brain. A seizure will have different causes, intensities and durations just like twitching.
The main difference between a seizure and twitching is that during a seizure your guinea pig will likely not have control of its body and will remain in the same spot.
During twitching your guinea pig is aware of its surroundings and can control most parts of its body and may even be moving around the cage.
Is Twitching Fatal?
The act of twitching itself isn’t fatal. The guinea pig may physically harm themselves if they are in an unsafe environment. The real cause for concern is the reason behind why your guinea pig is twitching.
If your guinea pig is twitching you should speak to your vet and document everything you’re observing so they can make an accurate diagnosis.
Popcorning vs Twitching
Popcorning is when your guinea pig suddenly changes direction, jumps around and even squeaks. This is often associated with them being happy instead of sad or ill. In most cases you’ll find your guinea pig popcorning when they see you after you’ve been away for an extended period of time.
Unlike twitching, your guinea pig should not shake vigorously when they are popcorning.
Article Sources & Research
- Guinea Pigs | Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital | Medical and Care Resources. (n.d.). Azeah. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://azeah.com/resource/guinea-pigs
- | Cloudflare. (n.d.). Squeaksscalesandtails. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://squeaksscalesandtails.com/why-do-guinea-pigs-twitch/
- Rhodes, T. (2021, November 21). Why Is My Guinea Pig Twitching? (Causes & Treatment Plan). My Pet Guinea Pig. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://mypetguineapig.com/guinea-pig-twitching/