Why Guinea Pigs Don't Hibernate and Can't Handle the Cold

Guinea pigs are unlike other rodents in many ways, and they don't go dormant during the winter, but what do they do when it gets cold out?

Published April 4, 2023
Two guinea pigs sleeping in house

Many small mammal pets hibernate or go dormant during colder parts of the year. However, your Guinea pig does not hibernate. If you notice your guinea pig reducing their activity levels and sleeping more, it's important to make sure they are warm enough. They make look like they're hibernating, but do guinea pigs hibernate like other rodents? What are they doing when they're snuggled into their bedding in what looks like a deep sleep? The answer may surprise you.

Do Guinea Pigs Hibernate?

Guinea pigs do not hibernate because their native habitat is tropical. The outside temperature never gets low enough where going dormant makes sense. They are active year-round.

This doesn't change in captivity, and you shouldn't see any hibernation-related behavior, as long as temperatures are kept in the correct range. However, even if temperatures drop below your Guinea pig's preferred range, they still won't hibernate. They might act sluggish or sleep a lot, but this is not normal for them and it is a sign something is wrong.

Guinea pig snuggled up in his bed

Hibernation Versus Deep Sleep

Hibernation and deep sleep both look similar, but they're very different. Deep sleep is similar to hibernation, but occurs on a shorter time scale. Many animals have evolved this ability in order to survive cold seasons when food is scarce. They go into a deep sleep during the winter months so they don't need to spend as much energy keeping warm.

Guinea pigs can go into a state of deep sleep in captivity if they get too cold. Never let your Guinea pig's enclosure get below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and if you let your cavy out to play during the day, make sure your home is well above this temperature. Below this temperature, your Guinea pig may become seriously ill.

They cannot tolerate cold or extreme temps, and the best range is between 68 and 72 degrees. If your Guinea pig has gone into a deep sleep, you need to warm them up. A sudden rise in temperature can damage their health, so don't heat their enclosure too quickly. Never place your Guinea pig next to a heater to warm them up. Instead, allow their bodies to return to normal on their own once you have moved them from the cold.

Quick Tip

Keeping a thermometer in or near your guinea pig's habitat is critical to ensuring your guinea pig's environment is the right temperature.

A Guinea Pig's Natural Environment

Guinea pigs are native to the Andes Mountains in South America. The Spanish brought Guinea pigs to Europe in the 1500s, and they have been popular pets ever since. Since their original habitat is generally warm, they never had to evolve to hibernate because food is available year-round.

Correct Conditions for Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are very hardy and adaptable animals, but they require a warm environment. Guinea pigs need to be in an environment that is between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit - a tighter range between 68 and 72 degrees is even better. They can handle temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit if you're allowing them to remain outside, but should be brought indoors if temperatures drop lower.

As far as humidity, guinea pigs prefer humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent. If the humidity is too low, it can cause your Guinea pig's skin to dry out and crack. If it's too high, it can cause respiratory problems for your pet. A good way to maintain proper humidity levels is by placing hay or straw in their cage instead of wood shavings or paper bedding.

Quick Tip

If the temperature goes over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, your guinea pig could have a heatstroke. Keep the temperature in the necessary range.

Guinea pig laying in knitted nest bed

When Guineas Get Too Cold

It's not uncommon for Guinea pigs to be kept outdoors in the fresh air. However, if you forget your Guinea pig and leave them outside when it's too cold, they could develop hypothermia or become very ill. This is a serious condition that could lead to death. If you are worried your Guinea pig is too cold, check the following:

  • Toes: Check your Guinea pig's toes to make sure they're warm and cozy. If they're cold, they likely need a warmer area.
  • Ears: If your cavy's ears are cold, that's a telltale sign their body is too cold.
  • Body Language: Like you, if your Guinea pig is shivering, there's a good possibility they're a bit chilly.
  • Sleep cycle: Learn your cavy's normal routine. If they seem to be sleeping more than normal, the temperature could be dangerous.
  • Respiration: Check how your Guinea pig is breathing. If their breaths seem shallow, this could be a sign of hypothermia.

If you believe your Guinea pig is hypothermic, it's best to consult a veterinarian to determine if you can move them into warmer temperatures and wait it out, or if the situation is severe enough for an emergency vet visit.

Being a Good Pet Parent

Part of being a Guinea pig owner is ensuring their health and happiness. To do this, you need to ensure their surroundings match their care requirements. The temperature doesn't need to be exact, but keeping it within the ideal range is necessary for their health and longevity.

Why Guinea Pigs Don't Hibernate and Can't Handle the Cold