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Are Guinea Pigs Smart? What Does Science Say

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

hands holding guinea pig

Guinea pigs are entertaining, loving, and inquisitive creatures. But did you know that guinea pigs are intelligent as well? You may have noticed particular characteristics and behaviors that point to your guinea pig’s intelligence. Therefore, you might be wondering how smart guinea pigs are.

Because it is challenging to assess guinea pigs’ intelligence, we need to look for traits and behaviors that reveal how smart they are, such as learning tricks, recognizing their owners, and their memory level. While guinea pigs may not be as smart as your cat or dog, they recognize their names and can learn to perform tricks, so yes, they may be smarter than you believe!

Scientists are always discovering new facts about the intelligence of animals, including how intelligent our pet guinea pigs are. Let’s have a look!

Are Guinea Pigs Smart?

Yes! Guinea pigs are exceptionally smart and sensitive creatures. Guinea pigs have a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy, they can learn their own names, and can do tricks. They can also be trained to use a litter box which is great news for a guinea pig owner.

Given the high intelligence of guinea pigs, it is important to promote variety in their daily activities and create an enriching environment.

white crested guinea pig
Image Credit: Bad_Bear_Pictures, Pixabay

How Smart Are Guinea Pigs?

As new studies are published, researchers continue to learn more about how smart guinea pigs are. They can learn a lot, despite the misconception that they are simple creatures.

Guinea pigs are much smarter than people realize. They can learn to respond to certain words, recognize their names and cages, learn tricks, and follow instructions. They also have long-term memories and have an excellent sense of direction.

Despite having 13% smaller brains than wild guinea pigs, pet guinea pigs are better at solving problems. Although it’s a common misconception, having a tiny brain doesn’t necessarily make an animal less intelligent!

You may have noticed how your guinea pig squeaks when you rattle their food box because they recognize the sound associated with food. Millie, a pet guinea pig, can use buttons to translate and communicate with words!

A pet guinea pig may even be able to tell you apart from other family members if you have owned it for a long time. It is said that they use their sense of hearing, smell, and sight to identify you.

It is also believed that guinea pigs struggle with short-term memory. However, given their excellent long-term memory, they are very likely to recall their previous owners and cage mates. Additionally, they can recall the things that frightened them in the past and will try to avoid them in the future.

The 4 Ways to Measure Guinea Pigs’ Intelligence

Since intelligence is challenging to measure accurately, their traits and behaviors offer the most valuable data about a guinea pig’s IQ. Through several studies, scientists have examined guinea pigs to determine their level of intelligence.

three guinea pigs on a pink blanket
Image Credit: Jaroslaw Slodkiewicz, Unsplash

1. Memory Tests

Guinea pigs have a great memory! A test was specifically designed to evaluate a guinea pig’s memory. The capacity to recall information and retrace steps were the areas they concentrated on, as well as speech recognition, the ability to recognize signs and gestures, and general memory capacity.

2. Color Tests

Guinea pigs can recognize colors and symbols. Horst Biefeld experimented in his book Guinea Pigs — A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual to determine whether a guinea pig could discern between colors by using colored feeding bowls, which demonstrated that they could. Similar research using guinea pigs in mazes has been conducted.

The guinea pigs can complete a maze using the signs and symbols provided. The results demonstrated that guinea pigs could learn the meanings of the symbols and signals concerning particular circumstances. They were also able to memorize them for a few hours.

brown guinea pig on a fleece blanket
Image Credit: Arif L, Unsplash

3. Sense of Smell

Guinea pigs stray away from their natural habitat for food and water, but they always return. It was once believed that guinea pigs utilized their keen sense of smell to find their way home, but it has since been established that they use their kinesthetic memory to remember routes and how to get home.

4. Fooling Predators

The capacity of guinea pigs to fool predators in herds is an excellent illustration of intelligence in the species. Instead of fleeing away in one direction, if a predator were around, guinea pigs would disperse in many directions. This would confuse and disorient the predator, which is very clever!

Their capacity to demonstrate emotional intelligence also serves as a measure of intelligence. Guinea pigs are known to respond accordingly when they detect emotional changes in their owner or their herd.

Two American Guinea Pigs
Image Credit: iStoominaP, Shutterstock

How Intelligent Are Guinea Pigs Compared to Other Species?

Cats and dogs are more intelligent than guinea pigs, so comparing them to other rodents may be more practical. Naturally, it also depends on the type of intelligence you’re looking at. For instance, because guinea pigs are social animals whereas hamsters are not, guinea pigs are expected to have greater emotional intelligence than hamsters.

Because they have fewer neurons in their brains than other rodents, hamsters have smaller amounts of grey matter, and due to their limited attention span, hamsters are more difficult to train than guinea pigs. Rats and mice both have comparable memory capacities, but they are smarter.

Guinea pigs and rabbits are on par when it comes to intelligence, but because rabbits have more neurons in their brains than guinea pigs do, they are a little smarter. The short-term memory of a rabbit only lasts for a few minutes, whereas the memory of a guinea pig lasts for a longer period.

Can You Teach Guinea Pig Tricks?

Yes! Guinea pigs are smarter than they are given credit for, and with patience, you can teach your guinea pig tricks. Your guinea pig can be trained to shake its paws, spin around, or stand on its hind legs and beg. It can also learn to push a ball or little car, come when called, and play dead! And the most loved trick to teach your guinea pig is how to use its litter box.

Any guinea pig can be trained successfully with repetition, persistence, and positive reinforcement. Which trick you want your guinea pig to learn will determine the exact method of training, but it may take some time. Reward it as soon as it successfully finishes a task, and it will eventually learn to understand and figure it out.

Avoid wearing out your guinea pig with lengthy training sessions by giving it a daily session of 10 or 20 minutes.

young boy playing with guinea pig
Image Credit: mgventer10, Pixabay

The 2 Tips to Keep Your Guinea Pig Smart & Happy

Guinea pigs display a high level of intelligence, and engaging with them is enjoyable for both you and your pet. Here are a few activities you can try to nurture your guinea pig’s intelligence and strengthen your friendship.

1. Hide and Seek

When playing hide and seek with your guinea pig, it may be more of a peek-a-boo game but will be fun. Choose various areas of the house and cover your face. When you release your hands, your guinea pig will be curious and will want to investigate. This will help improve its memory and recognition of your face.

children holding a guinea pig
Image Credit: Shschus, Shutterstock

2. Maze Games

Maze games are a great way to nurture your guinea pig’s memory. They can be simple or challenging, but to start, simple may be better. Regardless of how challenging they are, there should always be a reward at the end, and your guinea pig will become more interested and responsive the more you do it.

There are several things available that can put your guinea pigs’ logic to the test, like logic boards. On the board, you will hide a treat and your guinea pig gets to find it. Games like jumping through hoops, running through tunnels, and spinning in circles can nurture your pet’s intelligence.


Guinea pigs are smarter than we may think. Thanks to research and science, we know there is more to guinea pigs than the cute balls of fluff we get to feed snacks and cuddle with. Guinea pigs have an excellent memory, and you can even teach them a few tricks! While they are not as smart as cats and dogs, they have a level of intelligence that deserves recognition.

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Featured Image Credit: Dmytro Vietrov, Shutterstock

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