If it seems like your guinea pig’s eyes are always open, that’s because, most of the time, they are! Even though guinea pigs do have eyelids and can close their eyes, they don’t tend to do so when they sleep, which may trick guinea pig parents into believing their cavy doesn’t have them at all.
Sleeping with open or partially open is normal guinea pig behavior and, in this post, we’ll explain why guinea pigs so rarely close their eyes.
Sleeping With Open Eyes
Guinea pigs are completely capable of blinking and shutting their eyes, but they typically keep them open as much as possible, including during sleep. While this might seem strange, it’s actually an important survival tactic that’s rooted in behavior performed by their ancestors and wild cousins.
Guinea pigs originated in South America—the Andes Mountains, to be more precise. Wild guinea pigs that look very much like domesticated guinea pigs can still be found roaming South American savannas, forests, and mountainous areas today.
Out in the wild, your guinea pig’s ancestors were prey animals for the likes of wolves, snakes, coyotes, wild cats, and birds, which accounts for their timidity and explains why they sleep with their eyes open. In short, a wild guinea pig’s very survival depends on their ability to stay as alert and eagle-eyed as possible, especially when sleeping, which is the time these animals are at their most vulnerable.
Even though domesticated guinea pigs are perfectly safe from hungry predators, they still perform this behavior instinctively. Don’t worry, your guinea pig is still getting the sleep they need—they’re naturally light sleepers and don’t need as much sleep as some other animals.
Do Guinea Pigs Ever Close Their Eyes?
Yes, but a lot less than we do. If you’re lucky enough to spot your guinea pig’s eyes closed while they’re sleeping, it means you’ve caught them at a rare moment when they feel completely relaxed and safe.
Guinea pigs also close their eyes to blink, but this happens in a flash, so your chances of spotting it are very low. In a 2007 study, blinking rate was observed to be two to five blinks per eye over 20 minutes. Like us, guinea pigs blink to remove dust or debris from their eyes and to spread tears to prevent them from drying out.
Are Guinea Pigs Nocturnal?
Guinea pigs aren’t nocturnal, they’re crepuscular, like rabbits. Crepuscular animals’ activity levels are at their highest at dawn and dusk. Guinea pigs, the notorious light sleepers, only tend to sleep for around 4 hours per day, but not usually all in one go. They often split their sleep into several brief naps, another behavior that stems from their survival instincts.
How Can I Make My Guinea Pig Feel Safe?
A big part of making your guinea pig feel safe is forging a bond and winning their trust. Guinea pigs are naturally shy, so it’s best not to just swoop in and pick them up as they’ll likely perceive this as threatening. Instead, you can socialize your piggie by encouraging them to come to you in a few ways.
At first, you can simply sit next to their hutch to let them get used to your presence. Talk to your guinea pig softly, too, using a friendly, happy tone to let them become accustomed to your voice. Then, you can encourage them to head your way by holding some tasty snacks. Feeding your cavy by hand is a great way to get them to see you as a friend and build positive associations around your presence.
When your guinea pig is comfortable coming to you, you can sit on something soft, like a fleece blanket, and let your guinea pig interact with you more openly. The key is to simply let them come to you. This may take some patience, as most guinea pigs will need some time before they feel confident enough to come and sniff you or sit on you, but your patience will pay off!
Finally, it’s very important to provide hiding spots for your guinea pig in their enclosure. Guinea pigs love items like wooden houses, as these offer them a place to chill out, snooze, and retreat when they feel scared.
To recap, guinea pigs have adapted to sleeping with their eyes open and rarely close them as a survival tactic. That said, they have eyelids and do certainly close their eyes, but they only tend to do so approximately 2 to 5 times every 20 minutes, so it can be difficult to catch them in the act!
If your guinea pig closes their eyes when snoozing around you, this is great news, as it means they feel very safe around you. If your guinea pig doesn’t do this, however, don’t fret—it doesn’t mean your guinea pig doesn’t trust you. Even the strongest human-cavy bond can’t overcome those hardwired survival instincts!