Are Guinea Pigs Smart?

guinea pig with glasses and a book

People often tend to discuss their pet’s intelligence by comparing it to the intelligence of other species of animals or human intelligence.

When you see a dog performing tricks on the TV it’s hard not to wonder if this specimen is smarter than others of his kind or smarter than cats or guinea pigs, for that matter.

Intelligence can be defined in many ways. It includes logic, learning abilities, planning, reasoning, emotional knowledge, self-awareness, understanding, problem-solving, etc.

In wider terms, intelligence is one’s ability to get information and hold on to it as applied knowledge.

The mental capacities of non-human animals like guinea pigs have been a subject of investigation since ancient times.

When you start cutting that piece of green apple and your guinea pig associates the sound with a full tummy, you know there is quite a smartness behind those mellow eyes.

What contributed to guinea pig being as smart as they are now is domestication. There is a difference between domestic guinea pigs and their wild counterparts.

Except for morphological differences (physical characteristics) their behavioral characteristics significantly altered as well.

Domestication in guinea pigs contributed to a reduction in brain size. This change is noted in all species that were once wild. Many people assume that a smaller brain means a decreased brain function and thus a dumber animal.

Compared to wild cavies, domestic guinea pigs are friendlier and less aggressive. They don’t stress-out as easily as the wild ones, but still, their brains are approximately 13% smaller.

Despite the last fact, domestic cavies still show better performance for some tasks. One of them is the water maze by Morris.

What is the water maze experiment by Morris?

Morris’ water maze is a commonly used method to study navigational and spatial abilities in rodents. The tested animal is put into a tank filled with milky liquid and made to swim. There is a platform inside where the specimen can sit comfortably on.

There are different geometric markings on the walls that can point the animal towards the platform. Since the tank is round with no edges or corners, the markings are the only way that can point the guinea pig towards safety.

During the test, domestic guinea pigs showed far better performance. The reason was probably that unlike wild cavies, domestic ones perform tasks more efficiently in an environment artificially created by humans. This means that bigger brains don’t necessarily mean a bigger possibility for problem-solving.

Guinea pig with glasses on

Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners?

Since we already established the guinea pigs are actually smart, let’s talk about their emotional connection and response to their owners.

Guinea pigs recognize their owners are other people and animals that spend time around them mostly by hearing familiar sounds.

It’s not just the voice that’s familiar to them, but also the footsteps we make, the sound of the squeaking floor under our weight, the inhales, the exhales, etc.

Some will even run towards your direction as a sign of greeting or expectation for a treat.

Even though their owner’s voice is what they are most accustomed to, guinea pigs can remember the smell of your hands.

If you want to check this you can try feeding them directly from hand and have a friend do the same thing after you. You will surely spot the difference in their reactions.

Every responsible owner gives his or her guinea a cute or funny name. Your guinea pig will never understand the meaning of the name given, but will definitely learn it.

Whenever you say the name the little furball will associate the tone and voice with him and react to it. If you ever find them hiding, call them out by their names and see how quickly they come rushing to you!

Do Guinea Pigs Have a Good Memory?

Guinea pigs are quite capable of remembering sounds and smells. They also learn new actions and tricks quickly and remember them for a long time.

Nothing enhances their memory more than a tasty treat. Whenever they do the right thing you need to reinforce positive behavior by giving them a treat.

Remembering that the action provides them with their favorite food is kind of their thing and will associate the two after a few repeated tries. Because of their good long-term memory, once they learn a trick, guinea pigs will remember it for a long time.

The good memory is a base ground for training your guinea pig. Each pet is an individual. You always need to start with basic commands and after you master them go for advanced ones.

One simple trick thing you can start with is the stand-up command. Get a treat and hold it above your guinea pig’s head.

Once he stands up on his back legs trying to get a hold of the treat, say the word ‘stand up’ or just ‘up’ and hand over the treat.

You need to repeat the trick at least once daily over a period of a few weeks.

Be consistent and don’t miss a day.

After the training period, your guinea pig will stand up once you say the command word even if you are not holding a treat above his head.

If you want your guinea pig to make a full circle you can hold a treat to his side. Once he approaches start moving your hand to make a circle with your guinea pig following. Say the command ‘circle’ and give the treat once you complete the 360 degrees.

Be patient and consistent. It may take a while to teach him all the tricks you saw other guinea pigs doing on Youtube, but it’s worth a while.

Just imagine the big picture when other people will be watching your videos and admire how smart your guinea pig is.

Facts About Guinea Pig Intelligence

What scientists know is that guinea pigs learn things quickly and can associate actions with words. Their ability to remember quite well puts them on the ‘smart animal’ pedestal.

How about compared to other similar animal species?

As far as rodents go, we can definitely say that guinea pigs are quite smarter than hamsters.

The reason for this sort of conclusion is that guinea pigs have a far bigger number of neurons in the brain compared to hamsters.

The brains of the hamsters have less grey matter and it’s harder to train them. Also, their memory span is quite short and there isn’t such an emotional connection between the pet and the owner.

Rats have more neurons but guinea pigs still are better learners.

Regarding intelligence, guinea pigs go toe to toe with rabbits. Cavies have better long-term memory than rabbits whose memory generally lasts for 5-10 minutes. On the other hand, rabbits can learn more complex tricks and that keeps them competing.

That’s probably as far as guinea pig intelligence goes. Dogs and cats have far more superior cognitive capacities than guinea pigs and it won’t be fair to compare them.

Guinea pig in shadow

Do Guinea Pigs Have Feelings?

Feelings and expressions of feelings make up a great part of what is called emotional intelligence.

Guinea pigs are social creatures by nature and they can feel and express their feelings in different ways. That’s just one more thing that makes them smart beings.

Even though they are quiet most of the time, when expressing themselves they often use noises. Interestingly enough, each noise is used for a particular need or feeling.

Some are more obvious than others and you have to listen carefully to understand.

High pitched squeal or whistling is one of the most common sounds guinea pigs produce. This sound means that little Squeaky is excited and probably expects to get some food.

Not only cats but guinea pigs purr as well.

There are different types of purring that have different emotional meanings; relaxed and deep purring sounds shows that your guinea pig is content.

Prolonged purring with high pitched tones is a way the guinea pig tells he is annoyed by someone or something.

Anxious purring in shorter intervals is a sign of fear.

The same goes for shrieks and squeaks with high-pitched tones. A scared and uncomfortable guinea pig will try to non-verbally express this by fidgeting, freezing, or throwing the head in the air.

Some guinea pigs can show aggressive behavior, although it’s rare. The sound they make during this state resembles hissing.

It can be accompanied by teeth chattering, hair fluffing, strutting, and teeth barring. When they are aggressive they attack so it’s not hard to notice.

Besides the obvious negative feelings, guinea pigs enjoy showing when they are happy and friendly.

Rapid hopping movements are a sign of extreme happiness – also called ‘popcorning’ (you probably guess why). Friendly guinea pigs like to rub or lick each other’s noses.

The emotional peak of a trance-like state in guinea pigs is expressed through chirping. No one really can explain this sort of behavior.

The only known thing is our furry friends that recently lost their cage buddy tend to do it more than others.

To summarise all of this: Yes, guinea pigs are smart. Maybe not as smart as dogs or cats, but among the smartest small pets/rodents.

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