Posted: December 31, 2014, 4 a.m. EST
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Providing fun, safe toys is one way to prevent boredom in guinea pigs.
Q: I have two guinea pigs and just noticed that one is eating the other’s hair! Should I be concerned? Why is he doing this? Lux seems to be the only one of the two doing it.
A: This behavior is called "barbering.” Guinea pigs do it to each other, and I have even had clients fall asleep with a guinea pig in their arms and wake up with an unwanted haircut. Barbering can be a sign of several things but the bottom line is that unless it is an isolated incident, the guinea pig will continue doing the behavior.
I have heard of a couple of possible reasons for guinea pig barbering. One is that it is a sign of affection in one guinea pig for another. A second is that it can be a result of boredom.
Providing an alternative like toys may remedy the situation if the cause is boredom. Try offering guinea pig toys or toys for large bird. Avoid toys that are made of latex, string or hide; closely inspect all toys to be sure none of these items are present on the toy.
In my experience, toys with bells are a great place to start with a guinea pig, preferably one that is on a chain so that it can be hung up. Hang it at about eye level so the guinea pig can manipulate the bell with his head or tongue. I have witnessed this a number of times as they will find the clapper with their tongue and then toss the ball with their head and then respond to the whole thing by popcorning wildly around the cage. They do this again and again with great glee.
Hard plastic cat balls are another treasured toy, as well as bird mirrors on a chain, cardboard toilet paper tubes stuffed with hay or hanging "kabobs” that you can stuff with fruits and veggies. These "kabobs” have a skewer secured with a bell at the bottom; guinea pigs will pick at it all day and be rewarded with the ringing of the bell while they are doing it.
Just like any creature who is confined, guinea pigs need an outlet for their energy and a distraction while in a cage. Providing these may change everything for the guinea pigs — and then it may not. I think some guinea pigs barber because they were formerly hairdressers who came back as guinea pigs (just kidding).
If you do not feel it is a matter of boredom, then a gentle application of lemon juice or bitter apple on the balding companion may discourage this behavior if it is becoming a matter of needing a shirt to cover the bald spots.
Another possibility is the guinea pig is pulling out his own fur. If you can confirm this by witnessing it, know that you might be dealing with a skin irritation, or an infestation. A visit to the veterinarian would be necessary to find out what is creating this condition. It has also been suggested that this can be a possible indication of something much deeper, such as a tumor, as these have been found on rare occasion located below the skin surface in the area of the chewing.
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