Guinea Pig Lying on Its Side: Comfort or Concern?

Finding your guinea pig lying on its side can be a frightening experience for piggy parents. Unfortunately, pets can’t talk, so understanding why your cavy is behaving differently can feel like a puzzle that needs to be solved. Knowing what is normal or an emergency is critical, as quick action may be required.

A few happy, relaxed guinea pigs lie on their sides from habit. When it is unusual behavior, it may indicate serious conditions like heatstroke, illness, fear, parasites, or diet-related disorders, including dehydration or anorexia. Injury or foot pain can also cause a piggy to lie on its side.

A piggy lying on its side could signal something serious, or it could be nothing at all. Understanding the possible causes can help you quickly nip potential problems in the bud.

Guinea Pig Is Lying On Its Side

Like many small animals, a sick guinea pig’s condition can deteriorate quickly, so any unusual behavior must be taken seriously. Prey animals like cavies typically hide pain so they don’t stand out to predators. By the time they lie down, many conditions can be fairly advanced.

It is essential that unless you are sure of why your guinea pig is lying on its side, it gets checked out by a veterinarian. There is no substitute for proper medical attention.

Animals can’t speak, but behaviors like lying on their sides are always accompanied by other symptoms you should look out for to give clues about what’s happening. Take careful note of exactly how the pet is presenting.

These observations will help you accurately answer the veterinarian’s questions when you take your fluffball to be examined. In addition to laying on its side, these are some things you need to take note of:

  • Check its breathing. Is it faster than usual, slow, labored, or is it wheezing?
  • Are its eyes open, and is it aware of its surroundings?
  • Are its muscles twitching?
  • Is it trying to stand up?
  • Does it feel warm or cool to touch?
  • Check if it has been eating and drinking. This may be tricky if there are multiple cavies in a cage, but see if you can see any clues about when last it took food or water.
  • Is it making any sounds, or is it quiet?
  • Has it urinated and pooped while it has been on its side?
  • Do the soft undersides of the piggies’ feet look healthy?

A cavy may lie on its side for multiple reasons, and they aren’t all gloom and doom. Let’s look at eight common reasons you may find a guinea pig lying in this position:

1. Laying On Its Side Could Be A Habit

Like people, some guinea pigs find laying on their side comfortable and relaxing. If your piggy regularly lies like that and can hop up and continue eating and playing, it may just enjoy reclining and stretching out.

The only way you can be certain of this is by spending lots of time with your guinea pigs and knowing their habits. A pet that regularly lies on its side but still eats and plays happily is probably fine.

2. Heatstroke Is A Serious Condition

Guinea pigs don’t cope well in hot temperatures and can quickly develop heatstroke. Owners should be careful when letting their pets have outside time so they don’t get exposed to too much direct sunlight. Also, be mindful of the temperature when transporting your piggy in its carrier.

In addition to lying on its side, an overheated piggy may struggle to breathe and feel limp. Heatstroke can lead to seizures, and it is always an emergency. The animal must be rushed to a veterinarian.

3. Dietary Related Conditions

The digestive tract of guinea pigs is like a conveyor belt that must keep moving to stay healthy. There are many reasons why they may stop eating or drinking. Even slight changes to the type of food or the taste of their water, dental issues, or exposure to drafts could cause a loss of appetite.

Unless appetite loss is treated early, it can lead to a serious condition called ketosis, liver problems, or death. A guinea pig may lie on its side if it is dehydrated or hasn’t been taking in enough food.

4. Fear Can Cause Piggies To Play Dead

If your pet lies on its side more than usual, check that something isn’t frightening it. Perhaps you have a new pet, or a particularly loud sound is upsetting the animal.

Playing dead is a natural freeze response to fear in guinea pigs. In the wild, it may help them avoid detection by predators or cause their attackers to lose interest in the hunt, giving them time to escape.

Guinea pigs immobilized on their sides from fear will return to normal behavior once the scary stimuli has been removed.

5. The Guinea Pig May Be Sick

It is impossible to cover every medical condition that could be affecting your guinea pig if it is lying on its side. A veterinarian must assess an unwell animal that is reluctant to move.

Sick piggies often display other symptoms like changes in breathing, diarrhea, or weepy eyes. However, this is not always the case; conditions like tumors and cancers can be difficult to detect.

6. The Cavy May Be Injured

Guinea pigs are portly little animals that do best with all four feet firmly on the ground. They can sustain severe injuries from falls, even from relatively low heights.

Falls and other injuries can result in tissue or limb damage, making moving around normally uncomfortable or impossible. If your piggy is lying on its side as a result of injury, it must be assessed, and it will also require pain medication so it continues to eat and drink while it recovers.

7. Parasites Can Cause Lethargy In Guinea Pigs

It is well known that guinea pig mange mites can cause discomfort and hair loss, but extreme cases can become life-threatening. Animals affected by sarcoptic mange can become emaciated and lethargic, which may cause them to lie on their sides.

8. Check For Foot Problems

Guinea pig foot pads are very tender and sensitive. They can develop foot problems from injury, illness, infections, allergies to certain types of bedding, or even obesity.

A piggy with painful feet may take frequent rests on its side to take the weight off and relieve the pressure. A vet would need to diagnose the cause of the discomfort and prescribe a treatment.

How Will I Know If My Guinea Pig Is Dying?

No discussion about why a guinea pig is lying on its side would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. As much as we would love our beloved pets to stay with us forever, cavies have a relatively short life expectancy compared to humans and some other pets.

Although it is common for piggies that have reached the final stages of their lives to lie on their sides, never assume that your piggy is dying until you have consulted with your veterinarian. Even if the little pet is in its last hours, it may require pain relief, or your veterinarian may suggest that your small friend get humanely euthanized.

A trip to a veterinarian may also yield positive news. There are many reasons why a cavy may lie on its side, many of which are treatable. Even if you have a piggy that is advanced in years, always phone your veterinarian and check what they recommend before concluding on your own that your pet is passing.


Taking a wait-and-see approach is never a good idea if your guinea pig is lying on its side. Although some piggies enjoy resting on their sides, if it is unusual behavior, it must be treated as an emergency. It is better to err on the side of caution and seek medical advice rather than risk having the pet’s condition deteriorate.