The Guinea Pig’s Hair Diet: A Quirk or a Health Signal?

Social media is filled with clips of pet guinea pigs nibbling their owner’s hair. While this curious behavior may seem amusing, it isn’t always healthy. Also, unless your piggy is an experienced barber, these unplanned haircuts won’t do your hairstyle any favors. Hair chewing in guinea pigs is not limited to human hair, and there are some likely explanations for why your guinea pig might seem obsessed with eating your hair.

Hair eating in guinea pigs is called barbering. They may nibble the fur of other guinea pigs, themselves, or even human hair. Barbering may be an attempt to show dominance or to bond by grooming. Guinea pigs may also eat your hair out of habit as it may be reminiscent of hay-like material.

Having an in-house piggy barber that makes a beeline for your locks each time you pet it can be disconcerting. Learn more about why your guinea pig seems fixated on your hair and how to manage the behavior.

Why Does My Guinea Pig Eat Hair?

Barbering, the term for guinea pig hair eating, occurs when piggies nibble their own hair or decide to give one of their cage mates a makeover. This behavior can have several causes and may also extend to human hair.

According to PetMD, conflicts and shows of dominance are one of the most common causes for this behavior between adult guinea pigs. However, since even well-adjusted, happy piggies often nibble off patches of hair off themselves or others, there are also several other reasons for this hair-raising behavior.

The causes of barbering in guinea pigs can be divided into three categories:

  1. The barbering may only involve other guinea pigs.
  2. Some guinea pigs may eat their own hair.
  3. The guinea pig may barber any hair-like material, including blankets, toys, or its owner’s hair.

To understand why your guinea pig seems obsessed with chewing your hair, we must first understand why they find it desirable to munch any hair at all. Let’s take a look at the reasons some piggies love nibbling hair.

Why Do Guinea Pigs Barber Other Guinea Pigs?

Guinea pigs are social animals that should be kept in pairs or small groups. Grooming one another is a social behavior that helps piggies bond. They often lick or nibble each other as a way to stay clean.

Occasionally, the grooming behavior can get a little too enthusiastic, and guinea pigs may start biting chunks of hair off each other. There are three possible explanations for this:

  • Youngsters or breeds with long hair often groom more vigorously than required to keep their coats clean. Their enthusiastic licks often turn into nibbling and chewing, which results in hair loss.
  • There may be some guinea pig politics going on in your cage. Power shifts in a herd may cause a dominant boar to pester and bully lower-ranking individuals by biting off chunks of their hair.
  • It could be a habit. Long-haired breeds like Abyssinian or Peruvian guinea pigs have impressively long coats. Some individuals actively socially groom each other to such an extent that long-haired breeds can resemble short hairs.

Why Do Guinea Pigs Barber Their Own Hair?

While it is never a good idea to cut your own hair, it seems that some guinea pigs never got the memo. If you have a piggy that habitually bites off chunks of its hair, it is essential to find the cause, as it may indicate an underlying problem.

There are three main reasons why some guinea pigs chew their own hair:

  • They have a habit of overgrooming. This could result from past stresses from the environment where they were bred.
  • Stress can cause guinea pigs to self-barber. If you have a piggy that is habitually chewing off bits of its own coat, go through a check of its diet and environment. Lack of space, boredom, loneliness, or incorrect diet can lead to undesired behavior like overgrooming.
  • Pain or parasites. Pain-associated hair-eating usually occurs in specific areas. If your guinea pig is chewing its hair down to the roots, it may indicate that it is in pain.
If your guinea pig is eating your hair and also running away from you, it might be a sign of stress or fear.

Similarly, parasites or itchy conditions like mange and ringworm may cause a guinea pig to overgroom particular spots to relieve the itching. This behavior is not true barbering, as it should resolve once the condition has been treated.

Why Do Guinea Pigs Eat Human Hair?

Guinea pigs thrive on hair-like material like straw and grass. Naturally, they may decide to add human hair to the menu since it is long, fibrous, and smells like their owner.

Guinea pigs eating your hair might be similar to why they nibble on you. Find out more here.

Barbering behavior towards their owners is especially common when guinea pigs are kept on their own. Since they don’t have a piggy pal to groom, their owner may be the next best thing. However, this isn’t always the case, and even if they are kept in groups, some guinea pigs can’t get enough of their owner’s hair.

Research has indicated that hair-chewing behavior in several species, including humans, is almost always related to stress from living in an artificial environment. Even if your guinea pig seems well-adjusted and content, remember that they have evolved as wild animals.

It is impossible to replicate wild, free-roaming herd conditions for your guinea pig in a home environment. Peculiar behaviors like hair eating may result as outlets for boredom, incorrect diet, lack of stimulation, or cramped conditions.

If your guinea pig is eating your hair, it might be worth checking what veggies can a guinea pig eat to ensure they're getting a balanced diet.

It is important to determine whether your piggy is eating your hair as part of a grooming or bonding ritual or as the result of health or social issues. Some guinea pigs seem obsessed with their owner’s hair, and it is a difficult habit to break.

Is Hair Eating Bad For Guinea Pigs?

Human hair is not good for guinea pigs as it may cause an internal blockage in the gut if large amounts are consumed. Fortunately, most guinea pigs only manage to lop off a few strands before their owner’s notice and put a stop to the impromptu haircut.

What Can I Do To Stop My Guinea Pig Eating Hair?

When barbering is a habit, there is very little you can do to stop your piggy from trying to eat your hair each time it can reach it. You can try to wear your hair tied back. Some piggy owners have even resorted to wearing a plastic shower cap during playtimes with their pets!

If your guinea pig is barbering other piggies to show dominance, first provide additional hiding places and pigloos in the pen where the less dominant piggy can hide if it feels picked on. If all else fails and the barbering is extreme, you may need to separate conflicting guinea pigs.

Merck Veterinary Manual recommends focusing on environmental enrichment for guinea pigs that self-barber. This includes always providing abundant fresh hay, ensuring the animals have plenty of space, and adding some boredom busters.

Under no circumstance should a guinea pig ever be punished for exhibiting hair-eating behavior. The only likely result would be to make the animal apprehensive about being around you. Responsible owners need to determine the behavior’s cause and take steps to safeguard their hair while playing with their guinea pigs.

Conclusion

Your guinea pig may try to eat your hair in an attempt to groom you. or because it has a similar texture to fibrous hay. After ruling out any possible medical causes for obsessive hair eating, the best solution is to carefully take stock of your guinea pig’s environment. Ensure that it has plenty of space, boredom busters, and lots of chewy hay to replace your hair on your piggies menu!