Can Guinea Pigs Blink?

Mine stares so hard I think he’s casting a spell on me.

I was so intrigued by this question that I stared at my guinea pig for an embarrassing length of time, from different angles, with a flashlight ????… and magnifying glass. He stared back, begged, ate his pellets, scratched a lot, yawned twice, and accepted a romaine leaf. No blinks given, so I went to the pet store with a bottle of Visine to soothe my own drying eyes and sat down to watch some additional test subjects. Zero blinks from the pet shop cavies. It was time to dig a little deeper into this mystery.  

The question remains, can guinea pigs blink? Guinea pigs do in fact blink and close their eyes. Due to a thicker coating of aqueous humor, a fluid that exists in the eyes of most mammals, they are very well protected from dust and debris. This allows them to blink far less frequently than humans. Blinking less, or rarely, allows them to keep a vigilant eye out for possible threats.    

Prey Animals

Guinea pigs are all about being able to see trouble coming, having a plan… and leaving immediately. They have no time for drama, and keeping their eyes wide open is a key factor in their avoidance strategy. 

This article explains that even when they do blink, they do it just slightly quicker than us, or even rabbits.  Every fraction of a second counts when it comes to survival, which is what they had to do in the wild in South America before the Incans came along and began domesticating them.    

The Incans may not have held onto their gold three thousand years ago, but they were super successful at rounding up cavies. And while they (guinea pigs) no longer exist naturally in the wild, they started out as prey animals that needed to develop survival mechanisms. 

Guinea pigs are genetically predisposed to constant focus on survival. To avoid hunters like snakes, hawks, and coyotes, they needed to be quick, alert, and sneaky.    

Maintaining a constant state of awareness and “looking awake” is part of the guinea pig defense package. In addition to rarely blinking, and sleeping with their eyes open, they have 350° vision.  

They basically have eyes in the back of their head, which act as a full time perimeter alert system. By seeing trouble early, they can get away.

Running for it is a universal characteristic of prey animals.  Have you ever seen a guinea pig take a stand? I certainly haven’t, and I’d be suspect of any stories to the contrary. They’re hardwired to run from any hint of danger. When in doubt, they get the lead out.  

Black and Tan Guinea Pig sitting in the grass

Living by their Wits

The entire biology of the guinea pig is designed to help them outsmart the bully. Blinking rarely, constantly scanning for motion, and hard-wired to flee is how they survived the mean streets. Our air conditioner started a few days ago, while my little guy was relaxing on a pillow I keep next to his cage. His instant response was lightning quick forward motion.  

He took off like a rocket, scurrying along the walls, and taking hairpin turns with zero loss in velocity. I couldn’t find him for twenty minutes. When I did, he saw me first, eyes wide, back against the wall, three avenues of escape at his disposal. Clearly beaten, I resumed my position on the couch.  He’ll come back when he’s hungry, I thought.

After three thousand years of domestication, pampering, and cable television, there’s no sneaking up on a guinea pig!  I really wonder how the Incans were so successful. Always wide-eyed, nimble, and prepared, they now survive by endearing themselves to us with their furry little bodies that we love to hold, and pet. Yet still, they rarely blink.

Conclusion

In my opinion, a little understanding deepens any relationship. To me, my pets are no different, learning about them richens the experience. I had Thelma and Louise for over four years, and they were an endless source of curiosity and joy for both my family and me. I like to believe that they learned to trust us and relax a little.  

On cool winter evenings, I love to build build a nice warm fire for all of us in our living room fireplace. I always place my foster piggies’ cage close enough to the hearth to catch warmth, but far enough away that he doesn’t feel like the main course at a barbeque. I leave the door open, and occasionally he’ll come out and wander around, but he usually just relaxes. 

My entire family loves to watch him. He always takes a deep stretch and makes a wide yawn. He plops down on his side, with his big belly resting in front of him, draped in his own long brown fur. The moment is priceless. Thousands of years of survival instinct and evolution slowly melt away.    

Without fail, we notice his wide probing eyes slowly begin to narrow, and I eventually see a blink. There’s one last yawn, and his eyes disappear behind two furry lids. He knows he’s safe, relaxing comfortably with his family.

References

PubMed – Blinking and associated eye movements in humans, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

LiveScience.com – Guinea Pig Facts

Reference.com – Do Guinea Pigs Blink