Our pets communicate with us in many different ways, and it’s often difficult to decipher exactly what they mean by certain behaviors.
Guinea pigs, in particular, have some odd ways of interacting with their human companions!
As a guinea pig owner, have you ever wondered why your fluffy little pets like to lick and nibble on your fingers?
Guinea pigs interact with their environments mainly through scent, touch, and taste. If your guinea pig is licking and nibbling your fingers lightly when you handle them, they’re usually attempting to gain information about you from your scent and taste or grooming you as a sign of affection.
Keep reading to learn more about your piggies’ odd tendency to lick and chew on your fingers and what this adorable behavior means below!
We’ll also go over if and when to worry about guinea pig nibbles and licks and some other ways guinea pigs show affection to and communicate with humans.
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Why Do Guinea Pigs Lick and Nibble Your Fingers?
Guinea pigs have some pretty unique ways of communicating with not just each other but also with their human owners!
As small animals, they’re unfortunately pretty limited in how exactly they can express how they’re feeling during their interactions with people.
Your guinea pig cannot outright tell you what’s on their mind with words, so they have to resort to (oddly adorable) behaviors like licking, scratching, chewing, and a wide array of unique vocalizations to express themselves.
One of these behaviors in guinea pigs you’ve likely encountered is licking and the occasional gentle nibble.
When handling your guinea pigs, they’ve probably licked or lightly chewed on your hands and fingers.
Surprisingly, this has a few different potential meanings depending on the context.
Let’s look at a few more specific reasons for this typical guinea pig behavior below.
Guinea pigs lick many things around them to gather information about each other and other objects and animals in their environment.
Their senses are surprisingly sharp for prey animals, particularly their hearing, smell, and taste.
They can learn a lot about their environment–and you–just by licking and smelling things!
Since they don’t have hands and opposable thumbs like we do to pick up and investigate things, they often use their mouths instead.
One main reason your piggies might be licking you is to simply learn more about you and where you’ve been.
They’re likely curious about where you go when you aren’t home with them, so they will sometimes attempt to pick up information about you from your smell and taste.
Alternatively, guinea pigs also often show affection and care for their fellow guinea pigs via grooming behaviors, which include actions like licking and gentle nibbling.
Usually, they will only groom each other, but they will also sometimes do this to other animals–and even people–they feel particularly safe and comfortable with.
If your pigs are incredibly comfortable with you, they will occasionally lick and lightly chew on your fingers while you handle them to show you how much they enjoy (or at least willingly tolerate) your presence.
Some guinea pigs even like grooming human hair by licking and chewing on it, so be mindful of your hair while handling them!
Learn more about why guinea pigs hide in and eat hair.
Your Skin is Salty (or Tasty)!
Guinea pigs enjoy specific tastes, and your skin (more specifically, your sweat) is incredibly salty.
One amusing reason your guinea pig companion will lick and nibble your hands during lap time is that they like how your skin tastes!
Perhaps they can smell something you ate recently on your hands, and the new and unique taste is intriguing and exciting to them.
Even if you’re diligent about washing your hands before and after handling your guinea pigs (which you need to be!), they will still likely be able to pick up traces of certain scents on your fingers.
Additionally, salt is a taste most guinea pigs don’t get to experience very often in their diets naturally.
They primarily eat raw plant matter as herbivores, which is rather bland to us humans without seasoning or additional preparation.
While their diets are perfectly suited to them, it’s only natural for your guinea pigs to be curious about new and unique tastes and scents.
Irritation or Discomfort
This reason mainly only applies to particularly rough instances of nibbling and licking.
While gentle nibbles aren’t much to worry about, your guinea pig is likely annoyed or uncomfortable if they progress to outright biting.
Listen carefully for vocalizations like frustrated squeals and squeaks, as these also often indicate their displeasure.
Sometimes your guinea pigs simply don’t want to be handled or bothered.
They are very sensitive, timid creatures with unique preferences and personalities and temperaments, and they aren’t always going to be perfectly receptive and tolerant of your touch.
Perhaps your piggy wants to eat or sleep instead at the moment and just doesn’t want to be handled or deal with any loud sounds and overstimulation!
Biting is troublesome behavior, but it is also an important defense mechanism for guinea pigs.
It is one of the few ways they can communicate anger, irritation, and discomfort!
Always pay close attention to your guinea pigs’ body language and leave them to their own devices if they start to squirm, cry, and nibble your fingers a bit too roughly.
If you feel bad about accidentally upsetting your guinea pig with too much handling, just leave them be for a bit and offer them some of their favorite foods.
Although anxiety in guinea pigs is very common, they’re also pretty forgiving animals!
Having guinea pig treats on hand is a great way to build trust after a handling mishap.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Lick Your Face?
Your guinea pig sometimes licks your face, hair, or neck are, more or less the same as the above reasons why they lick and nibble our fingers.
As we touched on above, these unique little rodents only have a few simple ways to interact with their surroundings: licking, biting, and scratching.
If your guinea pig is licking your face, they’re probably simply investigating a certain smell or taste or showing you a bit of love because they’re especially comfortable and happy being with you.
Of course, if the licking and nibbling progress to aggressive biting with more intent, it’s time to gently place them back in your guinea pig cage for a couple of hours, as they are expressing they don’t want to be handled.
Squirming and loud noises like annoyed vocalizations usually accompany this behavior.