Guinea pigs rely heavily on their sense of smell. Although they have poor eyesight, their sense of smell helps them in detecting food and predators as well. But how good is guinea pig’s sense of smell? Can they detect food from a distance? Can they sniff the danger in the air? Let’s find out!
According to studies conducted, guinea pig’s sense of smell is 25 times better than a human. In fact, their sense of smell is just a little behind the dogs. Your guinea pigs sniff continuously in search of food and checking for odors that warn of potential threats, such as predators.
The excellent sense of smell is also a blessing in disguise for pet owners.
While the sense helps them in moving around their cage and looking out for potential threats, it also makes them susceptible to artificial odor and scents.
Fumes from the kitchen, odors in floor cleaners, laundry detergent, etc. can aggravate a guinea pig’s nose.
Some guinea pigs also suffer from allergies and respiratory infections due to the same.
Thus, make sure you don’t use scented chemicals and items around your guinea pigs.
Do guinea pigs have a good sense of smell?
Guinea pigs in the wild had a sharp sense of smell as they need to find food at distant locations.
They also need to look out for predators without relying on their vision. Thus, a strong sense of smell came into play.
These guinea pigs were able to smell the predators even before they came anywhere near to their vision.
This fantastic ability combined with their sharp memory and speed used to save their lives in the wild.
The domesticated guinea pigs still retain the same instinct and have an equally good sense of smell as their wild counterparts.
Yes, they don’t need to look out for food at a distance as they needed to in the wild, still, every once in a while, you will notice them twitching their nose looking out for any signs of danger.
You will also see that your guinea pigs will detect you are coming towards them even when you are out of their site.
Some guinea pigs start wheeking way early to grab their owner’s attention.
Guinea pigs also use their sense of smell to recognize their owners. Once they are used to their owner’s scent, you will notice that they are relaxed even when you are around.
However, if any new person tries to reach out to them, they will remain alert.
Since they have such a wonderful sense of smell, you need to stay alert about aggravating their nasal membranes.
Avoid using any perfumes or diffusing strong essential oils into the air as it can agitate their nose.
Guinea pigs also use their sense of smell to communicate with their cage mates.
Some guinea pigs also make boundaries using their glue sac(boar glue) to make their territory.
These might not always be visible from our naked eyes, but other guinea pigs can well distinguish it.
How does a guinea pig use her sense of smell?
Guinea pigs are sniffing continuously by moving their nostril up and down along with their head.
If they find a new scent in the air, they will rapidly sniff to find more information about the smell.
As guinea pigs sniff more, you will notice their nostrils twitching, taking in more scent molecules from the air.
The twitching of their nose allows them to stimulate these molecules. Messages are then sent to the guinea pig’s brain, which decides whether its a smell of food, their owner or some threats.
Based on these messages, your guinea pig will react to the situation. If the odor is of some food they love, they will rush towards it.
For a new food, they will take time to investigate and smelling it a little more before giving it a try.
If they feel their owners, they will rush towards the door to greet their owners.
If it’s a treat time for them, they might start wheeking to grab their owner’s attention.
However, if its a smell of some threat, then your guinea pigs might rush towards the hiding.
In some cases, they also scream for help when they know there is no other way out of the situation.
You must note that guinea pigs are nasal breathers, and they will never breathe in through their mouth.
Sometimes guinea pigs have their top leaves separated while sniffing. These are entirely normal, as this position helps them in grabbing more air molecules from the environment.
However, under no circumstances, they are supposed to breathe in through their mouth.
If you notice your guinea pigs are breathing from their mouth, then it definitely means a sign of health problem. You must consult a professional veterinarian immediately.
How important is a sense of smell to guinea pigs?
Many researchers have concluded that the two significant senses of guinea pigs are the sense of hearing and smell.
Guinea pigs don’t have a good vision, but their other senses are better, which makes up for the same.
A good sense of smell is critical for many reasons:
- Guinea pigs cannot see far objects clearly. They do have good eyesight when things are within their range of vision. However, to keep themselves safe from the threat, they depend upon their sense of smell for early detection of threats. Thus, your guinea pigs can smell any danger from a distance before even before they can see it.
- Guinea pigs also have an excellent sense of hearing. They use it to stay alert, but sometimes a loud noise can catch them off-guard. Thus, at such moments they use the sense of smell combined with the hearing to detect the severity of the threat.
- Guinea pigs also use the sense of smell to detect and look out for their food. You will notice your guinea pig will smell the food for a few minutes before munching.
- Guinea pigs will also use their sense of smell to look out for their owners. You will notice your guinea pigs will start wheeking as soon as they smell you around. Even if you are out of their sight, they can still sense your presence.
- A male guinea pig also uses a typical type of smell to call for mating. Usually, humans won’t notice this smell much, but female guinea pigs can surely smell it from a distance.
- If male and female guinea pigs are not neutered and housed in the same room, even if the cage is separate, your male guinea pigs will start showing mating behaviors and get aggressive towards its cagemate.
- Some guinea pigs also use their grease gland to mark their territory. These glues might not be smelly, but other guinea pigs can surely detect the same.
Guinea pig sense of smell compared to human
According to studies, a guinea pig has more than 796 Olfactory genes, while humans only have 396.
But what are these Olfactory genes? These are basically like gene codes that help the body in identifying and detecting different types of smell.
A study conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science also proves that humans can detect one trillion different types of smell.
Although there is no such study done on guinea pigs, however, if you merely go by the numbers, you can say that guinea pigs can detect over two trillion different types of smell and odors.
That is one of the main reasons why guinea pigs can smell the scent from a distance and why their sense of smell is so strong.
Guinea pigs sense of smell vs dogs
Dogs are considered as one of the best sniffers among pets. They can follow a trail of smell for miles and miles.
Although canines beat your guinea pigs in this regard, they are not far off.
While a dog has 811 Olfactory genes, guinea pigs are just behind them with 796 Olfactory genes.
That certainly means your dogs can sniff more types of aromas than your guinea pigs.
Even though dogs are more potent in sniffing, our guinea pigs are more alert. This is because dogs are not prey animals, but guinea pigs are.
A dog will never use their full potential of smelling unless they are trained to do so.
However, our guinea pigs don’t enjoy a similar luxury.
Guinea pigs need to be alert all the time, and they will keep looking for any potential threat in the air, which your dogs may ignore sometimes.
Guinea pigs vs cat sense of smell
A cat has an inferior sense of smell than that of a guinea pig. A cat has around 80 million Olfactory receptors, while a guinea pig has close to 200 million receptors.
But that doesn’t mean the cat cannot smell their prey. The sense of smell in cats is still twice better than we humans.
They can smell their prey from a distance, and the same goes for our guinea pigs as well.
Although our guinea pigs are more alert, and they can sense the cat around first, which gives them a chance to escape and hide, but the cats can surely detect and find our guinea pigs.
That’s the reason it is said that you should keep cats away from guinea pigs even if they are your pet, as the mere smell of them can stress out our guinea pigs.
What smells do guinea pigs like?
There are a handful of smell that our guinea pigs enjoy. Some of these includes:
- Food: Guinea pigs love the smell of food. If they smell food around, they will be drawn towards it. Sugary food and treats are something they can’t resist. However, make sure you don’t serve a high-calorie diet to your guinea pigs.
- cage mates: Guinea pigs will smell and groom each other from time to time. Although they might not like each other’s smell, but they will smell each other and remember the scent for dividing territories.
- Owners: Guinea pigs get used to the smell of their owners. They will enjoy and feel secure when you are around them. It also means they are getting something to eat, which is a bonus for them.
- Old bedding and hidings: Guinea pigs remember the smell of the area they live in. If all of a sudden you change their bedding and wash all their stuff, then they can get stressed. Thus, make sure you leave something behind that has their smell on it.
- Chew sticks: Guinea pigs love to chew on things. It might not particularly be the smell, but they do like a particular type of wood to chew. While some guinea pigs enjoy, apple sticks other enjoys willow sticks.
What smells do guinea pigs hate?
As guinea pigs have an excellent sense of smell, they cannot tolerate strong aromas. In most cases, they hate most types of odors.
Be careful before exposing your guinea pigs to some sort of smell. Some of the typical smell they hate are:
- Predators: Predators are something your guinea pigs can smell off from a far distance. If you have housed your guinea pigs outside, then neighbor’s pets or other predators like foxes and coyotes can be causing stress to your guinea pigs. Sometimes own pets smell can also stress out our guinea pigs.
- Floor cleaners and detergents: Floor cleaners and detergents often have added perfumes for fragrances. We might feel fresh and relaxed from those smells, but for our guinea pig’s nose, those are aggravating.
- Onion and garlic: Onion and garlic are considered as a natural pest repellent. When we slice the onions, it releases Syn-Propanethial-S-oxide. These chemicals can cause tears in the human eye and irritate the nasal passage of our guinea pigs.
- Kitchen fumes: Fumes from cooking in the kitchen, including the spices and oil, can also cause problems for our guinea pigs. If your guinea pig is kept near the kitchen counter, make sure you avoid using non-stick cookware as fumes from those are toxic for our guinea pigs. Also, avoid spices and smoky preparations.
- Perfumes and Room Fresheners: Room fresheners and perfumes are also an absolute NO-NO for our guinea pigs. The strong aroma from these can cause problems in your guinea pigs. Thus, avoid using those when you are around them.
- Essential oils: Essential oil and aromatherapies are considered beneficial for one’s health. However, the same is not true for our guinea pigs. In fact, most essential oils are toxic to our guinea pigs and should be entirely avoided.
It may take some time for you to understand what is right for your guinea pigs and what isn’t.
You should always be mindful of not exposing them to any strong aroma.
Just think it this way, if you can smell an aroma from something, the same is 20 times more intense for your guinea pigs.
If your guinea pigs are exposed to bad smells for a longer duration, they might suffer from anxiety and health problems.
A guinea pig cannot turn off their sense of smell, and if the smell is around, they will remain stressed out until it gets better.
If your guinea pigs are agitated by a particular scent, then you must take immediate action to calm them down and get rid of the odor immediately.
Try to calm your guinea pigs down and reassure them everything is safe.
Sometimes your guinea pigs can feel the threat that we cannot see and feel.
Thus, keeping them stress-free in some way or other is crucial for their well beings.
Also read: How to keep your guinea pigs calm?
Sources: Olfaction, Management of skin conditions in guinea pigs, Preference of Guinea Pigs for Bedding Materials, Care of Guinea Pigs, Guinea pig housing, Suitable bedding for Guinea Pigs, Petsaver guinea pig guide, Guinea pig care, GUINEA PIG GENERAL CARE GUIDE.