18 Guinea Pig Behaviors Explained
Knowing how to understand a pet’s behavior makes the difference between a novice owner and an experienced one. Having the inability to speak, many animals communicate via body language and sound.
While the actions and behaviors of animals might seem totally random, they usually are indicative of something deeper. A guinea pig is an example of one such animal that uses vocalizations and body language to express itself and convey messages.
Cavy behavior can be difficult to interpret but given enough time, anyone can eventually uncover and understand all the meanings behind its sometimes-eccentric activities.
Below are the 18 most common behaviors exhibited by guinea pigs:
An angry guinea pig will display actions such as raising its head, standing on its hind legs, puffing its fur out, and showing its teeth. These actions may be accompanied by a behavior called “teeth chattering” in which the cavy clacks its teeth together to produce an unnerving sound.
A guinea pig very rarely shows this type of aggression towards its owner but if it and when it does, it’s recommended to take a step back and leave it alone for the meantime.
Most of the time, this behavior will be seen primarily between two guinea pigs. It usually happens when two males or two females meet for the first time. If they start teeth chattering, swaying from side to side or hissing, this is a sure indication that a fight is about to erupt.
They need to be separated as soon as possible to prevent any injuries. A towel may be thrown over them in order to distract and disorient which will give an owner enough time to split up the hostile pair.
Some cavies in close proximity to other guinea pigs will exhibit a non-healthy behavior called “barbering”. Guinea pigs will chew or tear their own or others’ hair as a result of conflicts.
It usually happens between adult males or adults and young. A barbered guinea pig can be identified by chewed-up hairs over a bald patch on their body.
Separation of the conflicting guinea pigs is the first step in preventing barbering. If hair loss continues to occur, consultation with a veterinarian is recommended.
In anticipation of the arrival of food, a guinea pig may begin a routine of “begging” wherein it will stand up on its hind legs while resting its paws against the cage bars, making a distinctive “wheeking” sound. This may occur shortly prior to its regular feeding schedule and more often randomly throughout the day as the guinea pig becomes more confident.
If a guinea pig’s begging is entertained, it may become accustomed to an owner’s response, subsequently increasing the intensity and frequency of its whistling and squeaking for attention. Sounds that become associated with the arrival of food such as opening the refrigerator door or the clinking sounds of flatware can act as stimuli which trigger the guinea pig into beginning its act.
A guinea pig will very rarely intentionally bite its owner. Young guinea pigs that don’t yet know any better may nibble or nip at anything that crosses their path. An adult cavy that is used to being held might nip at an owner’s clothes in an attempt to broadcast its desire to be put back in the cage.
In most cases, a guinea pig will bite an owner’s finger or hand only accidentally during feeding or after having handled food.
Guinea pigs that have skin mites will attempt to relieve the itchiness by nipping or biting at their fur. An owner can get bitten by accident in this situation. Touching or stroking areas of their skin where the mites are located can also make the cavy uncomfortable and prompt it to nip at the offending finger(s).
A guinea pig that frequently bites on the bars of its cage does so for different reasons. It can happen when the animal is excited, impatient for the arrival of food or simply due to boredom.
If loneliness is the problem, it’s advisable to always allow a guinea pig to have a cage-mate companion. Its cage should also be large enough to allow plenty of space for exercise, and if it isn’t, an allowance needs to be given for ample free-range time outside.
One particularly odd behavior that guinea pig owners will regularly observe is their pet’s apparent tendency to eat its own excretions. This is a totally normal behavior for guinea pigs called Coprophagia.
Contrary to all appearances, they are not actually eating their own fecal matter, but small pellets called cecotropes which are expelled from the anus.
These pellets contain essential B Vitamins and fiber which were not absorbed by the body. They also have good bacteria which aid in the guinea pig’s digestion.
Guinea pigs have been observed to eat not only their own cecotropes but also those of other cavies, oftentimes consuming the pellets directly from the anus. A guinea pig that is recovering from an illness or has trouble chewing hay might prefer to eat another guinea pig’s cecotropes for a boost of nutrients.
A guinea pig will stay completely still if it senses danger or feels threatened. This behavior may be brought about by a sudden change in its environment or a loud noise. In the wild, minimizing movement in the face of a predator attack would reduce the chances of a guinea pig being spotted and at the same time, alert any nearby members of the herd to do the same.
Although it lives in a domestic environment and no longer needs to fear wild animals, the guinea pig still retains its natural instincts. This freezing behavior can be triggered by sharp and sudden noises such as thunder, the telephone ringing or a door slamming shut.
This behavior is characterized by a guinea pig tossing its head back in rapid motions. It may last a few seconds followed by a brief pause and then, continuation of the behavior. Guinea pigs that exhibit head-tossing while being petted are showing annoyance and would like the petting to stop.
“Head-raising” is a variation which involves a guinea pig holding its head up as high as possible in a display of dominance. This usually occurs in cages with multiple cavies; each attempting to play the part of the “alpha pig”.
You might have asked the following question many time, why do my guinea pig licks me? Guinea pigs even lick themselves as part of their daily grooming activities. They might stand on their hind legs while doing this in order to clean hard-to-reach spots on their back and front. This is the reason why guinea pigs are considered to be clean animals and don’t need to be bathed very often.
They have also been observed to enjoy licking human skin. The reason for this is currently unknown, but it’s believed that they enjoy the salty taste of sweat residue. A few sentimental owners insist upon it being a sign of affection, but regardless, no scientific evidence exists to pinpoint the exact reason for the behavior.
A guinea pig that swings its hips back and forth while making a deep “rumbling” noise is doing a mating dance. Mating dances may be performed by both male and female cavies. The purpose is to entice and impress a potential partner. If one is found, it may join the mating dance as well.
The mating dance is not necessarily performed during mating season, either. Female guinea pigs can exhibit this behavior when they are feeling hormonal. Females have also been known to do the mating dance with other females.
Mounting is normal sexual behavior which occurs between guinea pig partners. However, mounting also occurs as a display of dominance within a cavy herd. A male guinea pig that is out to proclaim itself as the boss may be seen mounting females and even other males.
These male-to-male interactions are not sexual in intention and are only used to show superiority. No harm can usually come out of it, but it’s wise to keep a close eye on the situation in case any fighting breaks out.
Some guinea pigs may not appreciate being mounted and may run around the cage in an attempt to escape their aggressor. This can create a noisy and tense situation wherein it’s recommended to separate the cavies for a while until everything’s calmed down.
Probably the most easily recognizable guinea pig behavior, “popcorning” occurs when a cavy runs back and forth in its cage, periodically hopping up into the air like a piece of popcorn. A guinea pig that popcorns is extremely happy, excited or has excess energy and wants to burn it all away.
Popcorning can be performed by guinea pigs of all breeds and ages, although younger ones have the tendency to do it more often. Adult cavies also popcorn; just less often due to their heavy stature and weight.
Guinea pigs are prey animals and thus, are quite timid and tend to become easily frightened by pretty much everything. Humans are the largest objects in the vicinity so there’s no wonder why a guinea pig runs and hides when people approach.
This behavior is most often seen in new cavies that have not been tamed and have not had sufficient time to familiarize themselves with their owners and surroundings.
Running away is not a sign of rejection from a guinea pig, but instead, simply a natural instinct that is hardwired into the animal’s brain. Owners need to understand that it takes time and training to create a bond with any pet, more so with guinea pigs, before the animal begins to completely trust and treat them as a protector rather than a menace.
Another behavior which is similar to the running defense mechanism but is actually different is when a guinea pig runs laps inside its cage. This is also a normal activity and denotes an overabundance of energy which needs to find an outlet.
A guinea pig can release pheromones by using scent glands which are built into its body. The behavior demonstrating scent marking usually consists of a guinea pig rubbing its chin, cheeks, and legs on objects that it wishes to mark as “territory”.
A guinea pig may also urinate on particular areas or objects to mark them, similar to the behavior seen in dogs. They may also sit down and rub their rump up along the surface of the ground.
Guinea pigs are most likely to practice scent markings when outside of their cages or when their cage has just been cleaned.
Sitting in A Corner
Some owners have noticed their cavies sitting in corners or hunched up. They have a belief that this indicates that the guinea pig is “feeling sad” or “depressed”. Guinea pigs have no way to show emotions such as sadness so this perception is mostly subjective.
However, studies have shown that cavies are affected by depression and sitting in a corner could be an indication of it.
Guinea pigs tend to hide their illnesses, so odd behavior such as crouching with their face to a wall or hiding for long periods of time could indicate a health issue. Owners are advised to offer treats or take the guinea pig out of its cage for a brief period. If the issue still isn’t resolved, take it in for a vet visit.
Cavies have a very keen sense of smell, so sniffing around is a key action that they use to assess their environment and identify other nearby animals. Similar to behavior seen in many other animals, they will also sniff other guinea pigs under the chin, near the bum or touch noses.
If it catches the scent of a foreign odor, a guinea pig may arch its head while sniffing the air to determine the source.
Most living creatures experience the same types of periodic itching sensations on the skin; humans included. Guinea pigs may scratch themselves simply to cure an irritating itchy spot that’s been troubling them for a while.
Excessively doing so, however, could be a sign of ticks or fleas. Owners that spot this behavior are advised to check their cavy for any bald spots, flakes of skin or anything else that might indicate a health issue.
If you feel that scratching is turning into a guinea pig behavior problem, the guinea pig must be taken to a veterinarian to check for any secondary contributing factors.
Guinea pigs are diurnal rodents; meaning that they follow the normal human sleep pattern. They don’t sleep deeply, though, and mostly take several short naps throughout the day and night.
An interesting fact is that they sometimes sleep with their eyes open. The only period of time in which a guinea pig will sleep with its eyes totally closed is when it is completely relaxed and feels safe in its environment, which isn’t frequent because the species is often on high alert.
The primary methods of communication used by guinea pigs among herds are loud, squeaky vocalizations. The quintessential cavy sound, which is an onomatopoeic word, is called “wheeking” and is used to show excitement or call for help.
During petting sessions or grooming, they make a bubbling or purring sound, much the same as a cat’s. The teeth chattering sound comes out during displays of aggression and they often shriek in response to pain or danger.