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What Is Considered Typical Guinea Pig Behavior?

By Alex Terris
Updated May 21, 2024
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Many pet owners may be surprised by the behavior of their new guinea pigs, but it usually doesn’t take long for the animals to relax in new surroundings. Typical guinea pig behavior, especially when young, often involves running away at the slightest movement. Guinea pigs also jump around when happy and take short naps throughout a day. Aggressive behavior to exert dominance is common among newly introduced guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs — also known as cavies, because of their scientific name, Cavia porcellus — are prey animals in the wild, which means they are naturally cautious and easily scared. Typical guinea pig behavior, especially when young or entering new surroundings, is to spend a lot of time hiding. Until the cavy becomes more confident, it is likely to run and hide at the slightest noise. This can worry new owners, who sometimes believe their guinea pig will never want to be picked up, but this behavior is actually a sign of a healthy and alert pet.

When a guinea pig is happy, it may “popcorn”. A “popcorning” guinea pig jumps high into the air, a move sometimes accompanied by sprinting around its cage. It may even look like it's having a minor seizure. This also can be disconcerting to a new owner but is normal guinea pig behavior that shows the animal is happy or excited.

Guinea pigs don’t sleep for extended periods of time. Instead, the animals tend to be awake for an hour and then rest for an hour before repeating the cycle. Most guinea pigs don’t look like they are actually sleeping, because their eyes often don’t close completely. This is because a cavy in the wild has to be constantly alert, even when resting.

One of the most interesting facets of guinea pig behavior is how the animals communicate. Guinea pigs use a variety of noises to give warnings, show happiness and beg for food. When the animals are kept together, they’ll try to establish a hierarchy, often through guinea pig behavior known as rumble strutting. A rumble strutting guinea pig makes a deep rumbling noise while slowly swaying its hips back and forth. This is an attempt to exert dominance over other guinea pigs.

Most guinea pigs rarely bite or show aggression toward humans. If a cavy begins to chatter its teeth, however, then this is a warning to another guinea pig or human to keep away. Failure to do so will often result in a small warning bite. Guinea pigs also may chatter their teeth when attempting to work out which pet is the dominate cavy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are common social behaviors of guinea pigs?

Guinea pigs are highly social creatures that thrive in the company of their own kind. They communicate through a variety of sounds like wheeking, purring, and rumbling to express emotions ranging from excitement to contentment. They often greet each other by touching noses and can be seen following one another, playing, and huddling together for comfort.

How do guinea pigs show they are happy or content?

A content guinea pig may exhibit a behavior known as 'popcorning,' which involves jumping into the air abruptly as if they are 'popping.' This is a sign of joy and energy. Additionally, a relaxed guinea pig will often purr when being petted, similar to a cat, indicating pleasure and comfort with their environment or human companions.

What does it mean when a guinea pig chatters its teeth?

Teeth chattering in guinea pigs is typically a warning sign indicating annoyance or aggression. It's a clear message to other guinea pigs or humans to back off. This behavior can be accompanied by a raised head or fluffed fur, signaling that the guinea pig feels threatened and is ready to defend itself if necessary.

Do guinea pigs have a specific way of communicating with each other?

Yes, guinea pigs communicate through a complex range of vocalizations and body language. They use sounds like wheeking, purring, chirping, and rumbling to convey different messages. For instance, wheeking is often associated with anticipation of food, while rumbling is a mating call. They also use body postures and movements to express dominance, submission, or affection.

How can you tell if a guinea pig is stressed or frightened?

Stressed or frightened guinea pigs may become more vocal with high-pitched squeaks or may become silent and freeze in place. They might also exhibit 'thigmotaxis,' a behavior where they stay close to the walls of their enclosure to feel more secure. Rapid breathing, attempts to hide, or escape are also indicators of fear or stress.

What typical behaviors indicate that a guinea pig is not feeling well?

A guinea pig that is unwell may show less interest in food or water and may be less active or responsive than usual. They might sit in a hunched position, have a ruffled coat, and exhibit changes in their droppings or urination patterns. Any significant change in behavior warrants a consultation with a veterinarian, as guinea pigs can hide their illnesses well.

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Discussion Comments

By Ruggercat68 — On Mar 06, 2014

If a guinea pig ever feels comfortable enough to fall asleep in your arms, you know you've earned his or her trust. Eating food out of a pocket or a hand is also a good sign the guinea pig does not see you as a threat.

By Phaedrus — On Mar 05, 2014

Our guinea pigs learned to recognize the sound of a refrigerator door opening. They knew it meant carrots or parsley leaves or other treats would arrive in their cage soon. When guinea pigs get excited about food, they will let out a very loud "WEEEEEK" sound, followed by a series of squeals and chirps. Guinea pigs will often take a few quick bites of food, then run away for a few minutes. Guinea pigs prefer to have a roof over their heads.

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