Guinea Pig Behavior

Two guinea pigs on a woolen blanket | Mateusz Sienkiewicz

Guinea pigs, or cavies, are like any other species in having a number of distinctive behaviors. Within that broad outline, of course, each pig will have its own peculiarities. It’s the latter that makes detailing the former a little tricky.

Most guinea pigs enjoy companionship, both of other cavies and of humans. How do we judge when a guinea pig is happy? The same way we would judge ourselves or any other animal – by its behavior. Dogs wag their tails when happy, but tuck it between their legs when they’re fearful. Similarly, guinea pigs give a number of tell-tale signs to signal their moods.

A contented guinea pig will commonly purr, somewhat like a cat. The sound is typically known among cavy enthusiasts as burring or bubbling. They’ll exhibit it when stroked or picked up and held. But the pitch of a burr is important, since it can also signal stress. When it’s deep and slow, it’s more likely to signal enjoyment, a more high pitched burr can indicate rising stress.

There are signs that are still more obvious that a guinea pig is happy. A movement called popcorning is common among cavies. This up and down jerk of the front and hind legs gives them a movement that explains the term. It may be accompanied by a twisting motion, or even a small leap in the air. These hops can occur under any circumstances that create excitement, but they occur much more often when the guinea pig is simply playing.

When they grow excited, such as when food is about to be served, they can often squeak loudly. Sometimes they do that just when their human companion enters the room, before letting them out of the cage. That squeak is called a wheek or a whistle. The term ‘wheek’ describes what the sound sounds like. The sound may also be elicited when searching for another guinea pig with whom they’re friendly.

Rumbling is another common guinea pig sound. This deeper sound can be produced when one pig is establishing dominance over one or more others. It’s especially prominent during mating rituals. Two males competing over a female will give the sound and sway from side to side while walking around the female.

Guinea pigs chut and whine during episodes of chasing one another, with the chaser chutting and the pursued whining. The sounds are distinctive and anyone who has observed two guinea pigs in this behavior can’t mistake it for anything else.

When a guinea pig grinds its teeth together it makes a sound called chattering. It’s often accompanied by a kind of jerk of the head upward, as if they’ve just heard a disturbing sound. As prey animals, cavies have developed an acute sensitivity to sounds indicating a predator. That has been adapted alertness to dangerous situations in general. Chattering often indicates that the pig has become concerned it may be facing one.

Like many mammals, especially small ones, they’ll shriek when the danger level becomes prominent or obvious. Of course, like cats, hamsters, gophers and others the sound can indicate a sharp, acute pain. Such sounds should be heeded and owners should check a pig thoroughly to search for any obvious signs of illness or injury.

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