I thoroughly enjoy writing about guinea pigs and have especially enjoyed writing this page. I just find guinea pigs so fascinating and intriguing to watch, they really are wonderful little animals. I hope this page helps to explain a few things and helps you have a better understanding about your guinea pig.
Guinea pigs communicate and interact with each other, through behaviour and sound. They can also show their feelings towards us humans. Often movement accompanies the sound they are making. As well as looking gorgeous and extremely cute, a guinea pigs behaviour matches their cute looks... most of the time. I say most of the time because there can be times when a guinea pig can be stroppy, mainly directed at another guinea pig and occasionally to us humans. Every animal/human naturally have different moods and the guinea pig is no exception.
Everything is listed in alphabetical order. Because the page is quite long, I've also included links below that will take you directly to each heading.
Aggression An angry guinea pig will start teeth chattering, its a sound heard when they are are clacking their teeth together. Although its rare, if its directed at you, they are telling you to keep away, so please be respectful if your guinea pig is annoyed or upset. Guinea pigs seldom teeth chatter at humans and rarely ever bite, but just be aware that if they are extremely upset or afraid, they may nip. When a guinea pig is teeth chattering at another guinea pig, a fight may break out. This often happens when two boars meet for the first time and they are trying to sort out their position in the hierarchy. It can also happen with sows when they first meet. Usually the fur around their necks will be raised to make them seem larger. They will sway from side to side and look very agitated, they may also show their teeth. If you see your guinea pigs doing this to each another, its best to separate them before they fly at each other, just remember to watch your hands. Place a towel over them to confuse them, then you can separate them.
Barbering Barbering is another word for chewing hair. Some guinea pigs chew their cage mate hair. I've not seen this kind of behaviour in my guinea pigs, so here is a very interesting link by Peter Gurney Barbering.
Begging for food
Guinea pigs love to beg for a tasty treat. As their confidence grows, not only will they start wheeking when they think their veggies are on the way, but they often stand up on their hind legs, just like a dog. They become very excited and will be looking in your direction with eager eyes that are hoping you've seen them. Here is a lovely picture of Sweetpea showing you how she begs for her veggies :)
Biting Seldom do guinea pigs bite their owners. Often they just nibble or bite as a way of communication, especially young guinea pigs who are still learning and testing their limits. There are many reasons why a guinea pig will nip or bite. Maybe the guinea pig isn't being held correctly and is worried, frightened or uncomfortable. If you've been holding your guinea pig for a while, they may nibble your clothes as a way of communicating to you that they need the toilet. Try not to hold your guinea pig longer than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, they can't cross their legs and hold on any longer. Nearly all my guinea pigs will try to avoid weeing on me, apart from Jasmine who doesn't seem to mind :) I do use a towel for Jasmine to protect my clothes. Not all guinea pigs will nip at your clothes, most just fidget or moan at you, to communicate with you that they want to be put back in their cage. The only time my Peachy nibbles at my top, is after a nail manicure. She dislikes her nails being cut. By the time I have finished, she's a little agitated and just wants to go back to her cage. She never bites, just nibbles at my clothes.
Some guinea pigs bite by accident, when you are feeding them. In anticipation of getting a tasty treat, they may misjudge and accidentally nip your finger instead of the treat. In addition, if you've been handling food, they may make the mistake of thinking your finger is food, so always wash your hands before holding your guinea pig.
Guinea pigs may bite because of a skin problem like mites. Holding, stroking/touching a guinea pig with mites can cause them great discomfort and they'll try anything to stop the pain. They will try to nip the area to get some relief, but if your hand is in the way, they may nip you by mistake. Because your touching the area that's effected, usually on their backs, you may have triggered the discomfort. If you notice this behaviour and your guinea pig is excessively scratching and biting their skin, please see your vet for a diagnoses of mites as soon as possible. Mange mites are a painful condition for a guinea pig.
Biting the Cage Bars
Some guinea pigs are prone to biting the bars of their cage. Three of my piggies will only do this when they think its veggie time or they hear something that makes them think veggies are on the way. They first start wheeking, but if 'The Chef' is taking too long, they will bite the bars to make sure I've heard them.
A few guinea pigs may bite the bars because they are bored and they are wanting some attention. If they persist on doing it, you could try placing a new toy in their cage. If your guinea pig is living on their own they will naturally become bored and lonely, even if you spend a lot of time with them. They really do need a cage mate, so please always consider keeping two guinea pigs. You will find more information on my Companionship page. If your guinea pig is living in a small cage and isn't getting any much needed free range time, they will become stressed and bite the bars out of sheer frustration. Please try and provide a larger cage or certainly increase their free range time. You wouldn't like to be locked up in a small cage without any freedom would you! so please think of your guinea pigs happiness.
Coprophagy: Eating Poop If you see a guinea pig duck their head underneath and then notice that they are munching on something, well they are actually eating their own poop. It may sound unsavoury to us humans, but its very normal behaviour for guinea pigs. Rabbits also eat their own poops. They aren't the normal poops that you see in the cage, these poops are smaller and softer. Guinea pigs need to re-ingests these soft poops because the guinea pigs digestive system doesn't extract all the vitamins from the food straight away.
When my Squeekie was recovering from dental operation, in which the vet corrected a molar spur, which had caused a wound/ulcer in his mouth, he was unable to eat properly for nearly two weeks. I was syringe feeding him throughout this time, but to my amazement, when he started to feel a little better, he actually took poops directly from his cage mates bottoms. It was the first time I'd witnessed this behaviour. So even poorly guinea pigs can understand the importance of eating poops from a healthy guinea pig.
Depressed If you see your guinea pig hunched up in a corner, looking very sad and depressed, they may be poorly. Try offering your guinea pig their favourite food. If they show no interest, please take your guinea pig to the vets straight away. I'm always concerned if one of my guinea pigs won't be tempted by a favourite treat. Guinea pigs can go down hill very quickly, sometimes they may have been poorly for a while without showing any symptoms. Guinea pigs can hide their illness because its part of their natural instinct. In the wild, its a survival defence against predators picking out an easy target. Prompt veterinary treatment is vital, so this is why you need keep a close eye on your guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs will often stand very still for a short time if they are afraid or they hear a sudden sound that they are unfamiliar with. Its their way of making themselves seem invisible and letting others know in the group, that there's something to worry about. Often a freeze position is accompanied by a very short vibrating sound, which also indicates they are afraid. You may hear and see this behaviour when the telephone rings or someone knocks on the door.
Licking Yes, some guinea pigs like to lick you, while you are holding them. I like to think of it as guinea pig kisses. Not all guinea pigs do it, 3 out of my 6 guinea pigs love to give out piggy kisses, Peachy, Sweetpea and Squeekie. Peachy is an extremely licky pig, as soon as I start holding her she acts like a very friendly dog :) It really is very cute. Even though I like to think they are being extra affectionate, some people think its because your skin tastes of salt which they like. I'm not completely convinced, so I'm sticking to the idea of very affectionate behaviour.
Mating Dance Both males and females will do the mating dance. A guinea pig will swing their hips back and forth and make a vibrating sound The vibrating sound is known as motorboating or as I like to call it, rumbling. My Squeekie is affectionately nicknamed Mr.Rumbles. Squeekie spends quite a lot of his time rumbling at Clover and Peachy. He only has to go pass them, they don't have to be in season, but naturally he excels with his rumbles if they are. A female guinea pig will also do the mating dance with another female or a male, if she's feeling hormonal.
Mounting Although this is seen as sexual behaviour when mating, it can also be a sign of dominance towards another guinea pig. A dominate male will do this to a submissive male, usually seen when they meet up, they are just sorting out who is going to be boss. A female can also mount another female if she is in season or even a neutered male if he's not paying much attention to her. Its all very normal, so don't worry if you see guinea pigs of the same sex mounting each other, but if males are doing it to each other, just look out for signs of aggression.
The actually act of mounting, only takes a few quick seconds, but after a little rest, the mounting will commence again.
Before mounting commences, there can be quite a bit of chasing involved. The guinea pig that is being pursued, may sometimes complain and become annoyed. As long as you don't see any aggressive behaviour, the commotion sounds much worse than it actually is. Having said that, being constantly chased can be exhausting and stressful, so if you have a spare cage, it might be a good idea to separate your guinea pigs, so they can have some peace for a little while.
Nose, Air, Chin and Bottom Sniffing
When two guinea pigs meet each other for the first time, they will often touch noses or sniff just under the chin to identify each other. They may also sniff each others bottoms. A male will also sniff a female to see if she is in season,. He might just get a jet of urine squirted in his face, if he doesn't move out of the way quickly. Despite a female actually being in season, she may still squirt urine, even at another female. I have seen my Jasmine and Peachy do this a few times. When there's more than two guinea pigs, a 'guinea pig train' may appear, piggies in a line, sniffing each others bottoms. Babies can make a piggy train by following their mother, while she is out and about. Adult guinea pigs can also do this, even when they know each other. Often they are doing it for reassurance, especially if they are in unknown territory or they just want to play 'following the leader'.
Sweetpea checking out Squeekie
Sweetpea and Peachy playing 'following the leader'
Guinea pigs also like to sniff objects and the floor, especially if they can smell a guinea pigs scent from another herd. If you have two little herds like myself, they will sniff everything, because its not their herd scent they can smell. Jake especially will sniff an area for ages, especially an area where perhaps Clover and Peachy have been sitting. You may also notice that a guinea pig will occasionally sniff the air with their head stretched out. They are just being watchful and curious, wondering who's there and what's going on.
Often you will see this behaviour when guinea pigs are sharing a meal. A more dominant guinea pig will nudge another piggy out of the way, so they can have the piggies share. Sometimes a submissive guinea pig will also do it if they are feeling bold and really want that last piece of parsley or carrot. If you see one of your guinea pigs hogging the food bowl too much, place two bowls in the cage, a more dominant guinea pig can't be in two places at once, so this will allow the more submissive guinea pig to eat.
Nose nudging can also be directed at us humans. When a guinea pig wants you to stop stroking them on their head, they will suddenly lift their head up, in the hope that they can remove your hand. Please be respectful when they do this and don't carry on petting them on their head. Try stroking them further away, a gentle neck rub is often appreciated or under the chin.
Popcorning is a wonderful sight to see. Its usually baby guinea pigs that do it, but adult guinea pigs can also popcorn, they just don't jump as high because they are heavier. A popcorning guinea pig will run-around and jump into the air, land on all fours, quickly turning in another direction and repeat the jump. This lovely action means your guinea pigs is extremely happy. My Clover, who normally weighs around 2 lb-10 oz, can still manage to jump quite high, its usually brought on when she has a new bed of hay or is just starting her free range time.
Running and Hiding Away
I've had quite a few e-mail's about concerned owners who haven't kept guinea pigs before and they think that their new guinea pig won't ever like them because they keep running away. If your new to guinea pigs, please don't take this as a rejection. Guinea pigs are timid by nature, in the wild they are prey animals and their only defence is to runaway and hide. Until your guinea pig gets to know you and your voice, its very normal for them to runaway.
Even when a guinea pig has been in your life for a while, their natural instinct to flee, remains with them. Much depends on the guinea pigs personality. No matter how gentle and softly spoken I am to my Jasmine, she will still runaway, her favourite movement is reversing backwards. She only runs away if she suspects I'm going to pick her up, as she dislikes it, even though she's an extremely placid guinea pig, once in my arms. Jake and Sweetpea will happily sit still while I pick them up, a great achievement for Jake as he was a very timid piggy when he arrived. When Jake knows its free range time, I have to be extra careful as he will literally jump into my arms because he's so excited bless him. Clover and Peachy are also very confident, they will always run to the same area of the hall for me to pick them up. Squeekie now dose the same, it amazes me how quickly he learnt to copy Clover and Peachy. He also dose the same in the cage and goes straight to the same corner, stands up against the bars, eagerly waiting for me to pick him up. As long as your patient and talk gently, most guinea pigs will put their trust in you and will become more outgoing and less afraid.
My Sweetpea, is very bold and shows even more confidence than my other guinea pigs, she can be quite fearless at times. As soon as someone opens the living room door, when the piggies are in the hall, she'll run straight into the room to investigate. Jake and Jasmine who are with her, think about it first before moving, not Sweetpea though :)
Below is a little video of Sweetpea showing how bold and trusting she is. While filming her, Sweetpea heard a dog bark and she quickly turned to me for reassurance. I was so proud that she trusted me so much. You will need Window's Media Player to view the video.
Scent Marking If you see your guinea pig rubbing its bottom along the floor, they are scent marking their territory. Often you will notice they do it when you have cleaned out their cage. To a guinea pig, you have changed the scent of their territory by putting fresh bedding in, so they rub their bottoms on it, so it smells like home sweet home. They will also do this outside the cage, perhaps in the area that they have regular free range time.
Scratching Like all animals and us humans, guinea pigs get the occasional urge to itch. Please don't be alarmed if your guinea pig does scratch a little, but if your guinea pig is scratching excessively, please check your piggies skin to see if its flaky, sore or if any bald patches have appeared. An excellent site to visit, to help you learn about guinea pig skin problems is Gorgeous Guineas
Unlike hamsters, guinea pigs aren't nocturnal and don't sleep for long periods. They just take small naps during the day and night. They often don't close their eyes unless they are feeling very relaxed and even then its not very often, as guinea pigs like to be on the alert for danger. Many guinea pigs will just relax and rest their head on the ground, others will be totally relaxed and spread out their hind legs. Here's a couple of photo's of my guinea pigs. In the first photo, Jake is very relaxed and carefree and is just probably thinking 'oh not that camera thing again! :) The second photo shows Peachy relaxing but she's not completely relaxed because she's probably thinking the same as Jake and is being watchful.When a guinea pig is around the age of 4 plus, they tend to rest/sleep more than a younger guinea pig.
Stretching A guinea pig will stretch out while also yawning. They can do this just after a sleep or they may also do it when they are feeling happy and relaxed. You may notice this behaviour while you are holding them and having a cuddle. They will tap their front feet on you, dancing with their front feet, while having a good stretch and a very wide yawn.
Understanding you Having spent many years being in the company of guinea pigs, I feel they can be underrated by people who have never lived with a guinea pig. They don't just sit in their cage, eating all day long, although eating does take up quite a bit of their time, guinea pigs are intelligent little animals. Every guinea pig has a unique personality. They soon learn who they can trust and they recognize their owners. Guinea pigs also recognise the sound of their name and their owners voice. I remember my elder brother being amazed that my guinea pigs came running up to me when I called out their name individually. Every time my guinea pigs come running up to me, I still get an overwhelming sense of pride that my piggies really trust me. Guinea pigs can understand little requests. When out playing, I can ask my piggies to 'go to the corner' which to them, means they are going to be lifted and put back in the cage. Squeekie, Peachy and Clover who are cage mates will especially take notice of this request. I'm still working on Sweetpea, Jasmine and Jake. Apart from Jasmine, Jake and Sweetpea will sit still when I say 'come on Sweetpea' or 'come on Jake', they know its time to go back in the cage. Jasmine however, doesn't enjoy being lifted at all and we end up having this little game, where mum has to guess if Jasmine is going to go into reverse or move forward :)
Guinea pigs respond well to an owner that is gentle, caring and who doesn't raise their voice. I'm sure they like 'baby' talk' too, as Peachy, Sweetpea and Squeekie seem to purr even more and my other 3 guinea pigs will stretch out looking more relaxed. So don't worry what other members of your family think when you start talking to your guinea pigs. I see my guinea pigs as little babies who totally depend on me for their welfare and like human babies, they respond well to a gentle voice.