Skip to content

Guinea Pig Behaviour: Noises & Body Language

Guinea pigs are lively and fascinating pets, displaying a range of behaviours and noises that are entertaining to watch and hear. By understanding what these sounds and actions signify, you can gain valuable insights into their needs, emotions, and overall well-being. Having this knowledge is essential for keeping them happy and healthy. 

This guide is designed to deepen your connection with your guinea pigs, empowering you to become a skilled and attentive owner of your adorable small pets.

Table of contents

Creating a Natural Environment

Creating an environment that closely mirrors the natural habitat of guinea pigs is not merely an aesthetic choice; it’s vital for their mental and physical well-being.

Hideouts

Guinea pigs are naturally timid animals. Providing hiding places like small shelters or big piles of hay where they can retreat if frightened is vital. These hideouts mimic their natural environment, offering safety and a place to rest. A feeling of security helps them express more natural behaviour, making their life richer and more comfortable.

guinea pig relaxing  under a wooden bridge in his cage
Guinea pig relaxing under a wooden bridge

Social interaction

Guinea pigs thrive on social interaction but also appreciate their own space. Living with a companion or in a small group, they form tight-knit relationships and often communicate through various sounds. However, providing spaces where they can have private time is equally important to avoid conflicts and stress.

Sufficient space

Cramped quarters can lead to stress, which will be reflected in how your guinea pig behaves. Ensure your guinea pig has room to explore, exercise, and express his natural curiosity. A spacious enclosure, combined with playtime outside the cage, supports mental and physical well-being.

Foraging opportunities

Guinea pigs naturally enjoy grazing and foraging for food. To enrich their daily meals, try mixing dried forage with the hay; they’ll enjoy sniffing it out and discovering it. If you can gather safe wild plants and weeds to include in their fresh food portions, it will enhance their diet by adding variety. This practice more closely follows their natural eating habits.

three guinea pigs eating fresh grass that is being grown in a pot
Sunny, Sparkles and Lychee enjoying some fresh grass

Noises and Sounds

Each sound a guinea pig makes communicates something unique:

Wheeking

Wheeking often occurs when guinea pigs hear the rustle of a food bag or recognize your routine just before feeding time. This high-pitched call is a vocal expression of joy and excitement for mealtime. It’s their way of communicating enthusiasm for food, and it’s often accompanied by energetic movements or running around. They will frequently come to the front of their enclosure in anticipation of their meal.

Guinea Pig Care Sheets - Printable PDF Download - Checklists, Logs and Information Sheets

Moaning

This disgruntled moaning sound emitted by a guinea pig often signifies a complaint or discomfort. It may indicate that they are reluctant to be picked up, or it could express annoyance with another guinea pig encroaching on their personal space.

Loud squeaking

A high-pitched, loud squeak from a guinea pig is often a sign of pain. This distressing sound may indicate that they have injured themselves or are experiencing pain from a condition such as bladder stones, which can cause discomfort during urination. It’s vital to determine the cause of this distress and consult a veterinarian if necessary.

Teeth chattering

Teeth chattering is an indication that a guinea pig is grumpy or annoyed. This expression of irritation can arise from numerous sources, including unwelcome behaviour from another guinea pig, a boar’s overfriendly advances, or other displeasing circumstances. It’s worth noting that teeth chattering can be directed not only at other guinea pigs but at humans as well.

Rumbling

Often referred to as “rumblestrutting,” this behaviour is common and natural among guinea pigs. It involves a low rumbling sound accompanied by the guinea pig swaying his bottom from side to side. They may exhibit this behaviour while slowly walking around the cage or display it towards another guinea pig, even going as far as chasing the other one. Both male and female guinea pigs can demonstrate this conduct, typically as a display of dominance or amorous intention.

Purring

A guinea pig’s purring sound differs from a cat’s purr in that it isn’t continuous and sounds slightly different. When a guinea pig enjoys attention, particularly from being stroked, he may emit a soft trill. In my experience with our guinea pigs, this purring often occurs when their backs are stroked, signalling they feel relaxed and content.

Body Language & Behaviour

Understanding guinea pig body language can be just as revealing as their sounds:

Close up of a guinea pig nose and mouth
Sunny Pig has a big personality

Freezing

This sudden immobility, known as freezing, indicates extreme fear or uncertainty in a guinea pig. If he senses a threat, the guinea pig may freeze, hoping to go unnoticed. Observing what might have triggered this behaviour can help you understand how to minimise stress in your pets’ environment.

Popcorning

Guinea pigs, especially babies and younger ones, perform an endearing dance move known as ‘popcorning.’ This signature move allows energetic cavies to blow off steam; they run, jump up in the air with a bit of a wiggle, land on all four feet, and then dash off in a different direction. This is very similar to when a rabbit performs what is known as a “binky”. 

A guinea pig exhibiting this popcorning behaviour is likely a contented pet, and watching them is great fun. As they age, they may not popcorn as frequently or with the same vigour, but you’ll still catch them in the occasional delightful bound of excitement.

Running and zoomies

If you see your guinea pig racing around his enclosure, this behaviour demonstrates that he’s a happy and healthy pet. Known as “zoomies” in the guinea pig world, these sudden bursts of energy are normal behaviour and great fun to watch.

Head rearing

If your guinea pig rears his head, it signifies dominance toward the other guinea pigs. Establishing dominance is a natural part of their behaviour within a herd, and this often occurs when new guinea pigs are introduced.

Eating their poops (coprophagy)

Guinea pigs produce two types of droppings, one of which is a nutritious pellet they will consume directly from their bottom. Known as “coprophagy,” it is common among rodents and rabbits. Although it may seem odd, it is a natural and essential aspect of their behaviour.

Sleeping with eyes open

Guinea pigs frequently sleep with their eyes open. While this may seem alarming if you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a natural behaviour stemming from their instincts in the wild. Since guinea pigs are prey for many other animals, sleeping with their eyes open is a safety mechanism, ensuring they remain on full alert.

lunkarya guinea pig sleeping in hideout
A Lunkarya guinea pig

Marking territory

Guinea pigs mark their territory by dragging their bottom along the ground, releasing a scent from glands near the anus. Although you may notice females exhibiting this behaviour, it is more common in male guinea pigs. It’s their way of establishing boundaries, particularly in new or shared spaces or after a cage clean.

Spraying urine on other guinea pigs

Female guinea pigs may sometimes spray urine on another guinea pig. They do this when another guinea pig is annoying them or if they are attempting to establish dominance. This behaviour is normal within a herd and not something to be concerned about.

Licking another guinea pig’s eye

Licking another guinea pig’s eye seems to be a sign of affection. I’ve observed that the dominant guinea pig typically engages in this behaviour the most. They may also be attracted to the salty taste. From my experience, the guinea pig who does this often focuses this attention on one particular companion, suggesting a special affection for their favourite roommate.

Barbering

Barbering is when a guinea pig chews the hair of another guinea pig. This may happen due to stress, boredom, or a lack of hay. For example, hungry baby guinea pigs may barber their mother while waiting for a nipple.

Long-haired guinea pigs are more likely to be barbered. Other guinea pigs often find the long coat of a long-haired pig irresistible!

Self-barbering is a distinct condition in which a guinea pig chews his own hair. When a guinea pig chews the coats of others, the hair loss tends to be more evenly distributed. In contrast, a guinea pig that chews his own hair can only remove it in places he can reach, resulting in uneven hair loss.

Stopping guinea pigs from barbering can be challenging, but providing ample space and hay can help lessen the problem. Although guinea pigs ingest substantial mouthfuls of hair when barbering, they don’t seem to suffer as cats do with hairballs.

Behaviour When Being Held

In addition to some of the noises guinea pigs make when being held, they may also display certain behaviours during lap time.

Brown Silkie guinea pig enjoying some attentioon
Some guinea pigs love attention

Head movements

If you stroke a guinea pig and he flicks his head back, this is a signal for you to stop what you’re doing, or he may become upset. On the other hand, when a guinea pig has his chin stroked, he often raises his head and appears very happy and relaxed. This behaviour is a sign that he enjoys chin rubs.

Licking the owner

If a guinea pig licks you while being held, it’s often a sign that he wants to return to the enclosure. In my experience, when this happens, the guinea pig will usually urinate when he’s put back. This behaviour is their way of communicating that they need to pee and prefer not to do it on you!

Find out more about picking up and holding a guinea pig…

Differences in Guinea Pig Behaviours by Gender

Guinea pigs display unique behaviours depending on their gender, especially if they are not neutered. 

Male guinea pigs (boars)

When male guinea pigs are aged 6-18 months, they can act like teenagers, trying to show they’re the boss. This might include mild aggression, strutting, wiggling their bottoms, swaying their hips, and raising their fur (called “heckles”). They might also mark their territory more and chatter their teeth lightly. This usually settles down by 18 months of age. If the males can’t get along, you may need to separate them or consider neutering.

Female Guinea Pigs (Sows)

Female guinea pigs come into season every 16 days, and this lasts a few hours. It can lead to playful or “frisky” behaviour like mounting and can occur between females as well as with a male.

black and ginger female guinea pig relaxing under the bridge

Signs of Depression in Guinea Pigs

Suppose you notice a guinea pig spending most of his time sitting in the corner of the cage, hideout, or doing little besides eating. In that case, this may indicate he is depressed. This behaviour is common among guinea pigs kept alone, and one of the best things you can do for them is to find a companion; this fulfils a basic need for social interaction. You might be amazed by the positive change in their character when they have a friend to share their life with. 

Additionally, this behaviour could indicate that your guinea pig is ill or in pain. If you suspect your guinea pig is showing signs of depression or distress, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian to find out what might be wrong.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions from guinea pig owners regarding guinea pig behaviour:

Do guinea pigs bite?

Guinea pigs are gentle pets; if they’re happy and well-cared-for, they usually won’t bite. In many years of owning guinea pigs, I’ve been nipped only a handful of times, which has never been very hard. But there are some occasions when they might do this:

Biting when being held

If a guinea pig gently nips you while being held, this is often his way of communicating that he needs to urinate. The nip usually doesn’t cause pain, and the guinea pig might repeat the gesture, perhaps a bit more firmly, to ensure you get the message. Your pet is not attempting to hurt you; he wants you to recognize his need. Some guinea pigs may nip if they’re not used to being handled. With patience and proper handling, most will grow accustomed to it. If they’re uncomfortable or get hurt while being held, the chance of being bitten increases. So it’s essential to hold them correctly for their own comfort and to avoid nips.

Biting when being fed

If a guinea pig bites you while being hand-fed, it’s likely an accident rather than an intentional act. They may not recognize that they’re biting your finger instead of a carrot. Although unintentional, the bite can still sting. If you’ve been handling food, the lingering scent on your fingers might smell appetising, causing them to bite you mistakenly, thinking it’s food. To avoid this confusion, wash your hands before handling them.

Biting the cage

If a guinea pig bites the bars of his cage, he may be hungry, bored, cramped, or unhappy. Check their living space and make any necessary changes to keep them healthy and content.

Guinea pig food chart and meal planner - printable pdf download in full colour

Do guinea pigs fart?

Guinea pigs do fart, but I have only once heard it from one of our guinea pigs. It isn’t something you are likely to hear a lot of but is a perfectly natural thing for them to do.

Do guinea pigs hibernate?

Guinea pigs do not hibernate, a process that occurs in some animals during extreme temperatures. Instead, guinea pigs are adapted to survive in more temperate conditions and remain awake throughout the year. This continuous alertness serves them well, especially in the wild, where they need to be constantly vigilant of potential predators. 

Are guinea pigs nocturnal?

Unlike rats and mice, who are nocturnal (active at night), guinea pigs are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk

Can guinea pigs see in the dark?

Guinea pigs can see in the dark to a certain extent. Their eyes have special cells that help their eyes adjust to low light, which helps them see in the dark. A study on the night vision of guinea pigs didn’t find anything unusual or unique about their night vision compared to other animals, such as rats or monkeys.

Are guinea pigs scared of the dark?

Guinea pigs aren’t scared of the dark and actually enjoy being in a dark, sheltered spot as it makes them feel safe. They do not need a light on at night as they will cope perfectly well in the dark.

Can guinea pigs get hiccups?

Guinea pigs may sometimes experience a phenomenon similar to hiccups while eating, referred to as “heaving hiccups.” This condition can be alarming, as the guinea pig appears to be heaving. This is similar to the motion humans make before vomiting. The body of the guinea pig rocks, and the retching seems to originate deep below the diaphragm. These heaving hiccups typically cease abruptly when the guinea pig gives a small cough.

guinea pig forage guide - foraging for guinea pigs printable pdf download e-book

Can guinea pigs vomit?

Guinea pigs can not vomit because a fold in the stomach’s mucous membrane covers the entrance from the oesophagus (the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach). This makes vomiting impossible.

Can guinea pigs jump?

Guinea pigs are able to jump if they need or want to, but it isn’t something they do often. They can’t jump very high either, so it is safe to have an open-topped indoor enclosure with sides of around 35cm (14 inches) high. The most notable jump they perform is the “popcorn”.

Can guinea pigs sneeze?

Guinea pigs can sneeze, but if they do this more than just occasionally, they may have a respiratory infection or their housing is too dusty. If your guinea pig sneezes a lot, you should make an appointment with the vet.

Do guinea pigs yawn?

Guinea pigs, much like humans, often yawn, especially just after waking up from a snooze. When they yawn, they tend to open their mouths very wide and simultaneously stretch their bodies, extending their legs behind them. This endearing behaviour highlights a charming similarity between guinea pigs and their human companions.

Conclusion

Understanding your guinea pigs’ behaviour helps you take better care of them and meet their needs. This guide offers some insights into guinea pigs, but observing and caring for them personally is the most effective way to learn about your furry friends.

For detailed information on how to best look after your guinea pigs, please refer to our page on guinea pig care.

Share via
Copy link