Whilst guinea pigs are not the most popular pet in the UK, there is still around 0.7 million nestled in our gardens. Whilst cats and dogs inevitably reign supreme, guinea pigs (along with rabbits) are a popular choice for those who want something smaller but equally as affectionate. For new owners, it can be hard to get to grips with the behaviours of your guinea pigs, just like new born babies, you don’t know what they want! Luckily, we have outlined some of the key noises and movements that guinea pigs display so you know what to look out for.
Guinea Pig Sounds
Unlike the oink of a pig or the bark of a dog, ask somebody to mimic the vocals of a guinea pig and they will likely be stumped. However, those who are guinea pig owners know that the rodents can be very vocal and not at all afraid of expressing how they feel. However, for new owners it can be hard to pick up on what your guinea pig is trying to tell you. Get a head start with guinea pig husbandry by studying the terms below.
Wheeking sounds exactly how it is spelt. It is a sign of excitement and most owners will likely hear it around feeding times! To the human ear it sounds like a long, loud squeal. If you don’t get to the cage quick enough with their goodies, prepare for the wheeking to become louder and longer. This form of communication is also used when your guinea pig simply wants attention.
Did you know that guinea pigs have three types of purr? However, it is the deep purr that will bring music to your ears. This means your furry friend is utterly relaxed and completely content. The purr is similar to a cat and their comfort will be shown in their posture too, often laying down or reclining.
Similar, but much lower pitched than the deep purr is the rumble. Prepare yourself, because love is in the air. The rumble is predominantly emitted by males who are trying to woo a female. However, females have been known to let out a rumble or two if they are in season and the men need a little coaxing.
Just like a human mother coos over her children, guinea pig mums like to coo too. Cooing is a reassuring noise and used by sows to let their pups (baby guinea pigs) know everything is okay and under control. Sometimes male guinea pigs coo, but this is very rare.
Previously we spoke about the deep purr; a noise of utter satisfaction. However, there are two types of purr that communicate unhappiness from your guinea pig. The short purr, sometimes known as a durr in the guinea pig community, is a sound of fear and you will notice your guinea pig frozen to the spot. A high pitched purr is often an indicator of aggravation and sometimes sounds like a piercing vibration. In both circumstances, it is best to reassure your guinea pig softly.
Teeth chattering is the most aggressive sound to come from a guinea pig and is a sign of a very annoyed pet. Your guinea pig may look like they are yawning but, in fact, they are bearing their teeth. This is their way of telling you to ‘back off’ because of an agitating situation. Similarly, hissing is also a sign that your guinea pig is upset.
If you are taking your guinea pig to the vets for the first time, don’t be alarmed if they shriek. Shrieking, more often than not, means your guinea pig is sensing imminent fear, danger, pain or discomfort. It is extremely rare and will often only be heard in certain situations and will diminish overtime when your guinea pig gets used to different scenarios.
Although your guinea pig will enjoy company and being handled, sometimes they need their space. Whining is a way of letting your or another pet know you have disturbed them; guinea pigs definitely don’t like being woken mid slumber! This high pitched noise is also an indicator that your guinea pig is done with handling and wants to roam free.
Reading Guinea Pig Body Language
If you cannot rely on the vocals of your guinea pig alone to understand how they are feeling, analysing their body language will help paint a better picture. As you get to know your guinea pig you will understand their individual quirks and pick up on their mood. However, there is a multitude of different movements and actions that most guinea pigs do.
This sort of movement can mean two very different things in the guinea pig world. When teamed with a rumble, the strut is a mating dance, also known as a rumblestrut. On the other hand, however, a stiffer strut, teamed with teeth chattering, is a sign of aggression.
A favourite action of owners, popcorning is when your guinea pig hops high in the air. It is a sign of extreme happiness and excitement in guinea pigs of all ages.
Like most animals that sense danger, guinea pigs will freeze to the spot. Often it is just uncertainty making your pet nervous and reassuring them will release them from their nervous freeze.
If you see your pet rubbing their chins, cheeks or bottoms on any items, it is their way of claiming it as their own. Sometimes they will go as far as urinating on items (or other guinea pigs) to show their dominance.
Aggression and Intimidation
They may be small, but they are mighty. Guinea pigs are not shy animals when it comes to disagreements or showing who is the boss. Actions such as head shaking, rising onto their hind legs and fluffing their fur are all signs of aggression. Usually, you will hear hissing or teeth chattering accompanying these moves.
Fidgeting and Running Away
Guinea pigs do like to be held and handled but, once they have had enough or don’t fancy it, you will know. If your pet starts wriggling around on your lap, let them have some free time. Don’t let your guinea pig become agitated purely because you want a cuddle. Similarly, if your guinea pig is running away every time you try and handle them, it simply means they aren’t in the mood. They will let you know when they are ready.
Many think guinea pig boars are responsible for all mounting. Whilst this is true when a male and female are together and mating is on the cards, it is also a behaviour shown between females. Guinea pig sows will often mount each other as a sign of dominance and hierarchy.