Guinea pigs are unique animals that communicate primarily through their body language and a few select vocalizations. In this article, we’ll be honing in on 25 of the most common non-verbal behaviors you may see your guinea pig exhibit from time to time and help you to decode these actions so you know what your furry potato is trying to tell you.
Popcorning is a tell-tale sign of a very happy guinea pig! Popcorning can sometimes look like your piggy is having a seizure if you don’t know what to look for, but this behavior is perfectly normal! Young guinea pigs are more likely to popcorn in exaggerated jumps and twists, while older piggies generally popcorn with little head flicks and mini jumps.
Often accompanied by popcorning, zoomies occur when a guinea pig is expelling a happy burst of energy. You may see them run “piggy laps” around the perimeter of their cage or in circles around the room if they’re out for floor time. Babies and adolescent guinea pigs are most likely to get zoomies like this, while older guinea pigs generally show their contentment in other ways.
3. Purring and Swaying Side to Side
Guinea pigs purr and shake slowly from side to side as a show of dominance or when trying to impress a female. This is referred to as rumble strutting. Guinea pigs rumble strut primarily to communicate with other guinea pigs. It is most common with males, but females will rumble strut on occasion when in heat or when they are sorting out the pecking order within the herd.
4. Mounting Other Guinea Pigs
Mounting or humping other guinea pigs is generally a dominance behavior. It is very common among both all-female groups and all-male pairs or groups, but it’s usually more common with males. However, humping is normal for females as well when they are in heat or sorting out their pecking order within a group.
5. Chasing Other Guinea Pigs
Chasing can be normal among guinea pigs, particularly if it’s not too intense. Chasing is also quite normal in introductions with new guinea pigs. However, if the guinea pig being chased cannot get away or is being bit or overly stressed out, you may need to intervene.
Generally, bonded guinea pigs do not chase each other intensely. An in heat female may playfully chase and harass the other girls, but this should not be in an aggressive manner.
6. Teeth Chattering
Teeth chattering is generally a sign that your guinea pig wants space at that time. Quiet teeth chattering is a way they communicate to others that they want to be left alone. Loud teeth clattering means your guinea pig is very upset and may bite if not left alone.
Guinea pigs also chatter their teeth softly in annoyance or impatience at times as well. For example, I have a couple of piggies who will chatter very softly when I am being too slow (in their opinion 😝) at distributing veggies.
7. Baring Teeth
Teeth baring, where the guinea pig opens their mouth and shows their teeth, often accompanies or immediately follows chattering. Teeth baring is likely to occur if the guinea pig feels threatened or if the other guinea pig didn’t listen to the teeth chattering warning alone. Baring teeth is a step up from teeth chattering and indicates that the guinea pig may bite if not left alone.
Guinea pigs often freeze when they are startled by a noise or feel threatened. This is often accompanied by a short purr, which alerts other guinea pigs nearby of the potential threat.
Guinea pigs will usually sit still for a moment to listen intently and avoid triggering any potential predators to chase or notice them. If they detect any movement, they will likely bolt to the nearest hiding place. If after a moment of silence, everything seems fine and normal, they will resume their normal activities.
9. Licking or Nuzzling You
Guinea pigs frequently groom themselves and sometimes other guinea pigs. However, in some cases, they may lick or nuzzle your hand or arm too. Usually, this is because the piggy smells or tastes something intriguing to them.
Some guinea pigs like the salty taste of our skin or they may detect some veggie residue on your fingers. It’s a good idea to wiggle your fingers slightly if your guinea pig is sniffing or nuzzling them intently to remind them that the thing they’re focused on is not food.
10. Biting or Nibbling You or Other Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs learn a lot about their environment through taste and touch, so they like to explore new things with their teeth. If your guinea pig is nibbling at your fingers or arms, try wiggling them a little to let your piggy know that you are not edible.
It’s also very normal for guinea pigs to nip each other or bluff nip to communicate. They may bite lightly or pretend to bite to tell one to give them space or when bickering over food or hiding places. However, if your guinea pigs ever bite each other hard or draw blood, it is cause for concern.
11. Throwing Their Head Up in the Air
You may see your guinea pig throw their head up in the air from time to time. If they do so while you are petting them, it generally means they don’t like the way you are petting.
When guinea pigs throw their heads up at each other, it’s generally a dominance behavior, particularly when they are clashing over a piece of food or something else they both want.
12. Sleeping With Eyes Open
It is very normal for guinea pigs to sleep with their eyes fully or partially open. They do this to subconsciously monitor for danger. Guinea pigs rarely blink and sleep for short periods of time throughout the day and night. However, they may close their eyes completely if they feel safe and are sleeping more deeply than usual.
13. Dragging Their Bums Along the Ground
Guinea pigs drag their bums along the ground to mark their scent. This is a more common behavior for males, but females do it also. They typically scent mark when exploring a new area or when they are first placed in a freshly cleaned cage. Scent marking is only detectable by other guinea pigs and has no smell to humans.
14. Eating Their Own Poop
Guinea pigs consume a fibrous diet of grasses and hay that can be tough to digest. As such, guinea pigs do not fully digest their food the first time it goes through, so they will eat it again to absorb the rest of the nutrients.
Guinea pigs have two types of poop; one softer type that goes through the system again and then the typical fully formed pellets that are waste. Guinea pigs typically eat the first kind very quickly before it is even expelled, so you typically don’t see this process in detail.
15. Running When You Pick Them Up
Guinea pigs are prey animals that are genetically programmed to run when things hover over or try to grab them. As such, it is very unnatural for them to sit still when being picked up! Try not to take it personally when your guinea pig runs from you, as it doesn’t mean they dislike you or even that they are scared of you in all cases.
It often helps to distract your piggy with some food before picking them up or gently usher them into a corner to pick them up without chasing too much.
Personally, I like to teach my guinea pigs to hop into a shallow box or carrier to come out of the cage to completely eliminate any stress or chasing. You can do this by tossing some veggies into the back of a small carrier and lifting them out once they go in. Eventually, they associate the carrier with floor time and often learn to go in without any prompting at all.
Hiding is normal for guinea pigs as long as it isn’t excessive. Guinea pigs are den animals and they naturally feel safe in an enclosed space where they are protected from predators stalking them in the grass or flying above. However, too much hiding can mean your guinea pig is sick, stressed, very scared, or depressed.
If you notice your guinea pig hiding a lot and they are otherwise healthy, try moving them to a quieter area or covering half the cage with a sheet to make them feel more secure. If they are alone, having another guinea pig for companionship can help bring them out of their shell.
Some guinea pigs love to rearrange their cage, especially their hidey houses. Turtling affectionately refers to the way that piggies love to move around while in their hidey house. For example, some guinea pigs will push their house around from the inside over to their food bowl so they don’t have to leave the comfort of their house to munch away on their food.
Chewing is normal in most circumstances. Guinea pigs have ever-growing teeth that need to be kept short through chewing, so it’s a good idea to provide them with lots of opportunities to do so.
However, aimless chewing of paper or houses can be a sign of pain in guinea pigs. Other signs of pain can include fluffed-up fur and hiding a lot. If you suspect your piggy is in pain, it’s important to take them to an experienced exotic vet for a check-up.
Chewing cage bars can indicate boredom if it happens a lot, so providing extra toys and things to chew on in the cage can help to curb this habit. Ensure they always have big piles of hay to munch on to keep their teeth occupied on something else.
Some guinea pigs also like to chew bars when they are excited or impatient, like while waiting for you to prepare their food. However, as long as they stop shortly after, this is not a huge concern.
Some good toys for guinea pigs are shown below (you can click on the images to see the product pages on Amazon for more info.)
19. Burrowing and Foraging in Hay Piles
Guinea pigs are a burrowing animal that finds comfort in hiding. As such, they love to burrow into piles of hay, shredded paper, or blankets. Guinea pigs also usually love tunnels as they mimic burrows and dens and provide a sense of security.
To encourage foraging behavior in your guinea pig, provide them with lots of hay and hide some treats around the cage and inside tunnels for them to find. You can also mix in some dried dandelion or herb mixes into hay piles to encourage your piggies to sniff out and forage for the treats.
20. Following Each Other
Fondly referred to as a guinea pig train, piggies often love to follow each other in a single file line. Guinea pigs are herd animals, and they love to explore and do things together. If your guinea pig is also quite bonded to you, you may notice them following you around the room from time to time too!
21. Touching Noses
Guinea pigs generally touch noses with each other as a friendly greeting. This behavior is quite common among bonded pairs or groups of guinea pigs.
22. Fluffed Up Fur
Guinea pigs will often fluff their fur up while eating to make themselves appear bigger and deter others from trying to steal their treats.
Fluffed-up fur can also be a sign of pain if it’s not in the presence of food, especially if the guinea pig is also chewing a lot or sitting hunched up in one spot.
23. Splooting or Kicking Their Feet Out Behind Them
Guinea pigs will frequently lounge about in their cage and kick their feet out behind them when they feel safe and content. This is a sign of a happy and relaxed guinea pig and it’s awfully cute to see. Some guinea pigs will even do this out in the open. This is one way to tell that your guinea pig feels comfortable and safe.
24. Sniffing Each Other’s Pee
While it seems gross, guinea pigs can learn a lot by sniffing another guinea pig’s pee. Guinea pigs have poor eyesight and take in more information through other senses like taste, touch, smell, and hearing.
All guinea pigs like to sniff pee, but males especially love to smell the pee of female guinea pigs. They can tell information about how long ago the other guinea pig was there and whether or not the female is in heat.
25. Spraying Pee
Spraying pee can be a dominance behavior or a way to make another guinea pig back off. Both genders can spray pee, but it is more common with females. Female guinea pigs can spray pee much further than males. Females generally spray at another guinea pig’s face when they come too close behind them or impede on their space.
26. Climbing on Cage Bars or Standing Up
Guinea pigs may put their front paws up on the cage bars when they are excited about food, greeting you, or curious about something. Some guinea pigs will even stand up on their hind legs without any support.
They typically do this to beg for food or try to get closer to something. Not all guinea pigs will stand up, but it’s more common for active, young, and more agile guinea pigs as they generally have better balance and more energy.
27. Climbing on You
You may notice your guinea pig putting their paws up on your leg when you’re sitting on the floor with them. Some may even try to jump all the way up on your lap. This means your guinea pig trusts you a fair bit. They generally climb up to visit with you when they are curious about something or seeking treats and attention.
Guinea pigs are cute and curious animals that communicate in a variety of ways with humans and among each other. In addition to these behaviors, they also use a range of vocalizations to express their fear or contentment. To decode the various sounds you may hear from your piggy, be sure to check out this article on 8 Guinea Pig Sounds and What They Mean.