Teeth chattering is a common form of communication for guinea pigs. Chattering at other guinea pigs is typically a warning to give them space. Chattering at people can mean a few things depending on the volume of the chatter and your guinea pig’s accompanying body language.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Chatter Their Teeth At People?
There are a few reasons why your guinea pig may be chattering their teeth at you. In most cases, it’s usually best to give them some space for a minute.
It’s crucial to pay attention to the particular situation and body language of your guinea pig in the moment.
It’s also important to listen to the tone of the chattering. Soft chattering can mean many things, while a loud chatter is an imminent warning to leave them alone.
Quiet Soft Teeth Chattering Indicates Annoyance
If your guinea pig starts softly chattering their teeth, but their body language is loose and normal, this is not a sign of anger.
Rather, your guinea pig may be expressing a slight annoyance or degree of impatience. Perhaps they want food or attention, but you’re too slow for their liking!
For example, my guinea pigs will occasionally softly chatter at me when they know I have a treat for them, but I’m not giving it to them yet.
This is often accompanied by them trying to climb up on my leg or stand up on the bars of their cage.
Watch your guinea pig’s behavior in the moment and see if you can figure out what they’re telling you with the teeth chattering. It could be as simple as them telling you to “hurry up and feed me already!” Other reasons could be that they want out of the cage, they want back in the cage, they want off your lap to explore, they have to pee, etc.
I had a guinea pig who would come over and chatter at me when I was scrubbing the floor in his cage. He simply didn’t like the slight scratching noise on the floor when I did that. There can be so many different reasons.
Some guinea pigs are more prone to soft teeth chattering than others. Guinea pigs will often pick a favorite noise and use it to communicate. I’ve had one guinea pig who had a range of purrs and teeth chatters, one who would whine a lot, one who opts for bar biting and a range of low-pitched squeaks, and of course, the majority choose wheeking as their favorite noise of choice!
Why Do Guinea Pigs Chatter Their Teeth When You Hold Them?
If your guinea pig starts chattering their teeth while you’re holding them, it can mean a number of things. It could be a slight annoyance with the way you’re petting them, or perhaps they have to pee and want you to put them back in their cage. They could also be getting impatient and would rather get off and explore instead of sitting still.
If they are chattering the entire time you’re holding them, they may not love cuddle time. Some guinea pigs don’t love being petted, and they may express this with chattering or a series of short purrs.
This is especially common with Abyssinians that have crazy hair. Guinea pigs usually dislike being petted against the grain, and Abbys are very hard to pet in the correct direction of the hair. Some guinea pigs are less tolerant of this than others.
Try bonding with them on the floor by lying with them and letting them explore and climb around you at their leisure. You can also offer them some favorite veggie treats while they’re on your lap to occupy them and turn it into a positive experience.
If your guinea pig is timid, it could help to give them a blanket on your lap that they can bury into and feel safe.
Teeth Chattering Due to Fear
Many guinea pigs will chatter their teeth when they are fearful of something you’re doing, or they’re anticipating something negative. They may chatter when they see that you want to pick them up, for example. They are telling you to stay away and not pick them up.
This can happen without any negative experiences. However, things like being picked up incorrectly, cutting through the quick of the nails, or getting injections at a vet clinic can accelerate these fears, especially if they happen repeatedly.
For example, I have an ex-lab guinea pig who would chatter and try to hide when I picked her up. She would even twitch in fear while I was clipping her nails; poor girl!
In these cases, it’s important to work toward changing their fear for something positive.
I always get a second person to hold and feed carrots (her favorite treat!) while getting her nails done, so she realizes it’s not all bad.
I also paired petting with lots of yummy treats and taught her to climb up on my lap herself for treats. This lessens the fear of handling over time and, therefore, lessens the teeth chattering!
A moderately chattering guinea pig that is trying to run and hide may or may not bite if you proceed to pick them up. It varies from one guinea pig to another and depends on how threatened they feel in the moment. However, if they are chattering loudly, showing teeth, and facing off towards you in preparation to lunge, they will most certainly bite if you bring your hands too close!
It’s best to let a chattering guinea pig calm down first if at all possible. If you need to pick them up to clip nails or administer medication, you can pick them up in a towel and wrap them up to protect your hands from potential bites. Try to distract with food if that works for your guinea pig.
How to Tell When Your Guinea Pig is Angry or Agitated
An angry or extremely agitated guinea pig is hard to mistake for anything else. They will be chattering their teeth very loudly and usually yawning or standing with an open mouth to show their teeth.
They will also have tense body language facing the perceived threat, ready to lunge and attack. If you see a guinea pig like this, it means an attack is imminent.
If it is directed at you, stop whatever you’re doing to cause your guinea pig distress. Give them time to cool off alone. Don’t try to pet or pick up an extremely agitated guinea pig, or you will get bit.
Sometimes tossing them some veggies helps to lighten the mood, but don’t get your hands too close.
If they are behaving this way toward another guinea pig, it means a fight is brewing. This can escalate very fast, so be ready to step in. Never use your hand to separate angry guinea pigs! They will almost always bite you, even if they never would normally. A towel, thick oven or work mitts, or a cutting board put between them can all work well.
Strengthening the Bond With Your Guinea Pig
If your guinea pig chatters their teeth loudly at you a lot, this means there’s a lack of trust they have in you. The best way to bond with them is to hand feed them veggies they love and sit with them at their level. Watch and see what triggers them to chatter and try to avoid doing it.
For example, if they hate being picked up and chatter when they think you’re going to do that, try transporting them to and from the cage with a small carrier or cuddle cup they can go in.
If they dislike being held on your lap or petted, stop holding them for a little while and strengthen your bond in other ways. For example, you could teach them tricks or hide treats around on the floor and point them out to your piggy.
You can also teach them that petting is good by combining gentle pets with lots of yummy treats. Additionally, you can teach them to climb up on your lap for veggies by luring them up with some treats in your hand.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Chatter Their Teeth At Each Other?
Teeth chattering toward other guinea pigs indicates that they need space. It can also be a precursor to fighting. Teeth chattering is more common when introducing new guinea pigs to each other, but sometimes you’ll hear bonded guinea pigs chatter too.
When bonded pairs of guinea pigs chatter, this is usually a form of communication between them to give the other space.
If they chatter a lot, they may need a cage upgrade. Male pairs, in particular, often need more spacious cages once they hit maturity.
If their relationship is a little rocky at times, it’s a good idea to have 2 water bottles, 2 food bowls, and multiple hiding places.
It’s also best to choose hidey houses that have two exits so they can’t get trapped inside together and start a fight.
Always be on high alert if two guinea pigs are facing off toward each other and chattering loudly. This usually escalates to lunging and fighting, and it can happen fast. Use a thick towel, mitt, or cutting board to separate them, never your hand.
When introducing new guinea pigs, always do so in a large neutral space. I like to introduce new pigs outside in an exercise pen in the nice weather. You can use a kitchen or large bathroom, but it’s a good idea to put waterproof mats down, as guinea pigs often spray pee at each other during intros.
Chattering is common during introductions, but it’s not necessarily a good sign.
Be prepared to stick a barrier between the guinea pigs as soon as they start facing off with tense body language while chattering. This happens right before they lunge and form a “piggy tornado.”
I like to mediate before they have a chance to actually lunge. Shoo them away from each other with a towel so they can cool off a bit.
It’s also a good idea to have lots of grass or hay laying around for them to eat and calm down in between their episodes with each other.
If only one guinea pig is chattering and the other is continuing to eat and respect their space, there’s no need to step in. Try to let them communicate with each other and only step in when they’re about to fight.
Humping and chasing are fine, too, as long as one isn’t lunging and biting at the other. You may also see them “rumble strutting,” where one guinea pig is shaking or swaying their body from side to side while purring. This is also normal, and it’s a way of showing that they want to be the boss.
Teeth chattering is normal behavior for guinea pigs, usually to communicate that they need space from you or another guinea pig.
It’s important to read your guinea pig’s body language and noises, so you know whether they are happy or upset about something you’re doing.
Guinea pigs communicate with a range of different sounds and actions that all mean different things. To learn more about what your guinea pig is trying to tell you, check out our guinea pig behavior page.