Understand your guinea pig’s body language and sounds will go a long way towards helping you be a better cavy caregiver.
Remember, just because they don’t speak “human” doesn’t mean they don’t speak at all.
As social creatures, cavies are actually pretty fantastic at expressing themselves!
Let’s take a look at some of their most common sounds and motions to learn what they’re trying to tell us.
Understanding Your Guinea Pig’s Body Language
From popcorning to head tossing to freeze-framing, guinea pigs express quite a bit through body language.
Let’s take a look at some things you’ll see your cavy do and learn what they mean.
Of all the guinea pig body language motions, popcorning is by far the cutest. As the name implies, this action kind of resembles popcorn kernels popping!
This motion is all about pure joy! It means your piggy is super happy with what she’s discovered.
Check out the video below. You may want to fast-forward to about 52 seconds in and watch from there. You won’t regret it, trust me!
Cavies toss their head to show annoyance. When my piggy doesn’t want to be held anymore, she tosses her head back to let me know it’s time to put her down.
Picture a cliche snob in a teen movie doing that snooty “as if!” head toss, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it looks like.
Like humans, piggies have three basic responses to something scary- fight, flight, or freeze.
We’ll cover fighting more in a moment, and flight is fairly self-explanatory.
As for freezing, think about why you do it when you’re startled or scared, and there’s your answer.
She’s either scared or uncertain, and has decided that remaining perfectly still is the best option for the moment.
Offense motions (fighting stances)
A good offense is just as important as a good defense, or so my sporty friends tell me.
Cavies ready to rumble will stiffen up and do a sort of side-to-side shuffle. Think about boxers shuffling around each other in a ring.
They’ll also kind of raise their chins at each other, kind of like how people do when they’re really ticked off.
Males tend to fight more than females. My two girls never fought. Sure, they did some posturing here and there, but it never went beyond that.
This video does a pretty good job of showing all the stages of guinea pig offense behavior:
Guinea pigs use their noses for more than just smelling that delicious salad you just put in their habitat!
Cavies will greet each other by touching their noses together. Think of it as a hug between two pals.
Like dogs, they also use those noses to get to know each other by sniffing both ends of their potential new friend.
Marking is a fairly universal language among nearly all creatures (most humans have evolved enough to NOT pee on their stuff). It’s a way of saying “this is mine.”
Cavies typically mark their territory by rubbing their scent all over it. They may use their chins and cheeks or their behind. Some cavies will also urinate on things to stake their claim.
Mounting isn’t always about what you think it is. Yes, sometimes it’s a mating thing, but for the most part it’s actually about dominance.
It’s not uncommon to see one female mount the other, as if to say “I am the boss here!”
Now that we’ve covered the most common guinea pig body language signals, let’s talk sounds.
Deciphering Guinea Pig Sounds
Piggies make a variety of sounds to tell you (and other cavies) what’s on their mind.
Like popcorning is everyone’s favorite piggy motion, wheeking is the best sound ever. Also like popcorning, it’s a sound of pure joy and excitement.
I’m convinced this is how they came to be called “pigs,” because it sounds like a piggy squealing!
Mine wheek like crazy when they see me at salad time, and even louder when the meal arrives in their habitat.
Watch the video below with your sound turned up!
Shrieking, on the other hand, is a sound of pure terror. It’s loud and piercing, much different from the happy wheeks.
Think of it as an alarm going off. When you hear this, drop what you’re doing and check on your cavy immediately.
Purring & Chutting
Like cats, piggy purrs have different meanings depending on the body language that accompanies them.
A relaxed piggy letting out a low, deep purr is telling you that he’s quite content.
On the other hand, a high-pitched purr accompanied by the head toss means “you’re ticking me off!”
Chattering is an unmistakable sound with an unmistakable meaning. When your cavy chatters her teeth together (kind of like you do when shivering), it means “back off, bud, or feel my wrath.”
Hissing holds the same meaning in the guinea pig world as it does in the cat world. In other words, it’s another sign of anger.
Cavies make plenty of other sounds, of course, but these are the most common and easy to decipher.
I recommend checking out the video below (she’s totally joking about the “three easy installments of $99.99 bit).
She covers 13 different noises in all, along with audio clips to help you better understand what each one sounds like.
The best way to understand your guinea pig’s body language and sounds is to just spend time interacting with and observing her.
Even the most complete guide in the world is no substitute for getting to know your piggy!
Do you have any other tips for understanding a guinea pig’s body language? Share below!
Nicole Etolen is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor of PetsVills.com. She currently has two cats and a dog, both of which lived in harmony with her two guinea pigs for years.
Find her on: LINKEDIN