Since we can’t speak our guinea pigs’ language, it’s not always easy to determine exactly what they’re feeling or why they’re behaving in a certain way.
But that’s not to say that they don’t communicate and if you pay attention long enough, you’ll eventually master the art of understanding what your guinea pig’s behaviour means and how your guinea pig is feeling.
To understand if your guinea pig is exhibiting behaviour that’s concerning and abnormal, we first have to understand what’s classed as normal guinea pig behaviour in the first place.
Normal Guinea Pig Behaviour
While there may be some things that your guinea pig does that look strange, a lot of it is actually perfectly normal.
1. Sleeping with their eyes open
Guinea pigs are prey animals, so they have to be alert and ready to move at a moment’s notice. This often means that they sleep lightly, so lightly in fact that their eyes stay open. It’s pretty normal and even though it looks a bit weird, it’s nothing to worry about.
2. Eating their poo
Despite it being rather disgusting, guinea pigs do eat their own poo, and it’s pretty common. It’s relatively healthy for them to do this since their faeces is still full of nutrients, and it’s nutrients that they haven’t managed to digest the first time around. But this isn’t to say you should allow their pen to become dirty and full of faeces – spot clean their cage every day.
3. Dragging their behind on the floor
Your guinea pig is doing this to mark their territory. This might happen if you’re placing them in a new cage, there is a new guinea pig, or you’ve just cleaned the cage. Don’t worry; this is perfectly normal, it just looks odd. It is a behaviour seen with other animals, too.
5. Jumping in the air (popcorning)
Generally, this is a behaviour that you want to see happening since it usually means they’re happy and excited. If they’re doing it all the time, however, they have a lot of excess energy so it might be a good idea to think about some additional toys and activities that they’ll enjoy.
6. Strange sounds
From purring and squeaking to wheeking and rumbling… guinea pigs make the strangest noises, and they’re often just expressing natural feelings that are a part of everyday guinea pig life such as excitement, annoyance and even seduction.
7. Chasing each other
In any pack of animals, there will always be a fight for dominance. More often than not, this is settled easily. Guinea pigs understand there is a hierarchy, and many are happy to fit within it. If chasing is occurring, this is a sign of dominance and happens in both males and females. It’s usually nothing to worry about, and unless there is real harm taking place (bullying, depriving others of food, wounds from biting), then it’s fine.
If it’s occurring between a male and female, then it’s also a good idea to check that they’re definitely neutered – just to be on the safe side.
8. Peeing on other guinea pigs when annoyed
Like all families, guinea pigs annoy one another. But as a sign that they want the other guinea pig to back off, they can spray pee on one another. Yeah, it’s pretty gross but also pretty standard; it’s just their way of letting each other know they’re not in the mood.
This one can get a little grey because excessive nipping can turn into bullying, and that’s not okay. However, the occasional nip is okay if one guinea pig needs to tell their fellow piggy to leave their food alone. Just watch out for how often it’s happening and whether it’s always the same guinea pig doing it.
10. Head raising with an open mouth
Once again, a sign of dominance, surprising, right? You wouldn’t think guinea pigs would be so narky given how cute they are, but yes, a lot of their behaviour is to display dominance in group situations. This is another case of it being perfectly fine and normal so long as it’s not occurring all the time.
Abnormal Guinea Pig Behaviour
1. Chewing the bars
Guinea pigs can chew everything in sight, but if they’re constantly chewing the bars of their cage, this could be a sign of frustration and boredom.
Is their environment providing enough stimulation for them? They should:
- always have a fellow guinea pig with them
- have enough room, as you’ve followed the guidance on guinea pig cage sizing
- have accessories and toys for mental stimulation
2. Lack of movement
If your guinea pig is lethargic and reluctant to move or is often crouched in a hunched position, then this is a sign that something is wrong. Guinea pigs are usually social and active, so if they’re not exploring the area a lot, this could be a sign of illness, pain, depression or anxiety.
3. Change in eating, drinking and toilet habits
If you have noticed that your guinea pig is eating less, drinking less or drinking much more, then this is a sign something is up. It could be illness-related, depression-related, or another guinea pig could be bullying them.
If you’ve noticed a change in their diet, then it’s essential to take them to see a vet. The same goes for their toilet habits, such as diarrhoea or a complete lack of urination and poo. Weigh your guinea pigs weekly, so a change in weight is easy to spot.
4. Repeated circling of their enclosure or overgrooming
These are signs of stress which could be down to illness, frustration, boredom, loneliness, or bullying from another guinea pig. It’s important to monitor these behaviours along with other warning signs mentioned.
If it continues, you should look at changing something in their environment or monitoring the interactions between your piggies. It’s best to speak to your vet if it still carries on.
5. Freezing or fidgeting when you’re handling them
If a guinea pig feels safe and relaxed around you, they’ll usually lie down, stretch out and settle calmly. If they’re stiff or constantly trying to get away, as you’ve guessed it, they’re scared and uncomfortable. Try being calm, gentle and quiet around your pig, and let them get used to being around you before you pick them up.
6. Frequent fighting
The occasional push is okay; after all, there will always be a dominant guinea pig. However, when this turns to biting and rolling around, then it’s harmful and abnormal group behaviour. If it’s the same two guinea pigs, then you may need to split them up. Excessive biting is also a sign that a guinea pig may be in pain, especially if they’re biting you too.
7. Shrieking and excessive teeth chattering
These are the noises that definitely aren’t normal. Excessive shrieking and teeth chattering are signs of a very agitated guinea pig. Shrieking is a high pitched noise that usually means your guinea pig is upset or distressed about something.
Excessive teeth chattering is a sign of irritation and aggression so you may want to consider if you’re handling your guinea pig in a stressful way or if their environment is causing anxiety. Do they have enough space away from other guinea pigs? Is there enough to stimulate them in the cage?
8. Spending a lot of time hiding
It’s natural for guinea pigs to enjoy hiding; it’s instinct to get away from predators. But like with all behaviours, moderation is key. If your guinea pig pretty much refuses to come out from hiding, then you can incur that they’re in pain, or they feel threatened by their environment.
This requires looking at ways to make your guinea pig feel safer and calmer as well as looking at the way they interact with other guinea pigs, and again, it may also be worth paying a visit to the vets.
If you want to know more about your guinea pig then check out our guinea pig care guide. And as always, if you’re concerned about any strange behaviour that your guinea pig is exhibiting then it’s always wise to talk to your vet about it. They will be able to give you a better understanding of how to resolve the problem in a specialised and in a way that’s tailored to your little buddy.