An important thing to know as a guinea pig owner, is the behavior of your piggy. This can help to tell you when he/she is not feeling well, when they are angry, or happy, or even lonely.
Piggies are attention seekers by nature. They can get very lonely very quickly, so they will make noise and hop around, sometimes just to get your attention.
When a guinea is angry, you will often hear their teeth chattering. It is rare, but if they are directing it at you, they want you to stay away, so please respect his/her space. Piggies rarely chatter their teeth at humans and hardly ever bite, be aware that if they are very mad or upset, they may nip. Pay attention if you have two piggies in one cage, one may be chattering his teeth at the other, this can lead to a fight. It usually happens when two boars (male guineas), or two sows (female guineas), meet for the first time. They are just sorting out their hierarchy. The fur around their necks will raise to make them look larger. They will sway from side to side and slowly show their teeth. If you see your piggies doing this to each other, it is best to separate them before a fight breaks out, just watch your hands. Place a towel over their eyes to confuse them and separate them at that time.
Barbering is when a guinea chews on another guinea’s fur. Some speculate it is a sign of dominance, but I think they are just being nice. Other piggies on the other end of the barbering may sit calmly as they are trimmed, others may become agitated and headbutt the other, or worse.
Begging for food
Piggies love to beg for tasty treats. As they grow in confidence, they will start wheeking when they suspect their veggies are on the way, sometimes they will even stand up on their hind legs, just like a puppy! They get very excited and look in your direction with eager eyes, hoping you have seen them.
Guinea Pigs rarely bite their owners. Most of the time they just nibble or nip as a way of communication, especially the young ones who are still learning. There are a few reasons why your piggy may bite. Make sure you are holding him/her properly, if you don’t the guinea may get worried you are going to drop them and nip at you as if to say “Hey, be careful!” If you have been holding your piggy for a while and they start to nibble on your clothes, this may be a way of communicating to you that they need to use the bathroom, so to speak. Try not to hold your piggy any longer than 10 – 15 minutes at a time. Remember, they can’t cross their legs and hold it like we can. Most piggies will try to avoid doing it on you but if you have a particularly comfortable one who doesn’t mind, keep a towel under them when you are holding them, to protect your clothes. Not all will nibble on your clothes, some may fidget, or moan at you, this means they would like to be put back in their cage.
Some Piggies bite by accident, when you are feeding them. They get excited and forget to distinguish between fingers and food. Also be careful after you have been handling food, wash your hands or they may mistake your finger as the treat. Biting may also be caused by a parasite like mites, if you are pettign a piggy with mites, it can cause great discomfort and they will do anything to stop the pain. They may try to nip the area to get some relief but if your hand is in the way, you may be nipped instead. For more information about mites, please read my health care article.
Biting of the cage bars
Some piggies are prone to biting the bars of their cage. Some will only do this when they want food, or they hear something makng them think food is on the way. They will start wheeking, but if the chef is taking too long thy will start biting the bars out of boredom and/or loneliness, even if you spend a lot of time with them. They do need a cage mate after a while, if you have owned a piggy for a while and are confident in caring for him/her, consider getting another so that they can keep each other company. They will also bite the bars if their cage is small and they do not get much roam-free time. The lack of exercise can stress them out. Please try to provide a larger cage, especially if you plan on getting another piggy, and let your guinea out for a run around the house once in a while. Piggies need their freedom.
If you notice your piggy duck their head underneath and see they are munching on something, they are actually eating their own poo. It may sound gross to us, but it is very natural behavior for guineas. Rabbits will also eat their own poo. They are not the usual poo you see in the cage, this is softer and smaller. Piggies do this to re-ingest the ‘soft poo’ because their digestive system does not extract all the vitamins from the food right away.
If you notice your piggy is hunched up in a corner, looking sad, or depressed, this may indicate an illness. Try to offer them their favorite food, if they show no interest at all, please take him/her to the vet right away. It is very important to do so because a piggy’s health can drop rapidly, it is important to catch things at the first sign.
Piggies will often stand still for a short period of time if they are afraid or they have heard a sudden loud sound they are unfamiliar with. It is their way of making themselves invisible and letting others in the group know. Freezing is often accompanied by a small vibrating sound, this indicates they are afraid. This behavior may happen hen the phone rings or someone knocks at the door.
Like most pets, some guinea pigs love to lick you when you hold them. Think of them as guinea pig kisses. Not all piggies do it, about 3 of 6 piggies love to give out kisses. Some think it is because our skin is salty and they enjoy the taste, I am not all that convince and I believe it is more of an affectionate behavior.
The Mating Dance
Males and Females both participate in this dance. They will swing their hips back and forth and make a vibrating sound, known as motorboating. Do not be alarmed if your female piggy starts the mating dance with another female, she is probably just feeling hormonal.
Usually this is seen as a sexual behavior, however, it can also be a sign of dominance towards another guinea. A dom male may do this to a submissive male, usually when they first meet, they are just sorting out who is the boss, or the king of the cage. A female may also mount another female if she is in season or if a neutered male is not paying attention to her. It is all very normal, so do not worry if you see same sex piggies mount each other. However, if males are doing it to each other, watch out for signs of aggression, you do not want a fight to break out.The actual act of mounting, only takes a few quick seconds, but after a rest, the mounting will commence again. Before the mounting commences, there can be quite a bit of a chase involved. The piggy that is being pursued, may sometimes complain and/or become annoyed. As long as you don’t see any aggressive behaviour, the commotion sounds much worse than it actually is. Having said that, being constantly chased can be exhausting and stressful, so if you have a spare cage, it might be a good idea to separate your guinea pigs, so they can have some peace for a little while.