A guide to guinea pig body language

Guinea pigs are able to communicate in a variety of ways to help us understand what they are thinking and feeling. The most obvious form of communication is verbal which means that the subtle body language clues they provide are often overlooked.

Whilst its vital to understand your guinea pigs verbal behavioral patterns, learning their different types of body language is equally as useful.

Popcorning

The most amazing of sights is to see your guinea pig leap into the air (sometimes continuously!) This is also the easiest to spot. This is more common in younger guinea pigs although older piggies can often be seen leaping for joy – just not as high as their young counterparts.

Popcorning indicates pure joy and happiness, your guinea pig is literally so happy they are jumping for joy.

Our guinea pigs can frequently be found popcorning over all sorts of things – a new toy for their cage, giving them hay and even when we come in and have a chat with them.

Licking

Not only do guinea pigs purr like cats they also lick like them too! Licking is thought of as another friendly gesture that our guinea pigs do to show us how much they care.

There is some debate as to whether guinea pigs are simply tasting the skin for salt – but we like to think its to show their affection.

Snifffing

Have you ever really watched your piggie and wondered why they sniff everything so much? Ours sniff each other, the hay for eating, the hay for sleeping in, the carpet….

Sniffing is an excellent way for guinea pigs to discover what is going on and whose about. Its a very normal activity!

Rubbing / touching noses

This is a friendly greeting often exchanged between cage buddies. Our guinea pig Orange though will happily touch noses with us to show us how happy she is.

Freezing

Try not to take it personally when your guinea pig turns to stone the moment your around. This is a normal instinctive behavior that keeps wild cavies alive. In the wild, cavies will freeze in the hope that predators will find it harder to spot them.

Our domestic friends often freeze when startled or are uncertain about something. Its more common for new and young guinea pigs as they are still trying to get used to their new environments.

Our guinea pigs frequently froze when we brought them home but after a few weeks they stopped. They rarely do it now unless they are surprised or their are young children in the house.

Scent marking

Guinea pigs show their dominance to other guinea pigs through scent marking. This involves rubbing their cheeks, chins and back end on items they have claimed as their own.

Urination can also be used to the same effect to show their dominance.

Mounting

It can rather alarming to see your guinea pigs mounting each other especially if they are the same sex. When we first saw this behavior, we were convinced the pet shop had given us piggies of the opposite sex.

In same sex guinea pigs, mounting is a way of exerting dominance among the group and is very common in females.

In opposite sex piggies, mounting is to initiate breeding behavior so ensure you are fully prepared for any new arrivals.

Strutting / rumble strutting

If you spot your guinea pig shifting its weight from side to side, wiggling its hips and making a low rumbling sound then its rumble strutting.

Rumble strutting is a sign of aggression and is common in groups of guinea pigs when dominance is being established. Its important to be observant during this behavior as your piggies may end up fighting.

To calm fighting guinea pigs, the safest and most effective way is to carefully place a blanket over the top of them. This calms them down and distracts them as they become more concerned over finding the way out.

If you have fighting guinea pigs then it may be necessary to separate them either for a short time or permanently.

Fidgeting and/or running away from being picked up

Fidgeting whilst being held is common in young and new piggies. It can be an indication that they are simply fed up or being held. It may also need they need to answer natures call.

If you find that your guinea pigs fidget frequently whilst being held, it could be a sign that you need to reduce the amount of laptime and then increase it slowly.

Running away from being held is a normal guinea pig instinct and should not be taken personally. Guinea pigs are prey animals and so have defense mechanisns in place, such as running away in order to keep them safe.

Slowly, over time your guinea pigs will no longer feel the need to run away from you and will welcome the chance to be held.

Guinea pig happiness : 10 ways to tell you have a happy guinea pig

There is no better feeling in the world than knowing you have a happy guinea pig. Its conformation that all the love, attention and care you show your guinea pig is paying off. I believe every guinea pig owner’s first priority is to strive to have a healthy and happy guinea pig.

If you’re a new guinea pig owner, it can feel very overwhelming in the beginning. Uncertainly creeps in and it can be tough working out what your guinea pigs signs and body language means.

That’s why we have put together the top ten signs that you have a happy guinea pig! Its important to remember that all guinea pigs are different and your guinea pig may not show the same signs as someone elses guinea pig. Your guinea pig doesn’t have to be showing ten out of ten of this checklist. One or two shows they are perfectly happy and healthy!

1. Popcorning

There is nothing more amazing than seeing your guinea pig literally jump for joy due to sheer happiness! Popcorning is the guinea pig dance move of happiness! It is when a guinea pig runs, jumps into the air and then does it again.

It is is normally more common in younger guinea pigs. Older piggies have still been known to perform the odd popcorn however it is less noticeable. The jumps are less high and the running is slower.

Guinea pigs have many reasons to popcorn – Their favorite hay, getting fed pellets and even socialising. We have found that if a guinea pig is in a cage that is too small then they are unable to popcorn. Happy guinea pigs require plenty of space in order to popcorn. Ours when they were younger popcorned in their cage. They are older now and popcorn when they are running free during indoor playtime.

2. Wheeking

The most common of guinea pig sounds! Its hard to miss this amazing sound. Happy guinea pigs will wheek at even the mere chance of food – plastic rustling, the fridge opening and even the sight of their favorite hay.

Did you know that wild cavies do not wheek in the wild? Our domestic piggies have created this special sound just for us humans. Its their way of gently encouraging us to feed them and often works. Its hard to resist a wheeking piggie! Ours often wheek as we walk up the stairs in the hope of a little treat. We feed our happy guinea pigs chunks of cucumber and the occasional strawberry as their treats.

3. Approching

The most frustrating thing when you first bring your guinea pig home is their frequent hiding. Its nothing personal they are just made that way! Being prey animals they are the natural instinct to hide when they sense danger or are unsure of their surroundings. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your little guinea pig emerging out of their hidey hole and exploring the world!

The next step from this is when during indoor playtime, they start coming over to you to explore. Our happy guinea pigs will even sit on our feet and play with our socks! You will find your guinea pig will approach you more and more as they gain confidence in their surroundings. Some guinea pigs will never fully approach you and will maintain a safe distance away. They may frequently run back to the nearest tunnel or shelter as well. That’s normal and natural behavior.

4. Signs of good health

A happy guinea pig is a healthy guinea pig! Happiness and healthiness go hand in hand for our little piggie friends. Ensuring your guinea pigs health is vital to a happy guinea pig. The best to perform a health check (Check out our guide to learn how) is during laptime.

The signs of a happy and healthy guinea pig are:

  • Energetic and not lethargic or limping.
  • Their normal appetite and enthusiasm for food.
  • Clear nose, dry eyes and the body free from sores / bumps
  • Lots of their usual vocal and physical signs.

If you think your guinea pig is unwell, then its best to consult a vet immediately.

5. Chilling out

A happy guinea pig can often be sign stretched out and lying down. We have special guinea pig fleece and our guinea pigs love to lay down on it. Chocolate often wraps herself up in it and has a little nap.

Guinea pigs can take a while to get to the “stretching out” point. They usually start with standing still and rather stiff. Next they move onto resting their head nearer to the ground. Finally comes the chill out! Our guinea pig orange isn’t a big fan of lying down but Chocolate adores it.

6.Licking

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A happy guinea pig likes to share the happiness in the form of some licking. Similaraly to a cat, happy guinea pigs will show their happiness by licking your hand.

There is some thought that this behavior is due to guinea pigs liking the salty taste of human skin but we like to think of the licks as kisses! Plus unhappy guinea pigs have not been known to lick their owners.

7.Purring

Another cat likeness. A happy guinea pig will purr whilst enjoying laptime! A purring guinea pig indicates they are relaxed, calm and comfortable.

Its useful to beware that there are two different types of purring sounds that guinea pigs make. A low and deep grumble is the happy purr. It will be obvious as your guinea pig will exhibit other types of happy behavior (such as a relaxed posture or lying down)

A high pitch purr indicates something is wrong.

8.A big burst of energy.

Have you ever noticed your guinea pig suddently run around a space as fast as possible? Yes this is the sign of a happy guinea pig. Similarily to hamsters, guinea pigs do get a build up of energy. Wheels are unsafe for guinea pigs and a happy guinea pig will delight in running around at high speed. Our guinea pigs have a whole room to themselves and often chase and play with each other during this energy burst.

9.The stretch and yawn.

This is fairly uncommon behavior. We thought for the longest time that yawning was associated with aggressive behavior. Luckily after a serious amount of research we learned that if the yawn is accompanied with a stretch then it means to opposite. Both our guinea pigs stretch and yawn during lap time. They are obviously happy guinea pigs and want to show us.

10.Chutting.

A fairly rare sound made by guinea pigs. The name reflects the sound that is made by your piggie. Chutting mainly occurs during laptime and is thought to be a behavior reserved for those under two years.

Our happy guinea pigs only chut when they are out of their cage and exploring their room.

What to feed your guinea pig

A guinea pigs diet should consist of unlimited hay, grass and water. Since guinea pigs are unable to synthesis their own Vitamin C then they must rely on obtaining it from the foods they eat. The best way to contribute towards this is through vegetables. Guinea pigs love their veggies! It can be confusing as a new owner to know which foods to feed their Guinea Pigs and how often.  Below we will outline the basics which are discussed further in our  nutritional requirements article. 

Hay

The best type of Hay for your guinea pig is grass hay more specifically Timothy Hay. Guinea pigs need hay to wear their teeth down and to keep the digestive system healthy. A cost effective way is to provide a cheaper hay as bedding and to keep the more expensive grass hay to fill hay racks and containers. Guinea pigs refuse to eat soiled hay so hay racks and containers are essential.

Grass

Grass is another type of food that can be fed in unlimited supply.  A guinea pigs digestive system is designed to eat foliage and grass is a great source of nutrition. 

If you do not have access to fresh grass (they should never be fed lawn mower clippings!) then providing plenty of grass hay is essential.

Vegetables

Vegetables form a very important part to your guinea pigs diet – they provide essential vitamins and minerals whilst also wearing teeth down. Not all vegetables can be eaten daily and some are even limited to monthly due to the high sugar content.

Some owners fall into the trap of feeding the exact same combination of vegetables daily and guinea pigs can often get bored. Guinea pigs are very similar to us humans, they like a wide variety of food to keep things exciting! The recommended amount is between three and five different types of vegetables per day to ensure your guinea pig doesn’t get bored eating the same foods day after day.

Portion size is important even with vegetables. The recommended amount is to provide each guinea pig a matched boxed size portion. This would be a single lettuce leaf or a small floret of broccoli. 

Below are the vegetables suitable for daily consumption:

Daily

  • Peppers any color – 1 Slice
  • Celery – 1 – 2 slices
  • Cucumber – 1 slice
  • Coriander – 1 – 2 springs 
  • Green Beans – 1 bean
  • Gem Lettuce – 1 leaf

These are the quantities for one pig and should be adjusted if you have more than one piggie.

Two to Four times per week

Whilst the above are recommended for daily consumption by your guinea pig, those with a varied diet will be much happier and healthy than those subjected to the same meal day in and day out. The above is a great sample diet to use as a starting base. All the foods listed below can be eaten more frequently:

  • Artichoke
  • Carrots
  • Collard Greens
  • Parsnip
  • Savoy

Fruit

Guinea pigs can also eat certain types of fruit, however this shouldn’t be a daily treat. Fruit has a much higher sugar content that vegetables and should only be given once or twice a week as a treat. Guinea pigs that eat too much sugar suffer from obesity. Some types of fruit also contain high levels of acidity levels and this can cause sores around your guinea pigs mouth. 

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Bananana
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Mango
  • Nectarine
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon

Remember these are a treat and shouldn’t be fed to your guinea pig on a daily basis. 

If you have any questions about your Guinea Pigs Diet please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us!

Guinea Pig Nutritional Requirements

It can seem rather overwhelming when you do a simple online search for what to feed your guinea pig. We remember when we first researched guinea pig nutritional requirements. We were fairly shocked to read you feed them three times a day. It seems like a huge amount but after owning guinea pigs a numerous years now you can see why they need it!

Helping-your-guinea-pigs-settle-in

Guinea pigs do not eat meat, high amounts of carbohydrates or fatty foods. They are very strict herbivores.They should never be fed meat or diary products! When it comes to feeding your guinea pig, its useful to remember that in the wild they live in the hills and mountains of the Andes, Peru. They spend their days grazing on fresh grass and other plant materials. 

We will cover the basics of guinea pigs nutritional requirements in this article.

Vitamin C

Guinea pigs are rather like humans in the sense that we both can not make our own vitamin C. Guinea pigs, like us rely on getting their daily recommended allowance of vitamin C from their food alone. In order for a guinea pig to intake vitamin C you need to provide suitable vegetables and a small amount of pellet food to ensure they do not suffer from disease.  Most experts agree that at least five milligrams per kilogram of body weight is the requirement on Vitamin C for your guinea pig but as a rule of thumb twenty milligrams a day is preferred. 

Whilst this may sound a large quantity in comparison to your fairly small guinea pig, it is actually easily obtained by feeding your piggie a supply of fresh vegetables (along with the occasional sweet fruity treat.) Liquid drops of Vitamin C are also available to be added to water. We recommended speaking to a vet before administrating to your pet. 

Grass and Hay

Guinea pigs LOVE grass and hay! If your guinea pig lives outside or has access to an outside space then you are safe to let them graze on it all day! A word of caution: if your guinea pig does live outside, remember they shouldn’t be kept on wet grass. Guinea pigs little furry bellies lie close next to the ground. If walking on wet grass, it will make their tummy wet and can cause colds and pneumonia. 

happy-guinea-pig

If your guinea pig doesn’t live outside, don’t worry as there are still ways of providing them with grass. We cut our lawn with a pair of scissors and bring it in for them. We place it in hay racks and various containers for them to graze on.

Grass hay can also be purchased. Hay is such an important part of a guinea pigs diet and it is crucial for  their survival. Guinea pigs love hay – sleeping in it, eating it, digging in it and of course leaving their droppings in it too.  It provides a nutritional requirement as well as being good fun for guinea pigs. Grass hay aids proper digestion along with the constant chewing action serving to wear down teeth ensuring they don’t become overgrown. The best type of hay is Timothy hay.

Guinea pigs should have hay on the floor of their cage for sleeping in. Since they do leave droppings in it, it is also essential to get a hay rack to ensure they are eating clean hay. A guinea pig will often refuse to eat hay that has been soiled on. A hay rack is really important to ensure they are eating enough hay. A constant supply of clean hay should be provided daily. 

A cost effective way to manage your money whilst also providing unlimited hay for your guinea pigs is to buy a cheaper hay for ground cover and the more expensive Timothy Hay to put into various racks around the cage. This also saves on wastage.

Pellets

Guinea pigs also need to eat dry pellets as part of their daily nutritional needs. It is important to buy pellets that are made specifically for guinea pigs. Do not to use those intended for rabbits as they do not have the same nutritional needs. Guinea pig pellets have Vitamin C added to them. Avoid feeding your guinea pig brightly colored pellets as these rarely contain any nutritional benefits. Guinea pigs tend to leave the most nutritious pellets to the end. 

Guinea pig pellets often come fortified with vitamins, minerals and calcium.  Calcium is required to keep teeth and bones healthy, however too much can be dangerous to your guinea pig. Its useful to watch out for any white deposits in your piggies urine. This can be a sign that the food has too much calcium in it. A high intake in calcium can lead to formation of bladder stones. 

According to the RSPCA, the recommended amount of guinea pig pellets per day is one handful.

Vegetables 

Guinea pigs love vegetables! Vegetables are a crucial part  to a guinea pigs diet. The best type of vegetables are romaine lettuce and spring greens. Ensure you feed your guinea pig a variety of vegetables daily to ensure they have a good mixture to snack on all day. Guinea pigs can also eat small quantities of fruit and herbs as a treat but due to the high sugar content of fruit, this shouldn’t be happening daily. The RSPCA have a wonderful food chart that helps form the basis of your guinea pigs meal plan:

Water

guinea-pig-water-bottle

Its important to ensure your guinea pig has a constant supply of fresh, clean water. It can be provided in with a water bowl or water bottle. Ensure you clean the water and bottle / bowl daily to prevent the build up of bacteria that could make your piggy ill.

Cecotropes (soft feces)

Yeah unfortunately we are talking droppings! You may have noticed that your guinea pig produces two types of dropping: A hard type and a dark, shiny one. The latter is the one they eat and usually straight from the source (IE their bottom.) Whilst its slightly odd to us humans, guinea pigs practice coprophagy which is the eating of this special type of dropping. 

These special types of droppings are actually full of Vitamin B and Vitamin K which is essential to a guinea pig’s good  health. Studies have shown that guinea pigs prevented from eating these special droppings develop malnutrition and die. 

A Quick and Effective Guinea Pig Health Check

Giving your Guinea Pig a quick but Effective Health check should be a priority for all owners. Guinea pigs although shy and timid are actually fairly hardy when  it comes to health. Give them a clean cage, grooming, social interactions and plenty of the correct food then they will rarely become sick.

Guinea pigs can get ill of course but it very rarely happens without warning signs and we mean A LOT of warning signs. If you have a sick guinea pig, you should be able to tell through your numerous interactions throughout the day. The best way to ensure your guinea pigs health is to do a quick health check at least once a week.

We check our guinea pigs daily for signs of ill health more out of habit than necessity. Its not just cuddles for our Chocolate and Orange. We constantly give them a quick check over to ensure they are happy and healthy.

Why you should perform a health check on your guinea pigs


Many people believe that the smaller the animal then the less amount of care it requires but this isn’t the case. A guinea pig can get illness and diseases just like other animals. If these are spotted in the early stages then it minimises not only your animals discomfort but also cuts down the vets bill! Be warned though, guinea pigs will hide injury and illness fairly well since they are predator targets.

In the wild a sick or injured guinea pig is easier prey! It isn’t too hard to spot a limp, loss of appetite or discomfort if you have a great bond with your guinea piggies. The main thing to watch out for is if a guinea pig refuses a treat – something is defiantly wrong.

It can be really upsetting if your guinea pig is unwell but there are many things you can do to keep your guinea pig happy and healthy. Below we will detail how to perform a quick and easy health check along with recommendations on how you can help keep your guinea pig healthy. 

Signs to watch out for

If your guinea pig is already experiencing any of the list below then please take them to the vet IMMEDIATELY!

  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Skin conditions such as rashes, lumps, bumps or swellings
  • Limping
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Drinking much more or less than normal
  • Big weight loss or weight gain over a short time
  • Not eating
  • Overgrown teeth
  • Lack of energy/sleeping more than usual
  • Signs of pain, like not wanting to be touched
  • A change in their usual behaviour, as this could be because they’re feeling poorly.

The health check up list

All these checks are quick and easy to do – just add it into your normal lap time!

Eyes

Take a look at your guinea pigs eyes – they should be clear, bright and fully open. There shouldn’t be any clear discharge, watering or crustiness. If you spot a white milky subsistence (usually in the corner) don’t panic. This is normal and is used for your little piggie to clean their face and body. 

To prevent eye problems ensure you use hay and not straw as straw can poke your piggy in the eye. 

Ears

Guinea pigs have ear wax just like their human owners! This means that they do require a little clean once every two weeks. In  our experience long haired guinea pigs do tend to have a greater build up of ear wax but if you start with once every two weeks and adjust as needed. Its really easy to clean your piggies easy, although a little scary the first time.

Take regular cotton buds (Q tips) and ensure the end is moistened but not wet. You can buy Mineral oil and add just one or two drops if you wish. The gently clean the outer ear to remove any visible dirt or wax. DO NOT INSERT ANYTHING INTO THE OUTER EAR. You could seriously hurt your little guinea pigs if you do. If you think there is a large build up of wax please take your piggie to the vet. 

The outer ear should also be clean, free from crusting and smooth. They should also be free from unusual markings or black dots as these are signs of infection. Ensure you check behind their little ears as well. Remember dirty ears attract mites. 

To prevent ear problems ensure you clean the outer ear once every two weeks. 

Nose

The nose should be clean and free from discharge. Guinea pigs do the cutest little sneezes! If your guinea pig is sneezing excessively (more than normal) this could be a sign of a cold or worse pneumonia so please consult your vet. 

To prevent cold and pneumonia ensure your guinea pigs are warm, have plenty of bedding such as hay and are away from drafts.

Breathing

Your guinea pigs breathing should be smooth, regular and quiet. There shouldn’t be any wheezing or laboured breathing. 

Teeth and mouth

There should be no sores, cuts or blood on your guinea pigs mouth. The teeth should be neat, and not overgrown. If their teeth are overgrown it could be a sign that you aren’t provided enough items to wear down the teeth and need to be taken to a vet straight away.

All guinea pigs teeth constantly grown throughout their lives and all their teeth look different. Its worth getting familiar with the look of your guinea pigs teeth so its easy to spot any changes or warning signs. We tickle our guinea pigs chins so they smile and we can sneak a quick look at their teeth! The chin and jaw of your guinea pig should be free from bumps and lumps.

To prevent overgrown teeth ensure you provide plenty of hay and chew-able objects along with vegetables to wear down the teeth. 

The coat

Your guinea pigs fur should be shiny and look healthy. There shouldn’t be any bald patches or signs of thinning fur. There shouldn’t be any red patches or bleeding skin. The tummy should be soft and very warm. It shouldn’t be hard or swollen. The body should be free from bites and scratch marks. The fur should be smooth and free from tangles and matted parts.

To prevent mites ensure you use the correct type of bedding and act immediately by taking your guinea pig to the vet if you think something is wrong.

The bottom

Yes unfortunately this area needs checking too! Its worth mentioning that guinea pigs have a grease gland at the base of the spine. Its hard to find at first but once you’ve located it you’ll always be able to find it. Some guinea pigs have a very active grease gland whilst others don’t. The gland is used for scenting and marking their cages or hutches. Its easy to tell if your guinea pig has an active grease gland as the fur covering it will be slightly greasy and tacky. If you do not clear this residue then it will build up and create an infection. To clean the grease gland simply rub coconut oil over the gland and wipe off with a wet wash cloth. Allow your guinea pig to dry thoroughly and place back into a clean cage or hutch.

Their bottom region should be clean and dry. Wetness can indicate something as simple as having long hair or something more serious such as a bladder infection. Ensure there are no droppings tangled up in fur around the bottom.

Feet

Guinea pigs are similar to humans in the sense that they don’t have hair on the soles of their feet! Your guinea pigs feet should be soft and free from cuts or sores. Red or sore feet can be a sign that your guinea pigs cage needs cleaning out more often or more thoroughly. If your guinea pig has sores or cuts on their feet, take them to the vet immediately. Do not try to clean them or treat them yourselves.  Guinea pigs that walk on wire cages (please don’t buy these types of cages!) or have untreated cuts and sores are liable to get a bacterial infection known as Bumblefoot. 

The nails shouldn’t be overgrown or excessively pointy. Check out our guide to caring for your guinea pigs nails. 

Weight

Its a good idea to weight your guinea pigs weekly so you can easily spot when something is wrong.

As always watch your guinea pigs and take note if they seem a little down or bored. Remember to change their cage and floor area daily to stop them getting bored!