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.

What do guinea pig sounds mean?

When we purchased our first guinea pigs and brought them home, we remember being really surprised about all the different sounds they made. We tried for many months to try to learn their sounds and what they mean’t. There isn’t a lot of information around the different sounds that guinea pigs make and even what they mean.

Similarly to cats and dogs, the sounds that guinea pigs make provide an indication of how they are feeling and if there is an issue. Guinea pigs can communicate in many different and unique ways and it’s important to discover what they mean. This will help you react quickly if your guinea pig is hurt or feeling threatened.

Understanding the different sounds your guinea pig makes will also help you build a closer relationship with them. This ensures a closer bond and helps you both get the most out of your time together. When you have a Happy Guinea pig, they will often spend all their day making a variety of sounds such as purring, wheeking and chortling.

Wheeking

This is probably the most common of the guinea pig sounds! Every guinea pig owner has heard this when opening the fridge or opening their hay. Guinea pigs also use it when they are asking for attention so its important to get familiar with this sound.

We keep our guinea pigs in their own room upstairs and anytime someone goes upstairs, our little piggies wheek loudly asking for us to come and play with them. They also wheek when they wish to be let out of their cage and to enjoy some floor time.

The best way to describe wheeking is it is a high pitched sound that is often repeated and comes in short, sharp, fast bursts. This sound is used to express excitement and anticipation.

A fun fact about wheeking – Wild cavies do not wheek! Wheeking is directed exclusively to humans and never happens in the wild. Guinea pigs developed this new sound as a way to express to humans that they wish to be fed – clever piggies!

Click here to listen to what wheeking sounds like.

Purring

Purring isn’t just for cats! Guinea pigs have a few different types of purr depending upon the situation they are in. A deep purring sounds usually comes during laptime and means they are relaxed, calm and comfortable.

A guinea pigs happy purr is a low and deep grumble type of purr. It will be easy to tell it’s the happy purr as your piggie will appear content and relaxed.

If your guinea pig makes a higher pitched purr, similar to a cat then this is not a happy purr. In fact its their way of telling you they are annoyed. We have found our guinea pigs tend to make this sound if they are happy and relaxed and something (or someone!) startles them.

This annoyed purr will be shorter than the happy purr and will be presented in short bursts opposed to the happy continuous rumble.

Rumbling

Rumbling is best described as a low and more active purr. A rumbling guinea pig will often walk slowly towards other guinea pigs and appear to be swinging their hips from side to side.

Rumbling is a sign of dominance used typically towards other guinea pigs. It can also be used by male guinea pigs when courting females.

A rumbling guinea pig appears to almost vibrate whilst making this sounds. A low rumble whilst the guinea pig making the sounds is walking away, indicates that the piggie is showing passive resistance to the more dominant guinea pig.

Click here to listen to what rumbling sounds like.

Chutting

This noise is fairly rare among guinea pigs so do not feel offended if your guinea pig never chuts. Chutting sound a lot like purring although your piggie will make a distinctive “chut” sounds repeatedly.

Chutting occurs during stroking mainly, however our guinea pigs chut happily whilst they explore their room. We change their room up repeatedly and they “chut” their approval. Chocolate even chuts when we fill the hay rack with her favorite hay!

Shrieking

My least favorite guinea pig sound as this one means they are sensing imminent danger or are in pain. We are lucky that we have never heard this sound from any of our guinea pigs however its definitely one to be aware of.

If you have to take your guinea pig to the vet for the first time, its common to hear this sounds from them unfortunately. If you keep a large amount of guinea pigs you also may hear this sound which is signaling that their is trouble between them.

This sounds exactly how you would think – a loud high pitch shriek similar to a shout for help.

Teeth chattering

This sound often sounds like the quick succession of teeth grinding and is a fairly common sounds. Your guinea pig will make this sound when they are feeling unhappy or agitated.

Our guinea pigs make this sound if your too playful after their nap or if they have finished their laptime before you have.

Growling

Another noise that isn’t very common. This sounds is pretty self explanatory and your guinea pig will make it when they feel distressed or threatened.

This sound is particularly important when you introduce a new piggie into the mix.

Whining

This sound is an indication that your pet is distressed or in trouble. If your guinea pig makes this sounds continoulsly then its bet to seek medical attention from a vet.

Its important to remember that all guinea pigs are individuals and yours wont make all these noises. Enjoy and celebrate the sounds they make when they are happy.

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! 

Bringing your guinea pig home for the first time

Once you’ve chosen your piggy (or piggies) you’ll be counting down the days until you can bring your new fury pals home! Its a very exciting time to welcome your new addition into your home but it can be very scary for guinea pigs to leave their known environment and adjust to a new place. This article will help ease the transition to help keep your piggy happy!

Make sure you have their home set up before you leave

via pixabay

The first and possibly most important thing is their home. Will they be living inside or outside? If they are going to be living outside then they will need a suitable hutch or if they are to be inside then they will need a good sized cage. The cage or hutch needs setting up before you leave to collect your new guinea pig(s). Ensure there is plenty of hay in the sleeping area and that hay racks are also full of fresh hay. The hay rack, clipped to the bars of the hutch or cage, ensures that this hay stays clean for eating. The bedding also needs to be put down ideally on top of sheets of newspaper. We have always used shredded paper in the main area of the cage/hutch for our guinea pigs. There are plenty of pre-shredded paper available to buy and we have been known to spend a good few hours shredding our own! Its very time consuming but as long as you have a good quality shredder, it can be similar to those you can buy. You do need plenty of paper though! Remember never to use sawdust as it can irritate them and get stuck in their eyes. We have seen several pet shops use sawdust simply because its easy to spot clean but please don’t use it as it can make your little piggies ill.

Your guinea pigs will also need some hidey holes since they will run for cover as soon as you put them in their new home. This helps them feel settled so is an important part of making your piggys feel comfortable. If you’ve done your homework you’ll already know what they are used to. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with some plastic ice cream tubs turned over with a hole cut out or even better a pigloo!

Ensure you have bought the dry food they are already eating or buy it when you collect them. Big changes to their diet can cause tummy upsets. After they have settled down you can change it to a different brand over a period of seven to ten days buy adding a little of the new food into their current one to help them get used to it. Remember guinea pigs are like humans and cant make their own vitamin C so choose a high quality dry mix like this one for them. Remember to get a solid bowl they can’t tip over as well as guinea pigs love to play. You will also need plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to feed them.  Include a water bottle or bowl for them as guinea pigs need constant access to fresh, clean water.

A guinea pigs teeth constantly grow so some form of chew sticks or edible huts make a great addition to their home, plus it gives them something to do since a guinea pig don’t like to be bored. Its also a good idea to put some things of interest in their home such a crumpled paper, specially designed balls and cardboard tubes / boxes. We also love this fun guinea pig treat maze! 

Pet Proof your house

Guinea pigs generally spend the majority of their time inside their cages or hutch however out of habitat play is important too so its important to have an easy to clean area inside your house for them to run around in along with providing places to hide. We love using this pen that’s perfect for our little piggies to run about in. If you choose to let them run around in a carpeted room then its important to ensure that all cables are covered as guinea pigs love chewing!  Also make sure to pick up anything off the floor that could be a potential choking hazard. 

If you have other pets ensure you keep them away from your guinea pigs cage and in another room. No matter how friendly your existing pets are the scent of them will frighten your new guinea pigs. Not so long ago pet stores were advocating keeping guinea pigs and rabbits stating that they made very good companions for one another. Please DO NOT keep guinea pigs and rabbits together, recent studies have shown that guinea pigs can easily be bullied by rabbits and can become injured by them. Rabbits also pass on disease to guinea pigs and guinea pigs and rabbits have different nutrition needs so they shouldn’t be kept together.

Bringing them home

Its important to be prepared to bring your guinea pigs home in a safe and suitable manner. The majority of people will be bringing their guinea pigs back to their new home in the car so its important to ensure you have a suitable pet carrier to bring them home in or to ensure that the place you are getting your pets from provide a suitable container (ours was a cardboard pet carrier filled with hay.) If you purchase a pet carrier then it should be big enough for your guinea pigs to turn around, stand up and lay down in.You should ensure you put some hay in there as well as a carrot or similar healthy treat to hep ease their travelling anxiety. If you are travelling long distances then it is advisable to also attach a water bottle to the pet carrier so a cardboard one would not be suitable for this since the cardboard would get wet and become soggy.

Another thing to be mindful of is the temperature of the car, ensure that it is not too hot or too cold remember that a guinea pigs ideal temperature is sixteen to twenty four degree. If you are putting more than one guinea pig in the same carrier ensure that they both have enough space and check on them frequently to ensure they are getting along together. Make sure that the guinea pig carrier is placed securely in your car and avoid putting the radio or music on since guinea pigs have very sensitive hearing and it may also startle them. 

What to expect

Usually the instant you put your guinea pigs in their new home they will run for the nearest place to hide! This is OK and is part of the guinea pigs nature to hide. Another normal part of their behaviour is to freeze and not to move. Both of these instinctive behaviours are perfectly normal for timid guinea pigs especially when placed in an unfamiliar place for the first time. We remember when we first bought our piggies home and they hide and didn’t appear to eat or drink for days. It turned out they just sneaked out to play when we were asleep until they were used to us and their new home. Guinea pigs will remain skittish for a good few days until you gain their trust. We recommend not handling them for the first few days and instead attempting to feed them treats through their cages/hutch instead. This means they will gradually trust you and associate you with them getting a treat which will help for future handling. Although you are not handling them and they are staying the cage for the first few days its important to check they are eating, drinking and passing droppings normally. 

Its important to remember that if you have rescue guinea pigs then they take longer to settle in than pet shop bought guinea pigs (according to the RSPCA.) 

We hope you enjoy bringing your guinea pigs home. Being patient with your them will provide a solid base for you to enjoy your new pets.

Is it best to keep guinea pigs inside or outside?

This is a question we are often asked by those new to keeping guinea pigs. Keeping guinea pigs outside can make them vulnerable to predators whilst keeping guinea pigs inside can be tricky due to their sensitive hearing. We have learned through our experience that the best way to decide which one is right for your guinea pigs decides on a few factors:

Your home environment

Is your home a quiet, peaceful place or a busy hive of activity? Guinea pigs have very sensitive hearing so if you have a lot of noise in your house and no quiet room to keep them in, then its likely they will be happier outside in a large predator proof wooden hutch and run like this or this.

Guinea pigs don’t like sudden loud noises and can become startled easily. If you’re lucky enough to have a fairly peaceful house then your guinea pigs should be perfectly happy in a large cage inside. They still to be able to run about and explore so its worth investing in a suitable indoor cage.  Keep the cage away from electrical wires and cables as guinea pigs love to chew!

If you do keep your guinea pigs inside, don’t forget they are social creatures so they will love to be in a room that is quiet and also visited frequently. This is so they can get used to you and have some social interaction. Don’t ever put guinea pigs in a garage which is used as the car fumes can kill them.

Your outside environment

Our new home is located in the countryside and is frequently visited by foxes and other guinea pig predators so keeping our little piggys outside was an automatic no no. We gave them a try outside during the day the first summer we got them but they really didn’t seem to settle. You can tell if your guinea pig isn’t happy outside as they will stay inside their hidey holes and won’t really eat the grass. We tried our guinea pigs outside over two weeks and they seemed more startled and scared after they have been outside. If you have a private garden that is sealed off from your neighbors and away from the road then your guinea pigs can live outside safely.

An outside guinea pig eating grass

Ensure you buy the best quality and biggest hutch you can afford as guinea pigs need a lot of space so they can run around and explore. It needs to be rodent proof to stop not only them escaping but also other rodents such as rats from chewing their way into your little guinea pigs house. Ideally the guinea pigs sleeping areas should be away from direct contact with the ground. This avoids the guinea pigs getting cold and damp overnight. In our experience when the sleeping area is located on the ground it provides easier access for rats and other predators to gnaw their way into the hutch whilst the guinea pigs are sleeping. Another common issue we have found with outside cages and runs is that foxes are able to dig underneath some of the wire to the floor designs and get inside the hutch/run. When buying a new cage and run give it a quick check over and identify if there are any inside or outside sharp corners and work out how you will be able to cover them. This will ensure no one (piggy or you) gets hurt.

Their outside hutch and run needs to be placed over grass that doesn’t contain any of the plants that are harmful to them. Guinea pigs often eat harmful substances that can make them ill and die.  Similarly keep their hutch away from flowerbeds and herbicides/pesticides as these are poisonous also. Ideally chose a run or hutch that you can move easily so you can provide your guinea pigs with fresh grass several times a week – they make excellent lawn mowers!

Your memory


An odd point but a busy household can often forget about outside guinea pigs when your number one focus in the morning is getting the kids up and going out to work whilst also planning dinner and paying the bills. We’ve heard from friends of ours about people often forgetting about their dear little guinea pigs whilst rushing about with busy lives. If you think you are likely to forget about your little furry friends then bringing them inside to a quiet peaceful house may be the best solution to your guinea pigs problems. Once they are inside they get used to your routines and ours squeak very helpfully at meal times to give us a gentle nudge that they want some food.

Similarly if your family spend a large amount of time outdoors particularly over summer doing activities such as gardening or playing with the children then they guinea pigs are more likely to enjoy spending the majority of their time outside too. This way they will get the social interaction that they need from you whilst you’re also concentrating on your hobbies.

Where you bought them

A surprising factor but we have found it really does make the difference. Our latest piggies where purchased from Jolleys pet store and lived in a very calm and quiet cage with each other. Rather surprising for a pet store I know! The pet store was located fairly out the way of busy foot traffic and the staff were very knowledgeable and caring towards the piggies. This means that our guinea pigs are rather calm and wary of sounds. It’s the reason they just didn’t like being outside.

Your desire to be flexible

An interesting point is even if you do decide on having your guinea pigs outside, then its very plausible that you will be bringing them in when there are extreme fluctuations with the weather such as when it is very hot and very cold. You will either need an outside hutch that is fine for bringing in like this one or a separate cage to have inside when needed. I personally think having a separate dedicated indoor cage is really useful when you have to split them up due to fighting or if one is unwell.

If you have indoor piggies then a separate cage outside isn’t really needed. Whilst guinea pigs do need a lot of grass, you don’t have to have a dedicated outside run to accommodate this. We cut the law with scissors and bring the grass in for our piggies to eat!

Remember the temperature!

Whatever you chose remember that guinea pigs are very sensitive to hot and cold weather. They ideally like a temperatures of between 18 – 23 degrees Celsius. Any hotter than this and your guinea pig can get heatstroke but any colder and they may get a chill. Temperature control is much easier to do inside as there are already these controlling systems in place with central heating, heaters, fans and air conditioning. This doesn’t mean that guinea pigs aren’t happy outside, it just takes some extra work on your part to ensure they stay at a nice happy temperature.  Guinea pigs use blood flow to help to control their temperature. When they are cold, the blood flow to the skin is reduced to lock the heat in and when they are hot, this blood flow increases in an attempt to cool them down. Interestingly enough guinea pigs can not sweat as they don’t have any eccrine sweat glands on their body!

Remember even if you decide to keep your guinea pigs outdoors, if the temperature drops to below 15C they should be moved indoors until the temperature rises.m

How to choose your new guinea pig

Its a very exciting time when you head out to choose your new guinea pig – even if it isn’t your first! There is a lot of conflicting information out there so we have produced this guide to help you get the best out of your new best friends. There are a few things to look out for to ensure you choose healthy, happy piggies:

Physical attributes

Whether you are getting your guinea pig from a pet store, family friend or rescue centre its important to give them a quick check over to ensure they are healthy and well cared for. The guinea pig should be slim, slender and lean. It shouldn’t be too thin or fat. Ensure it is walking well and able to place its weight equally on all of its paws. Check when the guinea pig walks that it also uses all four of its paws and isn’t sluggish whilst moving about as guinea pigs are sprightly and often zoom about the place.  This ensures you aren’t buying a piggie with leg damage or broken bones. The guinea pig’s overall body condition should be free from lumps, bumps or swellings.

Its coat should look shiny and silky – No mattered fur or bare patches.  It should look well groomed and clean with no red patches on its skin. Whilst it may seem rather undignified, check around the guinea pigs rear ensuring there is no mattered fur, soling or red skin as this may be a sign of tummy issues such as diarrhea or poor hygiene of the pet store. Have a good look at the guinea pigs legs and feet, they shouldn’t be swollen or bleeding. The leg bone should be straight.

Have a good look at the guinea pigs face, its eyes should be shiny and bright with no discharge or crusting. The eyes should be open and alert. Check over the guinea pigs nose as it shouldn’t have any discharge or soreness around it. Both the ears and eyes should be clean and dry.

A difficult one to check but well worth it is the length of the guinea pigs teeth. They should be well aligned and not long or protruding. The mouth area should be dry with no dribbling and scratch free. It’s great if you get the chance to feed the guinea pig a treat before you buy, then you can see how it eats and get a better look at its teeth.

Lastly listen to the guinea pigs breathing, it should be quiet and regular. Watch out for wheezing, panting or laboured breathing as these are signs of serious health conditions.

Male or Female

Whether you choose a male (boar) or female (sow) guinea pig, if they are going to share a cage then they need to be the same gender otherwise they will breed and wont stop, even when it is unhealthy or dangerous for them to do so! Whilst it is possible to neuter both male and female pets with the price costing around 50 it is generally considered the best option to keep them in same sex groupings to save them undertaking any necessary operations. The choice of male or female mainly comes down to personal preference although there are some slight difference between the two genders:

Boars (Males) – Male guinea pigs are best housed together if they have been previously housed together otherwise they are prone to fighting with each other until they either are unable to be housed together or have established hierarchy. Boars are known to occasionally scent mark their territory including their owners. Whilst the gesture is appreciated, unfortunately the smell turns into a strong fishy odour that requires regular cleaning of the cage (more so than usual) However once this scent has been removed, it can reintroduce the hierarchy battle since you’ve remove the scent and they are trying to establish who the boss is again. Once the boars have created a well established bond then this is less likely to happen. The way boars mark their territory is by dragging their little bottoms along their cage, whilst this is perfectly natural and healthy it does mean they have a tendency to collect a lot of other things in it such as poo, hay and fur. These items mainly stick to the boars bottoms however they also can get lodged inside the anus. Boars also tend to suffer with a serious foam of constipation called impaction when they get older if they aren’t clean regular. Whilst this task isn’t the most pleasant, it can easily be part of your grooming routine and takes just a few minutes. Boars also have what is known as boar glue (ejaculation) that is a hard and sticky subsistence. It commonly gets on the cage and even on their own fur which must be cleaned (usually cut off fur) regularly as it has an unpleasant odour to it. Boars are also described as cheeky and much more energetic than sows making them very entertaining! The boys also appear to love lap time much more than girls and I’ve know a few to fall asleep on friends laps whilst getting patted.

Females (sows) – Females live together happily and seem to have no issue with being introduced to each other even if living together for the first time. Sows are even more likely to continue to get along well into adulthood as well. Sows generally smell a little better than boars since they don’t feel the need to continuously mark their territory the way boars do but they still need cleaning out regularly. Sows will still have hierarchy battles but they tend to be less severe and cool off quicker than boars although sows are known to squirt urine at each other during times of battle and even at their owners!

Whether you choose boars or sows they will have their own personalities and be inquisitive, cuddly and a great friend to have.

Long or short hair

There are several different types of guinea pig breeds that fall under the categories long haired and short haired.  Short haired guinea pigs are easier to look after since they require minimal grooming (we groom our short haired piggie a few times a week) and they are less likely to require a bath unless they get exceptionally dirty. Long haired guinea pigs need more care with daily grooming and frequent baths. Our long haired guinea pigs usually has a bath once a month unless she gets very dirty but her fur needs combing daily. She also needs the fur around her rear checking to ensure no poo or urine has dirtied it.

Whether you choose short or long haired guinea pigs they both still need their nails clipping and to be checked over regularly to ensure they are healthy and happy.

Behaviour

Spend some time watching the guinea pigs before you buy them, watch how they move and explore. They should be bright, playful and never slow or sluggish. They will startle easily and run for cover which is a good sign as that’s part of their basic instincts. They should be alert and active, they should be able to move around comfortably with no signs of injury or lameness. Observe how the guinea pig reacts and interacts with other guinea pigs, watch for any signs of aggressive or acute fear. Watch how it responds to people, especially you. It should be skittish but relatively calm and settled. It should be somewhat used to being handled and petted. Keep a watch over its personality as whilst there share similar characteristics, they all have their own unique and wonderful personality. Is it playful, mischievous or shy?

The Living Conditions

This point is usually overlooked, but we’ve visited some pet shops where they have multiple guinea pigs all crammed in a too small space which results in aggression and injury. Identity if they have a water bowl or bottle as it will help prepare you for when you bring it home. Observe what hay they are using and which dried food they are eating. Even something as simple as buying the same hidey hole they are used to. Having this at home will bring them comfort when they are in unfamiliar surrounding for the first time.

Ask questions

The place you buy your guinea pig from should be able to provide you with how old the guinea pigs are (they shouldn’t be sold until they are over 6 weeks old), their favorite treats and their medical history.

Know your guinea pig head to tail!

Bringing home a new pet can be exciting and scary at the same time! We’ve all been there. I remember bring home our little piggy bundles and just watching them in their new home hoping they would be ok. One of the best places to start, be it before or after bringing your guinea pigs home is getting to know them from head to tail!

Our guinea pig friends have been kept as companions in household since the 16th Century when they were introduced by European traders.

Brain

Although domestic guinea pigs have a reduced brain size then their wild relatives, they are still just as smart if not smarter! A study in the journal of Animal Cognition suggests that although they do have a reduction in brain size over their bolder and more aggressive wild cousins they may actually be quicker learners! In the study, three tests were carried out to see the differences between the domesticated guinea pig and the wild cavies.

Boldness and aggression.

A wild cavy via zoochat.com

In the boldness test, Guinea pigs and wild cavies were observed whilst approaching an unfamiliar guinea pig and a strange object in the form of a yellow rubber duck. Cavies were quicker to approach the duck and adopted aggressive behaviours such as teeth chattering and curved body language when approaching the unfamiliar guinea pig. Whilst the guinea pigs were more timid and took longer to approach. In this case the wild cavies were deemed more bold and aggressive.

Learning

This test is when the guinea pigs excelled over their wild counterparts. Cucumber was placed inside plastic containters and the challenge was to see who figured it out the guinea pigs or cavies. The domesticated guinea pigs grasped this concept and figured out how to get the cumber much quicker than the wild cavies. Usually domestication of pets produces less intelligent animals and they experience cognitive decline, broadly speaking.

Furthermore, the average guinea pig can learn complex maze tasks using symbols as sign posts. They also have an excellent memory and can remember the times at which certain things happen such as feeding and cleaning out of cages! If your memory isn’t as good at feeding times as your guinea pig’s then try an automatic feeder! 

You can also feed their skill for learning by creating a maze out of a vairety of carboard tubes or buy plastic tubes which are more hard wearing like this one that we use for our little piggies.

Eyes

One of our guinea pigs!

Guinea pigs are able to see predators coming at them from all directions thanks to their large eyes being on the sides of their heads. This also unfortunately means they cant see what is right in front of them which is often why they startle relatively easily. A normal guinea pigs eyes are both the same size,clear, bright and should protrude slightly. Guinea pigs usually keep their eyes open all the time even when sleeping! Only a small few close their eyes fully when they sleep.

An experiment was carried out by Horst Bielfeld in his book Guinea Pigs — A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual where he uses coloured food bowls to distinguish whether a guinea pig could see colours and it concluded that they can.

Additionally you will notice a milky liquid coming from your guinea pigs eyes. This is completely normal and is used to wash the face. Your guinea pig will leave this liquid to build up and then will use it to clean their face using their front paws several times a day.

Ears

Guinea pigs have excellent hearing to help them identify predators before they come into view. There ears are soft and folded over to protect the delicate tissue inside. They are prone to different types of ear aliments and the jury is still out over whether the owner should clean their ears for them as part of the grooming routine. We have never cleaned our guinea pigs ears and I regularly check them as part of their grooming routine and none of ours have ever suffered with ear conditions. If your unsure then speak to your local vets. The usual ear cleaning kit of water and cotton buds is also useful to have in on standby just incase they develop any ear aliments.

Its normal for the outer ear to sustain a little damage such as a slight rip or tear as unfortunately the hierarchy battle is ongoing for piggies. As long as they aren’t huge rips or infected / swollen / bleeding then its best to just monitor the situation.

Nose

A guinea pigs sense of smell is highly developed and is likened to in between a human and a dog. They are able to recognise companions and owners through scent. A guinea pigs nose is small and should be clean and dry. Guinea pigs sneeze frequently throughout the day but anything excessive is a cause for concern. Guinea pigs expel air from their nose and it creates a high pitched sound but is unmistakably a sneeze. Guinea pigs that begin to sneeze constantly may also just be allergic to their bedding. If you think this may be the case then slowly start to swap out each type of bedding you use to discover which one was creating the allergy. We have always used Timothy Hay without having any problems plus its great for wearing down teeth!

Legs

Guinea pig legs aren’t very strong and can break really easily. They also cant jump very high so don’t let them fall or jump from any height. Even though your piggy has little legs, they will do a fair bit of standing up on two feet to get a better view of outside their cage or even just to see whats happening. Ours are always standing on two legs when they know they are about to get fed! This stance also helps to lift them up so they can give their excellent sense of smell a chance to help discover whats going on. If your lucky you may also spot your little piggy running. jumping in the air and landing on all fours – they they will do it again. This amazing dance is called “popcorning” and shows that your piggy is perfectly content. This is more common in younger piggies so enjoy it whilst you can!

Feet and Claws

Most guinea pigs are born with four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. A guinea pigs claws grow constantly and in the wild this helps them climb the mountainsides and walk on hard or difficult ground. Guinea pigs kept as pets require their claws to be clipped regularly and you can do this by either taking them to a grooming center or buy purchasing some specially designed nail clippers. A young guinea pigs claws start out short, sharp and pointy and as the guinea pig ages they become thicker, more brittle and unfortunately grow for irregularly. This is why its important to decide on how your guinea pigs claws will be trimmed (either by you or a professional) and then stick to that routine.

A guinea pigs feet are soft on the underside and should be regularly examined as part of your grooming routine. Due to the soft underside of their feet, guinea pigs should be kept on a soft surface especially since they have no fur on the under sole of them either. Guinea pigs feet are prone to a condition called bumblefoot which is a bacterial infection of the feet. It is common in other rodents and even birds. Its is more likely to occur in domesticated animals due to housing conditions. They are caused due to poor living conditions such as not changing the bedding regularly or being kept in damp living conditions.There are several ways to prevent bunmblefoot such as by using specially designed guinea pig disinfectant when cleaning out the cage along with using good quality hay and bedding.

Whilst there is a lot of information here and it may seem overwhelming, caring for your guinea pigs becomes part of your daily routine and you get the best reward – a loving, kind and affectionate pet.

An introduction to Guinea Pigs

The guinea pig (or domestic guinea pig) is a member  of the rodent family, specifically the Cavildae family (Cavia genus). They are also knows as cavy or domestic cavy. They actually originate from the Andes in South America despite their common name suggesting they are from Guinea in Africa.

Spanish sailors travelling from South America in the 16th century brought guinea pigs to Europe and they were really expensive to purchase. This meant that only the wealthy could afford them. Thankfully guinea pigs are much more affordable now and can be purchased from a wide range of pet stores across the UK, Europe and the US.

Guinea pigs have been rising in popularity over the last decade thanks to their friendly and gentle nature making them the perfect pet for all ages. In some parts of the world there are organisations dedicated to the specialised breeding of specific breeds with varying coat colours and textures.

Below is some useful information about Guinea Pigs. Click on the links or use the menu at the top of this site to learn more.

Guinea Pig Facts

  • A full grown guinea pig weighs between 700 – 1,200g (1.5 – 2.6 llbs) and is typically 20 – 25cm in length
  • Guinea pigs typically live between 4-8 years. The oldest guinea pig was 14 years and 10.5 months old! Life span can be affected by their living conditions and nutrition.
  • All breeds are usually a similar size and the temperament is more or less the same between breeds. There are ten types of domesticated guinea pig breeds.
  • Guinea pig litters range from one to six babies. The young of a guinea pig are referred to as pups.  Newborn pups are well developed in relation to hair, teeth and claws. They are born with partial eyesight and are immediately mobile. They also begin to eat solid food immediately whilst also continuing to suckle.

Behaviour and sounds

Guinea pigs are timid creatures and when scared they freeze or run for cover. They are poor climbers but are able to jump small obstacles. Their strongest problem solving strategy is motion.

Guinea pigs jump when they are happy which is referred to as “popcorning.”

Guinea pigs are very chatty! They talk to each other all the time and once settled into their new home with you, will start talking to you too. They make a variety of sounds (whistling and purring) You can learn more about that on our communication section.

Nutrition

A guinea pigs main food is hay. They can also eat endless amounts of grass. Guinea pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C like humans so its important to incorporate it into their diet or to buy a good quality guinea pig dry mix that contains vitamins.

Home Comforts

Wilda cavies have been identified in the 20th century and are thought to have been domestic and have been reintroduced to the wild. Studies have shown they live on grassland in groups of several females (sow) and one male (boar) Their young also form part of this group. They take shelter in the abandoned nests and burrows of other animals although do not actively make these homes themselves.

Domestically guinea pigs live in cages and in smaller groups usually consisting of two sows or boars. Their cages are lined with various types of bedding such as hay, shredded paper or corn on the cob type material’s.

Social

Guinea pigs are social creatures and it is recommended that you purchase more than one guinea pig when buying. Previously it was believed that guinea pigs and rabbits cohabited well together however now this opinion has become divided with research suggesting rabbits tend to bully the smaller guinea pigs. Evidence shows that some larger animals (such as dogs and cats) can be trained to tolerate guinea pigs with some showing genuine affection towards them.

Grooming and handling

The amount of time spent on grooming your guinea pig is determined by the type of breed it is. Long haired guinea pigs need to be groomed daily whilst shorter breeds can be groomed weekly.

Guinea pigs should be handled correctly from a young age. This results in happy adult guinea pigs who are happy to be handled and carried. They also seldom bite or scratch. Well handled guinea pigs will often whistle with joy on the owners approach!

Health Issues

Guinea pigs suffer from common aliments such as vitamin C deficiency (Scurvy), abscesses due to infections, respiratory problems and diarrhea.