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Is This Guinea Pig Really Cranky?

Are rumble-purring and head-butting signs that a guinea pig is cranky?

By Shannon Cauthen
Posted: June 13, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: I adopted a guinea pig one week ago. She is exhibiting two really odd behaviors.

First, she sort of makes this rumble-purring noise if I pet her from the neck down. She doesn’t seem to be in pain but doesn’t seem to like it.

Second, she continually sort of head-butts me. If I am scratching/stroking her head, she sort of throws her head up. If I snuggle her under my chin, same deal, she throws her head up.

Both behaviors come across as “Leave me the heck alone, I don’t like you.”

I have tried hand-feeding her treats. She only likes apples. She won’t eat parsley or peppers or strawberries. She will take a bite or two of leafy butter lettuce. It’s almost like she read up on guinea pig behaviors and is protesting anything she is supposed to be doing.

I read everything I could on these little ones, and it seems that they do better in pairs. I went out and got another. She is very sweet. She sort of sits still when I pet her and cuddles very well. She makes a very faint beeping noise and seems happy.

So, is it possible I have a cranky guinea pig? Does that ever change? I would hate to have a guinea pig that is miserable or that doesn’t like to be held and loved on.

A: Kudos to you for adopting a guinea pig! The behaviors you describe are very normal in a guinea pig, and you may be surprised when your second little one follows suit with the same responses.

Purr-rumbling can mean one of three things. It is a dominate behavior when it is done to another guinea pig. It simply means, "I am going to be the No. 1 pig in the pecking order of this herd or cage." This behavior will occur in the following pairings: girls to girls, boys to boys and boys to girls. The meaning changes when it’s done between boys and girls; it then means, "I would like a date please." When they do this behavior to humans, it is similar to a cat purring for its owner. It means, "I love you!" So feel honored.

Head-butting is also a dominate behavior, and when it is done to humans it means, "I am in charge." It has to make you giggle to think that such a small animals would have such a large ego that it thinks it can dominate you, a giant human. Petting them behind the ears, back of the neck and down the back will stop the dominate behavior and elicit more purrs.

Not unlike people, guinea pigs have preferences. Some people like carrots but hate broccoli, or like bananas but not grapes. Guinea pigs are the same way. It is just a matter of finding the right grouping of fruits or veggies that your particular piggy likes.

Guinea pigs tend to lean toward the veggies and then fruits, but yours might surprise you. It's like making a new friend and finding out what makes them tick and what they like to do. Each of your guinea pigs will have its own personality.

See more guinea pig questions and answers>>

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