Posted: March 6, 2014, 4 a.m. EST
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Guinea pigs are prey animals, so they usually run away when startled.
Guinea pigs, with their large heads, perpetual look of surprise and gleeful squeals, are definitely a pet to be seen and heard! Here are some behaviors you are likely to come across when sharing your home with these popular pets.
1. Catch Me If You Can!
Don’t take it personally if your guinea pig runs away from you when you attempt to pick him up. Fleeing is hard-wired into the guinea pig’s psyche, and for good reason. This little piggy is preyed upon in the wild, and so a fast piggy is a safe piggy. Give your guinea pig time to get to know you, which may or may not curb his fleeing instincts when someone enters his space. Think of all those times you jumped at the sound of an unexpected noise, like a car backfiring, or when you didn’t know someone was behind you — for some guinea pigs it’s run away first, see who it is later.
2. Do The Popcorn!
Yes, guinea pigs have their own signature dance move, and it’s called "popcorning.” The move goes a little like this: run, jump in the air, land on all fours, bounce up in the air again and turn the other way. Now imagine these moves set to the sound of popcorn popping and you will understand why it’s referred to as "popcorning.” A popcorning guinea pig is a happy piggy, and young guinea pigs tend to bust out the popcorn move quite frequently.
Guinea pigs freeze when they feel threatened, either by noise, sudden movement or by something unfamiliar in their environment. Their goal is to be as invisible as possible. This behavior also lets fellow guinea pigs know something might be up. Imagine Jill guinea pig socializing with Joe guinea pig when Joe suddenly goes all statue-like on her — "Joe? Joe?” Jill will soon follow suit; no guinea pig wants to bring attention to herself when a predator might be near.
4. Eyes Wide Open
It is likely you will never see your guinea pig’s eyelids because guinea pigs rarely close their eyes — even while sleeping! Yes, all those times you thought your guinea pig was in deep thought or mesmerized by the new light fixture overhead, he might very well have been taking a quick catnap. A super-duper relaxed guinea pig might close his eyes for some sleep. If this happens, take it as a compliment — your guinea pig feels safe and secure in his home environment.
5. No, He’s Not Scratching An Itch; He’s Marking
If you spy your guinea pig dragging his tush along the ground of his cage — or any area he has frequent access to — he doesn’t have an itch to scratch; he is laying down his territorial claim. Essentially he’s saying to other guinea pigs, "This belongs to this little piggy!”
6. Guinea Pigs Talk
Oh the irony! For being such a prey animal, guinea pigs sure do make a lot of noise. They really live up to the "pig” part of their name because guinea pigs squeal, too, and they tend to squeal a lot. (OK, the squeal may sound more like a squeak, but it is pig-esque nevertheless.) The sound is also referred to as "wheeking,” which is a more spot-on phonetic interpretation. One way to get a guinea pig to squeal is to hold up a favorite food for him sniff out. He will be saying, "Dibs!” with some very audible squeals. When relaxed, your guinea pig might make a soft but consistent squeaking/whistling sound, which is often accompanied by little body vibrations. This is his way of showing approval as you gently pet him while holding him in your lap. A high-pitched, short squeak, however, can indicate pain, and a low-pitched purr can be your guinea pig’s way of letting you know that he is annoyed.
7. Standing Up
Guinea pigs might have, itty bitty, barely noticeable legs, but that does not keep them from standing up on two feet to get a better idea of what’s going on around them. This is a "curiosity” stance that affords a guinea pig a better view of his surroundings, and it helps him zero-in on a particular smell. It also makes him even more adorable when he begs for a food treat. Standing on the hind legs goes hand-in-hand with sniffing.
Guinea pigs do a good bit of licking. They groom themselves by licking their fur, usually starting out by standing on their hind legs so as to better reach their front and back sides. Your guinea pig will keep himself clean, so you likely won’t need to bathe him (unless he gets mites or gets himself into a messy situation). Most guinea pigs don’t like to get wet. A guinea pig might also lick his person’s fingers/hand, which can be a sign of affection — after all, that’s how guinea pigs show affection to one another. Or the guinea pig might just like the taste of a person’s skin.
9. Mad Little Piggy!
Guinea pigs can have a temper. A mad guinea pig might hiss, which can sound like he is chattering his teeth together. And if you see his teeth too, watch out! Your little piggy means business — back off! An upset guinea pig might also let out a high-pitched shriek to tell you that he is very unhappy with something you did or he feels threatened.
10. Head-Raising Bragging Rights
Guinea pigs show their dominance over other guinea pigs by raising their heads, which is reported to be their way of showing up one another. In guinea pig social circles, the higher the head, the studdlier the guinea pig!
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