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Guinea Pig Communication: watch the body language!

Guinea pig communication isn’t just sounds and noises – it includes postures and gestures too.  Watching your guinea pig’s body language can tell you tons about what they are thinking and feeling, and you’ll start to recognize how they combine all kinds of vocalizations and body language to get their point across.


Here is a breakdown of the typical “moves” your guinea pig may use to communicate with you (or other piggies).


happy guinea pig, happy cavy, guinea pig smiling, cavy smiling

photo credit: happylewie at deviantart.com



POPCORNING is that quick hopping up and down, and happens when your friend is in a state of happy excitement.  This is one of the cutest behaviors ever, ever, ever.  This is accompanied by wheeking like mad, and it has the desired effect of turning humans into smiling food dispensers.  See some popcorning here.


A NOSE BUMP is a friendly hello, between piggies or even between guinea pig and human.  This is the piggy version of the air kiss or the handshake.


guinea pig standing on back legs, guinea pig begging, guinea pig body language


STANDING ON BACK LEGS (TO BEG) – what started out as a way to see around them for a greater distance has turned into a very effective cue for the human caretakers. Think of the people who give dogs certain hand signals to get a sit or stay.  OK, now notice that when guinea pigs give us the standing on hind legs cue, we can easily be taught to respond with food, attention, and a possible post on Facebook.  We are good little learners, us humans. 




The HEAD/NOSE TOSS is a way of saying “back off, I’m not angry yet but I don’t feel comfortable”. 


NIPS are less than bites, and more like a pinch.  Warning, this piggy is irritated.


RAISED HACKLES are a way of making the pig look (at least to anther pig) bigger and scarier.  This is a dominance and/or aggressive tactic, and whatever is going on, you should keep an eye on the situation.


guinea pig body language, guinea pig with raised hackles, guinea pig with hackles raised, guinea pig warning, guinea pig body language, guinea pic commuication

photo credit: fangybunny.com


A WIDE YAWN isn’t your piggy getting ready to nap, nor is it a dismissive gesture.  Your piggy is standing up, legs spread apart, and has already shown signs of displeasure. Now she’s showing off those big sharp incisors.  Take heed.


guinea pig wide yawn, guinea pig aggression, angry guinea pig



RUMBLESTRUTTING sounds like something from “Stomp”, or “West Side Story”, doesn’t it?  Take a look at an example of this slow, swaying walk accompanied by a rumbling sound.  It is a fairly low-key attempt at establishing dominance. Honestly, watching a rumblestrutting guinea pig is kind of a hoot.  They take themselves very seriously, though, so if you have to laugh, try to hide it.


TEETH BARING – oh my.  Something is very upsetting – either your guinea pig is facing a threat, or is very angry.  Guinea pigs are gentle and patient little beings, so the baring of teeth is a serious gesture.  A time out is in order.


RUMBLESTRUTTING, HUMPING, and CIRCLING are all dominance behaviors that we see sometimes when introducing new piggies to the group.  Girl pigs exhibit these behaviors too – they aren’t just “guy things”. 


STANDING ON HIND LEGS (FACEOFF) is one of the last signals of an all-out guinea pig war.  Often, the teeth are bared, there is angry chattering going on, the head may be tossed back, and we’ve got all kinds of signs that the two pigs are about to turn into one big furry ball of fury.  Don’t stick your hand in that situation – you may well get a bad bite.  But do throw a towel over the piggies, and separate them with a dustpan or other object. 




If your friend feels that there is a threat around, she may FREEZE.  For a little animal of prey, this is a way of becoming invisible to any predators.  You may or may not hear a low vibration during a FREEZE – this is your piggy’s way of telling other guinea pigs in the area that there is a predator.


guinea pig on alert, guinea pig searching for predator



There are some other vocalizations, like cooing and rumbling, that you will not hear because they are part of mating behaviors, and all our animals are spayed and neutered, right?


Now you can enjoy your friendship with your guinea pig on a whole new level.  You may even learn some cool surprising things about your friend, now that you speak piggy!



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