Though adorably small physically, guinea pigs do have big, sweet personalities that are so very endearing. As social creatures that typically live in groups of about 10 adults and their offspring in the wilds of South America, they communicate amongst themselves using various behaviors and sounds. Largely docile, aside from the occasional dispute, cavies tend to get along smoothly. But as their human pet parent who doesn’t understand wheeks, chuttering, and popcorning – noises and behaviors that express their emotions – how can you tell if your pets are indeed happy?
Here are five tell-tale signs to help you understand your cavies and gauge their mood.
Table of Contents
- #1 Guinea pigs are happy when … they have a healthy appetite
- #2 Guinea pigs are happy when … they display lots of energy
- #3 Guinea pigs are happy when … they are friendly and sociable
- #4 Guinea pigs are happy when … they want to play
- #5 Guinea pigs are happy when … they wheek and popcorn with joy
- Understanding the signs of happy piggy behavior
#1 Guinea pigs are happy when … they have a healthy appetite
As herbivores, cavies seem to always be living in a constant state of grazing. If your pets have a healthy appetite – without being too excessive – then this is certainly a good indication they’re content cavies. As well, their reaction to mealtime is another indicator. What you’re looking for is genuine excitement, and perhaps a little bit of commotion – signs your guineas love their food!
Of course, feeding your guinea pigs a proper diet is of paramount importance. They must get the right amounts of food per day and eat food that is appropriate for their species. Fortunately, their dietary intake needs are fairly straightforward. If you’re not entirely sure what to feed your pets, check out our detailed guide How to Feed Guinea Pigs. Also, as our guideline stresses, stay away from processed, commercial treats that are typically high in artificial sugars – and super unhealthy for cavies.
Take the time to better understand what they can and cannot ingest. Some foods, like beans and potatoes can really make them sick. Should you ever notice your pets are uninterested in food, unfriendly, lethargic or displaying any other behavior that is alarming, call your veterinarian immediately – they may be ill.
Along with fresh food and pellets, cavies need access to plenty of hay and water at all times. Altogether, these things provide them with energy and chewables for their teeth, so they can stay healthy. When guineas aren’t fed properly or don’t have access to what they need to stay healthy, they can suffer both physically and emotionally.
#2 Guinea pigs are happy when … they display lots of energy
Cavies are naturally very active. On any given day, your pets should seem perky, curious, and have plenty of energy. Typically, your cavies should spend their days playing, burrowing, grazing, and exploring. Given the amount of energy they normally have – easily classified as moderate to high levels – your pets should have many different ways to use it all up.
Indoors, you can create a safe space to play with them, or a little protected area they can interact with each other safely. Before setting up a mini playground for them, clear out the area of any dangerous items like cords, potted plants or loose carpeting they can chew on. A playpen like Kaytee Pet-n-Playpen or Prevue Pet Playpen (the exact same one I use for Muffy) do an excellent job of keeping cavies from wandering off and getting into trouble.
Spending time outdoors can be fun for guineas too, but they will certainly require more supervision. Always stay close by – you never know what animals can prey upon your unsuspecting guinea pigs. If possible, create a stimulating miniature outdoor run, with small obstacles, tunnels, and ramps.
#3 Guinea pigs are happy when … they are friendly and sociable
As we often mention in our guinea pig posts, these adorable rodents are social creatures. In the wild, they live in large groups, travelling together when needed to search for food. Day to day, the older cavies lead the younger ones. To say that guinea pigs enjoy company is indeed a huge understatement. In fact, companionship is truly essential to them.
Happy, well-adjusted cavies will be friendly and social by nature. If they’re not, then most likely, something’s wrong. Also, if they are completely alone, then of course, they can hardly socialize properly. As lovely as pet parents might be, humans just can’t replace a fellow guinea pig. That’s why it’s always recommended to keep cavies with at least one other guinea pig – and more, if possible. Gender and age must be kept in mind, though, since the wrong combination can lead to arguments – and perhaps even babies!
Unfortunately, pet stores sometimes mislabel genders. You think you’re going home with two females, but after a few weeks – and a few baby guinea pigs – you come to the stark conclusion they were definitely wrong about the genders. That’s why it’s important to visit the vet as soon as you adopt cavies, to double check their health and their gender. Neutering and spaying are options to ensure there are no surprise pregnancies.
#4 Guinea pigs are happy when … they want to play
A true sign your guinea pigs are happy is they’re interested in playing. When it comes to running around and having fun, this is where cavies truly shine. Introduce your pets to some games you can play with them to stimulate them mentally and physically. A simple, entertaining game involves tying up a guinea-safe treat with a string, so you can drag it along the floor for a good chase. These spunky little pets can practice their natural foraging instincts this way, as it engages them to stand, crawl, run, and move around for their food.
What’s more, when guinea pigs are happy, they’ll express their interest in games and activities like the one just mentioned, since it’s a chance for them to interact with their fellow companions (and their favorite human!). Don’t forget to further engage them by switching up the games. Try out Hide-and-Seek and Tug-of-War, for instance.
#5 Guinea pigs are happy when … they wheek and popcorn with joy
The more you spend time with guinea pigs, the more you’ll realize just how expressive they are, both physically and vocally. This is especially obvious when they’re happy or excited, which is when they display several unique qualities.
Cavies are perhaps best known for their unique wheeking noise, a cross between a squeak and a whistle. You’ll hear this distinctive sound when they’re happy or get really excited, often during play time, when getting treats or when you take them out of the cage. As one of the more vocal rodents, cavies will make a lot of different noises because they’re quite “talkative.” But wheeking is, by far, their most unique vocalization.
Another totally adorable thing guineas do is a physical movement called the popcorn. Basically, it’s a sudden jump in place, very similar to what it looks like to see a corn kernel suddenly “burst” into popcorn. Rabbits have their own version of this movement, where they will literally hop with joy when happy.
Much like cats, guinea pigs purr too. However, they have two differing types of purring. Deep, relaxed purring means your pet is happy, while a higher pitched purr is most likely a sound of annoyance.
Chuttering/Chattering means not happy!
Some people call it chuttering, others call it chattering, but either way they both mean the same thing: your guinea pig is NOT happy! This aggressive vocalization happens when their teeth vibrate and is a clear indicator that something is bothering them. At times, chattering is accompanied by the cavy showing its teeth, a sign they want you to “stay away” or “back off.”
Although they don’t speak, guinea pigs are very expressive of their feelings. As a pet parent, it is crucial to pay attention to their posture and sounds. Are they stressed or are they content? Gain their trust by listening to their cues and creating a safe, secure environment.
Understanding the signs of happy piggy behavior
Sweet, adorable guinea pigs are very giving with their affection. If you treat them with respect and kindness, assuring they’re comfortable in their surroundings, then you’ll surely be rewarded with happy wheeking, purring, and entertaining popcorning!
If you could use a few tips on how to make your cavies even happier, take a look at our post with 11 ways to make your guinea pigs happy!