Guinea Pig Care Guide, Part 3: Companionship and Behavior

Squeaks, chirps and popcorning: what’s all this chatter about? Guinea pigs are the life of the party, and this article explains why.

Guinea pig companionship
Guinea pig companionship

This is part 3 of a multi-part series. (To begin at part 1, click here.)

Guinea pigs are the life of the party! These little furry guys are super social creatures, and they love company from other guinea pigs and humans. Some even become friends with the family cat. There are many unique and quirky traits about guinea pigs that are very endearing and keep people singing their praises.

Most guinea pigs are happiest with a companion. New companions are at an advantage to adjust faster by following the habits of the existing pet. They can play together too, and play increases exercise and mobility. Cats and dogs are seen as natural predators and may scare your guinea pig. If you want to introduce them, do so slowly and with supervision. Never leave a guinea pig alone with any other type of animal (even if they have appeared friendly in the past) or in the care of children.

Whether two guinea pigs are compatible or not is down to their personalities instead of gender. Rumor has it that males will fight each other, but some guinea pigs may fight with any addition regardless of gender. Owners report that ideal combinations are neutered males with females or females together.

If you do add a new companion, keep in mind that just as with any other pet you should supervise their interaction until you feel comfortable there is no hostility. If they do fight and you have to separate them, protect your hands with a towel, oven mitt or other item to avoid being bitten. More details on successful introductions are available to assist you in the process.

Becoming Buddies

Guinea pigs can be great snugglebunnies, but they do need time to establish trust with their owners. Offering treats is a way to engage them to interact with you. They also jump and run about in what is called “popcorning” and might look like a one-man dance party.

Here’s an example of the popcorn dance:

Guinea pigs do get startled pretty easily, so they move slowly and speak in a regular voice. If they are comfortable enough to allow you to hold them, be careful not to drop them and keep a towel or cloth underneath them for any mess. Children should be supervised when handling guinea pigs; the animals are easily injured and can bite if handled incorrectly.

Sounds and Behaviors

Guinea pigs have so many sounds! They are vocal creatures that love to chatter their teeth, squeak, “wheek” and  chirp, although not all guinea pigs will do this. Some will make purring sounds, growls and a variety of other vocal communications to display happiness or unhappiness. By observing the behavior along with the sound, you might be able to determine what your pet is trying to tell you.

Singing for supper:

There are no set times for chit chat; guinea pigs can chirp or chatter during the day or night. Most chatterboxes will be active during feeding, providing veggies, fresh hay or when interacting with one another. Guinea pigs can also be particular about the sounds they hear. Some will chatter or make noises when they hear things they don’t like, and each one reacts differently. Some dislike music, keys clanging, doorbells, phones ringing and much more.

You don’t look like guinea pigs!

Guinea pigs get startled easily so it’s natural for them to pay extra attention to sounds in and around their environment. If you find that your guinea pig is more sensitive to common sounds around its cage that are pretty consistent, you might want to think about moving it to a more stable and quiet location in your home.

Guinea pigs are also no strangers to social hierarchies. If you place a large amount of guinea pigs together, there is a possibility that a hierarchy will be formed. This may cause a shy pet to become more withdrawn or bullied by the other guinea pigs. If you do keep several pets together, spend time monitoring their interactions whenever possible to minimize any behavior similar to this.

Behaviors Can Indicate Illness

Changes in your pet’s behavior can be an indicator that something is wrong. Some behaviors to look out for are:

  • Hiding more than usual
  • Chewing their habitat
  • Over-grooming
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in toilet habits
  • Drinking excessively (water — no 12-step program needed!)
  • Hunching over, with a reluctance to move
  • Walking the perimeter of the habitat excessively
  • Heaving breathing, wheezing or sneezing
  • Limping or loss of balance

These behavior indicators could indicate pain, fear, stress, boredom, illness or injury. If you have not found the source of the discomfort or evidence of any injuries, weigh your pet to determine if any changes have taken place (guinea pigs should be weighed regularly as sometimes weight change is the first sign of illness). If the weight remains consistent but the behavior continues to be exhibited, make an appointment to see your veterinarian.

Additional Resource

Next, please read part 4 of my series on guinea pig care, where I discuss health and illness.

Photos: maskarade (top), castaway in scotland/Flickr

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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