Understanding Guinea Pig Behavior

Guinea pigs are some of the most popular small pets to own, but their behavior can be a head-scratcher. However, it’s pretty easy to understand over time.

Sep 8, 2023By Jane Kenney
understanding guinea pig behavior

Raising a guinea pig in your home can be one of the most rewarding and gratifying relationships to build. With this being said, it’s important to acknowledge and understand guinea pig behavior as they may do things—and “wheek” things—that you’ll need to be familiar with as a guinea pig parent.

Running Away

guinea pig

It is extremely common for your guinea pig to run away from you, whether it’s only at first or it turns out to be a natural part of their personality as they grow up. Guinea pigs are prey animals and they’re naturally going to be timid, shy, and even run away from you regardless of how much time you spend building your relationship with them. Even one of my piggies still runs away from me from time to time—it’s a normal thing and nothing to feel concerned about! Just take it step by step and continue building that relationship throughout your time with them.


guinea pig 2

One of my personal favorite guinea pig behaviors is popcorning, otherwise known as when guinea pigs jump or “pop” into the air in a burst of energy. This typically means that the guinea pig is happy, so you’re doing something right! It’s definitely one of the cutest guinea pig behaviors you’ll see from them at one time or another.

Sleeping With Eyes Open

guinea pigs sleeping

Guinea pigs naturally sleep with their eyes open. In rare and very heartwarming cases, you may catch your furry friend sleeping with their eyes fully closed, indicating that they are fully at peace and relaxed. Guinea pigs often sleep with their eyes open to stay on high alert for predators because, as previously mentioned, they are prey animals and will only react the natural way they know how.

Dragging Their Butts

guinea pig butts

Set the scene—you have your guinea pig on the bed with you and they start walking and… dragging its butt? Yep, this is common guinea pig behavior, too! This is called “marking,” also known as marking their territory. This can often be done in new environments or mating sessions to establish dominance. Even after three years in my home, one of my older guinea pigs will still mark his territory everywhere he goes—even in his own cage!


guinea pig wheeking

Wheeking is a very common guinea pig behavior that will often have their owners wondering just what on earth they’re talking about! Turns out, different types of wheeking mean different things:

When they’re excited: you may hear a high-pitched squeal.

When they’re relaxed/happy: they might let out a low purr.

When they’re in pain: they may let out high-pitched, short squeaks, or sometimes scream.

When they’re annoyed: they may make a high-pitched purring sound.

When they’re scared: they will sometimes scream or go completely still (also known as “freezing”).

These are some general guidelines to abide by when trying to decipher what you’re guinea pig is feeling/saying, and you’ll quickly become attuned to what they’re saying over time!


guinea pig licking

Guinea pigs do quite a bit of licking, whether on themselves, other guinea pigs, or even their owners. Guinea pigs will often lick themselves to groom their fur, and they do keep themselves fairly clean, so you’ll very rarely have to bathe them. Sometimes they’ll lick other guinea pigs to show signs of affection, and the same can be said for when they lick their owners. You might get a little nibble or two as well! They’re just checking you out and telling you they love you.

Teeth Chattering

guinea pigs fighting

Guinea pigs will often chatter their teeth very loudly to indicate that they are extremely unhappy, either with something that you did or at another fellow piggie. Sometimes they will also simply chatter their teeth together to indicate that they are annoyed or simply want to be put back in their cage (if you’re holding them), that they need to poop, or that they need to be fed.

It can be a lot of different reasons, but make sure to pay close attention to your furry friend and use clues to figure out what they might want. Usually, if my guinea pig becomes fidgety in my arms and chatters their teeth, it’s a sign they need to go #2! Pro-tip, if they bare their teeth at all, be sure to back off (and break up any resulting guinea pig fights while you’re at it—I usually use an oven mitt to break up piggie fights so I don’t take a bite myself).

Chewing On the Cage Bars

guinea pig biting cage bars

It’s quite typical to see your guinea pig chewing on the cage bars and driving you absolutely mad with it. This could mean a multitude of things, including that they require more enrichment activities in their cage or that they just want more hay or treats. In most cases, my guinea pigs do that to indicate they need more hay. Over time, you’ll begin to learn more and more about what your guinea pigs need to thrive, and the cage bar chewing behavior won’t be such a headscratcher as to what they want (though that doesn’t always mean it will stop if it’s a common behavior already).

Guinea pigs are one of the most fun and adorable pets to own out of all the small animals out there. Their behaviors can be puzzling at times, but with the eagerness to learn and adapt to their needs, it doesn’t have to be so much of a challenge to understand them. An understood piggie is a happy piggie!

Jane Kenney
By Jane Kenney

Jane is a lover of all things animals and animal welfare. She has two guinea pigs that are her pride and joy, Rick and Morty, a baby ball python named Kaa, and a leopard gecko named Gary. She and her partner plan to develop a “guinea pig room” in their house, a room dedicated to housing and caring for guinea pigs of all breeds and ages.