Lost in translation? Guinea pig speak explained
Guinea pigs are sociable, chatty creatures who generally have plenty to say, using around 11 different noises to communicate how they’re feeling. In fact, guinea pigs use sounds as a primary means of communication and, since they are herd animals, sounds are also their means of maintaining social rank. Of course, if you’re another guinea pig, you’ll get the gist of the conversation pretty quickly. For cavy guardians, however, learning to understand guinea pig takes a little more effort – but it’s something that’d really worth doing. Getting to know what the various piggy sounds means will help you understand your pets better – and can also help you identify when they’re happy and excited or fearful and unwell.
DID YOU KNOW?
On 16 July 2020, it’s Guinea Pig Appreciation Day, when cavy guardians around the world champion all the great things about these super squeakers. Join us as we celebrate with a jam-packed event of everything guinea pig! We also have some very exciting announcements throughout the day. Make sure you’re following our social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay updated...
The classic ‘wheek, wheek, wheek’
This is a distinctive and common vocalisation, most often used to communicate anticipation or excitement, particularly about being fed. Many guinea pigs will make a very loud wheeking noise in anticipation of getting some tasty treats when their owners open the fridge or get out the food container. Some cavy devotees consider wheeking to be a form of begging. It can also serve as a greeting – or a request for some attention from their human.
DID YOU KNOW?
Around a quarter (24%) of guinea pigs are put in a good mood by social interaction, while 68% are put in a good mood by being given food and treats...
The happy ‘putt-putt’
As guinea pigs go about their business, happily exploring stuff, they emit a series of contented ‘putt-putt’ noises.
The disgruntled chutt
This succinct ‘chutt’ sound is used to communicate annoyance or dislike for something another guinea pig, or a human, is doing. It can also be heard in pursuit situations from both piggies taking part in the chase.
DID YOU KNOW?
The words most used by owners to describe their piggies are: playful (32%), cuddly (17%) and boisterous (17%)
The menacing teeth chatter
This is a signal to ‘back off’ revealing that a piggy is feeling angry, unhappy or frustrated and need some space. It’s often accompanied by showing the teeth (like a yawn, but more sinister) and raising the head. Males may exhibit this behaviour towards other boars they are not familiar with. Teeth chattering and bottom waggling with small tense steps are clear signs of aggression, which can be interpreted as ‘stay away’.
Also known in guinea pig circles as ‘rumble strutting’ and ‘motor-boarding’, males rumble to attract females – and a female will make a rumbling sound to let nearby males know she’s in season. Petting in the wrong spots (for instance, on your pet’s underside) may result in a low rumbling sound, which you can interpret to mean ‘stop that please’.
DID YOU KNOW?
Low purring and soft bottom waggling are signs that a male GP has taken a fancy to a female in the vicinity. Females use their ample behinds to butt lower status guinea pigs out of the way. Having chosen a favoured sleeping area, a dominant female will use this technique to remove an existing incumbent, a technique known as ‘hot bedding’.
The repertoire of purrs
Yes, guinea pigs purr and yes, it can mean they’re telling you that they’re feeling very contented. Feed one of your piggies their favourite treat while they’re securely seated on your lap and you’ll likely to hear a low, burbling, purring sound rather like a cat, accompanied by a relaxed, calm posture. However, they also make a short sudden purring sound when alarmed. An annoyed guinea pig may more high-pitched purr, with this increasing in pitch towards the end – and may also vibrate a bit as well to make sure you’ve got the message.
Purring may also indicate fear, if it’s very short, and your piggy is motionless. Upon hearing a loud noise or seeing something which frightens them, guinea pigs will stop what they are doing and become very alert. They also make short vibrating sounds to warn their companions of potential danger.
The high-pitched squeak
Guinea pigs will make this noise in response to a threat – or if you’ve done something they didn’t like. Pay close attention when they make this sound so you can avoid repeating whatever it was that upset them.
DID YOU KNOW?
Guinea pigs are very social and need to interact with other friendly guinea pigs as well as people. Unlike other social animals, guinea pigs tend not to engage in rough and tumble play but instead their play is based around movement. Guinea pigs will leap, run and chase each other and you may also spot them suddenly jumping in the air, with all four feet off the ground, often turning 90° in mid-air. This is ‘pop-corning’ and will be seen when your piggies are excited.
The emergency squeal
If you hear your guinea pigs squealing, this is a sign they’re scared or in pain. As prey animals, guineas will hide illnesses or injuries (in the wild, this would make them more vulnerable). So, if you hear your pet squealing, it’s advisable to take them to the vet to get checked out. Never ignore squealing because your piggy wouldn’t make this urgent noise for no reason. Check for any injuries as well as the immediate surroundings, in case something nearby has frightened them.
The enigmatic chirp
Chirping like a bird is the least understood (or heard) noise that guinea pigs make. A chirping piggy may also appear to be in a trancelike state. The meaning of this ‘song’ is the subject of much discussion, with no firm conclusions. If you have any ideas on what a chirping guinea pig is trying to say, please let us know!
>> You can listen to all manner of fascinating guinea pig sounds at guineapigmanual.com >>
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Sources: rspca.org.uk, galensgarden.co.uk, guineapiggles.co.uk, thesprucepets.com, guineapigmanual.com