Guinea Pigs

Introduction & History

Contributed by Elaine Leong


Guinea pig, also known as cavy, belongs to the same rodent family as hamsters, rabbits and mice. They originated from South America and were domesticated as food source as early as 5000 BC. Guinea pigs became popular as exotic pets when they were brought to Europe by traders. Their popularity as pets then spread to other countries and many keep them as pets until today.

A female guinea pig is known as sow, a male guinea pig is known as boar while the babies are known as pups. The weight of a guinea pig range from 700g - 900g for a female pig,  900g - 1200g for the males and they measure between 20 - 25 cm in length. Their average lifespan is between 4 - 8 years but some can live longer.



Guinea pigs are social animals and every individual pig has its own personality. Some can be vocal and curious while some are more reserved and quiet. Here are some of the common behaviours for guinea pigs:

  • Guinea pigs are timid by nature as they are considered prey animals. They are on alert most of the time (yes, even when sleeping!) and will freeze or run in response to danger.
  • Guinea pigs have the need to establish hierarchy/ranking when they are in a group. Their displays of dominance range from:

    • Rumblestrutting (hip swaying, often accompanied by a low rumble or purr)
    • Teeth chattering with raised head, mounting (applicable even among the females)
    • Aggressive displays such as lunging, bites that draw blood, yawning and loud teeth clacking.
  • When they are happy, a guinea pig will popcorn. Popcorning refers to the guinea pigs literally jumping into the air. It's a sign that the guinea pig is excited and happy.
  • Baby guinea pigs popcorn more often than the adult guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs communicate with each other and their humans through various vocalisations and physical displays

Guinea pigs use sounds as their primary mode of communication and they communicate with each other and their humans through various vocalizations and physical displays:

  • Wheeking: a whistle - like sound that they make in excitement or in response to owner and feeding. You often hear this when someone opens the fridge or when they hear the rustling sound of plastic bags because the guinea pigs are anticipating food.
  • Purring: a sound made when a guinea pig is in enjoyment, for example, when he is being petted. Its body will vibrate and be in a relaxed position when he is purring. However there are also other types of purring. A short purr when the guinea pig freezes indicates fear or dislike while a high pitch purr indicates annoyance.
  • Bubbling: a sound usually made when a guinea pig is happily exploring a new area or object.
  • Rumbling: a low pitch purring that is associated with dominance display, rumblestrutting. A boar might also rumble when he is trying to court a sow.
  • Shrieking: a very high-pitched squeak whenever a guinea pig is in fear, pain or alarm.
  • Chattering: the sound of teeth gnashing together. It's an aggressive vocalisation, usually made by an angry or an agitated pig. During teeth chattering, guinea pigs will also show their teeth to intimidate each other.

For more information about guinea pigs’ diet, living environment, please browse through the pages in Cavy Tips.


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