Many pet owners may be surprised by the behavior of their new guinea pigs, but it usually doesn’t take long for the animals to relax in new surroundings. Typical guinea pig behavior, especially when young, often involves running away at the slightest movement. Guinea pigs also jump around when happy and take short naps throughout a day. Aggressive behavior to exert dominance is common among newly introduced guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs — also known as cavies, because of their scientific name, Cavia porcellus — are prey animals in the wild, which means they are naturally cautious and easily scared. Typical guinea pig behavior, especially when young or entering new surroundings, is to spend a lot of time hiding. Until the cavy becomes more confident, it is likely to run and hide at the slightest noise. This can worry new owners, who sometimes believe their guinea pig will never want to be picked up, but this behavior is actually a sign of a healthy and alert pet.
When a guinea pig is happy, it may “popcorn”. A “popcorning” guinea pig jumps high into the air, a move sometimes accompanied by sprinting around its cage. It may even look like it's having a minor seizure. This also can be disconcerting to a new owner but is normal guinea pig behavior that shows the animal is happy or excited.
Guinea pigs don’t sleep for extended periods of time. Instead, the animals tend to be awake for an hour and then rest for an hour before repeating the cycle. Most guinea pigs don’t look like they are actually sleeping, because their eyes often don’t close completely. This is because a cavy in the wild has to be constantly alert, even when resting.
One of the most interesting facets of guinea pig behavior is how the animals communicate. Guinea pigs use a variety of noises to give warnings, show happiness and beg for food. When the animals are kept together, they’ll try to establish a hierarchy, often through guinea pig behavior known as rumble strutting. A rumble strutting guinea pig makes a deep rumbling noise while slowly swaying its hips back and forth. This is an attempt to exert dominance over other guinea pigs.
Most guinea pigs rarely bite or show aggression toward humans. If a cavy begins to chatter its teeth, however, then this is a warning to another guinea pig or human to keep away. Failure to do so will often result in a small warning bite. Guinea pigs also may chatter their teeth when attempting to work out which pet is the dominate cavy.