The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Guinea pigs are undeniably adorable. That doesn’t mean everything they do is cute as well.
Take the issue of them chirping, for instance.
Now, if you are new to guinea pig ownership, this is likely to take you aback. Those outside the guinea pig community don’t associate chirping with little balls of fur but birds of a feather – so what’s going on?
The fact is there are several potential reasons why your guinea pig may be chirping, each of which can require different action on your part.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at why guinea pigs chirp, what it means when your guinea pig does it, and what, if anything, you need to do about it.
Different Guinea Pig Sounds
First, it’s worth asking – is your guinea pig actually chirping? Or are they making another, similar noise?
- Wheezing and/or squealing: Whistling sounds, high-pitched, usually meant to indicate excitement
- Rumbling and Chutting: Low, rumbling noises, occasional soft croaking, males use them to attract females
- Purring: We often associate this with cats and bunnies, but guinea pigs do it too, though with them it can indicate both happiness or anger, so look for other emotional context clues; low purring sounds are more likely to indicate happiness, whereas higher-pitched purrs are more likely to indicate aggravation
- Shrieking: Another high-pitched sound, and as you probably expect, indicates severe distress.
Chirping sounds, by comparison, are much rarer, so before you start panicking over your guinea pig chirping, make sure that’s really what’s going on and that it isn’t one of these instead.
You’ll also want to be on the lookout for any medical condition that may be causing any odd sounds. For example, if that “chirping” sounds like they’re gasping for air, they could have a respiratory infection, with stomach issues also being a common cause of strange-sounding guinea pig noises.
What Does it Mean When Guinea Pigs Chirp?
If, after all of that, you’ve determined that, yes, your guinea pig is indeed chirping – well, that still may not give you the answer, because this is a mystery without one so far. While there are theories as to why guinea pigs chirp (and we’ll get into those below) as of now, no one knows for sure.
The topic remains a subject of research by those who study guinea pigs and small mammal behavior.
From the sources we have, ranging from research to pet owners, we can make some guesses as to what’s behind this behavior, but we should first acknowledge that chirping isn’t the only “strange” thing guinea pigs do. While chirping, they also often enter a “trance-like” state.
Strange as that may seem, it’s important to remember that guinea pigs are social creatures, and thus don’t make sounds arbitrarily. They make sounds to communicate with one another and their owners, so, to paraphrase Guinea Pig Polonius, though their chirping “be madness, yet there is method in it” – whether we understand it or not.
But once you understand that they’re likely trying to communicate with you, the motivations behind their sounds can start to seem clearer, especially when paired with the trance. A guinea pig trance certainly looks disturbed, so that combined with the sound may well mean that they’re trying to convey a state of distress to you.
What might make your guinea pig so distressed that it starts staring off into space “Sound of Silence”-style?
Some have observed their guinea pigs doing this after they have experienced the recent loss of their partner. This isn’t the only time guinea pigs do this, so that probably isn’t the only reason, but it does lend credence to the idea that this is some kind of display of a disturbed and distressed state.
Backing this idea up further is the fact that some animal experts have correlated the sound with a sense of fear or imminent danger.
It is also worth noting that it takes guinea pigs a fair amount of effort to make these sounds, so they likely do not do so lightly. They have to move their lips back and forth while moving their body.
The sound is distressing enough that other guinea pigs can freeze in their tracks at the sound.
Paradoxically, for as much as the sound is associated by these experts with distress, there is another train of thought that suggests chirping could indicate excitement.
However, this seems less likely and is much less supported since the situations surrounding these chirping sounds tend to be ones of tension or distress. What’s more, other guinea pigs don’t seem to react positively to this (again, they freeze in place, rather than become playful).
Even so, before jumping to conclusions about why your guinea pig is chirping, you’ll first want to examine the social context around their actions more closely.
To paraphrase Guinea Pig Falstaff this time, chances are you’ve “heard the chirps at midnight” if your guinea pig is chirping, since this activity is most common at night.
Once again, however, the reason for these nocturnal noises are unknown.
If their chirping is due to fear, it may be because they find nighttime a scarier time. Guinea pigs are big furry targets for predators, after all, and nighttime means both less visibility for them and the potential for shadows to scare them into thinking “something wicked this way comes.”
Annoyingly for us, these noises can last for quite some time at night, and can be loud enough to keep owners up.
What Should I Do About it?
The actions you take in response to your guinea pig chirping is naturally going to depend on its cause.
For example, if your guinea pig is chirping during the night, you might try to talk to it and calm it down. Again, while the root cause is not known, if the theory of nocturnal stress being the culprit is correct, trying to soothe your guinea pig makes sense.
You may also want to check on your guinea pig’s supplies. If it isn’t completely stressed out, it may be making these loud sounds in an effort to get your attention knowing that you’re the person who feeds and supplies it with water.
After all, if you were hungry or thirsty and not getting the attention you needed, you start to feel a little “chirpy” yourself.
If the cause is stress-related, you’ll obviously need to do everything in your power to remove the source of this stress. Your guinea pig certainly isn’t going to let you forget about it until you do.
Unfortunately, guinea pigs can be distressed by any number of things, so you’ll have your work cut out for you. To make this process easier, it is essential that you analyze any context clues you are given.
First and foremost, make sure there is absolutely nothing nearby that might be interpreted as threatening to guinea pigs. If this sound is meant to be a warning signal, the persistence of that “threat” will “set off its alarm” every time.
If your guinea pig has recently suffered the loss of its mate or close companion, then this might be the reason – and a wholly understandable one. We feel heartbroken when we lose our family and friends, and guinea pigs may well feel the same.
The best you can do for your guinea pig under these conditions is what you’d do when a human suffers a loss – give it time to grieve and try to empathize. Give it a little extra love and attention and try to help ease the pain.
When in doubt, go to the vet. If there is something medically, mentally, or emotionally wrong with your guinea pig, you’ll want to catch it sooner rather than later.
There are any number of reasons why guinea pigs may chirp.
It may be that they are in a state of deep distress and their chirps are a desperate plea for help. It may be that they are suffering extreme anguish. It may be that they feel threatened and are trying to alert everyone.
The honest answer is that neither researchers nor guinea pig experts have a definitive answer to this question at this point.
As mentioned, the best you can hope to do as a pet owner in this situation is to try and read the context clues surrounding your guinea pig’s sudden chirping and try to interpret its meaning from there.
Try and be understanding if it is suffering severe stress, and try to be patient. If this persists, take it to the specialist.
Above all, don’t blame the guinea pig or yourself. Your guinea pig is just following its natural instincts.
Nobody knows the answer for sure, so there’s no reason to think that chirping means you’re a bad guinea pig owner.
Just do your best not to stress out yourself, comfort your guinea pig, and hope “All’s Well That Ends Well.”