Have you ever jumped for joy over a slice of cucumber? What? No? Ok, me neither. But there’s a good chance your guinea pig has … literally.
Many seasoned cavy slaves recall the early days of wondering if their baby guinea pig was having a seizure. Nope, just “popcorning,” an expression of pure delight. A popcorning guinea pig will jump straight into the air without warning. They may resemble a bucking bronco, twisting and kicking out their legs in the air, or look like they’re riding a pogo stick and doing a poor job of it. Some guinea pigs will romp about and popcorn straight into the wall!
These uncontrollable bursts of joy and glee are most commonly seen in young guinea pigs, but the adult crowd isn’t immune to the attacks. While many guinea pigs reign in the expressions of excitement after the puberty phase (sound familiar?), some older piggies popcorn their whole lives. Grown pigs’ size and weight relative to stubby little legs will probably keep them closer to the ground than the youngins, though.
Guinea pigs are prey animals that live in herds in the wild. This happy dance could have evolved from a signal to the social group that they are safe and can relax. Quite the opposite of the freeze-or-flee instinct produced by the threat of predators. Guinea pigs aren’t the only animals known for these types of outbursts, either. Bunnies binky, horses frolic, and even chinchillas popcorn when elated.
What sets guinea pigs’ popcorning off? Well, anything really. Maybe it’s time for breakfast. Lunchtime? Dinnertime? You get the picture. It could be a new toy or a rare treat. Perhaps an enclosure upgrade is responsible, or even simply a freshly cleaned cage. Possibly some new or rearranged furniture to explore. Floor time often does the trick. A surprise of fresh grass is another known winner, and gourmet guinea pig hay rarely fails. Maybe a new friend is the culprit? They do say happiness is contagious. Our favorite reason for popcorning is when a guinea pig sees or hears his favorite hooman. Aww.
In rare instances popcorning can be a sign of stress, fear, or overstimulation. For example, some guinea pigs popcorn when they hear the vacuum cleaner. Does this mean he hates the vacuum or loves it? It depends. Watch your guinea pig’s body language. If he is trying to hide, wide-eyed, or making frightened shrieks, that particular instance of popcorning isn’t due to a positive event.
Don’t worry if your guinea pig doesn’t popcorn at all. It doesn’t mean he isn’t happy. Some guinea pigs are more reserved than others, just like us humans. Playful zoomies are certainly an obvious sign your guinea pig is enjoying himself, but a laid back gentlepig can show he’s content in other ways, too. He may communicate that he feels safe by relaxing with his tootsies stretched out or sleeping with closed eyes. Or, he might tell you he appreciates the chin rub with some kisses. Perhaps your offerings of new toys and treats are met with a purr of excitement. Every guinea pig is unique.
Our pets benefit when we make an effort to understand the signals they send us. Learning your guinea pig’s language is one of the best ways to strengthen your bond and keep him popping for years to come.