Guinea pigs are fascinating animals. They have big personalities and can make great pets. They have very unique behaviours, which can be challenging to interpret and can be concerning to watch if they are not understood.
A common misinterpreted behaviour in guinea pigs is jumping.
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Jumping, moving all four feet off the ground in an uncontrolled explosive manner is a guinea pig special. When first observed, this jerky behaviour can be alarming to witness. Your guinea pig may twist and jump with just its back legs, just its front legs, whilst moving around, whilst standing still, or it may take all four legs off the ground and bend in a ‘bucking bronco’ style.
The rapid, explosive nature of this behaviour is why the term ‘popcorning’ was given, much like corn kernels exploding to make popcorn.
So, why do guinea pigs popcorn?
There are two major reasons your guinea pig may jump around like a kernel of popcorn;
Guinea pigs are known to popcorn as a display of joy and happiness. It is a behaviour often associated with younger animals but can be seen in guinea pigs of all ages.
When content and running around you may occasionally see your guinea pig jump, twist and jerk, making a grumbling purring noise as they go. This is usually as a display of happiness and if witnessed in a healthy guinea pig, exploring or playing in their environment, then it should be enjoyed as a sign they are happy.
In some instances, however, this behaviour has been seen in response to fear. So it is important to assess what is going on when you witness the behaviour. Is there another animal such as the pet dog or cat nearby or moving into the guinea pigs environment? Has something suddenly changed? Was there a loud noise or scare? If none of these things occurred and your guinea pig is still showing this behaviour then it’s more than likely due to happiness.
If you did notice a sudden change in the environment then it is possible this was due to fear, so it’s important to remove the fearful stimulus and make sure the environment your guinea pig is in is safe and calm.
How do I know it is popcorning and not something more serious?
Many people are concerned when they first see this behaviour that the guinea pig is having a seizure or in pain. True popcorning as explained above is usually not a cause for concern.
Take a look at this video for a visual guide of the popcorning behaviour in guinea pigs:
What about pain?
If your guinea pig is in pain you would expect them to be quieter in themselves. They may be reluctant to move around or displaying different behaviours to normal. If you have witnessed any of these changes, or are concerned your guinea pig is not just displaying typical popcorning behaviours it is important to take them to your local veterinary surgeon as soon as possible so they can be checked over.
Being a prey animal, pain can be more challenging to spot in guinea pigs. So it is important if there is any doubt they have a health check.
Seizures are another common misidentification for popcorning behaviour
If your guinea pig is having a full-body seizure they will normally lie on their side and shake violently. You will be unable to wake them or stop them shaking. In comparison to popcorning, where your guinea pig will run and jump and be completely normal after jumping and very much aware of you and it’s surroundings. As with pain, if you are worried your guinea pig is having a seizure it is important you contact your vet straight away as seizures in guinea pigs can be very serious and need urgent veterinary attention.
So, in summary;
- Popcorning is a guinea pig specific behaviour
- Popcorning is usually a sign of happiness but can occur in response to fear
- It is important to differentiate popcorning from seizures and pain reactions
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