Why Do Guinea Pigs Popcorn: Explaining This Unusual Behavior

Pretty much everyone knows what popcorn is – it is that treat you eat while watching movies! But in this case, when we say guinea pigs “popcorn,” we are not talking about snack foods.

We are talking about a particular kind of behavior.

The behavior is so odd that first-time guinea pig owners often will get worried about their cavies at first! It is hard to know what to make up the sudden movement their pet is making.

In this article, we introduce you to popcorning, showing you examples of the behavior and explaining why (we think) guinea pigs popcorn.

Why Do Guinea Pigs Popcorn

Why do guinea pigs popcorn? At the first of anthropomorphizing, or assigning human traits to non-human animals, cavy experts think the behavior expresses joy.

Watch a Guinea Pig Popcorn Compilation

Guinea pig popcorning is one of the purest expressions of joy you will ever see, as this YouTube video compilation so aptly captures.

What Is Guinea Pig Popcorning?

“Popcorning” is a term that developed when guinea pig owners noticed that the sudden movements their guinea pigs made looked a lot like popcorn kernels popping in a skillet.

The term covers a variety of sudden, spontaneous movements that cavies can make, including these:

  • Jumping.
  • Hopping.
  • Leaping.
  • Facing.
  • Twisting.

Generally speaking, you can know it is popcorning when your guinea pig is standing still and then – presto! – all of a sudden your cavy is up in the air!

Guinea pigs tend to popcorn from a plain standing position. From standing up on all fours, they somehow skyrocket their small fluffy bodies into the air, often twisting in mid-air before landing on their feet again.

Of course, different guinea pigs may develop their own signature popcorning moves.

As Hutch and Cage describes, sometimes they look like nothing so much as tiny bucking broncos as they leap and twist and jump about.

Some piggies may start running and then popcorn and then do some more running. Some cavies may start by jumping and then do a popcorning maneuver in the middle of that.

Sometimes guinea pigs will add sound effects to their popcorning displays, squeaking or wheezing during or after they do their popcorning.

What Causes Guinea Pigs to Popcorn

As the Independent explains, guinea pig popcorning is just one of many animal behaviors that fascinates animal behavior researchers.

In fact, many companion animals do their own version of popcorning and owners have developed different names for these behaviors.

In a lamb, it is called “skipping.” Baby goats “stott.” Rabbits are “binkying” when they jump about. In deer, the same behavior is called “pronking.” In chinchillas (a small rodent-like mammal), the behavior is known as “pogoing” or “wall-surfing.”

As PetMD explains, sometimes a popcorning guinea pig will actually jump several inches up high in the air, even though moments before it would have seemed that this type of feat would be impossible.

Guinea pigs have been documenting doing this behavior since people started keeping them as pets. But as we mentioned in the introduction here, it can be stressful to watch if you don’t know what you are looking at, which is what we will talk about next.

Does Popcorning Hurt Guinea Pigs

When you see a short-legged, squat and stout small mammal suddenly launch themselves up high in the air, you might be forgiven for worrying that there is something wrong.

Is your guinea pig in pain? Are they having a seizure, as some cavy owners have worried about? Is your piggy having a heart attack?

While there may be some health conditions that can cause seizure-like behaviors, true epilepsy in guinea pigs is thankfully quite rare.

As VCA Animal Hospitals describes, one of the much more common possible causes of seizure-type behavior could be skin mites.

These tiny mites can easily gain a foothold from dirty bedding or infected cage mates. When the mites infest a guinea pig’s fur, they cause severe itching, which in turn may cause seizures and death due to extreme discomfort.

However, there are additional warning signs to look for that indicate a guinea pig may be twitching or jumping about due to mites, including these:

  • Yellowish scabs on the skin.
  • Thickened skin that looks crusty.
  • Hair loss in patches.
  • Clear signs of a skin infection.
  • Weight loss.
  • Depression and lethargy.

Signs of seizures in guinea pigs

It can also help to know what a seizure typically looks like for a guinea pig. Actually, the symptoms are very different from popcorning. A seizure is typically characterized by the following signs:

  • The guinea pig falls over and then is lying on its side.
  • The pig’s legs are twitching erratically.
  • The cavy’s body is flailing and shaking uncontrollably.
  • The episode ends and the guinea pig lies there exhausted.

These symptoms are in no way a match for the types of indicators experienced guinea pig owners share to describe their cavies during popcorning episodes.

Signs of popcorning in guinea pigs

Popcorning tends to arise suddenly in otherwise healthy guinea pigs. Often, the popcorning movements are triggered by favorite things, including these:

  • The sound of a salad bag rustling.
  • The approach of the piggy’s favorite person.
  • The offer of a favorite treat or toy.
  • Being let out of their cage for open play time.

Signs That Your Guinea Pig Is Popcorning

Are you wondering if the behavior you are seeing from your guinea pig is true popcorning? It can really help to ease your mind if you know what other guinea pig owners describe when their piggies popcorn.

So here are some questions you can ask yourself to verify if the behavior is most likely to be popcorning rather than a health issue that requires veterinary care.

Is your guinea pig healthy?

The first thing to look for is overall signs of good health. You are very familiar with your pet and so you know if something has changed over the last day or two that might indicate poor health.

If your cavy seems bright-eyed, hydrated, well fed, well rested, energetic, playful, social and curious, these are all signs of general good health.

When in doubt, it is always smart to schedule an appointment with your small mammal veterinarian. Guinea pigs, like most companion animals, will do their best to hide any signs of illness or weakness.

This means that by the time you see warning signs of either, the issue is in an advanced stage. When in doubt, do not wait!

Is your guinea pig excited about something?

Many guinea pig owners describe seeing popcorning behaviors immediately after presenting their pets’ favorite toys, treats, or simply themselves.

Guinea pigs are generally friendly, curious, social, and smart animals that can easily link events together. For example, earlier here we mentioned that some owners see their cavies popcorn after they go to the refrigerator to get a salad bag.

Guinea pigs are often given salad for treats. So if your pig loves salad treats and hears a rustling bag, your pet might popcorn out of eagerness to get their favorite treat.

In this way, popcorning, like squeaking and wheaking, can also be a form of communication your cavy uses to “talk” to you.

If you react to popcorning by giving your pig more attention, you can expect your happy pet to popcorn more often and for longer periods of time to get your attention and keep it.

Is your guinea pig still young?

As Small Pet Select highlights, guinea pigs have been seen to popcorn at all ages and life stages.

However, it is most common to see young guinea pigs popcorn. This makes sense when you consider that young cavies are more likely to have more energy and less awareness of environmental dangers.

An adult or senior guinea pig may be less likely to popcorn either due to health issues or simple self-preservation instincts. Guinea pigs are prey animals, after all, and like most prey animals, adult guinea pigs tend to become more subdued and sedate with age.

Older guinea pigs that have put on weight may also be less well able to jump into the air or execute complicated popcorning maneuvers. However, many owners see their pigs’ popcorn all throughout their lives.

This speaks to how animals have unique personalities just like people do. In this way, some guinea pigs are more likely to be more exuberant while others may be more reserved.

What If Your Guinea Pig Doesn’t Popcorn

You may be reading this article right now and wondering if there is something wrong with your guinea pig because your pet doesn’t popcorn.

As long as your veterinarian gives your guinea pig a clean bill of health overall, there is nothing to worry about if your pet doesn’t popcorn.

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