“Popcorning” is not something that guinea pigs eat or play with, it’s an activity that they do! When a guinea pig is happy or excited, it will often ‘popcorn’ where they suddenly jump, sometimes from a standing position, sometimes in mid-stride, and often involving a change in direction and an endearing squeak! Because of the suddenness of the jumping, it’s been dubbed ‘popcorning’ much like corn kernels exploding to make popcorn.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Popcorn?
Have you ever been so happy that you jumped for joy? Guinea pigs are like that too! Popcorning is a way for Guinea pigs to display their joy, happiness, or excitement. When your guinea pig is happy, you may see them running around and occasionally suddenly do a pig jump, twist, and jerk, and making a grumbling purring noise as they go. Popcorning is thus a display of a happy and healthy guinea pig exploring or playing in their environment. As long as the guinea pig seems to be in control and the jumps don’t continue excessively, enjoy the happy display.
In rare occasions, guinea pigs may display popcorning because of fear or shock. It is thus important to assess the situation when you witness your guinea pig popcorning. Is there anything in its environment that may cause shock or fear? Is there any other animal close to its cage? Was there a sudden loud noise? If there are none of these things occurring, then your guinea pig is most likely showing popcorning behavior due to happiness. In most cases, a guinea pig will actually ‘freeze’ rather than popcorn when it feels danger is close, and this is commonly seen in all rodents and many young mammals. It’s important to remove any fearful stimulus and make sure that your guinea pig is safe and calm.
Is there a possibility my guinea pig is in pain?
If your guinea pig is in pain, you should expect to see it being quieter than usual, reluctant to move around or display a different behavior than they usually do. If you are concerned why your guinea pig is not displaying typical popcorning behavior, you can bring them for a health check to clear up any doubt. A common misidentification for popcorning behavior is seizures. A guinea pig will normally lie on their side and shake violently when they are having a full body seizure as opposed to popcorning where your guinea pig will run and jump and be completely normal after.
Can I encourage my guinea pig to popcorn?
Popcorning is a natural behavior and cannot be taught, but there are ways you can encourage it. One of the easiest ways is to offer its favorite treat. Some guinea pigs that are very keen popcorners and the mere sight of the treat may trigger this happy display. You can even train your guinea pig to listen to commands (like ‘Popcorn’) each time a treat is offered. Guinea pigs may also popcorn when they get the chance to explore new toys, such as a new ball, tunnel, ramp or even a hay station and will often trigger a popcorn jump for weeks after the item was introduced. If you pick your guinea pig up and cuddle them, it will often inspire these friendly animals to popcorn when they are put back on the ground. How cute is that?!
In summary, popcorning is usually a sign of happiness. It is, however, important to note that it can also occur in response to fear and is thus important to differentiate popcorning from seizures and pain reactions.