What is Popcorning and Why do Guinea Pigs Do It?

Have you ever seen a child jump for joy on Christmas morning or at her birthday party? That spontaneous eruption of happiness isn’t limited to people–and that’s exactly what popcorning is for guinea pigs!


What Does Popcorning Look Like?

Guinea pigs that are very happy will sometimes convulse with joy, jumping into the air as they shake and contort their bodies. They’ll often randomly change directions in mid-jump, popping around almost uncontrollably. This makes them look a bit like kernels of corn exploding into fluffy popcorn, giving this habit its cute name.

When you first witness the happy piggie dance, you may be concerned that something’s wrong, but it’s pretty easy to tell popcorning from seizures.

As Dr. Laurie Hess explains, popcorning piggies “either jump straight up on all four legs from a standing position, like a kernel of popcorn popping in a pan, or they run forward and backward quickly first, sometimes kicking out their front and back legs, like a bucking bull. Guinea pigs may run back and forth in different directions first and may make high-pitched squeaking sounds simultaneously.”

She also advises that you should expect “short squeaks, purrs or ‘chuts’ (a series of short, staccato noises)” to accompany this dance, but warns that high-pitched shrieks are a sign of stress and fear.

More common among young piggies than adults, popcorning is sometimes mistaken for convulsions by new pet parents. But if you watch carefully and take note of what precipitates this activity, you’ll notice that it’s a sign of intense joy rather than something sinister.

Dr. Hess says that “animals that seizure typically fall over to one side and twitch and flail uncontrollably, rather than pop up into the air.”

Is your piggie dancing all over the place? You can be pretty sure it’s excited and happy!

Why Do Guinea Pigs Popcorn?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why cavies popcorn, but other animals exhibit similar behaviors. For instance, rabbits “bink” and horses “frolic,” and it looks like they’re having a blast when they do!

Veterinarians and scientists think that popcorning may have something to do with social signaling, effectively telling other cavies that they’re safe and secure enough to let their guard down. And experienced piggie parents can tell you that popcorning is common when cavies know something good is coming (or has arrived!)–whether that’s a treat, a delicious fresh salad, or just some kind attention.

But Dr. Hess cautions that not all cavies popcorn when they’re happy, and just because they don’t doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong!

As she says, “some owners familiar with popcorning become concerned that their animals aren’t happy because they aren’t popcorning. Not all guinea pigs and chinchillas popcorn when they are content, and not performing this behavior doesn’t mean that the animals aren’t happy.”

If you’re providing everything a healthy, happy cavie needs, and it’s not popping around like crazy, don’t worry!

Not every cavie popcorns, and as they get older, they tend to calm down and decrease the frequency of this behavior. It’s also important to note that as they mature, they’ll get heavier, making these acrobatics a lot tamer!

What Does It Mean When Guinea Pigs Popcorn?

Generally, popcorning is a sign of glee in guinea pigs, and the more content your furry friend, the more likely you are to see the happy piggie dance.

And while you don’t need to worry if your cavie doesn’t popcorn–not all guinea pigs do–taking good care of your fur baby is always a top priority. Keep in mind that well-cared-for guinea pigs need:

  • fresh water
  • unlimited hay
  • high-quality pellets
  • fresh veggies
  • plenty of space to play and explore
  • a place to hide
  • clean bedding
  • a toy or two for stimulation
  • the company of other cavies

But lots of cavie parents think popcorning is so cute that they can’t stand not seeing it. If that sounds like you, a few things you can try to encourage popcorning include:

  • human attention like soft talking or petting
  • healthy treats like an occasional slice of fruit
  • clean bedding
  • a favorite food item like fresh lettuce
  • fresh, green hay
  • a cavie friend that they really get along with

Final Thoughts

Popcorning is a good sign that your guinea pig is healthy and happy. And while not all cavies engage in this happy dance, those that do are telling you that they appreciate everything you do for them!

Guinea pigs are nocturnal animals, meaning they typically prefer to be active at night. Their activity level changes throughout the day, but they generally spend more time sleeping than awake. This behavior likely evolved in order to avoid predators that are active during the night.