The high-pitched cry of a guinea pig is unmistakable, but its meaning may be a little more hazy. It could mean he wants you to plunder the produce drawer and share its bounty, or simply that he's excited to see you. Conversely, it could also have negative connotations that need your attention as a responsible guinea pig owner.
Perhaps your piggie knows that when you stumble out of bed in the morning it will soon be baby carrot time, or when you walk in the door from school he's likely to get a handful of hay. Guinea pigs are perceptive creatures that learn to recognize the sound of the refrigerator door opening and associate it with the tasty veggies that lurk within.
It's tempting to give in to that "wheek" sound and surrender a treat to your piggie, but don't throw his diet out of whack. In addition to pellets and copious handfuls of hay, such as timothy or orchard grass, you can offer greens, such as kale, and lettuces (excluding iceberg), as well as tidbits of fresh fruit, such as strawberries and grapes. Just make sure that when treating throughout the day, fruits don't comprise more than 10 percent of the diet.
You can also offer timothy hay cubes or chew sticks when your pig is squealing for a nibble. Wait for a few seconds of silence before handing over the treat to not reward the squealing. Check that the squeal isn't trying to tell you that the water bottle is empty.
If you keep a guinea pig alone, you'll likely hear the squeal a lot more often. This could be a plaintive cry due to loneliness, as guinea pigs are social animals that cherish the company of other piggies. If your pig lives alone, you'll need to take him out of his cage to give him some attention and handling every day.
You'll also need to assess if your pig is crying because his living quarters are too small. The ASPCA recommends at least eight square feet of living space per guinea pig, with soft flooring that doesn't hurt their sensitive feet. Out-of-cage time in a safe room also lets your cage-dwelling piggie get much-needed exercise, and he'll be ready for a rest when playtime is over.
Your piggie could also be squealing when you walk in the room because you're his favorite person. A quick scratch on the nose or a handful of hay says that you love him, too.
Sometimes there will be squeals from your pig crowd that have nothing to do with food or attention and everything to do with community relations. Guinea pigs can casually chat with each other and turn the ordinary squeals into a cacophony of cavies.
Guineas can be territorial, particularly if there is more than one male in the group. Make sure that everybody has a hideout in which to retreat, and watch out for signs of a fight brewing. This includes teeth-chattering sounds, chasing and facing off with another pig while crouching low and shaking the rear end. Distracting the piggies with snack time may temporarily defuse the situation long enough to separate the piggies, or at least let them retreat to separate corners.
A guinea pig's body language will help tell you if the squeal means that he's in pain or discomfort.
When you're clipping a guinea pig's nails you must take care not to cut through the quick, or the nail's blood supply, but just holding his foot still for the trim or the pressure of the nail clippers could elicit a squeal of displeasure. If you're holding a guinea pig and he's squealing to be put down, he'll likely also be squirming. Small kids should sit on the floor to hold a guinea pig in case these strong little animals squirm away. Guinea pigs may also squeal in stressful situations, such as trips to the veterinarian or a move.
Be alert for any signs of illness or injury that may accompany increased vocalizations, and consult a vet for any new squealing that lacks explanation.