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The period of lactation is usually five to six weeks. You will know when it is coming to an end for the mother will begin to push away her babies. The mother comes into milk twelve to twenty-four hours after the birth but as the babies have sufficient nourishment to keep them going for twenty-four hours this gap is not a problem for them. I have known some mothers to come on stream much earlier but, in the main, ten to twelve hours is the more common time.
I think Churchill’s dictum that ‘Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war’ is one of the reasons that, in the main, guinea pigs get on very well together and serious combat is relatively rare. Of course the rules of keeping boars in pairs and sows in packs must be adhered to.
In the main, the sows tend to communicate more than the boars but this could because it is more necessary in a pack situation where there is more potential for friction. It is a combination of verbal and body language between pack members that lets everyone know their feelings and intentions and enables them to negotiate in that way and not with their teeth!
My boars may have the occasion’s gruff exchange but once the order of dominance is established quite early on their partnership they don’t seem to feel it necessary to go in for a great deal of verbalisation.
I will itemise the sounds they make which can be used as a kind of guinea pig vocabulary.
Some owners actually refer to their guinea pigs as wheepers for this is the best description of one of the most commonly heard sounds. It is the first sound owners learn to identify for it is the joyous, anticipatory sound they make very loudly when they are about to be fed.
There is a wheeping sound made with a lower kind of vibrato when they
There is a quieter, intermittent kind of wheeping that you get with a pack of guinea pigs, which sounds like background conversation. I think this is just another part of the bonding of a pack.
If you have ever heard a child in a filthy mood who seems to be deliberately getting up everyone’s nose, then that is what the guinea pig whine is. It is more often heard when a guinea pig is lying down at rest and another one wants to snuggle up to it and it is not welcome. I always think of this whine as an ‘I want to be alone’ sound.
There is no doubting what this loud, ear piercing shriek is, it means a guinea pig has been hurt or it is an alarm call. When this shriek is made by a guinea pig with its head held high and to one side or head down, when it is being harassed by another one, it is a submissive sound. The more urgent and higher pitched the sound, the more likely it is that the harasser will cease and move away.
PURRING AND RUMBLING
In essence the purr is the sound of love; a similar sound that I call a rumble is the sound of war!
A guinea pig will purr with contentment like a cat when it is comfortably settled in its owner’s lap and being stroked. It will do the same thing when another guinea pig is grooming it and it will sometimes make this sound when it settles down in some cosy corner in anticipation of a nice snooze. When a sow is in season she will purr and try and mount her sister sows, and sows and boars courting one another will purr. At these times, sensuous swaying of the body enhances the purring.
The purring becomes a rumble when there is dissention in the ranks. The purr is deepened and accompanied by a kind of slow motion pacing on the spot, followed by the hackles of the neck being raised then, finally, rattling of the incisor teeth. Sometimes, particularly between a pair of boars there can be a half-hearted squaring up to one another, and a bit of a rumble. Then they will retire to opposite corners of their quarters and sit there yawning at one another. There is no doubt in my mind that the yawn begins as one just opening the mouth to show the other its big sharp incisor teeth. It’s a kind of warning, ‘If you think you’re hard enough, son, these are waiting for you!’ but a proper, fully fledged yawn develops. I have yet to see any boar chance his luck once this display of armament is made!
The average life expectancy of a guinea pig is between five to seven years. I have had one reach the grand old age of nine but this is relatively rare, like a human being making the hundred-year mark. The only thing I can say with certainly is that the overall health of a guinea pig during its life is no indicator that it will live long. While many of my oldies managed to go through life with hardly any kind of illness, an equal number seem to have suffered from every kind of illness that guinea pig flesh is heir to.