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How to Build A Stronger Bond With Your Guinea Pig

Published: 10/12/2013 | Author: HappyCavy | Updated: 11/11/2013

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Buttercup bonds with her human

I have had my first guinea pig for about 4 months now. I thought that by now she would have been comfortable with her surroundings, but it’s been the complete opposite. She never leaves her little guinea pig house and when I try to pick her up she runs away.

By the way, I adopted her from a family that could not afford her anymore, and I think she was abused and neglected.

Kuuipo from Hawai’i

Hi, Kuuipo!

You are a darling Human for adopting your guinea pig. Thank you 🙂

Many guinea pigs can take months or even years to get comfortable with the scents and sounds of their human counterparts. This just depends on each guinea pig’s individual personality; it’s especially true of guinea pigs that may have been abused and/or neglected. Not all guinea pigs are created equal, and some may be more shy or more friendly than others.

Why Guinea Pigs are Naturally Skittish

It’s completely normal for a guinea pig to want to scurry away and hide, and even the most well-adjusted guinea pig startles very easily.

With their relative lack of strength and portly physique, each guinea pig possess a built-in instinct that tells them they are the perfect portion size for predators, and they need to remain vigilant when this instinct kicks in. Armed with this knowledge, guinea pigs will either freeze or run and hide when frightened or even just slightly uncomfortable.

Dot: Lessons Learned

When Dot first arrived on the scene at HappyCavy, things did not go exactly as planned. Fortunately, The Humans learned a lot from this experience and they are now better cavy keepers for it!

After a few stressful rounds of introductions, Dot had to be permanently separated from the rest of the HappyCavy herd. So The Humans had to work over-time to help Dot get acclimated to her new surroundings. This posed quite the challenge because not only does Dot have to live separately, but she is one of the most skittish guinea pigs to have ever lived in the HappyCavy Forever Home.

But fortunately, with time and patience, The Humans have been able to get Dot more comfortable at HappyCavy, and she has settled into her routine nicely. While she still isn’t a cuddler, The Humans respect that and leave her to her business. One day she may get more used to being handled, but only time will tell.

While winning over Dot’s trust, The Humans learned a few tips that have helped along the way. Some of the following advice has been gleaned from past experiences, others have been learned from fellow cavy keepers.

We hope you find some of points below useful! If you’d like to make any additions to the list below, please share your ideas in the comment section at the end of this article.

Tips for Building a Stronger Bond with Your Guinea Pig

Give Your Guinea Pig Time to Adjust. An important tip for new guinea pig owners: After quarantine is over, and the newest members of your family are safe and sound in their Forever Home, give them time to get used to their surroundings. Avoid the urge to pick up and hold your new guinea pigs immediately. Be present, speak softly, and give your cavies a week or two to acclimate to their new environment.

Get A Friend. Guinea pigs are social animals, and, as such, most cavies enjoy the companionship of other guinea pig friends. While you can add a second guinea pig at little to no additional expense in care and housing, there are a few important details to consider. But if you’re already thinking about getting a fuzzy friend for your solo pig, then it’s time to familiarize yourself with how to go about adding a second guinea pig to your herd of one.

Guinea pigs eating dark green lettuce

Buttercup and Hammy enjoy fresh dark green lettuce

The Fastest Way to a Pig’s Heart Is… Through its belly! Guinea pigs carry in their little mouths about 17,000 taste buds — the most in nearly any domestic or wild animal. A diet that is rich in variety and nutrition is a must. Think hay, pellets, and water are enough? Try adding a some dark green lettuce to your guinea pig’s diet, or check out the HappyCavy Nutrition Food List for ideas on other guinea pig safe snacks and suggested feeding regimes.

Caution: Don’t Over-Feed!

While it may be tempting to use treats as bribes, please DO NOT over-feed your guinea pig! Over-feeding can lead to a myriad of health issues. For instance, feeding your cavy too much fruit can lead to guinea pig diabetes.

Thanks to HappyCavy friend Candice for the tip!

Schedule Floor Time. Floor time is a vital part of your daily guinea pig care schedule. Pick a set time each day, set up a guinea pig safe floor area with food and hideys, and give your cavy the exercise it needs. Besides being an excellent way to keep your guinea pig engaged in its environment, floor time is a great time for you to bond with your pet. Sit next to your cavy as he or she runs and explores new areas; observe and get to know your little friend’s personality.

Use floor time to help your guinea pig adjust. Sing or speak softly to your pig, feed it a few pieces of its favorite vegetable, or set up mazes and obstacles with boxes and fabrics as you talk your guinea pig through a new encounter. It may sound silly, but The Humans have found that the more they engage with the HappyCavy during floor time, the quicker each pig becomes comfortable with being handled. A little attention can go a long way!

Ginea pigs having floor time

Guinea pigs at floor time

Keep a Consistent Schedule. Guinea pigs are creatures of habit. A pig is happiest when treats, floor-time, weight-checks and other daily and weekly tasks follow a precise and committed schedule. Say, what time is it where you are? Do you know where your guinea pig is?

Keep Your Voice Low & Temperatures Consistent. Ensure that the noise level around your guinea pig remains low, similar in volume to a conversational noise level. Guinea pigs have a great sense of hearing, and, being the anxious pets they are, loud and/or sudden noises can startle them and leave them a bit upset for hours. Cut the noise and keep the unruly guests or housemates out of the guinea pigs’ area. And keep a consistent temperature! Between 65 and 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C), please. 🙂

Hands Out of the Cage! Avoid grabbing, chasing, cornering, and other characteristically “come here, come now” behavior. Unless your guinea pig is in serious trouble or its life is in jeopardy, you should never have to take your piggy away from hiding. Try coercing them out of hiding with a piece or two of parsley, make them climb on the cage for it, then shortly after munching it down they may let you pick them up. A gentle towel toss over the head can work wonders, as well.

Cute Story Time!

Hammy has become quiet adept at anticipating floor time.

She climbs in her tube at 3pm daily and waits for the Humans to carry her off to the floor area. This way she doesn’t get touched, The Humans don’t have to chase, and the rest of the herd doesn’t have to witness a scary and unnerving struggle of Human vs. Hammy.

Keep Your Friends Close. “Cuddle time” is anytime! Just remember, keep a consistent schedule. Every day, The Humans hold each pig for about 30 minutes as they relax before getting ready for bed. Each pig is wrapped in a towel and allowed to climb on and explore their Humans as they please. Usually, this means they curl under their towel and take a nap somewhere on Human #1 or #2. Much petting and cooing ensues.

Human tries to introduce itself to a guinea pig

A Human makes its presence known to Dot the guinea pig

State Your Purpose. Don’t just enter the room and jam your hand in the cage. Sacré Bleu! State your purpose, Human!

For as well-developed as their sense of hearing and smell is, guinea pigs don’t have the best sight. This means that if your guinea pig is used to your scent and sounds, he or she may still be a bit nervous if they can’t visually identify you.

The next time you enter your cavy’s room, speak gently to your guinea pig. Then place your hand about a foot away from the side of its face and leave your hand there for a second or two as you continue to speak softly. And you’re done! Check-in complete.

This small step helps your guinea pig to see your hand, recognize it, and verify its scent as “safe”. If all works well, your guinea pig should be back to sleeping and snacking without having to figure out who just walked into its room.

Conclusion

Expect your guinea pig to be skittish and wary of your intentions; they’re just born that way! So it’s up to you to win over your guinea pig’s trust and acceptance as a cohabitant of its environment.

Patience, time, cuddles, and common sense will do the job. The gentler you are, the slower you walk into a guinea pig’s room or space, and the less you bother your cavy, the faster they may become more accustomed to you.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What advice would you have given Kuuipo? Take off where HappyCavy left off. Share your advice in the comments section below!

How to Build A Stronger Bond With Your Guinea Pig, 4.5 out of 5 based on 114 ratings
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  • Alsen Low

    Carry him*
    Too*

  • Alsen Low

    Oh..and it is 1 month old
    Thank you for everyone’s or anyone’s help
    Thanks!

  • Alsen Low

    10

  • 78lilo

    Granted we’ve had our 4 piggies for 3 weeks but they still get scared even if I talk to them, sitting two feet away. v.v. I know it takes time but I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or with too many piggies it’s harder to get one on one bonding time or what. I feel bad every time they all hide because I breathe too loud or something – they are in my room – That doesn’t seem like much of A life and I’m starting to get disheartened. Any advice?

  • PsychoKilla KlownGirl

    I’m new the piggy parent club as I did quite a bit of research I did not find out until yesterday that I needed to give her space for two days with no petting holding or touching her I held her for two hours the minute we got home and she runs and hides anytime someone even walks near her room I think I traumatized my poor baby she doesn’t talk or make noises except angry ones and vibrates when you pet her can I fix our relationship will she be ok I’m really heart broken and sad thinking that I might have hurt her

  • Hi! It can be more difficult to get one-on-one bonding time with 4 guinea pigs, but your goal as a care-taker is to ensure your pigs are happy and healthy. And with a herd of 4 guinea pigs, I’m sure there’s plenty of socializing going on between them, which keeps them busy and happy! It does take time, you’re right. It took some of our guinea pigs months, and sometimes even a few years for them to get older, before there was any sort of bond. And, even then, it isn’t a bond like with a cat or a dog — it’s just that they get used to your noises and their environment. Even in old age, some guinea pigs won’t want handled, but some grow older and get more comfortable with it. Just continue to be patient, ensure they have plenty of cage space and get floor time and you have a set guinea pig care schedule and they will get used to you in due time. I promise 🙂

  • Hi, guinea pigs take a long time to warm up. Especially within the first few days — weeks, even — of being brought home, they tend to hide a lot and may make angry or frightened noises. Here’s some advice I just gave 78lilo below, hopefully it helps you, too 🙂

    “It took some of our guinea pigs months, and sometimes even a few years for them to get older, before there was any sort of bond. And, even then, it isn’t a bond like with a cat or a dog — it’s just that they get used to your noises and their environment. Even in old age, some guinea pigs won’t want handled, but some grow older and get more comfortable with it. Just continue to be patient, ensure they have plenty of cage space and get floor time and you have a set guinea pig care schedule and they will get used to you in due time.”

  • Mary-Beth Worley

    Hello! So I just got my precious guinea pig his name is Cupid (because i got him o n Valentines Day) well I know it takes a little while for them to get used to their human, but when I take him out of his cage for pay time and lap time he runs from me and I have read its best to not reach in their cage, but Cupid is not the type of piggy that comes to you or even tries to smell my hand. So is it okay to just get him out of his cage without i guess his consent? Also when i take him out for his lap time he is fine when i put him on my chest but when i set him down after a few minutes he starts to “wheek” and I have read that means sometimes that he is scared and when i try to cal him and talk to him it does not help all that much… I just need some tips because I just want to make him happy as can be and let him know he is safe.

  • Awww, Cupid, what a cute name! Unfortunately, some pigs won’t ever let you get close to picking them up from the cage, and in this case I think it’s find to pick them up without their consent, as long as you are gentle. It helps to keep shy piggies calm if you wrap them up in a towel after you remove them, too.

    Usually guinea pigs “wheek” if they are excited or hear treats coming. But whining noises can mean he is scared. Try wrapping him in a towel, that should help him keep calm, then you can practice speaking softly to him so he gets used to his voice. The towel trick really should work well; it’s worked for all our shy piggies. Once they calm down you can even try opening the towel to see if he is OK with that.

  • Shelley

    2 weeks ago my husband and I adopted two 3 month old girls (Peanut and Buttercup), they’re super cute, but still pretty nervous of us. They have a 3.5ft x 4.5ft C&C cage that we built for them a week ago and they love it. All week we’ve been hand feeding them and they’ve started trusting us a bit more, but still won’t let us touch them.

    I had to clean out their cage yesterday and couldn’t get them out without grabbing them and scaring them, I felt bad. It seems that this has set back a bit of our progress with them. Will they get used to us even if we have to pick them up when they don’t want to be handled?

  • Hi, Shelley! It sounds like they are off to a great start — decent sized cage and lost of care and attention. I think you just need to be patient, which can be difficult because we just want our little fuzzy friends to warm up to us! Whether or not grabbing them hinders progress, it’s necessary to clean their area. Even if you have to grab them, be very gentle, and you can use the towel technique to minimize their struggles when picking them up (lay a towel over them and scoop them up that way). It take several months or even a year or more for young guinea pigs to calm down and learn to accept attention. Even then, they probably won’t “want” to be picked up. But if you are gentle, practice all these other tips to endear them to you and your husband, they should learn to trust you — or at least put up with your quirky human ways. Best of luck! I think you, Peanut, Buttercup and husband will do just fine 🙂

  • Emma Bukovsky

    Hi there! I adopted two, three month old boys today; Goliath and Gimli. They ar very skittish and freeze when I hold them which i know is normal. They will not eat from my hand, their bowl, or leave their hut. I placed some lettuce and hay in the hut for them, but i am worried that they wont eat. Do you have any extra tips? Thanks!!

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About This Guinea Pig Website

HappyCavy has been online since June 2009 with Hammy and Piglet. In October of 2009, a sweet, fuzzy cavy named Bitsy joined the webcam broadcasts.

Feebee and Buttercup were welcomed to the HappyCavy Forever Home as friends and co-conspirators in January 2011. Dot joined us on July 2012, and Winnie and Rosie were the most recent addition on February 8, 2015 and June 6, 2015, respectively. Learn more about the guinea pigs here.

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