6 Tips for Bonding with Your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are social animals whose ancestors lived in herds, grazing and roaming the plains just like cattle do. They found strength in numbers of the herd and protection from the wild when in groups. They learned to trust each other when it came to their survival.
Our pet guinea pigs have long since hung up their traveling boots and stashed away their adventurous spirits, but the bond that they had with their herd is one that traverses space and time.
For this reason, humans oftentimes find it quite challenging to gain a cavy’s trust. It’s especially hard to bond with a guinea pig if it has been adopted from a shelter as it might have had a hard upbringing, learned multiple bad habits, and even suffered at the hands of its previous owner(s).
Here are 6 tips to bond with your cavy which can generally help you tame a guinea pig:
1. Create a Homey and Peaceful Environment
When a new guinea pig arrives in your home, it’s likely to be nervous, afraid, and skittish. Imagine being transferred from the breeder to the pet store, to an owner, to a rescue shelter (for adopted cavies), and then to another owner. Having had to change its environment multiple times in its life was no doubt difficult for the cavy and it learned to distrust the people around it.
First things first, make sure your house is prepared before you get home. Eliminate sources of loud noise and make sure other pets aren’t roaming around. Bring your cavy directly to its new living area and make sure that the cage is located in a quiet place. It’s recommended to avoid letting too many people interact with the cavy during its first few days just to avoid overwhelming it.
Talk to your cavy using low and gentle tones, providing reassurance, and words of kindness. Guinea pigs are sensitive creatures and seem to be able to feel emotions. The idea is to give it a very good first impression of its new home.
Allow it to explore its surroundings and hide under the bedding in the cage if it wishes. This is to give your new pet the illusion of freedom and a simultaneous feeling of safety.
Never rush or force your new guinea pig into doing anything uncomfortable for the first 3 days. Take it nice and slow – giving it plenty of time to do what it wants and learn at its own pace.
Avoid handling it during this time period and limit contact with other people. If you’re using a C&C cage in a completely sealed room, you may open the cage door and allow the guinea pig to briefly explore the outside world if it chooses to.
2. Take Advantage of Treats
Food can be a powerful tool to assist in helping you bond with your guinea pig. The first thing you want to do is set up and maintain a consistent feeding schedule. The goal is to solidify in your pet’s mind that a loving hand will always provide something tasty every day.
It will learn to associate your presence with food, which is one of the keys to the bonding process. For the next few weeks, make sure that you’re the only one feeding the guinea pig.
Fill up the food bowl and refill/replace water in its bottle every day at a certain time. At first, you can just drop treats inside the cage. After a few days, try holding a treat and offering it to your cavy. This is a positive bonding interaction that will help build trust.
If the cavy refuses the treat or is too scared to take it, just toss it over. Try again later on in the day. It might take some time, but eventually, your furball will creep closer and closer and eventually take the treat.
After the guinea pig already becomes comfortable with taking treats from your hand, you can begin to offer fruits and vegetables. Your cavy might not be used to eating nutritious foods, so again, take it slowly.
Some cavy favorites include banana slices, carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce. Apple slices can also be a tasty treat if you remove the seeds or buy a seedless variety.
You can also look in pet stores for commercial treats. As with any foods, moderation is the key. Although a pudgy guinea pig can look pretty cute, obesity can cause health complications and shorten your pet’s lifespan. Make sure it’s getting all the daily nutrients and vitamins that it needs and it’ll stay perky and active.
3. Hold and Carry It Properly
Handling and carrying a guinea pig right off the bat is the wrong thing to do. Holding a cavy isn’t as simple as just picking it up and walking around.
Being picked up in the wild is usually synonymous with death, so it’s is not a natural thing for guinea pigs and some greatly dislike the activity. Doing it incorrectly could scare your pet and only serve to destroy any progress that you’ve made with it so far.
You may begin by petting the guinea pig if it’ll let you. Again, be patient. And if it doesn’t seem comfortable, stop the activity and try again later. If all goes well, increase the petting frequency to a few times a day.
Guinea pigs dislike being touched on the head and the belly so avoid those areas during your petting. You can rub their neck or chin. You’ll learn how to get a guinea pig to like you by discovering its favorite petting spots.
Approach your pet from the front and avoid making any sudden or jerky movements. Being prey animals, guinea pigs are quite jumpy and keen to notice rapid movements. Couple that with the fact that they have very poor eyesight and every loud noise becomes scary.
Don’t pick a cavy up from above if possible. It might mistake your hands for an eagle’s claws and refuse to let you touch it anymore.
Use two hands and sandwich it in the middle. Hold securely and firmly to prevent the guinea pig from escaping. Lift it into the air and bring your hands close to your chest.
You can also use a blanket or a towel to wrap the cavy with – it helps to ease the anxiety of first-timers. Once you’ve got your cavy up in the air, be careful not to drop or allow it to wriggle loose. A fall from that height could be disastrous.
4. Never Leave It Alone
In the weeks that follow, spending time with your piggy is the best way to continue building trust and allowing it to have a degree of socialization. It’s not a good idea to ever leave guinea pigs alone for long periods of time.
They are used to living with members of their herd so make sure to visit and talk to them every day. Without contact, your guinea pig might begin to feel neglected and isolated. It can quickly slip into depression.
If a few weeks have passed and you’re confident that your cavy has already become familiar with you and its surroundings, consider moving its cage to another room. The perfect spot is an area that has plenty of people passing by, but not in a very noisy or chaotic location. It’s important for it to feel like part of the herd (your family) so be sure to include it in daily activities.
If you only have one cavy in the pen, consider getting a friend to keep it company. It’s always recommended for guinea pigs to be grouped up in same-sex pairs.
Avoid purchasing dominant males or a male and female unless the male is neutered. Your cavy will enjoy having a playmate and be all the happier for it.
5. Give Regular Cuddle Time
Guinea pigs need regular free-range time or time outside the cage in order to get exercise and work out their muscles. Running around and popcorning inside the enclosure can get tiring so getting to spend some time with you will be a welcome change to break up the monotony.
Pick a schedule and stick to it consistently. You can set up a play area on the floor by creating an enclosed space with cardboard or plastic containers.
Alternately, if you have a garden or outdoor area, your guinea pig will benefit greatly from the sunlight and fresh air. Stay on a soft grassy area and you can gently hold the cavy or let it explore if it wishes.
Keep a watchful eye to make sure it doesn’t stray too far. The area should also be protected from any outside influences or animals that could give chase.
You can also have cuddle time with your guinea pig after having a bath. It won’t shower very often but you can make sure that each instance is a memorable experience.
Use a hair dryer to thoroughly dry it off afterward and make sure not to hold it too close to the cavy. Spend a few minutes together before returning it to the cage. This is a great way to further strengthen your bonding with the guinea pig.
6. Have Patience
You may experience varying degrees of success throughout this time period. As a guinea pig warms up to you and its new home, there will definitely be frustrating moments where you feel that nothing you try is working.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Sometimes it takes months or even years for a guinea pig to be fully comfortable in its environment and to pet your guinea pig. Some cavies may never trust their new owner, especially if they are already older and have been conditioned by previous mishandling.
Having patience is essential to creating a strong connection with your pet. Ultimately, the key to success is to spend as much time with your guinea pig as you can and be consistent with your schedule and daily activities.