If you wish to get a guinea pig as a cuddle buddy, you are better off getting a dog instead.
While cavies make excellent pets, they don’t like being handled too often or roughly especially when they are introduced to a new environment.
This is understandable because these small, furry mammals are prey animals and their first reaction to discomfort is to flee.
If they feel threatened by your touch, appearance, or smell, they will be distressed when you try and pet or hold them.
Of course, your guinea pig isn’t a goldfish. It is a social animal and thrives in herds and with interaction.
The key to interacting with it without spooking it is to be as gentle and patient as possible.
So, how can you hold and pet your piggy ensuring it remains happy and feels secure?
The process is gradual and slow but with patience, you can make your cavy into a snuggle bug.
Step 1 – Leave Your Piggy Alone At First
When you bring your piggy home for the first time, don’t try and take it out immediately.
That will only traumatize it and taming it will take more time. Cover the cage with a light blanket just enough that it gets some light and still feels secure.
This will mimic a burrow, the cavy’s natural habitat. Do this for a few days and don’t try to interact with it during this time.
Step 2 – Allow the Guinea Pig to Get Used To You
When you finally take the blanket off, do so slowly and don’t reach in to grab the guinea pig.
All of that waiting will go down the drain.
Allow a few days to go by with the cage uncovered and then put your hand in the cage.
Step 3 – Trap the Guinea Pig
There are a few tips you should follow during this step. The key is to remain calm so approach the cage slowly.
Don’t yank the door open in your excitement. Walk slowly towards making sure the guinea pig can see you and then slowly open the cage door.
Take a few deep breaths before doing this to collect yourself and then open the cage.
Loud noises and sudden movements will scare your guinea pig.
Remember, it’s a prey animal and if it feels threatened, it will try to defend itself or run away.
Make sure that your phone is in another room and you don’t make noise when you open the cage.
You can use the cage to your advantage during this step. Rather than grabbing the guinea pig, trap it slowly against it.
You can also use one of the pipes in the cage to do this. Just encourage the pig to get into the pipe and block the other side.
Step 4 – Hold Your Guinea Pig
Once you know that your piggy won’t try to run off and is used to your presence, slowly slide your hand under its belly.
Place a finger around one of its front legs and then lift it gently. Use both hands for this so you can support the back as well.
The trick is to remain firm but gentle so you have a good grip but do not suffocate the piggy.
If it feels pain or discomfort, it will try and jump out of your hands.
You can move around while holding it, but that can be risky at first so remain seated. That way the guinea pig won’t get disoriented and try to escape.
Make sure that when you hold it against your chest, its feet are towards you.
Feed it a treat (veggies and fruit or pellets) to calm it and to make it associate the activity with a pleasant experience.
Step 5 – Pet and Talk To It Gently
A loud voice may spook the cavy and make it go rigid. Once you know that the cavy is comfortable with being held, start talking to it in a soothing voice.
What you say doesn’t matter.
Talk to it about your day, introduce yourself, tell it how beautiful it is, anything but in a low-pitched voice.
Start stroking it slowly using only a few fingers and in the direction of where the fur grows.
Avoid sensitive areas such as the belly and feet.
To determine if your cavy is comfortable with your touch, listen to its vocalizations and feel its body language.
Plus, keep the petting brief (10 to 15 minutes will do) so your cavy doesn’t start feeling uncomfortable and will come to you willingly later.
If it doesn’t want to be petted and walks away from your outstretched hand, let it.
If it wants you to put it down, it will start to fuss and nibble at your hand. If you refuse to let it go, it may bite harder or poop on you.
Step 6 – Place the Guinea Pig Back In the Cage Gently
After you are done petting your cavy or it starts to make a fuss, place it back in the cage. Here’s how.
Make sure you have a good grip on it and as you near the floor of the cage, don’t drop it in.
The piggy may start to squirm at this point so hold it above the cage floor till it stops.
Then allow it to touch down but let go only when it is completely still.
Keep in mind that the aforementioned technique may not work on certain breeds.
For example, American shorthairs are receptive to touch because their coats are not overly furry so you can pet with the grain easily.
Abyssinians, on the other hand, have erratic fur patterns that can pull at the skin if brushed against the grain which will happen often.
Similarly, cavies that are infested with mites can have overly sensitive skin that can be painful to the touch.
Why Your Guinea Pigs May Bite
If your guinea pig is biting or nibbling your hand as long as you hold it or whenever you try and pet it, don’t take it personally.
It is rare but it can happen and they rarely bite hard enough to draw blood.
The most common reasons why it may be biting you include the following:
Your Hands Smell Delicious
If you pick up your piggy right after placing hay, veggies, pellets, or fruits in its cage, your hands will smell delicious to it.
While it should stop chewing when it realizes it’s not getting anywhere, just wash your hands beforehand so that this doesn’t happen.
Noise Is Stressing It Out
If you have music on full blast in the same room as the cage, use the vacuum cleaner there or watch TV at high volume, the noise may be the reason for the nibbles.
It can frighten it and compel it to burrow in its hideout and if you are holding it during that time, it may bite to make you let go.
You Are Not As Gentle As You Should Be
If the guinea pig feels unsafe in your arms or doesn’t like the way you pet it, it will bite if it cannot escape.
For example, if its feet are dangling in midair or it’s scared of heights, it will let you know it’s scared with a nibble or with high-pitched squeaks.
Plus, if you pass the cavy around like say to a friend, it will stress out your piggy especially if it doesn’t know the other person.
They didn’t introduce themselves gradually as you did, so this is natural. Chances are your friends get bitten more than you do.
It Is Scared Of You
Maybe you weren’t as gentle as you should have been or handled it roughly or dropped it accidentally, but your piggy may be biting you because of the trauma.
If it is a rescue, it may still be traumatized from neglect or abuse of a past owner and act the same way with you.
Love, patience, and treats may reduce that fear and make it trust you but it may still not fully overcome its fear.
It’s in Pain
A cavy that has sores, mites, or an injury will naturally not want to be held or touched.
Perhaps it lost a fight with its cage mate or sprained a foot running around the cage or is old and has arthritis.
When your hands touch those pain points, they will protest with bites and will try to escape when you try and hold it.
If you still try and hold it when you know it is in pain, you can traumatize the piggy, and will stop trusting you.
So take it to the vet first to get it treated and when it heals up, you can resume petting and holding it.
While guinea pigs don’t like to be held, they can get used to your touch and even like it if you are patient and gentle with it. The key is to ensure it is comfortable and not the other way round during interactions.
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