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Question
I have two male guinea pigs, approximately 3-4 months old, same litter. One of them (Otto), is a complete sweetie, loves to be held, loves to check me out from his cage when I'm sitting at my desk. The other one (Hubert) hides in the Pigloo or wood tunnel whenever I even come into his room, which is fine, I know most Guinea pigs are shy, and I'm sure he is uneasy about me since he's only been with me for about 4 days now. My concern is that whenever I go to so much as pet him he snips at me and goes into instant teeth chattering warnings. I'm fine working up to a relationship slowly, but I don't want to get bit every time I go near him. I move slowly, I get Otto purring with side rubs before I even try to touch Hubert. I've made sure I've gone well over the recommended size for 2 guinea pigs (cage), and since they're pretty young I know it's really spacious, and they have a few toys in there, not enough to crowd. They have timothy hay, pellets, fruit and vegetables morning and afternoon (small amounts of vegetable/fruit mostly as treats after I pet and handle them). Is this something Hubert will outgrow, or is there something I need to do to get him more accustomed to me? I treat him the same as Otto (except for the fact I'm not willing to hold Hubert because he's started biting. As soon as it started happening (pretty much day two), I did as much research as I could online. I know not to tap him, scold him, or obviously punish Hubert in anyway, but I didn't really find anything on what TO DO. I've tried the towel pick up one time to see if it made him more comfortable being held, but he just squirmed the whole time while trying to bite me.. after about 5 minutes of him not really calming down I just placed him in his cage, because I didn't want to stress him out anymore. He seems to get along very well with Otto and I'll actually see Otto grooming him and cuddling up against Hubert, so it appears to be aimed at just me and my husband. My husband won't even touch Hubert, but of course he loves to get Otto purring. Any tips would be very much appreciated. Every guinea pig I've had has never been a biter/aggressive, and so I have no experience with one. I just don't want an aggressive guinea pig so if I can change that I will do anything I can to. I won't get rid of him if it doesn't resolve, but I think Hubert and I would both be a lot happier if we could build some sort of trust. If I had to trim his nails or give him a bath right now, I'd probably seriously consider wearing gloves and protective arm wear. Thanks.

Answer
Most likely Hubert is biting out of fear. The first thing I would do is take his hidey hole out. That way he has to face the world and deal with it. Since you've only had him a few days I would just leave him alone for about a week. Let him get used to his surroundings, smells, etc.

I've had pigs that wanted to take a nip out of you when you reach in for them. If you're quick enough you can give a quick flip on the nose to let them know that is not acceptable. Since their attention span is short you have to be fast enough that they get the connection.

This may sound like an odd thing, but I would dip them both for mites. Get some Adams dip at your pet store, mix according to directions them dip each of them. Use warm water and a small enough container that you don't have to mix too much. The bathroom sink works well.

When you pick up Hubert by all means use a pair of garden gloves or something so he can't get a grip on your skin. Hold him on his back with one hand grasping the back of his neck while the other holds the body. Dip him up to his chin in the warm solution. The water is actually soothing to them and he should just go limp. You want each pig completely saturated.

Put them either back in their cage or in another box with a towel in it. Leave them to drip dry, don't try to towel dry or blow dry them. You can do that when you're just giving an ordinary bath, but for this it's important that they drip dry.

Sometimes the mites irritate the poor animal enough to make him or her real grumpy, thus the biting. Since he's nipping and not diving for blood I don't think it's aggression as much as fear that causes it. A pig that is out for blood hangs on, hard. I once made the mistake of reaching into a cage to break up a fight between two pigs. When I pulled my hand out of the cage one pig was still connected! OUCH!

Once you've treated for any potential mites or lice you can then start the process of teaching him that you're the "food lady" and he will associate you with good things. Use a small piece of carrot or apple (carrots are a real favorite of most pigs), hold it close enough to him that he has to reach forward to take it. It doesn't take long to retrain his behavior and teach him there's nothing to be afraid of.

Don't grab for him the second he reaches for the treat. Otherwise he will learn that he's going to be grabbed and will run instead of coming closer. Let him take the carrot piece, then leave your hand in there for a few moments so he learns that he's not in danger of being trapped.

Another thing to remember is to wash your hands before you reach for him. If there's the smell of carrots or any other food he may nip in an attempt to taste your finger. That's not actual aggressive biting.

Something else that is good for calming a 'wild child' is a warm bath. Again, hold him on his back and gently submerge him into warm water up to his chin. He may wiggle for a moment, then he will hold still. They usually calm right down and actually enjoy the comfort of the bath. I've found that this seems to help them relax and realize they're safe and don't need to try to defend themselves.

Most pigs will run away when you try to catch them. Even those you've had and held for years will run away when you try to pick them up. This is just a hard wired flight instinct. Once in your arms they settle down. Remember they are prey, not predators. They learn as babies to run from what they perceive as danger.

The teeth chattering is a sign that he's trying to tell you he's really serious about attacking. So it's going to take a little time to get him over that, but it will happen. Be patient, but also don't allow yourself to be hurt. If you have to you can wear gloves for protection. But it doesn't take long for them to realize that when they hear you coming you just may be the bearer of goodies and they'll start looking forward to your approach.

It's hard to say what this guy has been through before you got him. He could have been in a cage where he was the victim, so he responds by getting ready for it. But it's not hopeless. It's just a matter of baby steps to get him through it.

Good luck to you, please let me know how he's doing. Most of all don't give up on him.

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Pat VanAllen

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As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.

Experience

Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

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Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

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Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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