Guinea Pigs/friendliness


My piggy is still young, perhaps 5 months.  She was small when I bought her at Petco, hence I named her Bitsy.  I take her out and hold her for a little while before she squirms to get away then, let her have free roam in the living room for hours on the weekends.  My question is, when will she calm down enough that I don't have trouble catching her.  She is very skittish and I have to chase her around with my hands to take her out of her cage.  I try petting her while she is on her second level eating her treats and she makes her happy noise, but I have other friends whose guinea pigs are docile and don't run away at the sight of a hand.  Age?  More holding?  What am I doing wrong?

Thank you,

First let me assure you that you are not doing anything wrong. Guinea pigs are generally cautious by nature and the majority of them run when you're trying to catch them.

Remember there are two different types of character in all animals. One is fight, the other is flight. Dogs are hardwired for fight, as are lions, wolves, etc. Horses, as large as they are, are flight animals. When frightened or unsure of a situation they will run. Guinea pigs are also flight animals. That is not something we can change. We just have to gain their trust.

Being prey they are naturally motivated to run if they think they sense danger. In the wild they are open to predation by eagles, hawks, coyotes, wolves, etc. These instincts remain even though they've been domesticated. While Bitsy is in her cage she feels safe, so she will allow you to stroke her. But when you attempt to pick her up she runs. Again, pure instinct.

Being skittish is natural and although you may be able to work around that, she will still remain cautious. Your hands represent claws to her so she is going to run when she sees you and feels you grabbing at her. Some pigs overcome some of their fear, but not all.

There's a trick you can try in the hopes that she will relax and allow you to catch her. But the first rule is do not chase her. That simply increases her fear and she will run faster. Use a washcloth or small towel over your hand and very calmly approach her. Keep your movements slow, you don't want to scare her. Have the washcloth draped over the palm of your hand as though you were going to wash your face.

If you have room in the cage put your other hand in her way so she cannot escape. Softly put the towel over the top of her and cover her face. Always, always, lift her from underneath. Do not grab her around her chest from the top. Their ribs are fragile and serious injury can easily result.

Using both hands pick her up with the towel over her face. That will help to keep her calm. Wrap her like a baby in this towel, with her face sticking out. Swaddling comforts any animal as well as humans and gives a sense of safety and peace. Then you can sit down in a chair and put her on your lap. If she's still wiggling around just keep her wrapped and pet her face. At that point you can offer her a bit of parsley or a piece of lettuce.

The idea is for her to see you as "the food lady" and overcome her fear. But remember it is not your presence that she's reacting to, but your hand with the fingers spread. When you pet her while she's at the second level of her cage your hand is primarily closed and doesn't appear to her as a threatening claw.

Your mention of her squirming while holding her sounds very much like a common behavior in pigs, especially the younger ones. The begin to figit around and squirm, and if you continue holding onto to them they will pee on you. That squirming is a sign she's going to empty her bladder. A good size towel on your lap will catch the run off. So pay attention to her body language. It's much like we humans, when we have to go we start to squirm.

As for allowing her to run around the living room for hours, I must caution you about the dangers of that free time. Yes, it's good exercise for her. However, there is the real possibility that one day she may take a bite from a lamp cord and electrocute herself. She needs to be in a safe environment at all times.  If you can find some kind of barrier to make a large playpen out of that would prevent her from getting herself into trouble.

Don't get discouraged. She's just being the flight animal that she is. In time she may relax more as she feels safe and secure in your arms.

I hope this helps you. Please let me know how she's doing. And of course I always love pictures.  

Guinea Pigs

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Pat VanAllen


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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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