It’s an amazing feeling when you’ve brought your new guinea pigs home for the first time! Whilst its really exciting for us humans it can be a really scary time for guinea pigs. Follow our helpful tips to ease their transition and help them settle in:
Putting them in their new home
Once you place your guinea pigs in their new home they will no doubt run for cover! Don’t take it personally though as guinea pigs are very timid and are used to predators. You should have already set their cage or hutch up with good quality hay, chosen their bedding and provided fresh water in a bowl or bottle.
They should also have hay racks filled with fresh hay (or with grass which we fill ours with for our indoor guinea pigs) and have some food out. It’s typical to think that your guinea pigs aren’t happy if they freeze or spend long periods of time hiding when they first arrive, this is normal guinea pig behaviour and it will take a few weeks or months for it to settle down.
I remember when we brought our guinea pigs home and we didn’t think they had eaten or had any water for days since they just stayed in their hiding holes and didn’t come out.
They were actually being very clever piggies and sneaking out at night to eat, drink and have a good run about. Guinea pigs remain skittish for a while and even now our piggies run for cover when we first approach them as it’s their natural instinct.
They pop their heads out the hiding hole and then start wheeking once they realise its only us! Whilst it’s normal for piggies to hide for the first few days or weeks do spend some time talking to them and checking that they are leaving pellets around just to ensure they are actually eating and drinking normally.
Let them be
Whilst it’s tempting to take your guinea pigs out of their cage to feed them, hold them or even give them a quick clean out – Don’t. These first few days are really important for allowing your guinea pigs to settle in and feel safe.
It’s tempting to rush this bit since all you want to do when you bring them home is hold and fuss them so its rather disappointing not being able to (especially if they are a pet for children.)
Instead, you can attempt to feed them treats through the bars of their cage / hutch and spend time with them talking.
I have some very fond memories of sitting on the wet grass talking to our last set of piggies whilst they were settling in. It’s acceptable to open the cage to replace and remove food but don’t be tempted to try and stroke them even if they are sticking their heads out of their safe haven.
Any contact during the first few days is likely to set back the amount of time it takes them to get used to their new home and environment. I’m a bit of a neat freak so for our guinea pigs we purchased this guinea pig circus-themed hideaway so all the droppings are collected in the one place and then when they are out and about its much easier to clean.
Confidence and trust building
Whilst it seems like you don’t have too much interaction with your new guinea pigs in the first few days there is actually a lot you can do to build their little confidence so they feel safe and ready to venture out when you’re there. Talking to them is a really good way and especially effective when bringing them their meals.
It helps them become familiar with the sound of your voice along with the sound of the food being prepared (if they are indoors when you are preparing it.) Make sure you are talking them in a quiet and gentle way so as not to frighten them. We always talk to ours during the settling in phase (as well as now!) and it’s a good idea to talk to them whilst offering a tasty treat like a carrot through the bars.
Even if they don’t come out to accept the tasty treat they will get used to your voice and associate it and you with food. Food is a great confidence builder for guinea pigs! It won’t be long until they “wheek” at you every time you open the fridge as ours do! Ours even “wheek” now when we come in from being outside as they expecting a treat.
It can be tempting to take away the guinea pigs hideaway so as to “force” them to come out and play – NEVER DO THIS! It doesn’t help them feel more confident in fact it has the opposite effect and be very damaging.
The best to build trust with your piggie is through food! The way to a guinea pigs heart is definitely through its stomach! Start by feeding them through the bars and talking to them so they know you are there.
Guinea pigs hate sudden movement since they can’t see what’s right in front of them thanks to having their eyes on either side of their head. It will take a lot of patience before they approach you to take some food but they may eventually eat out of your hand if you remain still.
After this has been mastered you can attempt to move your hand slowly around their cage and eventually you can move their toys around (not any place that they are hiding in) just so they can get used to you.
The last stage is gently stroking your piggy and hoping they don’t run away. This is a fairly long process and may take up to two weeks. Remember to always approach your guinea pigs from the side, never from above.
Lap and play time
Once your guinea pig has settled in and is cautiously moving around their cage or hutch its time to approach lap time! You can read our full guide on it but we’ve broken the basics down here.
Guinea pigs should have lap time/play every single day as its good for them to get out and about their cage, you get some quality time with them plus it helps with bonding.
Not to mention its great for sneaking a health check and grooming session in! Lap time is when your play, stroke, talk and spend some time with your guinea pig on your lap. It’s a great idea to also feed them a little treat as well so that even the timidest/independent guinea pig will enjoy it. Playtime is when your piggy can run free in a secure area that is easy for you to clean. You can make a run using cardboard or buy one. There are lots of options to chose from such as this specially designed one or this one intended for bunnies or guinea pigs!
Playtime involves putting toys in the playpen along with hidey holes and watching your little piggies run around and explore. If you have any other pets, make sure they are out of the room.
The room used for playtime should also be free of drafts. Its a lot of fun watching the piggies play and they often do the “popcorn” which is a special move guinea pig’s do when they are happy which involves running back and forth whilst jumping in the air.
Patience is a virtue
If you follow the tips above then your guinea pig should settle in easily and be part of the family in no time!
I’d love to hear about your guinea pigs – comment below!