A complete guide to handling guinea pigs

We can all agree how difficult it can be to catch a cute little guinea pig in order to groom, stroke and move it. Guinea pigs are timid creatures and surprisingly fast runners! Since guinea pigs are prey animals they are more likely to run and hide than other pets, plus with most guinea pigs weighing no more than two to four pounds they are pretty speedy once they start to run!

It can be tempting to simply reach in and grab or pin your piggy in order to pick them up but this is very dangerous since they have delicate bones. If you fail to pick up your guinea pig correctly they could get seriously hurt plus it makes the whole experience for your furry little guinea pig friend rather terrifying.

How you should pick up a guinea pig

The correct way to pick up a guinea pig is to place one of your hands underneath its middle, around the stomach region. Ensure you approach your guinea pig from the front and are talking to them calmly throughout the picking up process.Then you support its back or hind legs with your other hand.

Guinea pigs do not like to have their feet left unsupported plus dangling legs can easily be injured due to being caught or bumped against other objects. Guinea pigs that are picked up correctly feel safe and happy. If you have an extra wriggly guinea pig, then its important to ensure you don’t squeeze your piggie around the tummy region.

Reluctant piggies that really don’t want to be picked up can be persuaded with some of their favorite food. Our guinea pig Orange is rather fast and defiant when it comes to being picked up and even she can’t resist some tasty spinach. Remember to always hold your guinea pig with two hands to ensure they are correctly supported and can’t attempt to wriggle free or jump as they will injure themselves.

Walking when holding a guinea pig

In a perfect world, everything we need for our guinea pigs would be located in close proximity to each other! Since these items aren’t, then its possible you will have to walk whilst carrying your guinea pig especially if they live outside and come indoors for lap time. In order to help your guinea pig feel safe and secure whilst your walking with them, pick them up as described above but instead of cradling them in your arms similar to how you would a baby, instead hold them upright against your body.

Still keep one hand under their legs and then other can be moved to their back. This ensures they don’t fall backwards plus its a great way to sneak a few extra strokes in! Ensure you walk slowly and avoid making any sudden movements. The majority of guinea pigs will happily snuggle into your body when held in this position and will feel safe and secure.  The upright position in which you carry your guinea pig whilst walking will often mimic the one your piggie climbs into during laptime!

Children and handling guinea pigs

Guinea pigs make excellent pets for children however its important to teach them how to hold the guinea pigs correctly to ensure the guinea pig and the child do not get injured. Very young children should not be tasked with picking up or walking with guinea pigs. The guinea pigs should instead be brought over to the child who should be sitting down comfortably on a comfy chair or coach. The guinea pig can then be placed safely on the child’s knee without any harm coming to the guinea pig or child. We always put a thick towel or blanket on our children’s knee so they don’t complain about feeling the claws through their clothes. Ensure you stay with the child and supervise the interactions to ensure they child isn’t being too rough. It can be rather difficult to teach a very young child about being gentle especially if they haven’t fully developed their cognitive skills.

How to deal with really reluctant guinea pigs

If you have a really reluctant guinea pig that just wont be caught don’t chase it around the cage. The majority of guinea pigs will have a quick dash for cover and then eventually slow down enough to be caught. If you have a guinea pig that is especially timid and stays in its hideout, then resist the urge to remove all the places it has to hide. Instead ensure you have a box or tunnel with a top and bottom and transport your guinea pig inside that. Simply place one hand either at each end or over the one opening with the other hand holding the bottom. Ensure your transportation container isn’t flimsy or will break under the weight of a guinea pig. You can then transport the guinea pig to either its hutch, cage or run. You can use this same technique for lap time. Just transport your guinea pig inside the container and place it on your lap and a treat a little further away. This will help encourage the little piggie to come out and play! Remember not to take it personally as well! Guinea pigs are timid and cautious by nature.

Handling pregnant guinea pigs

If one of your guinea pigs are pregnant then its important to avoid handling her. Lap time is pretty much out for a pregnant guinea pig since they are very prone to stress plus the added risk of injuring mummy and babies through holding. She should only be handled if you feel there is something wrong with her. Obviously you will need to move the mummy piggy in order to clean her bedding and the best way to do this is using the transportation method detailed above. The only difference is to ensure you have a very sturdy container for transporting. A shoes box or other sturdy structure works well for supporting the addition weight of the mummy and babies.

How long should lap time be

It is recommended that you hold your guinea pig for a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Ensure you have a blanket or towel on your lap or nearby since guinea pigs naturally need to go to the bathroom. Our guinea pigs always seem to need the bathroom after ten minutes. If your guinea pig leaves droppings or urine on you, be calm and clean it up without making sudden movements. Its fairly common for guinea pigs to leave droppings on you and less common for urine although it does happen! Its easy to tell when your guinea pig is ready to go back inside its cage since it will start getting restless, nibbling at clothes and make a whining sound.

When guinea pigs shouldn’t be handled.

We’ve already covered pregnancy (above)  as a time when guinea pigs shouldn’t be held above. Other circumstances when you shouldn’t hold your guinea pigs are if they are unwell or injured. Your vet will be able to advise when your able to start holding them again. Another time they shouldn’t be held is when they have just been born as they are too fragile.

Where to touch and not touch on guinea pigs

Every guinea pig is different however its common that most guinea pigs do not like their bottom or tummy to be touched! They all seem to love having their head in between their ears stroked. In fact this is a common technique used by vets to calm scared guinea pigs down. Several guinea pigs also like to have their neck rubbed, just under the chin.

How to choose your new guinea pig

Its a very exciting time when you head out to choose your new guinea pig – even if it isn’t your first! There is a lot of conflicting information out there so we have produced this guide to help you get the best out of your new best friends. There are a few things to look out for to ensure you choose healthy, happy piggies:

Physical attributes

Whether you are getting your guinea pig from a pet store, family friend or rescue centre its important to give them a quick check over to ensure they are healthy and well cared for. The guinea pig should be slim, slender and lean. It shouldn’t be too thin or fat. Ensure it is walking well and able to place its weight equally on all of its paws. Check when the guinea pig walks that it also uses all four of its paws and isn’t sluggish whilst moving about as guinea pigs are sprightly and often zoom about the place.  This ensures you aren’t buying a piggie with leg damage or broken bones. The guinea pig’s overall body condition should be free from lumps, bumps or swellings.

Its coat should look shiny and silky – No mattered fur or bare patches.  It should look well groomed and clean with no red patches on its skin. Whilst it may seem rather undignified, check around the guinea pigs rear ensuring there is no mattered fur, soling or red skin as this may be a sign of tummy issues such as diarrhea or poor hygiene of the pet store. Have a good look at the guinea pigs legs and feet, they shouldn’t be swollen or bleeding. The leg bone should be straight.

Have a good look at the guinea pigs face, its eyes should be shiny and bright with no discharge or crusting. The eyes should be open and alert. Check over the guinea pigs nose as it shouldn’t have any discharge or soreness around it. Both the ears and eyes should be clean and dry.

A difficult one to check but well worth it is the length of the guinea pigs teeth. They should be well aligned and not long or protruding. The mouth area should be dry with no dribbling and scratch free. It’s great if you get the chance to feed the guinea pig a treat before you buy, then you can see how it eats and get a better look at its teeth.

Lastly listen to the guinea pigs breathing, it should be quiet and regular. Watch out for wheezing, panting or laboured breathing as these are signs of serious health conditions.

Male or Female

Whether you choose a male (boar) or female (sow) guinea pig, if they are going to share a cage then they need to be the same gender otherwise they will breed and wont stop, even when it is unhealthy or dangerous for them to do so! Whilst it is possible to neuter both male and female pets with the price costing around 50 it is generally considered the best option to keep them in same sex groupings to save them undertaking any necessary operations. The choice of male or female mainly comes down to personal preference although there are some slight difference between the two genders:

Boars (Males) – Male guinea pigs are best housed together if they have been previously housed together otherwise they are prone to fighting with each other until they either are unable to be housed together or have established hierarchy. Boars are known to occasionally scent mark their territory including their owners. Whilst the gesture is appreciated, unfortunately the smell turns into a strong fishy odour that requires regular cleaning of the cage (more so than usual) However once this scent has been removed, it can reintroduce the hierarchy battle since you’ve remove the scent and they are trying to establish who the boss is again. Once the boars have created a well established bond then this is less likely to happen. The way boars mark their territory is by dragging their little bottoms along their cage, whilst this is perfectly natural and healthy it does mean they have a tendency to collect a lot of other things in it such as poo, hay and fur. These items mainly stick to the boars bottoms however they also can get lodged inside the anus. Boars also tend to suffer with a serious foam of constipation called impaction when they get older if they aren’t clean regular. Whilst this task isn’t the most pleasant, it can easily be part of your grooming routine and takes just a few minutes. Boars also have what is known as boar glue (ejaculation) that is a hard and sticky subsistence. It commonly gets on the cage and even on their own fur which must be cleaned (usually cut off fur) regularly as it has an unpleasant odour to it. Boars are also described as cheeky and much more energetic than sows making them very entertaining! The boys also appear to love lap time much more than girls and I’ve know a few to fall asleep on friends laps whilst getting patted.

Females (sows) – Females live together happily and seem to have no issue with being introduced to each other even if living together for the first time. Sows are even more likely to continue to get along well into adulthood as well. Sows generally smell a little better than boars since they don’t feel the need to continuously mark their territory the way boars do but they still need cleaning out regularly. Sows will still have hierarchy battles but they tend to be less severe and cool off quicker than boars although sows are known to squirt urine at each other during times of battle and even at their owners!

Whether you choose boars or sows they will have their own personalities and be inquisitive, cuddly and a great friend to have.

Long or short hair

There are several different types of guinea pig breeds that fall under the categories long haired and short haired.  Short haired guinea pigs are easier to look after since they require minimal grooming (we groom our short haired piggie a few times a week) and they are less likely to require a bath unless they get exceptionally dirty. Long haired guinea pigs need more care with daily grooming and frequent baths. Our long haired guinea pigs usually has a bath once a month unless she gets very dirty but her fur needs combing daily. She also needs the fur around her rear checking to ensure no poo or urine has dirtied it.

Whether you choose short or long haired guinea pigs they both still need their nails clipping and to be checked over regularly to ensure they are healthy and happy.

Behaviour

Spend some time watching the guinea pigs before you buy them, watch how they move and explore. They should be bright, playful and never slow or sluggish. They will startle easily and run for cover which is a good sign as that’s part of their basic instincts. They should be alert and active, they should be able to move around comfortably with no signs of injury or lameness. Observe how the guinea pig reacts and interacts with other guinea pigs, watch for any signs of aggressive or acute fear. Watch how it responds to people, especially you. It should be skittish but relatively calm and settled. It should be somewhat used to being handled and petted. Keep a watch over its personality as whilst there share similar characteristics, they all have their own unique and wonderful personality. Is it playful, mischievous or shy?

The Living Conditions

This point is usually overlooked, but we’ve visited some pet shops where they have multiple guinea pigs all crammed in a too small space which results in aggression and injury. Identity if they have a water bowl or bottle as it will help prepare you for when you bring it home. Observe what hay they are using and which dried food they are eating. Even something as simple as buying the same hidey hole they are used to. Having this at home will bring them comfort when they are in unfamiliar surrounding for the first time.

Ask questions

The place you buy your guinea pig from should be able to provide you with how old the guinea pigs are (they shouldn’t be sold until they are over 6 weeks old), their favorite treats and their medical history.

An introduction to Guinea Pigs

The guinea pig (or domestic guinea pig) is a member  of the rodent family, specifically the Cavildae family (Cavia genus). They are also knows as cavy or domestic cavy. They actually originate from the Andes in South America despite their common name suggesting they are from Guinea in Africa.

Spanish sailors travelling from South America in the 16th century brought guinea pigs to Europe and they were really expensive to purchase. This meant that only the wealthy could afford them. Thankfully guinea pigs are much more affordable now and can be purchased from a wide range of pet stores across the UK, Europe and the US.

Guinea pigs have been rising in popularity over the last decade thanks to their friendly and gentle nature making them the perfect pet for all ages. In some parts of the world there are organisations dedicated to the specialised breeding of specific breeds with varying coat colours and textures.

Below is some useful information about Guinea Pigs. Click on the links or use the menu at the top of this site to learn more.

Guinea Pig Facts

  • A full grown guinea pig weighs between 700 – 1,200g (1.5 – 2.6 llbs) and is typically 20 – 25cm in length
  • Guinea pigs typically live between 4-8 years. The oldest guinea pig was 14 years and 10.5 months old! Life span can be affected by their living conditions and nutrition.
  • All breeds are usually a similar size and the temperament is more or less the same between breeds. There are ten types of domesticated guinea pig breeds.
  • Guinea pig litters range from one to six babies. The young of a guinea pig are referred to as pups.  Newborn pups are well developed in relation to hair, teeth and claws. They are born with partial eyesight and are immediately mobile. They also begin to eat solid food immediately whilst also continuing to suckle.

Behaviour and sounds

Guinea pigs are timid creatures and when scared they freeze or run for cover. They are poor climbers but are able to jump small obstacles. Their strongest problem solving strategy is motion.

Guinea pigs jump when they are happy which is referred to as “popcorning.”

Guinea pigs are very chatty! They talk to each other all the time and once settled into their new home with you, will start talking to you too. They make a variety of sounds (whistling and purring) You can learn more about that on our communication section.

Nutrition

A guinea pigs main food is hay. They can also eat endless amounts of grass. Guinea pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C like humans so its important to incorporate it into their diet or to buy a good quality guinea pig dry mix that contains vitamins.

Home Comforts

Wilda cavies have been identified in the 20th century and are thought to have been domestic and have been reintroduced to the wild. Studies have shown they live on grassland in groups of several females (sow) and one male (boar) Their young also form part of this group. They take shelter in the abandoned nests and burrows of other animals although do not actively make these homes themselves.

Domestically guinea pigs live in cages and in smaller groups usually consisting of two sows or boars. Their cages are lined with various types of bedding such as hay, shredded paper or corn on the cob type material’s.

Social

Guinea pigs are social creatures and it is recommended that you purchase more than one guinea pig when buying. Previously it was believed that guinea pigs and rabbits cohabited well together however now this opinion has become divided with research suggesting rabbits tend to bully the smaller guinea pigs. Evidence shows that some larger animals (such as dogs and cats) can be trained to tolerate guinea pigs with some showing genuine affection towards them.

Grooming and handling

The amount of time spent on grooming your guinea pig is determined by the type of breed it is. Long haired guinea pigs need to be groomed daily whilst shorter breeds can be groomed weekly.

Guinea pigs should be handled correctly from a young age. This results in happy adult guinea pigs who are happy to be handled and carried. They also seldom bite or scratch. Well handled guinea pigs will often whistle with joy on the owners approach!

Health Issues

Guinea pigs suffer from common aliments such as vitamin C deficiency (Scurvy), abscesses due to infections, respiratory problems and diarrhea.