A guide to guinea pig body language

Guinea pigs are able to communicate in a variety of ways to help us understand what they are thinking and feeling. The most obvious form of communication is verbal which means that the subtle body language clues they provide are often overlooked.

Whilst its vital to understand your guinea pigs verbal behavioral patterns, learning their different types of body language is equally as useful.

Popcorning

The most amazing of sights is to see your guinea pig leap into the air (sometimes continuously!) This is also the easiest to spot. This is more common in younger guinea pigs although older piggies can often be seen leaping for joy – just not as high as their young counterparts.

Popcorning indicates pure joy and happiness, your guinea pig is literally so happy they are jumping for joy.

Our guinea pigs can frequently be found popcorning over all sorts of things – a new toy for their cage, giving them hay and even when we come in and have a chat with them.

Licking

Not only do guinea pigs purr like cats they also lick like them too! Licking is thought of as another friendly gesture that our guinea pigs do to show us how much they care.

There is some debate as to whether guinea pigs are simply tasting the skin for salt – but we like to think its to show their affection.

Snifffing

Have you ever really watched your piggie and wondered why they sniff everything so much? Ours sniff each other, the hay for eating, the hay for sleeping in, the carpet….

Sniffing is an excellent way for guinea pigs to discover what is going on and whose about. Its a very normal activity!

Rubbing / touching noses

This is a friendly greeting often exchanged between cage buddies. Our guinea pig Orange though will happily touch noses with us to show us how happy she is.

Freezing

Try not to take it personally when your guinea pig turns to stone the moment your around. This is a normal instinctive behavior that keeps wild cavies alive. In the wild, cavies will freeze in the hope that predators will find it harder to spot them.

Our domestic friends often freeze when startled or are uncertain about something. Its more common for new and young guinea pigs as they are still trying to get used to their new environments.

Our guinea pigs frequently froze when we brought them home but after a few weeks they stopped. They rarely do it now unless they are surprised or their are young children in the house.

Scent marking

Guinea pigs show their dominance to other guinea pigs through scent marking. This involves rubbing their cheeks, chins and back end on items they have claimed as their own.

Urination can also be used to the same effect to show their dominance.

Mounting

It can rather alarming to see your guinea pigs mounting each other especially if they are the same sex. When we first saw this behavior, we were convinced the pet shop had given us piggies of the opposite sex.

In same sex guinea pigs, mounting is a way of exerting dominance among the group and is very common in females.

In opposite sex piggies, mounting is to initiate breeding behavior so ensure you are fully prepared for any new arrivals.

Strutting / rumble strutting

If you spot your guinea pig shifting its weight from side to side, wiggling its hips and making a low rumbling sound then its rumble strutting.

Rumble strutting is a sign of aggression and is common in groups of guinea pigs when dominance is being established. Its important to be observant during this behavior as your piggies may end up fighting.

To calm fighting guinea pigs, the safest and most effective way is to carefully place a blanket over the top of them. This calms them down and distracts them as they become more concerned over finding the way out.

If you have fighting guinea pigs then it may be necessary to separate them either for a short time or permanently.

Fidgeting and/or running away from being picked up

Fidgeting whilst being held is common in young and new piggies. It can be an indication that they are simply fed up or being held. It may also need they need to answer natures call.

If you find that your guinea pigs fidget frequently whilst being held, it could be a sign that you need to reduce the amount of laptime and then increase it slowly.

Running away from being held is a normal guinea pig instinct and should not be taken personally. Guinea pigs are prey animals and so have defense mechanisns in place, such as running away in order to keep them safe.

Slowly, over time your guinea pigs will no longer feel the need to run away from you and will welcome the chance to be held.

Guinea pig happiness : 10 ways to tell you have a happy guinea pig

There is no better feeling in the world than knowing you have a happy guinea pig. Its conformation that all the love, attention and care you show your guinea pig is paying off. I believe every guinea pig owner’s first priority is to strive to have a healthy and happy guinea pig.

If you’re a new guinea pig owner, it can feel very overwhelming in the beginning. Uncertainly creeps in and it can be tough working out what your guinea pigs signs and body language means.

That’s why we have put together the top ten signs that you have a happy guinea pig! Its important to remember that all guinea pigs are different and your guinea pig may not show the same signs as someone elses guinea pig. Your guinea pig doesn’t have to be showing ten out of ten of this checklist. One or two shows they are perfectly happy and healthy!

1. Popcorning

There is nothing more amazing than seeing your guinea pig literally jump for joy due to sheer happiness! Popcorning is the guinea pig dance move of happiness! It is when a guinea pig runs, jumps into the air and then does it again.

It is is normally more common in younger guinea pigs. Older piggies have still been known to perform the odd popcorn however it is less noticeable. The jumps are less high and the running is slower.

Guinea pigs have many reasons to popcorn – Their favorite hay, getting fed pellets and even socialising. We have found that if a guinea pig is in a cage that is too small then they are unable to popcorn. Happy guinea pigs require plenty of space in order to popcorn. Ours when they were younger popcorned in their cage. They are older now and popcorn when they are running free during indoor playtime.

2. Wheeking

The most common of guinea pig sounds! Its hard to miss this amazing sound. Happy guinea pigs will wheek at even the mere chance of food – plastic rustling, the fridge opening and even the sight of their favorite hay.

Did you know that wild cavies do not wheek in the wild? Our domestic piggies have created this special sound just for us humans. Its their way of gently encouraging us to feed them and often works. Its hard to resist a wheeking piggie! Ours often wheek as we walk up the stairs in the hope of a little treat. We feed our happy guinea pigs chunks of cucumber and the occasional strawberry as their treats.

3. Approching

The most frustrating thing when you first bring your guinea pig home is their frequent hiding. Its nothing personal they are just made that way! Being prey animals they are the natural instinct to hide when they sense danger or are unsure of their surroundings. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your little guinea pig emerging out of their hidey hole and exploring the world!

The next step from this is when during indoor playtime, they start coming over to you to explore. Our happy guinea pigs will even sit on our feet and play with our socks! You will find your guinea pig will approach you more and more as they gain confidence in their surroundings. Some guinea pigs will never fully approach you and will maintain a safe distance away. They may frequently run back to the nearest tunnel or shelter as well. That’s normal and natural behavior.

4. Signs of good health

A happy guinea pig is a healthy guinea pig! Happiness and healthiness go hand in hand for our little piggie friends. Ensuring your guinea pigs health is vital to a happy guinea pig. The best to perform a health check (Check out our guide to learn how) is during laptime.

The signs of a happy and healthy guinea pig are:

  • Energetic and not lethargic or limping.
  • Their normal appetite and enthusiasm for food.
  • Clear nose, dry eyes and the body free from sores / bumps
  • Lots of their usual vocal and physical signs.

If you think your guinea pig is unwell, then its best to consult a vet immediately.

5. Chilling out

A happy guinea pig can often be sign stretched out and lying down. We have special guinea pig fleece and our guinea pigs love to lay down on it. Chocolate often wraps herself up in it and has a little nap.

Guinea pigs can take a while to get to the “stretching out” point. They usually start with standing still and rather stiff. Next they move onto resting their head nearer to the ground. Finally comes the chill out! Our guinea pig orange isn’t a big fan of lying down but Chocolate adores it.

6.Licking

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A happy guinea pig likes to share the happiness in the form of some licking. Similaraly to a cat, happy guinea pigs will show their happiness by licking your hand.

There is some thought that this behavior is due to guinea pigs liking the salty taste of human skin but we like to think of the licks as kisses! Plus unhappy guinea pigs have not been known to lick their owners.

7.Purring

Another cat likeness. A happy guinea pig will purr whilst enjoying laptime! A purring guinea pig indicates they are relaxed, calm and comfortable.

Its useful to beware that there are two different types of purring sounds that guinea pigs make. A low and deep grumble is the happy purr. It will be obvious as your guinea pig will exhibit other types of happy behavior (such as a relaxed posture or lying down)

A high pitch purr indicates something is wrong.

8.A big burst of energy.

Have you ever noticed your guinea pig suddently run around a space as fast as possible? Yes this is the sign of a happy guinea pig. Similarily to hamsters, guinea pigs do get a build up of energy. Wheels are unsafe for guinea pigs and a happy guinea pig will delight in running around at high speed. Our guinea pigs have a whole room to themselves and often chase and play with each other during this energy burst.

9.The stretch and yawn.

This is fairly uncommon behavior. We thought for the longest time that yawning was associated with aggressive behavior. Luckily after a serious amount of research we learned that if the yawn is accompanied with a stretch then it means to opposite. Both our guinea pigs stretch and yawn during lap time. They are obviously happy guinea pigs and want to show us.

10.Chutting.

A fairly rare sound made by guinea pigs. The name reflects the sound that is made by your piggie. Chutting mainly occurs during laptime and is thought to be a behavior reserved for those under two years.

Our happy guinea pigs only chut when they are out of their cage and exploring their room.

What do guinea pig sounds mean?

When we purchased our first guinea pigs and brought them home, we remember being really surprised about all the different sounds they made. We tried for many months to try to learn their sounds and what they mean’t. There isn’t a lot of information around the different sounds that guinea pigs make and even what they mean.

Similarly to cats and dogs, the sounds that guinea pigs make provide an indication of how they are feeling and if there is an issue. Guinea pigs can communicate in many different and unique ways and it’s important to discover what they mean. This will help you react quickly if your guinea pig is hurt or feeling threatened.

Understanding the different sounds your guinea pig makes will also help you build a closer relationship with them. This ensures a closer bond and helps you both get the most out of your time together. When you have a Happy Guinea pig, they will often spend all their day making a variety of sounds such as purring, wheeking and chortling.

Wheeking

This is probably the most common of the guinea pig sounds! Every guinea pig owner has heard this when opening the fridge or opening their hay. Guinea pigs also use it when they are asking for attention so its important to get familiar with this sound.

We keep our guinea pigs in their own room upstairs and anytime someone goes upstairs, our little piggies wheek loudly asking for us to come and play with them. They also wheek when they wish to be let out of their cage and to enjoy some floor time.

The best way to describe wheeking is it is a high pitched sound that is often repeated and comes in short, sharp, fast bursts. This sound is used to express excitement and anticipation.

A fun fact about wheeking – Wild cavies do not wheek! Wheeking is directed exclusively to humans and never happens in the wild. Guinea pigs developed this new sound as a way to express to humans that they wish to be fed – clever piggies!

Click here to listen to what wheeking sounds like.

Purring

Purring isn’t just for cats! Guinea pigs have a few different types of purr depending upon the situation they are in. A deep purring sounds usually comes during laptime and means they are relaxed, calm and comfortable.

A guinea pigs happy purr is a low and deep grumble type of purr. It will be easy to tell it’s the happy purr as your piggie will appear content and relaxed.

If your guinea pig makes a higher pitched purr, similar to a cat then this is not a happy purr. In fact its their way of telling you they are annoyed. We have found our guinea pigs tend to make this sound if they are happy and relaxed and something (or someone!) startles them.

This annoyed purr will be shorter than the happy purr and will be presented in short bursts opposed to the happy continuous rumble.

Rumbling

Rumbling is best described as a low and more active purr. A rumbling guinea pig will often walk slowly towards other guinea pigs and appear to be swinging their hips from side to side.

Rumbling is a sign of dominance used typically towards other guinea pigs. It can also be used by male guinea pigs when courting females.

A rumbling guinea pig appears to almost vibrate whilst making this sounds. A low rumble whilst the guinea pig making the sounds is walking away, indicates that the piggie is showing passive resistance to the more dominant guinea pig.

Click here to listen to what rumbling sounds like.

Chutting

This noise is fairly rare among guinea pigs so do not feel offended if your guinea pig never chuts. Chutting sound a lot like purring although your piggie will make a distinctive “chut” sounds repeatedly.

Chutting occurs during stroking mainly, however our guinea pigs chut happily whilst they explore their room. We change their room up repeatedly and they “chut” their approval. Chocolate even chuts when we fill the hay rack with her favorite hay!

Shrieking

My least favorite guinea pig sound as this one means they are sensing imminent danger or are in pain. We are lucky that we have never heard this sound from any of our guinea pigs however its definitely one to be aware of.

If you have to take your guinea pig to the vet for the first time, its common to hear this sounds from them unfortunately. If you keep a large amount of guinea pigs you also may hear this sound which is signaling that their is trouble between them.

This sounds exactly how you would think – a loud high pitch shriek similar to a shout for help.

Teeth chattering

This sound often sounds like the quick succession of teeth grinding and is a fairly common sounds. Your guinea pig will make this sound when they are feeling unhappy or agitated.

Our guinea pigs make this sound if your too playful after their nap or if they have finished their laptime before you have.

Growling

Another noise that isn’t very common. This sounds is pretty self explanatory and your guinea pig will make it when they feel distressed or threatened.

This sound is particularly important when you introduce a new piggie into the mix.

Whining

This sound is an indication that your pet is distressed or in trouble. If your guinea pig makes this sounds continoulsly then its bet to seek medical attention from a vet.

Its important to remember that all guinea pigs are individuals and yours wont make all these noises. Enjoy and celebrate the sounds they make when they are happy.

Guinea pig lap time: The ultimate way to bond with your piggie

A natural part of having pets is wanting to bond and have special “together time” along with companionship. All pets enjoy this human interaction and guinea pigs are no exception! We’ve found that a great number of pet shops undersell the amount of attention and companionship that guinea pigs need. Lap time (or cuddle time!) should form part of your daily routine and is important for both you and your guinea pig friends.

The importance of lap time

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Bonding with your guinea pig is an important part of learning to care for them properly. From the moment you bring your guinea pig home, the bonding process begins and it is great for you as well as your guinea pig. The more time you spend with your guinea pigs, the more used to you they become. They may still run for cover when you go into the room or near the hutch since that’s part of their “run from predators” nature however they will be eating out of your hand (literally) the more time you spend with them.

A guinea pig that is handled frequently will be more tame, calm and relaxed in their day to day life. They will feel comfortable in their environment and will love exploring when it comes to indoor play! Guinea pigs are social and love the attention from humans as well as their own kind. The more you talk to them and the more that they have time on your lap the happier and more comfortable with you they will become.

We often get comments on how confident happy and calm our guinea pigs are and this didn’t happen through chance. The more time and love you put into caring for your guinea pigs, the more love you will get back.

Lap time is an important part of bonding as it gives you one on one time with them to just enjoy being with each other.  I often find myself just chatting away to our little piggies as they listen, Chocolate in particular will just lie down and listen to me whilst Orange climbs right up to my face!

Without lap time your guinea pig will stay scared of being picked up or held and will always run for cover when approached. They won’t respond to your voice and will always hide whenever you are near.

How to introduce lap time

If you have a new guinea pig, then you should start with our how to hold your guinea pig for the first time article. If you’ve had your guinea pigs a while and have tried and given up on lap time then its useful to refresh yourself on how to hold them. Its always best to start slowly when introducing lap time to guinea pigs, so don’t expect them to sit for hours and be happy with it.

We recommend always keeping a towel, thick blanket or a training pad used for puppies since guinea pigs have very small bladders and are known for leaking on their owners. The last thing you want during lap time is to be uncomfortable or wet as your guinea pig will feel like something is wrong and may become afraid. Ensure you have somewhere not too far away from their cage or hutch so you are not walking up and down stairs the first few times you get your guinea pigs used to lap time.

Set the area up before you bring your guinea pigs out, having their favorite tasty treat is also great to have as this will help your guinea pigs associate lap time with treats. We usually start with a maximum of five minutes for the first few attempts at lap time. Refrain from brushing your guinea pig during their first few outings and just stroke them gently, talking softly whilst they are munching!

If they start squeaking or trying to run for cover, calmly place them back inside their home. Try not to feel down heartened as it can take several weeks or months for some guinea pigs to get used to lap time.

Duration and frequency of lap time

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This is a question that we get asked quite frequently and the answer isn’t as straight forward as we’d like! The duration of your lap time should be based around your guinea pigs reactions to it along with their personality. Some guinea pigs are happy to sit on their owners knees for a good hour before wishing to head home whilst others never really take to it and are fairly relieved to go back after ten minutes.

The best indication is to take the lead from your guinea pig, if they become nibbly, biting at your clothes, trying to dig, wriggle or make a high pitch squeak then its fair to say its time to put them back inside! We would say a good duration of lap time would be between ten minutes to one hour, but do let your guinea pig decide. One day they may be happy to sit whilst other days they desperately want to go back inside their hidey hole.

Can I watch TV with my guinea pigs?

Another question we get asked a lot! Guinea pigs love sound due to their poor eyesight so there is no harm in your guinea pig watching TV with you as long as the program isn’t excessively noisy and contains sounds such as gun shots, loud music or drums. Obviously don’t sit too close to the TV and ensure your attention isn’t solely focused on your favorite show.

We would advise that young children do not hold guinea pigs whilst watching TV as they tend to become too distracted and may forget they are also caring for a guinea pig. With regards to frequency, We would advise that between once and twice a day is perfect for your guinea pig especially since they will also be enjoying indoor play time, again take the lead from your guinea pig.

Do guinea pigs enjoy lap time?

All guinea pigs are different and some guinea pigs love lap time, others will get used to it with time whilst a few hate it always and forever! There are several ways to make lap time more enjoyable for your guinea pig, ensuring you are calm and relaxed helps them learn there is nothing to fear, along with using the same blanket or fleece each time you hold them.

They will associate it with lap time. Feeding them vegetables can also help to settle an anxious piggie. Remember some piggies are more active during lap time then others as well!

What to do if your guinea pig doesn’t like lap time

Firstly its important to remember guinea pigs are not toys and so not all like to be cuddled! Patience is key along with using the tips above. Never force lap time. Starting slowly with just a two minute lap time and building up can work wonders as can combining lap time and indoor play.

This way you can let them run over your legs without you touching them. They will learn that your not so scary and you can slowly introduce stroking them. Do not force them into lap time though, if it causes them distress to have lap time, increase indoor play and spend your time sitting next to their cage and talking to them instead.

How to care for your guinea pigs claws

A guinea pigs claws grow constantly and they are unable to keep the nails short themselves. Wild cavies walk around on hard surfaces which is an excellent way to keep their claws short, however for  domestic guinea pigs it is unsafe for them to do this as it may result in injury.  Caring for your guinea pigs nails should form part of your daily routine as long nails can result in broken foot bones or Bumblefoot which is a bacterial infection of the foot. Long guinea pig nails can grow straight and others can grow curling up which can cause considerable discomfort to your guinea pig.

The nails of young guinea pigs grown sharp and pointed, but regular clipping can help to blunt their sharpness. A guinea pigs nails change as they age and older guinea pig nails are brittle and can grow more misshapen. Some people believe placing a stone inside the cage or sandpaper is a way of keeping the nails short but we have found these methods do not work and can result in injury to your little guinea pig friend.

What you will need

Not much equipment is required for clipping your guinea pigs. You should invest in some good quality round ended scissors like these that we use although there are some other good choices such as these nail clippers or these more open scissors.

Its also useful to have a towel and  fleece blanket to hand so you can place the towel on your knee to protect from scratch claws trying to run away. The fleece can be wrapped around the guinea pig for comfort and to try to suppress the struggling. Its also worth investing in some styptic powder as this will help stop the bleeding if you cut the nails down too far and into the quick.

How to cut your guinea pigs nails

  1. Set up your items listed above in a safe area. Its useful to cut your guinea pigs nails on top of a counter or on top of a table.
  2. Pick up your guinea pig and give them a fuss in order to reassure them.
  3. Wrap your guinea pig up in the fleece to help them feel safe and secure. Its a good idea to use the same fleece each time you trim their nails as it will help them get used to the whole process. This should lead to them feeling more and more comfortable each time. Ensure you don’t wrap your guinea pig up too tightly or cover their head. We usually leave their front paws sticking out at this stage as they are the ones we clip first.
  4. Give your guinea pig a treat and get them to sit comfortably either on your lap or on top of the table or counter top, ensuring they are safe and unable to fall off. Make sure all other food is out of sight (and smell) range as otherwise your guinea pig will be restless trying to get to the food that is nearby. Give your guinea pigs lots of attention and fuss.
  5. Take a gentle but firm hold of your guinea pigs front leg – Don’t be surprised if your guinea pig wriggles it free and tucks it back in! It take practice and patience to get adapt at cutting your guinea pigs nails. If your guinea pig becomes distressed simply release the leg your holding and give your guinea pig reassurance. You can stop and start this process as many times as your guinea pig needs in order to feel comfortable.
  6. Once you’ve managed to hold onto your guinea pigs leg, steady the nail between your thumb and index finger as this ensures you have a good grip. Try not to squeeze or hold to tightly as this will cause your guinea pig harm. We prefer to chose the nail at the end of the foot and then work our way inside so its easy to keep track of which one we are up to.
  7. Pick up your nail trimmers of choice and identify the nail. This is easier to do on pale nailed guinea pigs opposed to darker ones. A guinea pigs nails are made up of a quick and the actual nail so its a challenge not to trim the quick. The quick is a blood vessel that runs up the nail but not right to the very end which is why its advisable to trim just the tip off. The more you trim your guinea pigs nails the more you will be able to judge the appropriate amount to trim.
  8. Carry on cutting the rest of your guinea pigs nails if they are happy. If they are uncomfortable and desperately trying to get away then give them a treat and stop there. Never try to force your guinea pig to “hold still” as this will cause your guinea pig harm and distress.

What to do if you cut the quick.

The hardest thing about trimming your guinea pigs nails is surprisingly not the actual act of cutting the nail. Guinea pigs hardly ever sit still during nail trimming time and its hard to judge where the quick is. For light clawed guinea pigs it should be fairly easy to see the blood under each nail thus making it easy to avoid.

For darker clawed guinea pigs you can shine a light underneath the nail in order to see the blood vessel and avoid it. Of course accidents happen and whilst it feels terrible to make your guinea pig bleed, it wont cause any lasting damage to your guinea pig. If you do cut the quick just use the styptic powder to stop the bleeding and comfort your piggie. If the bleeding continues then simply apply a little pressure for one to two minutes and it should stop the bleeding. If it still bleeds after this then consult your vet.

How often should you trim your guinea pigs nails

Aim for fortnightly to once a month to trim the guinea pigs nails. When you trim the nails regularly, you prevent the quick from growing too far up the nails which results in less chance that you will cut it by accident.

What to do if your guinea pig hates having its nails trimmed

There are two solutions here, the first is to practice getting your guinea pig used to it. This involves going through the routine as above for cutting the nails but without actually cut the nails. This routine gets your guinea pig used to having its paws and claws handled. Ensure you give lots of praise, petting and treats during these practice sessions. Then gradually introduce trimming the nails.

Start with just trimming one and then stopping. Gradually build up to two nails each time and eventually your guinea pig should be comfortable with having its nails trimmed. Alternatively, you can take your guinea pig elsewhere to get their nails trimmed. Check with your local vets if they offer that service and some pet shops with grooming sections also offer nail cutting services for a fee.

How to care for sharp opposed to long nails

If your guinea pigs nails are just sharp or if they are sharp whilst waiting for their monthly trim at the vets then using a simple nail file is perfect. There are no special nail files for guinea pigs but we prefer to use these ones as they are small enough to sneak a quick file in whilst our piggies are having their lap time treats.

The most important thing to remember is if your not confident trimming your guinea pigs nails or they really seem to hate it, then consult your vet on where to take them to have it performed by a professional.

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Holding your guinea pig for the first time

Once your guinea pigs have completely settled in then its time to hold them! It can be quite daunting holding a guinea pig for the first time especially if this is the first time you’ve ever had guinea pigs or even if its your first pet in general. This article is designed to show you how to handle your guinea pigs for the firs time:

Let them get used to you.

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Its important you let your new guinea pigs get used to their new home along with getting used to you. You should have spent their first few days up to a week giving them space and not trying to stroke or touch them. Its an important part of helping them settle in to leave them alone. You can help them get used to you during this stage by offering them tasty treats such as carrots through the bars of their cage or hutch. You should also be talking in a soft and quite voice to your guinea pigs. This helps them get used to you and the sound of your voice. This initial phase can be frustrating and scary as you desperately want to hold your new friends plus you worry that they don’t like you as they spend all their time hiding and running for cover. Keep checking that they are eating, drinking and are making droppings to ensure they are healthy.

Building confidence and trust

Its really important to build your new piggies confidence and help them learn to trust you. Talking to them regularly and offering them treats is a really big part of this. Providing them with a cage or hutch that is big enough, along with providing places to hide, also aids to build up confidence and trust. Don’t be tempted to remove their hide outs thinking that it will force them to be confident – this has the opposite affect and can cause your guinea pigs to become very timid.

The best way to build trust with your guinea pig is through offering treats and food. We have a wonderful article on building trust with your new piggies.

Preparing to hold

A little preparation goes a long way when it comes to picking up your guinea pigs. All you really want to do is pick them up, give them a  stroke and a cuddle before putting them back in their cage. However, a great deal of care is required in order to avoid causing injury to your pet through holding them too hard or by accidentally dropping them. This is especially important when young children are handling guinea pigs for the first time. Guinea pigs have very delicate bones and squeezing them or dropping them from a great height can cause serious injuries such as broken bones, bruising, internal damage or even death. Mishandling them can also cause them to become frightened, vulnerable and nervous around you. Once you have learned how to handle your guinea pigs properly, it is a skill that you will use every time you handle your guinea pigs and will help them feel safe and secure. This will create an unbreakable bond between the two of you and you will be best friends in no time!

Its important to remember that guinea pigs will always wriggle, jump and try to run away every time you go to handle them as its part of their nature but once you learn to handle them correctly you will be able to catch even the wiggliest piggies safely and calmly.

Before removing your guinea pig from its home ensure all other animals are safely locked out of the room and ensure you have a blanket or towel ready to place on your knee as guinea pigs often pass droppings or urine on their owners.

Remember that all guinea pigs are different – some will like being held, other will get used to it and others will never really take to it. It all depends on your guinea pigs personality.

How to approach your guinea pig

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Never approach a guinea pig from above since it will startle and scare them. This is because they have their eyes on either side of their face which is great for spotting potential predators from far away but not so great for things right in front of their face.

Firstly, get down on all fours in front of the guinea pig cage slowly, refraining from any sharp sudden movements. Ensure you get down to their level on the ground and sit comfortably in front of their house. Slowly put your hand inside the cage or hutch without attempting to place it over your guinea pigs. Allow you hand to stay still for a moment so they can get used to something different being inside their new home. Inquisitive piggies will start popping their heads of their hide outs to see what this new things is and the more confident piggie will even wander over to it to give it an investigative sniff. If they do this, let them do this for a minute or two (which is why its important to be sat comfortably.) If your piggies are still hiding out, then allow your hand to stay still for a few minutes before slowly moving it across the cage and then allow it to be still again – not many piggies can resist the urge to investigate.

This may seem somewhat dull but its all part of the bonding experience as they are getting used to your scent and linking it up with the sound of your voice. They will eventually associate your scent and voice with the lovely relaxing cuddles you will soon be having. It will also assist when you are picking them up in the future.

This starting point is all about creating a positive experience for your guinea pig so take your time, don’t rush and refrain from rushing your guinea pig by trying to grab hold of them. Never pick a guinea pig up from behind or above as this will alarm and startle them.

How to pick up your guinea pig

After your guinea pig has investigated your hand you can begin following the steps to picking them up:

  1. Carefully put your hand under their stomach whilst supporting their back legs with your other hand (see picture). Always carry them against your chest to stop them struggling and falling. It is essential that your guinea pig feels comfortable and supported during this stage so hold them securely but refrain from squeezing or holding too tightly. Remember that a guinea pigs insides are small and delicate and you don’t wish to cause any injuries.
via RSPCA
  • If you are carrying your guinea pig then you should hold them close to your body with one hand under their bottom and the other carefully on their back. Being close to your chest allows them to share in the warmth of your body and helps them feel reassured. Its also a great way to sneak a cuddle or two in! The first few times that you do this your guinea pig will struggle and try to run or wriggle away. This is perfectly normal especially if your guinea pig is from a pet shop as it is likely to have never been held before. The more frequently you pick up and handle your guinea pig the quicker they will get used to it.
  • Lap time should be conducted sitting down comfortably. Hold the guinea pig close to your chest but this time with them in a horizontal position still keeping one hand underneath its bottom whilst the other hand is free to stroke and comfort your piggie. This is a great time to feed your guinea pig a delicious healthy treat. Ensure you constantly talk to your guinea pig in a calm and quiet voice as to reassure them.
  • If you are passing your guinea pig to a young child ensure that you retrieve the guinea pig from its cage the first few times (depending on the child’s age) and they are already seated. The you can show the child how to place their hands and pass the guinea pig slowly and calmly over to them.
  • Placing them back in their cage

    Placing your guinea pig back in their cage after lap time is just as important as getting them out. Don’t be tempted to just drop them back inside their cage. This still forms part of the bonding process between the two of you. Still holding your guinea pig with one hand under its bottom allow it to either walk back into its cage or lower it down slowly, ensuring that it is their bottom that is going into the cage first. This prevents a hurried scuttle away that could result in an injured piggie.

    Hints and tips

    • Remember to be calm and slow moving when you are picking up your guinea pigs. If you are nervous or anxious they will be able to tell and it will likely make them harder to hold.
    • Never squeeze or have too tight a grip on your guinea pig as this will cause them injury, pain and distress.
    • Remember it take practice and patience when handling a new guinea pig
    • Always wash your hands before and after handling any pet as well as your guinea pig
    happy-guinea-pig

    Know your guinea pig head to tail!

    Bringing home a new pet can be exciting and scary at the same time! We’ve all been there. I remember bring home our little piggy bundles and just watching them in their new home hoping they would be ok. One of the best places to start, be it before or after bringing your guinea pigs home is getting to know them from head to tail!

    Our guinea pig friends have been kept as companions in household since the 16th Century when they were introduced by European traders.

    Brain

    Although domestic guinea pigs have a reduced brain size then their wild relatives, they are still just as smart if not smarter! A study in the journal of Animal Cognition suggests that although they do have a reduction in brain size over their bolder and more aggressive wild cousins they may actually be quicker learners! In the study, three tests were carried out to see the differences between the domesticated guinea pig and the wild cavies.

    Boldness and aggression.

    A wild cavy via zoochat.com

    In the boldness test, Guinea pigs and wild cavies were observed whilst approaching an unfamiliar guinea pig and a strange object in the form of a yellow rubber duck. Cavies were quicker to approach the duck and adopted aggressive behaviours such as teeth chattering and curved body language when approaching the unfamiliar guinea pig. Whilst the guinea pigs were more timid and took longer to approach. In this case the wild cavies were deemed more bold and aggressive.

    Learning

    This test is when the guinea pigs excelled over their wild counterparts. Cucumber was placed inside plastic containters and the challenge was to see who figured it out the guinea pigs or cavies. The domesticated guinea pigs grasped this concept and figured out how to get the cumber much quicker than the wild cavies. Usually domestication of pets produces less intelligent animals and they experience cognitive decline, broadly speaking.

    Furthermore, the average guinea pig can learn complex maze tasks using symbols as sign posts. They also have an excellent memory and can remember the times at which certain things happen such as feeding and cleaning out of cages! If your memory isn’t as good at feeding times as your guinea pig’s then try an automatic feeder! 

    You can also feed their skill for learning by creating a maze out of a vairety of carboard tubes or buy plastic tubes which are more hard wearing like this one that we use for our little piggies.

    Eyes

    One of our guinea pigs!

    Guinea pigs are able to see predators coming at them from all directions thanks to their large eyes being on the sides of their heads. This also unfortunately means they cant see what is right in front of them which is often why they startle relatively easily. A normal guinea pigs eyes are both the same size,clear, bright and should protrude slightly. Guinea pigs usually keep their eyes open all the time even when sleeping! Only a small few close their eyes fully when they sleep.

    An experiment was carried out by Horst Bielfeld in his book Guinea Pigs — A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual where he uses coloured food bowls to distinguish whether a guinea pig could see colours and it concluded that they can.

    Additionally you will notice a milky liquid coming from your guinea pigs eyes. This is completely normal and is used to wash the face. Your guinea pig will leave this liquid to build up and then will use it to clean their face using their front paws several times a day.

    Ears

    Guinea pigs have excellent hearing to help them identify predators before they come into view. There ears are soft and folded over to protect the delicate tissue inside. They are prone to different types of ear aliments and the jury is still out over whether the owner should clean their ears for them as part of the grooming routine. We have never cleaned our guinea pigs ears and I regularly check them as part of their grooming routine and none of ours have ever suffered with ear conditions. If your unsure then speak to your local vets. The usual ear cleaning kit of water and cotton buds is also useful to have in on standby just incase they develop any ear aliments.

    Its normal for the outer ear to sustain a little damage such as a slight rip or tear as unfortunately the hierarchy battle is ongoing for piggies. As long as they aren’t huge rips or infected / swollen / bleeding then its best to just monitor the situation.

    Nose

    A guinea pigs sense of smell is highly developed and is likened to in between a human and a dog. They are able to recognise companions and owners through scent. A guinea pigs nose is small and should be clean and dry. Guinea pigs sneeze frequently throughout the day but anything excessive is a cause for concern. Guinea pigs expel air from their nose and it creates a high pitched sound but is unmistakably a sneeze. Guinea pigs that begin to sneeze constantly may also just be allergic to their bedding. If you think this may be the case then slowly start to swap out each type of bedding you use to discover which one was creating the allergy. We have always used Timothy Hay without having any problems plus its great for wearing down teeth!

    Legs

    Guinea pig legs aren’t very strong and can break really easily. They also cant jump very high so don’t let them fall or jump from any height. Even though your piggy has little legs, they will do a fair bit of standing up on two feet to get a better view of outside their cage or even just to see whats happening. Ours are always standing on two legs when they know they are about to get fed! This stance also helps to lift them up so they can give their excellent sense of smell a chance to help discover whats going on. If your lucky you may also spot your little piggy running. jumping in the air and landing on all fours – they they will do it again. This amazing dance is called “popcorning” and shows that your piggy is perfectly content. This is more common in younger piggies so enjoy it whilst you can!

    Feet and Claws

    Most guinea pigs are born with four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. A guinea pigs claws grow constantly and in the wild this helps them climb the mountainsides and walk on hard or difficult ground. Guinea pigs kept as pets require their claws to be clipped regularly and you can do this by either taking them to a grooming center or buy purchasing some specially designed nail clippers. A young guinea pigs claws start out short, sharp and pointy and as the guinea pig ages they become thicker, more brittle and unfortunately grow for irregularly. This is why its important to decide on how your guinea pigs claws will be trimmed (either by you or a professional) and then stick to that routine.

    A guinea pigs feet are soft on the underside and should be regularly examined as part of your grooming routine. Due to the soft underside of their feet, guinea pigs should be kept on a soft surface especially since they have no fur on the under sole of them either. Guinea pigs feet are prone to a condition called bumblefoot which is a bacterial infection of the feet. It is common in other rodents and even birds. Its is more likely to occur in domesticated animals due to housing conditions. They are caused due to poor living conditions such as not changing the bedding regularly or being kept in damp living conditions.There are several ways to prevent bunmblefoot such as by using specially designed guinea pig disinfectant when cleaning out the cage along with using good quality hay and bedding.

    Whilst there is a lot of information here and it may seem overwhelming, caring for your guinea pigs becomes part of your daily routine and you get the best reward – a loving, kind and affectionate pet.

    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.