If you’re new to cavy ownership, and wondering how long does it take to tame a guinea pig, then we’ll answer all your questions in this article. Including ‘do guinea pigs like to be held?’ and ‘how do guinea pigs show affection?’
Guinea pigs are social and curious little animals. Which means they are naturally primed to respond well to taming efforts. A confident guinea pig which has been handled gently from a young age can often be tamed by a new owner in a matter of weeks. Nervous pigs, or ones with a history of being mishandled, may need longer.
How to tame a guinea pig
Taming guinea pigs should be a fun and rewarding part of the whole cavy-owning experience. Progressing from strangers to best buddies is an incredibly satisfying part of bonding with any pet. But if you’ve never done it before, then it’s understandable if you’re not sure where to begin. And you’re likely to have lots of questions about what’s normal. In this article we’ll cover:
- How to bond with your guinea pig
- How to get your guinea pig to trust you
- Taming baby guinea pigs
- How to get your guinea pig used to being handled
- Taming guinea pigs tips
- How do guinea pigs show affection?
Forging a bond – how to make guinea pigs like you
So, you’ve got your new guinea pig, and now they’re sitting all of a quiver in their new hutch, wondering what on Earth just happened to them and where they’ve landed. Luckily the first stage in building a relationship with them is easy and you’ll start it right away. Because guinea pigs love to eat, and you’re their new food provider!
A nutritious guinea pig diet consists of:
- Store-bought guinea pig pellets
- And a variety of fresh produce
And they will nibble away at that menu almost continuously! In fact, their digestive system is adapted to always be in motion. It should never stop at all! So they’re constantly on the lookout for the next food to graze on, and you’ll soon discover that their mouth always has food in it. Associating you with food transforms you into a positive presence in their life, and someone they will look forward to seeing every day. So even if you never cuddle them in their life, you can be sure your guinea pig will come to greet you with noisy wheeks of impatient anticipation whenever you approach them with a bowl of veggies.
How to get your guinea pig to trust you
Done correctly, building a relationship with a guinea pig is not just rewarding for us, it makes their life richer and more satisfying too. Wild guinea pigs live in social groups, and it’s generally agreed by veterinarians and animal researchers that they enjoy being handled by people they trust. Handling has other benefits too. Brushing and nail clipping is easier on a guinea pig who likes to be held, and we’re more likely to notice signs of illness promptly if we handle our pets frequently.
To establish their trust, we need to prove that we’re a friendly member of their social group, and not a threat. That might seem obvious to us, but guinea pigs are a prey species, so their survival instincts tell them not to automatically trust anything bigger than them. Here’s how to get your guinea pig used to you:
- Arrange the surroundings so you can comfortably sit with an arm inside their hutch for a couple of minutes. You don’t want to get uncomfortable and end up fidgeting, so a small stool to sit on might help.
- Approach slowly and softly.
- Put some treats in the palm of your hand, then slowly reach your hand into the hutch and sit still with your palm up on the hutch floor for a few minutes. Don’t worry if they don’t take the food on the first few occasions.
- Repeat for short periods, several times a day, for several days.
- Once they’re used to your hand, try gently scratching under their chin, behind their ears, and on top of head after they’ve taken the food.
- Don’t force them into contact – let them retreat whenever they want to.
How to train a guinea pig to be held
Before your guinea pig is ready to be held, you can move them around by ushering them gently into a wide tube, and covering both ends with your hands. They’re unlikely to bite hard if you try to pick them up directly, but they may attempt to nip you, especially if they’re young. They might also wriggle a lot, which makes it more likely you’ll accidentally drop them.
Once your cavy is happily taking treats from you and letting you pet them, try picking them up, following these simple rules:
- Approach them sideways rather than swooping down from above.
- Scooping up with one hand under their butt, and the other hand behind their front legs.
- If they try to get away, don’t chase them around – try again another day.
- Once they’re off the ground, support them as fully as possible, by holding them against your body.
- Once you’re in position, allow them a few moments to settle.
- Don’t worry if they make a noise – vocalising whilst being handle is quite normal, and a guinea pig who remains quiet might actually be sick.
Don’t rush to get to the end of this process. Take your time and let your guinea pig set the pace. It could take several weeks with a rescued older guinea pig, but it is likely to be quicker with babies.
How to tame a baby guinea pig
If you’re taming a baby guinea pig bought directly from a breeder, hopefully they have already been handled carefully on a daily basis, and are very familiar with it. With a little luck, they are already used to being held by men, women, and children, and encountered all the usual household sights and sounds, like televisions, washing machines, and the sound of traffic outdoors. A baby guinea pig with a head start like this is likely to be quite quick and easy to tame in their forever home. Don’t forget that you’re still a stranger to them at first though, so you’ll need to start at the beginning and build up their trust in stages.
Top tips for taming a scared guinea pig
If your guinea pig taming isn’t progressing as quickly as you’d like, be patient and take heart – you will get there eventually. Here are some tips for making headway:
- Go slow. Rushing to tame a guinea pig will only stress them out and set you back.
- Keep low. The lower you are, the less predatory you appear. Sit next to them on the floor if you can!
- Create hiding places. A guinea pig with nowhere to hide instantly goes into high alert. It’s much harder to tame them while they’re stressed, so make sure they have bed boxes and tunnels to hide in.
- Try out different treats. Some guinea pigs go wild for dandelion leaves, and others are loyal to whoever brings them celery. Experiment from this list of safe guinea pig snacks, and find out what treats win over your cavy.
- Toys. Turn treats into a game by hiding them in paper bags of hay. Or look for suitable toys in the guinea pig aisle at the pet store.
How do guinea pigs show affection?
A dead give away that a guinea pig likes you is when they rush to come and see you, and approach your hand when you put it in the hutch. Listen for chuttering or clucking sounds too. These cute little noises, made either singly or in pairs, are the sounds a guinea pig makes to let their social group know where they are and what they’re up to, when they’re happily going about their business in a carefree fashion. A guinea pig making these sounds around you is very at ease in your company!
How long does it take to tame a guinea pig – summary
So now you know how to tame your guinea pig as quickly as possible. There’s no fixed timeframe for making a guinea pig like you. Confident individuals who have been treated kindly and handled gently by their breeder or previous owners will become tame with a new owner in a matter of weeks. But nervous individuals may take longer, or never really relax at all. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy owning them though. It’s still satisfying to construct a suitable home for them, and watch them enjoy the sanctuary you have provided from the things that worry them.
Once your guinea pig is tame, let us know how long it took to get there in the comments box down below, and what tips you’d share with new owners just starting their guinea pig taming journey!
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Bradley. Normal Behavior and the Clinical Implications of Abnormal Behavior in Guinea Pigs. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. 2001.
Donnelly & Brown. Guinea pig and chinchilla care and husbandry. Veterinary Clinics Exotic Animal Practice. 2004.
Gut et al. The effect of human interaction on guinea pig behavior in animal-assisted therapy. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 2018.
Richardson. Care of guinea pigs. Veterinary Nursing Journal. 2011.
Tynes. Behavior of Exotic Pets. John Wiley & Sons. 2010.