As guinea pigs are naturally timid animals many can take months or even years before they get comfortable with their new home and family. Though every guinea pig is different and each will settle in their own time, there are many ways to approach introducing a new guinea pig to your family that can make the process easier for everybody.
Why Is My Guinea Pig So Scared?
It’s normal for guinea pigs to want to scurry away and hide when they get scared, even the most well-adjusted guinea pig can be easily spooked. Guinea pigs are small, relatively weak prey animals whose natural instincts tell them to run away when they sense that they may be in danger.
- Give Your Guinea Pig Time To Adjust: It’s important that when bringing a guinea pig into your home for the first time that you give them some time and space to adjust to their new surroundings. Make sure your guinea pig is housed in a secure environment in a space with frequent foot traffic so they can get used to the everyday noises and smells of your house. It’s best to avoid holding or picking up your guinea pig while they are settling in as they still may be very scared. Observe them from outside their cage, attempt to hand feed or even pet their heads but be sure to give them space for their first week or two to adjust to their new forever home.
- Partner in Crime: Guinea pigs are social animals and benefit greatly from the companionship of other guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are also more comfortable when housed in pairs or groups, as they have a friend to experience life with. The addition of another guinea pig can also increase your pets well being as they offer both mental stimulation and companionship. If you are considering getting another guinea pig for your solo pig, it’s important that you choose a guinea pig of the same sex to prevent unwanted pregnancies and health risks. Two females or two bonded males are great introduction pairs to the guinea pig world.
- Bonding with Food: Much like many other animals, food is the key to a guinea pigs heart. Having a scheduled feeding time as well as hand feeding your guinea pig through its cage is another great way to build a bond with your guinea pig. Guinea pigs will feel much more secure if they know when to expect things (like dinner and breakfast) and will be much more fond of your hand poking around in their cage if they associate it with food. Take pieces of lettuce or grass and feed your guinea pig through it’s cage sides, you can even try to pet your guinea pigs head or chin as they eat but don’t chase them with your hands if they run. Guinea pig friendly treats like these Oxbow ones are also great for training and bonding.
- Lap Time: After about a week or so and your guinea pig has settled into it’s new home you can begin bringing it out to explore. One of the best ways to bond with your guinea pig is simply showing them that they can trust you. Place a small towel or lap pad on your lap and put your guinea pig on top. Hand feed them small amounts of grass or lettuce while they sit on your lap. When they have settled, you can begin gently patting them. Start at their heads and gently stroke down to about half way down their backs, they do not like their behinds being touched. Guinea pigs especially like being pet behind their ears and under their chins. You might hear your guinea pig ‘purr’ when you pat them or as they eat, this is a good sound and means they are content. If you find your guinea pig is still too scared to sit on your lap, you can try holding them in a folded towel or cuddle sack instead. Guinea pigs feel secure in small, cosy dark places so if you find yours is being too skittish, try placing them in a cuddle sack.
- Cool & Quiet: Ensure the space around your guinea pig is quiet, away from sound systems or noisy appliances like washing machines. Guinea pigs have a great sense of hearing and being the timid creatures they are, can be easily spooked by loud noises. The temperature of your guinea pigs environment is also important in ensuring the overall health and well being of your pet. A consistent temperature of 18 to 24 degrees C or 65 to 75 degrees F is ideal for your guinea pig.
- Speak To Them: It’s encouraged that you speak to your guinea pig, not only so they become familiar to your voice but also so as they become responsive to it. Though guinea pigs visions aren’t the best, their sense of smell and hearing is much better. By recognizing your voice your guinea pig will feel more secure when you speak and may even respond to to certain words (like dinner) or commands.
- Floor Time: Giving your guinea pigs designated ‘floor time’ is of major importance in your guinea pigs schedule. Each day, put aside some time to set up a pen in a safe spot with some hideys, food and watch your guinea pig play and explore! Floor time is a much needed part of your guinea pigs schedule as it allows for exercise, mental stimulation and bonding.
- Keep a Schedule: Guinea pigs like a consistent routine and will remind you when you get off track. Having consistent feeding, playing and grooming times will allow your guinea pig to feel more comfortable in it’s new environment. At the very least, aim to feed your guinea pigs at the same time each day!
- No Hands In The Cage: Avoid chasing your guinea pig with your hands, cornering them or grabbing them. Unless your guinea pig is in serious danger you shouldn’t remove a hiding guinea pig – you’ll only make them more afraid. Instead of chasing, try coaching your guinea pig out of hiding with a few sprigs of parsley or wait for them to walk into a cuddle sack or hidey house and remove both the cuddle sack and your guinea pig.
Again, each guinea pig is different. It may take some guinea pigs a few weeks before they adjust to their family, others years, others may feel at home right away. You may also have consider the mistreatment and neglect that some guinea pigs in pet shops and rescues have faced. A guinea pig with a history of abuse is more likely to take far longer before they feel comfortable around humans. If you are patient with your guinea pig and show them love then they will show you love in return.