Guinea pigs are one of the most popular small pets, loved by children and adults alike. With their stocky bodies, and willingness to vocalise at feeding time they project an image of cuteness. That is, of course, until you try to handle them…
Guinea pigs can be surprisingly fleet-footed when you’re trying to catch them, and frustratingly fidgety when they are being held. More than a few owners have virtually given up trying to handle their pet as a result, but this is a shame. What follows are some proven tips to make handling your guinea pig safer and more enjoyable for everyone (including your pet)…
Getting Your Guinea Pig Used to Handling
Guinea pigs are natural prey animals, so it makes sense that they are easily-spooked. In their native Peru, a guinea pig that takes flight sooner rather than later is likely to be the guinea pig that survives. In captivity, however, this same attitude can make catching your guinea pig a regular frustration.
The first key to getting your guinea pig used to handling is patience. Not only will it take time for your pet to feel safe around people, but any sudden movements on your part can rapidly undo all your hard work.
Before you even try to lift your guinea pig up, therefore, it is wise to spend quality time with your pet. Start off just sitting near the cage, talking in a calming voice to your pet. Let them get used to having you around, so that they learn you are no threat. This needs to be a regular, repeated process. Spend just a few minutes with your guinea pig at first, slowly increasing the period of time you spend together over some weeks.
Once you can gently approach the cage without spooking your guinea pig, and they feel confident enough to walk around the cage in your presence, rather than trembling in their house, the next step is to try gently feeding your pet through the bars. Move slowly and deliberately, offering a favourite tidbit.
Don’t expect much interest at first; it can take several attempts and plenty of time before your guinea pig approaches. Longer still until they happily tuck into your offering without worry.
Once this has been achieved the next stage involves opening the cage door, and following the same method of gentle talk, treats and slow movement. Everything should be designed to keep your guinea pig as calm as is possible. Only under such conditions will your pet grow in confidence.
Once you can approach and open the cage, then reach in, and have your pet eat from your fingers you can gently try to initiate contact. Just a gentle stroke on their side to begin with. Then longer strokes. Eventually you should be able to reach around your pet and gently lift them out of the cage.
General Guinea Pig Handling Rules
For such a flighty animal the process of being able to gently lift up your guinea pig rather than endlessly chasing them around the cage can take weeks or even longer. Be patient and gentle and it will happen in the end. However once this point has been reached things get far more enjoyable. You can lift your pet out of the cage and enjoy “hands-on” time with him or her.
Before we discuss the process of lifting and handling your guinea pig, however, it does perhaps pay to consider some general advice on handling guinea pigs. First and foremost, aim to get your guinea pig used to anything new in very small chunks of time. The first time you pick up your guinea pig, for example, it will feel very alien to your pet. Hold them for just a few seconds, then place them back into the cage. This time can be slowly increased over the weeks until a reasonable handling period has been reached.
Secondly, always consider the health of your guinea pig. Smaller children, for example, should be carefully monitored at all times to ensure the guinea pig is not under any distress, and that the correct routine is being maintained.
Even adults, however, should take care. As guinea pigs are easily spooked, they may try to leap from your arms at any time if surprised. A guinea pig falling from a height may not end well. It therefore makes sense to (a) remain continually vigilant when handling your pet to reduce the risk of a “leap of faith”, and (b) to hold your pet close to a soft surface. In this way, should your guinea pig jump, it will have less distance to fall, and a softer surface to land on.
Note that baby guinea pigs seem to be particularly suicidal and will leap almost without warning. Fortunately, as guinea pigs age they tend to calm down a little, making handling easier. This does mean, however, that larger guinea pigs can make better pets for children as they are less prone to sudden escape attempts.
How to Lift Up Your Guinea Pig
It is very important to lift your guinea pig up correctly. Doing so reduces the chances of your pet getting hurt, either because they are squeezed too tightly, or have the ability to jump out of your hands.
Guinea pigs should ideally have their entire body supported when being lifted (to avoid pressure on the spine), and should be gently but firmly restrained with both hands. Slipping one hand underneath the guinea pig, to support the whole body, while using the other ontop of the rodent to keep it restrained tends to work well.
How to Hold a Guinea Pig
Holding a guinea pig safely is rather similar to the lifting process; thought should be given to both support and restraint. It is important to remain in control at all times to prevent jumping. Guinea pigs are less athletic than many smaller pet rodents like rats or gerbils, so allowing them to climb onto your shoulder etc. is generally best avoided. All too often a guinea pig will fall after such an ambitious climb.
Guinea pigs are normally best held when resting on one of your fore-arms. Many guinea pigs seem to feel safe when resting in the crook of your elbow, on your folded arm. The other hand can then be used to gently stroke the guinea pig or, if necessary, to restrain it. Aim to jeep calm at all times and talk gently to your pet. If you have followed the guidance above then your pet should be used to your voice, and should associate it with calmness and safety.