Your new guinea pig has been through a lot of changes in the time before becoming your pet. He will have likely been separated from his mother and siblings, moved from the breeder to the pet store or from his previous home to a shelter, with all sorts of new sounds and smells, and then from wherever you get him from, to his new home. All of this can take place within a matter of a few days or weeks. Imagine how you would feel moving house twice in that time.
Guinea pigs are prey animals in the wild. This means that they have ingrained instincts that would help to keep them alive in the wild. Guinea pigs are hunted by birds such as owls and hawks mainly. This is something important to remember in the taming process.
Before you bring your guinea pig home, you should have his cage all ready for him with food, a water bottle, and a house/hiding area of some type. You can also include a litter box or potty filled with some sort of small animal bedding or hay, do not use cat litter as it can cause a blockage. As guinea pigs are social creatures and do best in pairs or groups, it is a good idea to invest in a second water bottle, food dishes, and a couple of different hiding/nesting areas in order to keep the peace and ensure that everybody is able to get to the water.
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When you first bring your guinea pig home take him directly to his new cage. For the first 24-48 hours, leave your new pet to get used to his new home without trying to pick him up. You can quietly talk to him through the cage to get him used to the sound of your voice and also to let him know he’s not by himself. After a day or two of talking to him, offer him a treat or some of his hay from your hand within the cage. If he lets you, then you can gently pet his back.
Guinea pigs do tend to run off when you try to touch them, even once tame. It is important not to bring your hand in from above him, put your hand on the floor of the cage and let him come to you. Keep your hand as low as possible, remembering that the main predator of guinea pigs are birds. Movement above will frighten an already nervous pet, and to an animal with fairly poor eyesight, your hand coming in from above them can look much like a bird’s claw.
Approaching lower, along with letting the guinea pig come to you, will reduce the likelihood of being bitten. Guinea pigs will only bite if afraid or hurt/sick. If your guinea pig does bite, try your best not to jerk your hand away suddenly. Yes, it will hurt a little, but jerking your hand away will only scare him more. If he bites or seems overly nervous, then stop what you are doing, leave him alone for a while and try again later. Use your voice to calm him without touching him.
Once he is comfortable being petted and having your hand in his cage, you can try slowly lifting him. Gently scoop him up from underneath with one hand on his back. Either sit on the floor or on something soft like a bed so that he doesn’t get hurt if he jumps. Guinea pigs are afraid of heights, so keeping them down low will keep them from frightening them. Offer him treats or food from his mix by hand.
A few key points to remember when taming guinea pigs:
- Wash your hands with a mild, scent-free soap before handling or petting your guinea pig. If he smells food, he may bite, thinking you are a treat.
- Do not try picking your guinea pig up from above. Your hand resembles a claw to an animal whose primary hunters are birds.
- Talk to your guinea pig often. Your voice can be calming, and he’ll learn to recognize it.
- Let your guinea pig determine the speed of taming; some are more nervous than others.
By going slowly and being gentle and reassuring, you will soon have a friendly pet who can’t wait to play with you.
Toys and Entertainment for Guinea Pigs
Guinea Pigs live most of their lives in a cage. In the wild, they would spend hours upon hours foraging for food and running miles. In order to keep them from getting bored and depressed, you need to provide them with things to do in their cage.
Cardboard Toys for Guinea Pigs
Guinea Pigs love to chew, and in fact, need to chew as their teeth constantly grow.
Empty cardboard boxes from food items are also fun toys for guinea pigs. They can hide in them, run through them and chew them.
Paper towel rolls can be slit up the middle and stuffed with hay. If you have more than one guinea pig sharing a cage, you will often see them have a tug-o-war with these.
Wooden Toys for Guinea Pigs
Again great for keeping their teeth trimmed. Wooden chew toys are something guinea pigs enjoy. You can either purchase these from a pet store or make them yourself. If you make them yourself, be sure that the wood is untreated so that it’s safe for them to chew. Hanging bird toys are also something they enjoy playing with and chewing. They seem to like the ones with bells on them the most as they shake them and make the bells ring.
Guinea Pig, Ferret, Rabbit and Cat Toys
Guinea pigs enjoy all of these things. You’ll often see them throwing a cat toy with a bell in the middle or nosing a ball around the cage. Changing out the toys often makes it more interesting for them.
Playpens for Guinea Pigs
Small animal playpens are available in pet stores, or you could make one of your own. These are designed to allow your guinea pigs free roaming time in a safer environment. Playpens are great for taking your guinea pigs outside for some fresh air. They enjoy eating grass, but be sure that no other animals have soiled the grass before you allow them to eat it. Also, ensure that it isn’t too hot outside when taking them out as well as providing shade and plenty of water.
Setting up a playpen on a disposable table cloth from the dollar store makes clean up after easy and will protect the carpet.
Run About Balls and Wheels for Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs should NEVER be given a wheel or be put into a run-about ball. Their spines are not built for walking/running in these devices, and it will injure them.
Cage Options for Guinea Pigs
There are a number of different options for housing your guinea pigs. Each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages.
Store Bought Guinea Pig Cages
Many store bought cages are sold as part of a “starter kit” for guinea pigs. Generally these cages have a metal wire top and a plastic base to hold the floor covering.
These cages provide ventilation and interaction with your pet. However they are often way too small to house even a single guinea pig. Store bought cages do make for good hospital cages if you need to isolate a sick pig or keep him from too much activity. They are also handy for a temporary cage if you are moving.
Aquariums and Bin Cages for Guinea Pigs
These should never be used for guinea pigs as they do not provide adequate ventilation or space.
Cubes and Coroplast (C&C) Cages or NIC (Neat Idea Cube) Cages
C&C cages are homemade cages that can be as large as you like and can be cheaply made. These cages are made from storage cubes, which can be purchased in places like Walmart or Costco, and coroplast, which can be purchased at Home Depot or a sign shop, for the floor and base of the cage. These are probably the best cages in terms of space, ventilation, as well as cleaning and customization.
Social Behavior of Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are social creatures. This means that they should be kept together, preferably same-sex pairs, as rodents breed extremely quickly due to their short life span. The simplest pairings are with siblings of the same litter. This way, there is no introduction necessary as they have grown up together. The next simplest is an older guinea pig with a youngster.
Guinea pigs can and do grieve if they lose a cage mate, and in some cases, can become severely depressed, sometimes to the point of not eating. This is the only time that it is acceptable and necessary to forgo quarantine.
Guinea pigs are best introduced in neutral territory. The cage that they will be sharing should be cleaned out completely in order to remove as much scent as possible. The cage may be split down the middle using grids if you are using a C&C cage. Each side should have food, water, toys and a hiding spot. The guinea pigs will interact through the barrier, picking up each other’s scent without being able to harm each other. You may also wish to have them switch sides a few times.
Once they appear to be interacting positively, the barrier can be removed during a time when they will be well supervised. There may be a dominance battle, consisting of chasing, teeth chattering and mounting. If at any time blood is drawn, they need to be separated. It is not always necessary to use the split cage method as some guinea pigs will take to each other immediately when introduced on neutral territory.
Some guinea pigs are fine kept on their own after a cage mate passes, but they will require a lot more interaction from you. There are also a few guinea pigs who just are not social. You should not try to force them to live with one another as it will lead to bloodshed. For those who are not social, a split cage may be the way to go permanently so that they have company but are not able to harm each other.
Boars (males) tend to be more difficult to pair up than sows (females). If there are females present, it is very likely that boars will fight if they are in close enough proximity to catch the scent of the females.