Bonding with Guinea Pigs: 9 Tips & Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

by Lindsay Pereira
Bonding with guinea pigs

Are you new to the wonderful world of guinea pig parenthood and wondering how to form a bond with your fuzzy additions? Have you had your cavies for a while but seem to be having difficulty getting them to trust you? Without a doubt, it’s essential to create a strong bond with your guineas. Although it may take some time and effort on your part, you’re sure to be rewarded with an amazing bond with your loving cavies.

In doing so, you’ll not only build your relationship with them and strengthen the trust between you, but you’ll also be able to get closer to your cavies and notice health problems before they get out of control. By reading our advice, understanding the answers to commonly asked questions, and following our tips, you’ll get a clearer grasp of what it takes to develop a bond with your guineas and better recognise how to do so.

Let’s start off with a few answers to commonly asked questions about cavies. These will give you a good idea of how they function, what their preferences are, and explain a few things about bonding with guinea pigs.

Do guinea pigs bond with their owners?

Yes, they do form bonds with their humans, very much like cats or dogs. They’re able to recognize certain people according to scent, sound, and sight cues. As such, guineas can identify and respond to who they do and do not know.

Personality, age, and past experience can play a role in the degree of interaction with people. However, they do recognize different people and often form different bonds with them, typically showing preference to those who feed and spend the most time with them.

Where does a guinea pig like to be petted?

The top of their head and behind the ears are often the most comforting areas to pet your guinea pigs. Start off gently once your pet is safely secured in your arms, so they’re relaxed and receptive. Cavies are tiny and skittish – approaching them too quickly may mentally send them back to a pre-domesticated state of mind, where they see your incoming hand as more of a predator’s talon!

Eventually, you can pet them along the length of their back, from head to hindquarters. Only follow the natural direction of their fur. If your guinea has rosettes – swirly patterns in their hair – do not move the fur in the opposite direction since it can be painful for your pet.

Do guinea pigs like to cuddle?

Yes, they do – once they’ve accepted that you are, in fact, NOT a scary, dangerous predator. Once that’s out of the way, get ready for some serious cuddle time. As the bringer of tasty foods, their affection for you will grow quickly and substantially. After they get used to getting picked up, they’ll instantly snuggle up and soak in your doting admiration.

What should I do if my guinea pig is scared of me?

The best thing to do is give them time to adjust to your presence. Guinea pigs have a strong flight/freeze response because they’re prey animals. If your pets are young, new to your home or have a history of neglect, patience is the key. They need to overcome their natural instinct to fear you or flee to the closest hiding spot.

Announce your presence before moving towards their cage, so they know you’re not a threat. Be calm when you approach them, always from the side and not above, and speak in a gentle, soothing voice.

Eventually, they won’t be scared, but this can take weeks, sometimes even months. Using healthy treats, foods, yummy herbs, and fresh grass, you can get your pets to associate you with “good things.” Lastly, consider getting a companion if your cavy is solo. They’re social creatures and are a lot less fearful when they’re not alone.

Relationship-building tips to bond with your guinea pigs

Now, for some tried-and-true tips for a rock-solid relationship with some ridiculously adorable rodents.

#1 Give your pets some space

After they’ve arrived at their new forever home, give them the time they need to adjust to their surroundings. While you may be tempted to pick them up and cuddle them for hours on end, hold off on the snuggles – for now.

For about a week or two, simply be present, speak softly, and let your cavies calm down and destress. This is a big change, so please be patient with them. If you’ve had your cavies for a while, start anew and reconsider your usual approach to them. Perhaps, what they need is an area that’s quieter, calmer, so they have the opportunity to decompress and move away from their flight/freeze response.

#2 Signal your approach

How you approach your cavies will determine their reaction. That means if you make loud noises or surprise them suddenly, they’ll always be on the lookout and stay in a state of caution.

Jamming your big human hands into their cage and trying to scoop them out – that’s also NOT a good idea. Rather, speak to your guinea pigs gently as you come closer to their habitat to let them know you’re about to visit. Approach from the side – not from above like a predator – and slowly place your hands near the cage, in their line of sight. After a few seconds, gradually get a bit closer to them, placing your hands a few inches from their faces. Over a period of several weeks, repeat this process, progressively spending more and more time with them.

#3 Talk to your pigs

The more you talk to them, the more your guinea pigs will get used to your voice. Soon enough, they’ll associate your gentle tones with your face, as well as your soothing manner. This helps them calm down immensely and lower their defenses around you.

As you speak to them, get on their good side with a few tasty veggies and delicious fruit to further associate the experience with something positive. These actions will reassure them that you’re not a threat and they’re not in any danger when you’re around.

#4 Schedule frequent pet pick-ups

Lily and Muffy

Some pets, particularly those who were neglected in a previous home, often have difficulties forming bonds with their new humans. But, you can help build trust with your actions right now. The best way to start is by getting them used to being picked up. Make it a part of their daily routine. Schedule short pick-up times (about 30 seconds) throughout the day, as opposed to one long session that may be too overwhelming for them. Eventually, work your way up to a 5-minute visit, complete with healthy treats. Soon enough, they’ll get used to the routine and look forward to spending time with you.

#5 Instill the process of positive association

By process of positive association with petting, cuddles, and healthy snacks, your pets will learn getting picked up by their human is a good experience. Once their minds make this association, they’ll ask you to pick them up – with a whole lot of delightful wheeking! When you get to this point, pat yourself on the back – your patience has finally paid off!

#6 Schedule floor time

After scheduling frequent pick-ups and noticing their positive reactions, it’s now time to schedule daily floor sessions. This is an excellent opportunity to further forge your bond with your guinea pigs.

Every day at the same time, set up a play area in a guinea-safe environment. Always add a place where they can go to if they want to hide, just in case. Aside from that, go ahead and get creative, by adding toys, a tasty treat section, several crumpled-up balls of paper, some hay-filled paper towel tubes – the possibilities are endless! Sit quietly next to your pets as they explore this new environment. Then after a few minutes of acclimatization, gently play with them.

#7 Consistency is key

Strengthening the bond with your guinea pigs requires consistency. Cavies are creatures of habit. A consistent schedule lessens the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s the same for humans too now, isn’t it? Review your schedule and commit to dedicated pick-ups, floor time, and meals – along with the usual cage cleaning days. In doing so, your pigs will be much happier.

#8 It’s always time for cuddles

Entertaining your guinea pigs

In the beginning of getting to know your guinea pigs, you may not want to offer too many squeezy hugs. But, once your pets get used to your presence, you’ll soon see they’re always up for cuddles. In fact, the vast majority of cavies are serious snugglers. They’ll lovingly burrow into your sleeve or hoodie, just to get closer to you. So, when they’re finally at the point of trusting you during pick-ups and floor time, add those cuddles. Not only does it feel great, but it also builds up the bond between parent and pig.

#9 Get a furry companion (or two)

Guinea pigs are social creatures. In the wild, they live in large herds, so they’re never alone. That’s why most cavies enjoy the companionship of a fellow guinea. If your pet is solo, consider adding a buddy or two to fend off loneliness and alleviate anxiety. This also gives them the chance to form bonds with others of their kind. In turn, these bonds with other cavies can ensure they’re happier and actually help them form a bond with you.

A bit of advice, from one pig owner to another

From one pig owner to another, the key to creating trust and forming a bond is to first understand their nature. Cavies are typically high-strung, skittish, and nervous – that’s just the way they’re born! Believe me, they want to trust you – but you need to work at it with them. As their pet parent, it’s up to you to earn their confidence, and you can do it through patience, understanding, time, treats, and cuddles. If you take it slow, you’ll go a lot further, much faster.

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