Imagine this. You’ve just gotten a new guinea pig. You did research; set up a cage with the best quality bedding, pellets and timothy hay you could find; stocked your refrigerator with fresh vegetables and fruit; and carefully placed a hideout and guinea pig safe toys in the cage.
You bring your new pet home and open the carrier to find a frightened ball of fur cowering in the back corner. You pull out a squirming, kicking guinea pig and, as gently as you can, place it in the cage. Your guinea pig immediately runs into its hideout and refuses to come back out.
You know it will take your guinea pig some time to adjust to its new environment and warm up to you, so you give your guinea pig some space and come back later. But for the next week, whenever you enter the room, you see your guinea pig run into its hideout.
You give it another week, but it’s still happening. You’ve done your best to create a relaxing environment; keep the cage clean; provide food, water and treats and still, whenever you approach the cage, your guinea pig runs and hides.
What are you doing wrong? Why is your guinea pig scared of you?
Let’s explore some reasons why guinea pigs are fearful of their humans and what we can do to make our guinea pigs feel more at ease.
Summary of today’s article:
- Signs that your guinea pig is scared
- Reasons why guinea pigs are scared of humans & how to put them at ease
If your guinea pig is scared, some of the signs that you will notice are:
- Being able to see the white part of your guinea pig’s eyes
- Your guinea pig squirming when you try to hold it
- Your guinea pig running or hiding from you
- Your guinea pig chattering its teeth at you
- Your guinea pig making a rumbling noise
- Your guinea pig making a rhythmic shrieking sound (guinea pigs make this noise only when they are truly terrified)
1. Guinea Pigs Are Prey Animals By Nature
The ancestors of domesticated guinea pigs were prey animals. In the wild, birds of prey and other larger animals loomed over wild guinea pigs, causing them to develop heightened senses. These heightened senses helped wild guinea pigs detect and protect against predators in the wild.
The natural tendency to run and hide from threats was carried down to today’s domesticated guinea pigs, making them wary of things like large masses (aka humans) hovering over their cages. The sheer fact that you are much larger than your guinea pig and tower over it can cause it to be scared of you.
The good news is that there are things you can do to put your guinea pig at ease. If you move slowly towards your guinea pig and speak to your guinea pig in calm tones as you approach it, you will appear to be less of a threat.
You can also bring yourself down to your guinea pig’s level by kneeling, sitting or lying on the floor next to the cage so you are not towering above your guinea pig.
2. Your Guinea Pig Is Adjusting To A New Environment
Another reason your guinea pig might be scared of you is that it is anxious being in a new environment. If you have just brought your guinea pig home or moved your guinea pig from being housed in one area to being housed in a new place, your guinea pig will likely be feeling some anxiety.
The solution to this is to be patient with your guinea pig and give it time to adjust to its new surroundings. You can help put your guinea pig at ease by offering familiar foods and treats.
It can also help to make sure your guinea pig has safe toys to chew on to relieve tension. Another thing that can help is establishing a routine.
Having set times for feeding, cleaning the cage, floor time (time for the guinea pig to roam around outside the cage) and lap time (time when you sit with your guinea pig in your lap) can help your guinea pig become more comfortable in its environment.
3. Your Guinea Pig Might Be Stressed
Your guinea pig might be scared of you simply because it is feeling stressed. Guinea pigs can become stressed for a variety of reasons including their environment, poor health and loud noises.
One way to prevent your guinea pig from being stressed is to take good care of your guinea pig by keeping the cage clean, keeping your guinea pig well-groomed and maintaining a routine (e.g. having consistent feeding, floor and lap times). You can also relieve some of your guinea pig’s stress by creating a peaceful environment.
While some guinea pigs don’t seem to mind noise, many are sensitive to loud sounds. Moving your guinea pig away from high traffic areas such as family rooms/dens/living rooms and hallways, and from devices such as TVs and stereos, can reduce the amount of noise your guinea pig is exposed to and help put it at ease.
It is also important to provide your guinea pig with a space in its cage where it can retreat such as an igloo or other guinea pig safe hideout.
4. You May Not Be Handling Your Guinea Pig Properly
Guinea pigs can become afraid of people when they are being held in ways that hurt them or feel uncomfortable for them.
This problem can be solved by holding your guinea pig properly. In order to hold your guinea pig properly, place one hand under its chest and support its rear end with your other hand. You can also help your guinea pig feel more comfortable and secure by holding it close to your body.
Guinea pigs often feel as though they’re going to fall when being picked up. Holding your guinea pig against your body helps reduce this fear of falling. Another way you can put your guinea pig at ease is to minimize the amount of time that you have your guinea pig off of the floor as guinea pigs are often uncomfortable when being suspended in the air.
Further, never place your guinea pig on its back because their spines are very fragile and not meant to bend that way.
5. Interactions With Humans
Many people have encountered guinea pigs who simply will not trust them no matter what they try. Often these guinea pigs have had unpleasant histories with other humans or simply haven’t been handled much by humans.
Many guinea pigs have had bad experiences with prior owners, breeders or pet shop employees and are reluctant to trust humans.
Guinea pigs who have not been treated well or handled much require a lot of patience and need to spend time with humans who will treat them well. If your guinea pig falls into this category, it can be helpful to sit beside your guinea pig’s cage for an hour or so each day so your guinea pig gets used to your presence.
At first your guinea pig will hide from you, but eventually it might become curious and venture out to investigate the strange being sitting beside its cage. Try to stay on the same level as your guinea pig, e.g. sit or lay on the floor next to the cage.
The closer you are to its height, the more comfortable it will feel with you. As your guinea pig becomes more comfortable with your presence, you can begin to spend quality time with it such as having a daily lap time.
You can also earn your guinea pig’s trust by hand feeding it fresh fruits, vegetables and treats. Over time your guinea pig will learn things about you such as your scent and the sound of your footsteps and learn to trust you.
6. Your Guinea Pig Might Feel Isolated
Your guinea pig might be scared of you because it is feeling anxious due to being isolated. Guinea pigs are social creatures and can become anxious when left alone for too long.
If you have a busy schedule that doesn’t allow you to spend time with your guinea pig, and your guinea pig is alone most of the time, it can become isolated and anxious.
It is best to keep guinea pigs in groups of two or more. This way they can meet their social needs and have less anxiety.
When your guinea pig feels less anxious, it is more likely to trust and be comfortable with you.
Bonus Tip: Eye Contact
Looking your guinea pig in the eye when you speak to it can help create a strong bond between you and your guinea pig. By making eye contact, you are allowing your guinea pig to connect with you and get to know you. This type of bond makes it easier for your guinea pig to trust you.
Guinea pigs are by nature cautious creatures who scare easily. If your guinea pig is scared of you, it’s not necessarily your fault.
There are a variety of reasons your guinea pig can become scared. The best thing you can do for your guinea pig is to identify what is causing its fear and to address that reason.
Implementing some of the solutions above will help you and your guinea pig build a strong and healthy relationship. Gaining a guinea pig’s trust can take time but is very rewarding in the end!