They are cute, they are fluffy, it’s hard to find someone who will resist the urge to hold a guinea pig. If you're lucky, you may even be delighted with guinea pig kisses. But, what is the correct way to hold a guinea pig? They’re delicate after all! In this guide, we will highlight the do’s and don’ts when it comes to handling your guinea pigs.
Read on to find out more!
Before you pick up your guinea pig…
If you’re like us, you’re already super excited to go ahead and hold your guinea pigs. It’s one of the simplest ways to bond with them after all. But first things first, there are a few things to take into consideration before starting your bonding-sesh!
Practice Good Hand Hygiene
It’s always a good idea to wash your hands before, and after, handling animals. It’s the best way to protect your guinea pigs from any germs that may be harmful to them. It’s also the best way to remove any strong scents or flavours - if your guinea pigs delight you with kisses - from making your piggies uncomfortable!
Avoid Heavy Perfumes or Hand Moisturisers
Guinea pigs have an excellent sense of smell! In fact it is one of their strongest senses. That’s why it is important to avoid strong smelling soaps, perfumes or moisturisers when handling your guinea pigs. These odours can also mask your own natural scent which may also confuse your guinea pigs when studying your scent. Another good reason to wash your hands before piggy bonding!
Choose a quiet and calm space
Guinea pigs are also sensitive to loud sounds and starling movements. As prey animals, guinea pigs may quickly try to jump or jolt if they perceive them as a threat. That’s why location is important when choosing a spot to hold your guinea pigs. If you are able to, try finding a space that is away from noisy televisions, loud radios, or any other startling noises to avoid stressing them out.
Restrict Access to other Pets
Do you have other animals in your household? If so, it may be best to keep your pets separate from where you will be holding your guinea pigs. Because of their prey instinct, guinea pigs can quickly become stressed if a dog, cat, or any other animal, is found sniffing around. Another pet’s excitement can quickly be mistaken as a threat so it is important to keep your guinea pigs comfortable until they become more comfortable with handling.
For more information, follow our 5 key tips to smoothly introduce your guinea pig to your dog or cat.
Select some treats to keep on standby
One thing we absolutely love about guinea pigs is that they are the ULTIMATE foodie! They love their veggies and will excitedly squeak and wheek any time they hear cupboards closing or plastic bags rustling. To help keep your piggy comfortable, be sure to select a handful of their favourite snack to keep them happy. By feeding them the occasional treat during handling, it provides positive reinforcement to associate the interaction as a positive experience. The many magical advantages of food when it comes to guinea pigs!
For a list of guinea pig safe fruits and veggies, be sure to check out our free printable care sheets.
Now, how do you pick up a guinea pig? We’ll cover this very important answer next!
The Best way to pick up and hold your guinea pig
Now that you’ve chosen a quiet space, collected some of your piggy’s favourite snacks, and washed your hands, it’s time to pick up your furried friend. But don’t just charge in there and reach into their cage - that would be scary! Guinea pigs startle easily after all, so it is all down to your approach.
Step 1: Make your presence known
Be sure to let your guinea pigs know when you are in their space. If your guinea pig does not initially notice you - perhaps they are busy munching on some tasty hay - it can be quite startling for them if you try to reach out and grab them. They may associate you with a scary predator!
Make sure that you interact with them in a bright, well-lit setting to avoid stressing out your guinea pigs. This allows them to be more in tune with what’s happening around them.
Step 2: Allow your guinea pigs to smell your hands
Your guinea pigs will feel more comfortable if they can smell your scent before being picked up. Another way to help your piggies understand that you are a friend, not a foe!
Step 3: Guide your guinea pig to an advantageous spot
With both hands, dry to guide your piggy to a corner space in their cage. Move so that one hand is positioned at your guinea pig’s front and one hand so that it is near their bottom. Do so calmly to avoid making them feel like they are being chased.
Step 4: Support your guinea pig’s belly
Carefully slide your dominant hand under your piggy’s tummy so that you are supporting their base.
Step 5: Place your other hand on your guinea pig’s back
As you lift your guinea pig up, use both hands to ensure that they feel secure. With your other hand, place it so that it is gently resting it on the middle of their back.
Step 6: Hold your guinea pig close to your chest
Lift your guinea pig so that they are held close to your body. This will help to ensure that they are well supported while you interact with them. Do so while still supporting your guinea pig’s back and dominant hand to shift to support their bottom. Some guinea pigs may feel a bit nervous, especially if you are working with them to be more comfortable with your handling. This will prevent them from making any hasty jumps or wiggles which could result in an injury if not careful.
Why does my guinea pig keep running away from me?
If you attempt to pick your guinea pig up using our steps above, but they are still choosing to run away from you, don’t panic. It’s important to remember that guinea pigs are more cautious than most when it comes to physical interactions. Take a few minutes for both of you to relax and stay calm before you attempt to try again!
A few piggy parents may find their guinea pigs are natural social butterflies, which is great, but for most, you’ll find that you have to earn your guinea pig’s trust before they start to get comfortable being held. In some cases, some guinea pigs do not get used to being held at all, and that’s okay too! Each guinea pig is different and may result in different tolerances for certain activities.
Other ways to safely hold a guinea pig
Now that you’ve successfully picked up your guinea pig, you can switch up your position depending on what is most comfortable for you both.
Guinea pigs are most comfortable in positions where they are positioned as if they were sitting on a flat surface.
So, what are the safest ways to hold a guinea pig? Here’s four!
Where possible, consider taking a seat when holding your guinea pigs. You can comfortably hold your guinea pig in your lap with a fleece pee pad to prevent any toileting accidents. By sitting down, you are effectively reducing the chance of dropping your guinea pig.
To make your guinea pig even more comfortable during the experience, you can choose to sit on the floor so that if your guinea pig wanted to stretch their legs, they could do so without feeling restricted. This would be a great opportunity to try during floortime.
Have your guinea pig positioned so that they are laying flat in your arms. Ensure that you have one arm that is supporting them under their body while your other hand is holding their back securely.
Can guinea pigs be placed on their backs?
The simple answer is No! Guinea pigs should never be laid on their back because it can cause damage to their delicate spine. Here’s why!
Understanding guinea pig anatomy
You’ve probably noticed that guinea pigs have a slight curve to their back. That’s because they have curved spines which makes them more sensitive to certain types of movements. This is key to understanding which positions are safe when holding them, as they can be vulnerable to spinal injuries.
If your guinea pig is placed in an unsafe position, such as directly on their back, it could result in pain or injury.
Here is a helpful illustration to better visualise your guinea pig’s spine.
A common cause of spinal injuries in guinea pigs are a result of certain small pet toys such as exercise wheels and balls. As popular as these items may seem, there have been several reports of these toys resulting in injury.
Exercise balls or wheels have curved surfaces which apply pressure on guinea pig spines as it bends them in the opposite direction. For more information, be sure to read our article on ‘7 supplies you should not get for your guinea pigs’.
Other unsafe positions for your guinea pigs
For similar reasons, guinea pigs can also find vertical positions very uncomfortable. This is also due to the fact that they have a curve to their spine so attempting to make them stretch their bodies out upwards can strain or sprain their back.
Listed below are some other positions that you should never place your guinea pigs in.
Reclining your guinea pig back so that they are sat back on their bottom is very uncomfortable on your guinea pigs!
One Handed Position
Never hold your guinea pig with only one hand. If your guinea pig becomes stressed, there is a higher chance that they will attempt to jump or wiggle out of your grasp. It is always best to hold your guinea pig so that they are secure and comfortable in both of your hands.
Avoid holding your guinea pig so that your hands are only holding them under their front arms. This position does not have any support for the bottoms which can make them incredibly uncomfortable and stressed.
How often should I hold my guinea pigs?
Just like people, every guinea pig is different! Not only are they different in colour or size, each guinea pig has their own likes and dislikes and what they are most comfortable with. For this reason, guinea pigs will vary with how often they enjoy being held. It is important to do only as much as they are comfortable with!
As a piggy parent it is important to understand the many dos and don'ts when it comes to holding a guinea pig. Certain positions can cause pain or even injury if not careful. With our ultimate guide above, we hope it can help every pet owner understand what positions are safest when handling their guinea pigs.
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