10 Tips To Help A Skittish Guinea Pig Settle In

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One of those “expectation vs. reality” moments when you get a guinea pig is finding out that they’re not the guinea pigs you’d expect them to be! They’re not always the cute, friendly guinea pigs that everyone thinks of. If your guinea pigs are shy or scared then it can take a long time for them to settle in and get used to you.

However, you can always help a nervous guinea pig be more comfortable and relaxed, especially when they’re around you.

A skittish guinea pig being held by a the owner

But these proven ways require patience and commitment. But, when done right, you’ll see how highly social and loving your guinea pigs are.

So, check out our ten tips to help a skittish guinea pig settle in a new environment.  

1.      Provide A Comfy Home

A skittish guinea pig complaining about the size of her cage
Shoot for AT LEAST 10.5 square feet of space for your piggie.

It’s hard not to get uneasy if you live in a less-than-ideal home. With that, you can assume the same with your guinea pig.

Since cavies are prey in the wild, it’s natural for them to run away and get skittish when they feel threatened.  That ways it’s hard to get a skittish piggie to settle into your home.

To ease their fright, they need to have a safe and comfortable home to live in. Otherwise, their anxiety will skyrocket , and they’ll continue to be scared in their new surroundings.

7 secret guinea pig hacks

So, how do you do that?

Naturally, you have to make sure that you meet the following conditions:

1.       Appropriate Cage Size

2.      Cage Cleanliness

Appropriate Cage Size

First, buy a cage that has the right size for your cavies. Some cages are made for just one piggie, and that’s a problem. Lack of space leads to a lot of bad behavior in guinea pigs like:

  • bar biting
  • depression
  • fighting with cage mates

So, if you have multiple guinea pigs, the first thing you’ll need to consider is the size.

If you have a single guinea pig, the enclosure should be AT LEAST 7.5 square feet big. 

With every guinea pig you add, you should find a larger cage measuring an additional 2 to 4 square feet. 

(For all that good and fair in the world, PUH-LEEEZE make sure that the cage you get is big enough. You can’t stuff your piggies into a cage that the size equivalent of a broom closet and expect them to be happy guinea pigs!)

For example, if you have two guinea pigs, the appropriate enclosure size would range from 10.5 to 11.5 square feet.

When it comes to guinea pig cage size: BIGGER IS ALWAYS BETTER.

Likewise, you also need to ensure that the cage is sturdy and high enough to avoid accidents.

One great guinea pig enclosure you can check out is the Guinea Habitat by Midwest. It’s easy to set up and has ample space catering to a single cavy.

And you can always buy a second one and attach it to the first to make more room. It’s also easy to maintain and has flooring materials that protect your fuzz spud’s sensitive feet.

Cage Cleanliness

Sanitation is as essential to your little friend’s happiness and health – not to mention yours.

A skittish piggy will remain skittish if it’s in pain or downright miserable due to infections and health issues from a disgusting cage.

Regular cleaning and maintenance keeps your fur balls physically and even emotionally healthy.

Spot clean every day. Pick up droppings and refresh bedding.

Deep clean your guinea pig’s cage at least once a week. That means you need to pull everything out of the cage, replace or wash the bedding, and scrub everything down. You can make a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 white vinegar that’ll help with the job.

Spray it in the different areas of the enclosure, including the corners where most piggies like to do their bathroom business.

Then wipe everything down and make sure everything is dry before you put everything back.

2. Leave Them Alone At First

Understandably, you get excited having a guinea pig around, especially if it’s your first time with a piggie.

You’ve probably heard how cute and affectionate piggies can be with their humans.

However:

You also need to understand that those qualities are developed over time when you’ve already bonded with your cavy (and to be honest, some owners have cavies that they’ve owned for years that still give them the stink-eye #justsayin’)

If your piggy is skittish, it’s best not to force the little fur ball to like you back right there and then (actually, that isn’t even possible).

Give your new little friend time and space to adjust first. It’ll be easier for them if they discover their new home on their own, without you looming over them like a hawk.

No matter your good intentions, your piggie is definitely scared stiff of you, their new home, the new sounds, and smells.

Let’s be honest. You’d be skittish too if you had a stranger suddenly smothering you with love and affection out of nowhere.

That’s why it’s an excellent strategy to help your skittish cavy is to give them time to be familiar with their new home.

This means you’ll have to *ahem* leave them alone first.  At least for the first day or so.

Then, just focus on providing them with food or having conversations with them (yes, I know that sounds a little weird, but that’s the only way your new friends are going to get used to the sound of your voice).

After a few days, try to gently handfeed them to test the waters. Over time, you’ll gain their trust, and they’ll become more comfortable and confident around you.

3. Provide Huts and Hideaways

Guinea pigs may be social animals, but they also value their privacy.

Okay, well, maybe privacy is the wrong word. What piggies really need is a place to duck out to if they’re feeling suddenly scared by something.

In the wild, cavies tend to hide when they sense impending danger (and this could be real or imagined). You’ve probably noticed the same thing with your piggie.

Simply put, hiding is their way of protecting themselves and managing their fear. So, they need to have a hiding spot in their home to feel safe, recover, or regain their composure.

So, if you put huts and hideaways in their enclosure, you provide an area for your cavies to hide when they feel scared, threatened, or stressed.

Without these things, your fur babies will have a hard time managing their uneasiness.

The result?

It’ll take longer for them to get used to you (actually , they may never get used to you).

Trust me, it’s worth the investment.

Find an enclosed and comfortable hideout. You can check out BWOGUE’s High-Quality Guinea Pig Hideout.

It’s a cozy private spot made of soft materials that your piggy can enjoy. Plus, it comes in sooooo many cute styles.

Likewise, if you’re looking for a sturdier hideaway area, you can consider PAWCHIE’s Hut Hideout. It’s made of natural wooden materials. It looks like a small house with windows and spacious flooring. The manufacturer even tosses in absorbent urine pad and anti-slip bottom.

Cuddle sacks are also a nice option to help skittish guinea pigs settle in. It’s a soft pocket that they can snuggle into. You can get a nice variety of cozy, cuddle sacks on Etsy, too.

4. Buy Them In Pairs

Guinea pigs are better in pairs because they tend to be lonely on their own. This usually ratchets up their stress. And , as you know, they  have a hard time coping with stress.

When they’re by themselves, guinea pigs tend to feel more vulnerable and less able to protect themselves from predators

So, let’s say that you provided a cozy home, complete with accessories for your cavy. You may have even given your little piggie tons of time privacy to get familiar with her new environment.

But still, your fur baby remains skittish.

Maybe it’s because your little buddy doesn’t have a friend.

Now, there’s some guinea pigs that need to be by themselves. They’ve been so traumatized or have had such a hard life that they prefer to be alone.

But, generally speaking, guinea pigs are happier in pairs or more.

So, when choosing a partner for your current guinea pig, you need to keep a few things in mind when selecting a new one:

  • Go with a same-gender pair, so you don’t have to worry about having a bunch of baby guinea pigs.
  • If you choose two have a pair of different genders, pretty please get them neutered first. Once again – it’s for their own good and it’ll prevent any baby piggie surprises down the road.
  • Choose two guinea pigs with compatible temperaments, so they’ll get along (you can check out their behaviors in the pet store or even better get a pair that’s already been personality-matched).

5. Have Enrichment Toys Ready

If you want to settle in your piggie, have some piggie-appropriate entertainment ready.

Boredom strikes anyone, even your guinea pig. And if a skittish piggy has no other way for entertainment or occupational enrichment, that feeling of uneasiness will just grow over time.

Having said that, it’s important to have enrichment toys ready inside your cavy’s enclosure. 

Toys keep cavies  physically active and mentally stimulated.

Just like humans experience joy when playing with their favorite toy, guinea pigs also experience happiness when they have enough toys to keep them occupied. 

Bonus! The positive feeling they associate with the toys helps them feel less skittish or uneasy.

If you feel like your little friends need a variety of you can choose from the following items.

A snuffle mat is a easily one of the best toys you can get for your piggies.

Actually any toy that appeals to your piggie’s foraging, burrowing or biting instincts is usually a win.

6. Handfeed Treats

For people like you and me, food is a great way to calm down the nerves and form a connection with someone. It’s the same way for guinea pigs. It’s even better when you feed them treats out of your hand.

After a while, skittish guinea pigs will get the message that you’re not a threat when you offer them food. 

When you deliver the treat yourself and let them eat directly from your hands instead of placing it on their food bowl, they will begin to associate the positive feeling with your presence.

But:

(Yes, there’s a but)

It could take some time for your fur baby to get comfortable moving towards your hand.

How long?

The time table depends on the personality of your piggie.

But if you’re consistent and have stockpiles of patience, inevitably, your anxious, little friend will eventually see you as a friend instead of a foe.

Of course, when choosing a treat, it’s important to go for healthy snacks they can chew on.

Piggies are natural gnawers as they need to constantly use their teeth to control their growth.

Also, make it a rare treat and not something that’s part of their regular diet.

Produce like strawberries, small pieces of endives, blueberries, and carrots make great treats.

But you can also give them pre-packed snacks fortified with nutrients like the Oxbow Vitamin C supplement.

7 secret guinea pig hacks

7. Spend A Lot of Time With Them

Bonding with your guinea pigs may start as a challenging activity. But, don’t get discouraged, and don’t skip spending time with them altogether.

When your new fur babies are skittish, you need to spend even more time with them. Shoot for at least an hour a day.

In fact, the more time you spend with them the better.

These interactions don’t always have to involve picking them up or cuddling with them (actually, just make it a point that you’re in the same room with them as often as possible).

Chat with them…or around them. Sure, they won’t understand what you’re saying, but it allows them to become familiar with your voice and even your scent.

Some say that piggies can understand their owner’s feelings and moods depending on the tone of their voice and their general demeanor.

You’re sort of bonding with them even before you even start to attempt cuddling with them by simply being around and interacting with them.

Once they become comfortable having you around, they will gradually cozy up, and you can finally bond with them physically.

8. Avoid Making A lot of Noise

Guinea pigs may have tiny ears, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sensitive to noises. 

In fact, your piggies are easily irritated (read: terrified) by loud sounds. This could also be the reason why they are skittish and uncomfortable in their enclosure.

With sudden and unexpected sounds, they get scared and anxious. They’ll either run to their hideout or freeze.

This doesn’t include normal, household sounds. Over time, guinea pigs get used to the usual sounds they hear. 

For example, chitchats and the voices of the household become something they can tolerate once they are familiar with them.

But they can still get jumpy and uncomfortable with sudden loud noises like when your phone suddenly rings or if a 6 year old, suddenly screaming like a rabid wildebeest into your piggies’ cage (hey, it could happen).

If your room or the area where you keep your fur babies is exposed to A LOT of excessive noise that stresses them out, you might want to consider transferring them to a quieter location – especially if you don’t have any control of the noise volume.

Although it’s slim, there’s a slight chance that the extreme fright and anxiety can cause health problems and even death to your piggy.

9. Ditch the Sudden Movements

No one hates sudden movements more than an anxious new piggie. It’ll freak them out to their core.

Sure, it might be challenging to control your excitement when all you want to do is shower your new piggy with lots of affection. 

That said, you might be moving in such a way that your piggie interprets as a threat.

Guinea pigs don’t have good eyesight, so if you suddenly sweep into the room and approach them, they might think that you’re a predator (even though they’re prey animals).

Sudden movements like jumping or even sudden jerks can send your furry burritos into a state of panic and stress, not to mention fright, which is never healthy for any animal (or human).

And if you’re not careful, you might be imprinting some long-term trauma to the poor cavy.

Keep your movements slow and deliberate at first. Speak softly to your furry friends to give them a heads up that you’re entering the room. Eventually you likely won’t have to be as cautious.

But if you want your piggie to settle in, your movements must be predictable and non-threatening.

Simply put, you have to be gentle and tone down your approach to win your guinea pig’s heart.

10. Be Patient

At the end of the day, that’s what it takes.

It can be frustrating when your fur baby continues to be scared of you.

I get it.

I hear you.

And I’ve been there.

But it’s just how they are.

Being skittish is embedded in their DNA. So, as a pet owner, you have to exercise consistent patience.

Just continue to form a connection with them from a safer distance and in small ways.

Of course, this includes bringing them food and treats, cleaning their cage, and talking to them.

Put spending time with your new, furry friend into your routine, and don’t skip a beat – especially during the first few weeks of your guinea pig’s transfer to your home.

Some cavy owners tend to give up so easily when their little piggy doesn’t cozy up and socialize IMMEDIATELY with them the way they see with other fur parents.

And so, they would just ignore their guinea pigs and avoid spending time with them altogether.

In some cases, they rehome the little cavy.

Sure, it might take a while to really form a connection with your guinea pig, but it’s absolutely worth it. 

Guinea pigs are sweet, cuddly, playful, and great stress relievers.

But you’ll never see your piggies’ adorable side if you don’t have patience and consistency.

7 secret guinea pig hacks

Final Thoughts On Settling In Skittish Guinea Pigs

So, those are 10 tips to help you settle in your new guinea pigs.

Remember that it’s a scary time for your new, little friends. A little empathy for their situation will go a LOOOOOONG way to understanding how to make them comfortable in their new home.

Be consistent with your piggies – especially during the first few weeks of their new home! And take it slow (you’ll thank me later).

And remember that you’re not alone in having skittish guineas; many guinea pig owners go through this phase too.

It’s not you. It’s just the way your furry friends are. Try to be okay with that.

Don’t give up too quickly if your piggies don’t immediately socialize with you as many other pet owners do when faced with similar obstacles.

Patience and consistency are key!

A guinea pig owner that remember that is on the right path to forming a good relationship with their piggies.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you :).

Guinea pig feeding. (n.d.). The Humane Society of the United States. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/guinea-pig-feeding

Guinea pig housing. (n.d.). The Humane Society of the United States. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/guinea-pig-housing

Nutrient requirements of the Guinea pig – Nutrient requirements of laboratory animals – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231932/

Seattle Animal Shelter. (n.d.). A Care Guide For Your Guinea Pig. Seattle.gov Home. https://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/AnimalShelter/care-guides/care-sheet-guinea-pig.pdf

Social experience, behavior, and stress in guinea pigs. (1991). PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1946736/

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