It’s the most frustrating thing when guinea pigs run away from you, and it’s not that uncommon. What’s even more frustrating is not knowing how to stop cavies from running away from you. So, how do you get your guinea pigs to stop running from you?
Get your guinea pigs to stop running from you by establishing trust and familiarity over time. Newly acquired guinea pigs need a bit of time in their new environment before they start building up the necessary trust and comfort levels with owners. Other reasons for escape may include lack of socialization or being handled too abruptly, which can cause them high levels of stress.
Keep reading and you’ll learn some awesome tactics to implement, so that your piggies running away from you can become a thing of the past. You’ll also discover the reasons why piggies are so skittish.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Seem So Scared All The Time?
Guinea pigs are prey animals by nature. Predators chase them, catch and eat them. Even though a long period of time has gone by and they’ve been domesticated, their instincts haven’t changed.
This instinctual terror response is the reason why guinea pigs run for their lives when you try to pick them up. In the wild, they would need to be able to detect danger and run for it in order to survive. As prey animals, their fear is a natural reaction that kicks in automatically when something perceived as dangerous approaches–even if all you’re doing is reaching out your hand!
Even when the situation is deemed as safe, your piggies will remain scared of any fast and abrupt movements until things return to a state of calm.
But, there are a few ways to fix this problem and to help your piggies realize that they can trust you and relax around you. To stop your cavies from running away from you, you’ll need to follow some bonding process tactics. Beginning with…
1. Let Them Settle In
If you have a new piggie, you really need to give them some time to adjust. This means keeping your guinea pig in its cage for a few days. Or at least until they seem relaxed and comfortable with the strange new environment that surrounds them.
Your little friends need to feel safe before you can start trying to pick one up, so it’s important not to rush this process!
The adjustment period should remain sacred – in spite of your excitement to get to know your new little friends.
2. Spend Time With Them
Just because you’re giving your cavies time to settle in, doesn’t meant that you can’t let them get used to you too. Chat with them in a calm voice through the bars of their cage. This’ll help them become more familiar with your voice and your smell.
Talking feels weird? You can always try singing to your pigs, eat dinner in their room, or read them a story before bedtime.
(Actually, that’s probably just as weird as talking to them. But effective! )
If guinea pigs are new or shy, it’s crucial for you to spend time with them so they can feel confident and comfortable in your presence!
The more your piggies see you as “safe,” and get used to your voice, the less likely they’ll be running from you when you try to pick one of them up.
???? Tips & Tricks:
Make it a routine, so guinea pigs can anticipate (and dare I say, look forward to) time with their future favorite human.
3. Have Patience
One of the biggest mistakes a pet parent can make is startling guinea pigs or yelling at them. You’ll need to give them lots of time to get used to you. This is because cavies are prey animals who instinctively run when they feel threatened.
- Most importantly, don’t try to rush your piggies into loving you. It’s not something you can force. And you’ll only make them stressed and unhappy – and frustrate the heck out of yourself.
- Take your time to build up a guinea pig’s trust in you over the course of days or even weeks. (or, gulp! months!). It’ll be well worth your time. Be patient.
- Prepare to be feared (or at least ignored) until your cavies decide that they’re safe with you. But, don’t hold a grudge against your piggies.
4. Get Them Used To Being Touched
Once a few weeks have gone by, you can start to get guinea pigs used to being touched. This is usually a better place to start than trying to get cavies used to being held because it is less stressful for them.
- Put a treat (e.g. a piece of long, leafy vegetable, a sprig of cilantro or dill) in your hand. You want a treat that’s longer to give your cavy distance from your hand. This’ll make your little friend feel less threatened. (You can always switch to smaller treats in the future).
- Extend your hand into the cage and wait for your cavy to come take the treat. If it does, great! Let them eat the treat, but keep hold of the treat until the last minute.
- Use this time to gently stroke their heads or back. (No sudden movements, please!) Always pet them head to back and not back to front. It’s more comfortable for piggies.
- Continue to do this every day (several times a day) for a week or two.
Gradually, guinea pigs will come closer and take the treat without you even having to reach into the cage as they become more familiar with being touched by you.
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If you’re getting to know a brand new piggie, this tactic won’t work as well initially. Cavies usually lose their appetites for a few days when they’re getting used to a new home. Once, their appetite has returned, they’ll be more open to eating treats – even ones from your hand.
5. Lure Them With Tasty Treats
Sometimes it’s necessary to pick up guinea pigs and carry them. For your little friends that are not yet comfortable with you or their surroundings, it can be helpful to have a treat in one hand so they will come close enough for you to pick up.
Some pet parents will toss a treat into a cuddle cup or fleece tunnel. Then when the piggies go in to get the treat, they’re scooped up.
This is another way guinea pig parents can use food as an incentive while building trust with their piggies.
The goal of this technique is not only to get piggies close enough to pick up, but also to get the cavies used to being handled.
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If you’re going to be using treats to help your cavies become more comfortable with you, make sure that they’re low-sugar treats. Steer away from store-bought treats, too. They’re often filled with sugar and other artificial ingredients guinea pigs don’t need.
6. Create A Safe Piggie Environment
A stressed out pig isn’t going to be much fun to play with, and piggies that don’t feel safe are more likely to run away.
Another important step of getting your little friends running towards you is by creating a safe environment for them and giving them proper care. This means giving them:
- A large guinea pig cage. Adequate cage space is a must. At least a 7.5 square foot cage is necessary for one cavy, but get the biggest cage you can afford. Don’t forget to provide, appropriate, safe bedding (No straw or aromatic pine shavings!)
- Give them a balanced diet of healthy, appropriate foods (e.g. unlimited hay, fresh vegetables, pellets).
- Give them fresh, clean water daily; bowls and bottles both have their pros and cons – pick the one that works for you
- Find them a friend. Piggies are social animals and most prefer the company of other piggies. Two piggies houses in separate cages is usually better than one alone.
- Keep their living space tidy (e.g., by scooping droppings and doing weekly cleanings) to discourage parasites and bacteria from breeding in their cage environment. A clean cage equals a happy cavy.
- Provide plenty of toys so they have something entertaining or stimulating to do
- Keep their cage out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources that might cause overheating. Also, make sure their room isn’t cold or drafty.
- Predator-proof any room or enclosure that your guinea pigs are in.
Please don’t buy your piggies a wheel for entertainment. They’re very dangerous for them to use. A wheel is a big no-no because they’re not small and sprightly like hamsters. Cavies can easily break their backs if they’re on a wheel.
7. Keep The Noise Down
Noise is also a big factor in guinea pigs running away: keep noise at an acceptable level so they don’t feel threatened – this means no barking dogs or loud music.
If you want your pet to be happy in its new home, it’s going to help if you make sure their cage is in a place that’s free of constant, intense noise from sources like traffic and blaring TVs.
Cavies can also be startled by sudden, loud sounds, such as the slamming of doors or raised voice tones that may make them feel threatened in their environment.
So, try to keep the noise in your house down – at least for the first few days guinea pigs are adjusting.
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Playing very soft music, nature sounds, or white noise in guinea pigs’ room can help calm them and reduce stress.
8. Keep Things Normal, Too (Including Noise)
Just because your have guinea pigs, doesn’t mean that you should live your life with a house as quiet as Norwegian monastery. After all, some pet parents have human kids that aren’t as inclined to be quiet for long periods of time – even for adorable, new piggies.
Of course, you want your piggies to feel comfortable and safe with you, instead of running away. But, you need to live your life, too
So, after the initial few days of adjustment (when piggies are really skittish), make sure to do things you normally would. This includes playing music at a normal volume, talking on the phone, and having visitors over (with your cavies present).
Your little friends will eventually become used to the normal, day-to-day life in your home.
And since they’ll know what to expect, guinea pigs will start feeling more at ease and less likely to run away from you.
9. Don’t Come At Them Like A Predator
Unfortunately, many pet parents unwittingly encourage their piggies to run away from them. So, if you’re experiences your little friends running away from you, take a step back and look at your behavior.
Well, some people (and maybe you – no judgements) behave like they’re predators and guinea pigs respond by running away. Here are some tips for not acting like a predator around your piggies:
- Always approach piggies from the front; never sneak up on them or try to touch them from behind.
- Don’t be too quiet when you’re in the room with them. Predators often try to be quiet when they are stalking prey. Guinea pigs can become startled if you move in stealthily from behind them.
- Avoid fast and abrupt movements around your cavies – like running up to them, reaching for their cage bars too quickly, grabbing your cavies while they’re eating
- Don’t chase or try to catch guinea pigs who are running around their cage (Use Tip #5 instead)That really just serves to teach your little friends that you’re the piggie-eating, maniac that they should be running from.
If you ‘re doing all of the above and your little friends are still running away from you, don’t worry. Cavies need time to settle into a new home before they can get used to being around people.
Things To Remember About Guinea Pigs Running Away From You
When guinea pigs run away from you, it can be frustrating and challenging to know how to stop them. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to curb this behavior that revolve around different bonding activities.
- Let Them Settle In
- Spend Time With Them
- Have Patience
- Get Them Used To Be Touched
- Lure Them With Treats
- Create A Safe Piggie Environment
- Keep The Noise Down
- Keep Things Normal (Even The Noise)
- Don’t Come At The Like A Predator
No one tactic will work for guinea pigs running away from you 100% of the time. But, consistent care of your piggies and implementing a combinations of these tips and tricks will definitely help.
Eventually your piggies will start to get used to being around you – which will make them likely to stop running away.
Behaviour – Guinea pigs – Our pets. (n.d.). The Largest Animal Welfare Charity in the UK | RSPCA. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rodents/guineapigs/behaviour
Guinea pig housing. (n.d.). The Humane Society of the United States. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/guinea-pig-housing
How to help a Guinea pig feel less anxious. (2014, December 12). wikiHow. Retrieved July 16, 2021, from https://www.wikihow.com/Help-a-Guinea-Pig-Feel-Less-Anxious
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/
What do I need to know about my Guinea pigs’ health? (n.d.). RSPCA Knowledgebase – Let Australia’s most trusted animal welfare charity help you answer the big questions. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-do-i-need-to-know-about-my-guinea-pigs-health/