The Truth About Guinea Pig Fear: Are They Naturally Scared?

If you’ve brought home a terrified guinea pig, you’re probably wondering, “Is it normal for guinea pigs to be scared?” 

It’s perfectly normal for guinea pigs to be scared occasionally-especially when they’re in a new environment or unfamiliar people.  Since guinea pigs are prey animals, they’re naturally cautious and skittish. In the wild, these instincts kept guinea pigs safe from predators. 

No worries.

Picture of Guinea Pig with a dog for Guinea Pig Fear article

I did some research. Even though guinea pigs can be jittery at times, they make wonderful companions. Keep reading to find everything you need to know about guinea pig fear and how you can help your little friends feel calm and safe.

Why Is It Normal for Guinea Pigs to be Fearful?

Two words: prey animal.

Guinea pigs are prey animals; those animals are hunted, caught, and devoured by predators.  They’re utterly defenseless. 

Sure, they’ve been domesticated, but it doesn’t matter.  You can take the guinea pig out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild (instincts, that is) out of the guinea pig.

The bottom line?

As prey animals, guinea pigs are naturally programmed to be utterly terrified of anything they perceive as dangerous.   

Fear and anxiety is an automatic reaction, wired into their DNA-like blinking or sneezing.

It’s what shifts your furry potato from calm and happy to slasher-movie scared, depending on the situation.

Your piggie can’t control it; they can’t help being scared. 

How Do I Know My Guinea Pig is Scared?

Now, that we’ve covered the source of guinea pig fear, let’s go over the behavior that you’ll see if your guinea pig is scared.

Humans have a fight-flight-or-freeze reflex when they’re confronted with danger-either real or imagined.  Guinea pigs are the same.

Let’s examine each of these reflexes, so that you can become familiar with what piggie behavior to expect when they’re at each stage.

1. Freeze

When a guinea pig is afraid, its first impulse is to freeze.  It just stays very, very still; sometimes your little friend will go bug-eyed, stick out his legs, and arch his head up. Some guinea pigs even hold their breath. This can last up to 20 minutes or just a few seconds. 

The sciency word for this behavior is the “immobility response”.  There’s a method to this madness and it all comes down to the predator.

  • Predators aren’t as likely to search for or chase a guinea pig if it’s not moving. 
  • In the wild, predators will often “play” with their food with curiosity or to tire it out.  Guinea pigs have a chance to escape if its predator loses interest or gets sloppy.

2. Flight

When they’re scared, flight is the next step in a cavy’s fear response.  This is the fear reaction that most new pet parents are familiar with. After freezing for a few seconds, often guinea pigs race off in different directions-to their pigloos, hiding places, or anywhere else they feel safe. 

It’s called “scattering”; it makes it harder for predators to catch them – particularly when guinea pigs are in a big group.

3. Fight

A guinea pig’s very last resort is the fight response.  Guinea pigs are very docile creatures.  It’s actually rare for them to try to fight back-unless they’re very frightened or under extreme stress.  However, when they do, they do it by biting-usually pretty hard.  

Here’s what you need to remember:

Your guinea pig isn’t biting because he’s angry.  He’s biting because he’s scared out of his wits. and the first two steps (freeze and flight) didn’t work.  Cavies almost always choose to run and hide when their scared…unless they feel they don’t have any other option. 

What Is My Guinea Pig Scared Of?

As a pet parent, you must learn how to understand your piggie’s behaviors, so that she’s not constantly thrust into a cycle of fear.

Here’s why:

Ultimately, there’s only one thing standing between your little friend and a life of abject fear:

You. 

The better you understand your guinea pig, the more you can help your piggie pal feel safe and secure.  To do that, you have to understand what terrifies her.  That way you can avoid (or minimize) what triggers her fear response. 

  • Loud Noises: Guinea pigs have a well-developed sense of hearing.  It helps them identify whether or not a predator is nearby.  Because of their sensitive ears, a blaring television set, the sharp sound of a dog barking, loud music, squeals from excited children can terrify your piggie pals.  Try to provide a calm environment.
  • Potential Predators:  There’s nothing wrong with having pets other than your piggie pals.  But remember that guinea pigs don’t always view your other fur babies the way you do.  Often, guinea pigs are scared of them.  Some people have reported their dogs (or cats) having a good relationship with their guinea pigs. Others were devastated when their other pets devoured or throttled their piggie to death.  So, it’s best to keep your larger pets away from your piggie pals.
  • Heights:  Guinea pigs are tiny little creatures.  Being in your arms is like being at the top of Everest…without a harness.  When you do pick them up, do so carefully and properly – hold her against your chest, support her back legs, etc.  That way she won’t be scared. The last thing you want is your little friend freaking out from that height.  Many guinea pigs have injured themselves “blind jumping” out of the arms of their pet parents in terror.  
  • Unfamiliar Environment: Guinea pigs are the ultimate creatures of habit.  They have a deep distrust and fear of anything that they don’t know.  When you first bring your little friend home, it’s important that you give her plenty of time (days or even weeks) to settle into her new space.  That means don’t pick her up; don’t try to hold her. 
  • Unfamiliar People:  Sorry, my friend. This includes you. Most guinea pigs aren’t going to trust you right away.  They’re scared of you, at first. You’re a giant to them-a big scary giant.  You have to give your piggie pal time and space to realize that you’re friendly and that you’re not going to eat her.  

Some of the triggers on this list may seem a little silly to us as humans.  Trust and believe, to your guinea pig it’s no laughing matter.

The bottom line?

Put yourself into your guinea pig’s position.  You’re small, defenseless, and surrounded by giants, screeching loud noises, and far from anything familiar. 

How would you feel? 

Yep. You guessed it. Scared out of your wits. 

Definition of Prey Animal Graphic for the article The Truth About Guinea Pig Fear

What Can I Do to Help My Guinea Pig Stop Being So Afraid?

Good news!

Guinea pig fear behaviors usually decrease after they’ve had a chance to get used to their new home with you.  

Your piggie pals need to understand that they’re safe with you. It takes time and a lot of patience from you to make that happen.  However, there are a number of things you can do to speed up the process and to help your little friend move past their fear.  

  1. Be observant and watch your guinea pig’s body language.  Then respond accordingly.  Guinea pigs personalities are unique-just like ours. Certain noises and events will trigger a stronger fear response in some guinea pigs than in others.   
  2. Make sure your guinea pig has places for them to hide or to escape to.  Your little friend will never lose his desire to hide.  It makes him feel secure.  If a sudden noise startles him, he needs to be able to go somewhere in his cage that makes him feel safe.  It sounds counter intuitive, but it works.  And if you have several guinea pigs, make sure that there’s more than enough huts and hideaways for everyone.
  3. Take time to form a strong bond with your little friend.  Spend time with your guinea pig every day.  Take time to talk to your guinea pig in a low, soothing voice and to feed her healthy treats.  Be gentle and kind.  Never yell at your guinea pig.  Guinea pigs don’t understand discipline, and it’ll only make them afraid of you. Eventually, your piggie will recognize you as a friend.
  4. Be prepared with distractions. Sometimes your guinea pig can be more fearful, because it has nothing to distract it from being afraid.  Make sure that your guinea pig has plenty of items to keep him stimulated, such as chew toys, paper towel rolls, balls, etc. 
  5. Remove possible threats from his environment.  That includes other pets, loud kids , or anything that might cause sudden (or sustained) loud noises. Obviously, you won’t be able to completely noise-proof your home.  But, being thoughtful about where you place your little friend’s enclosure and where you play with him during floor time, can make a world of difference in decreasing fear factors.  
  6. Interact with your guinea pig appropriately. This basically means that you avoid behaviors that make guinea pigs think that you’re a predator.  For example, try to stay at a similar head height with a guinea pig.  Towering over them makes them think you’re going to swoop down and eat them.  Talk constantly, gently when you’re around them. Predators are quiet and sneaky.  You want your guinea pig to know that you’re not forming a plan to chase them down and devour them.

Regardless of which of these tips you decide to try first, the key is to just get started

Expect to make mistakes here and there – to do so is as normal as your guinea pig’s fear. 

As your skill in handling and understanding your guinea pig improves, so will your positive interactions with her, but it takes time.  Expect to pay your pet parent dues and be patient

Start Crafting a Fearless Relationship and Environment with Your Piggie Pal 

There you have it! You’re now armed with suggestions to decrease fear triggers and to build a foundation of a positive (fearfree) relationship with your guinea pig — one that can win you extra cuddles, snuggles and-best of all-a little friend that feels confident, secure, and loved in your home.

There are lots of reasons why guinea pigs feel frightened. 

Admittedly, in the beginning, putting all the thought and action into the attempt can feel overwhelming and frustrating.  

You: Why can’t you love me right now?

Piggie:  Dude, I need my space

But remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day and a fearless guinea pig relationship isn’t either.  Simply, stay focused on your ultimate goal and you’re all set.

Let’s recap the main points:

  • understand that it’s normal for guinea pigs to be afraid
  • learn to recognize signs of fear in your little friend and what causes them
  • take the time to understand what you can do to help your piggie feel calmer and less afraid

In the end, it will make such a difference in the life and happiness of your piggies…and the relationship you have with them.

Remember to be kind to your little friends.

And, most importantly, remember to be patient.  It’s worth the wait.

So what are you waiting for?

Hop to it.

Here’s to your future with a loving, bold piggie companion.

Related Questions

What does it mean when my guinea pig purrs?

When a guinea pig purrs it’s a sign that your guinea pig feels one of two things: relaxed or anxious.  Analyze the situation and read your guinea pig’s body language to figure out what your guinea pig is trying to communicate to you.  

Do guinea pigs blink?

Guinea pigs do blink, just less frequently than human beings.  Although to us, it seems like they don’t blink at all.  Unlike humans, guinea pigs don’t need to blink to moisten their eyes.  Instead their eyes ooze a milky-white liquid that they use to moisten their eyes and to groom themselves.

Can guinea pigs feel sad or depressed? 

Evidence suggests that guinea pigs can feel sadness.  Your guinea pig might feel sad if she’s not enjoying (or showing her usual enthusiasm for) things that she has in the past: food, cage mates, toys.  A depressed guinea pig will be unusually lazy and inactive.  

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Fear and the defense Cascade: Clinical implications and management. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4495877/

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Nunez, K. (n.d.). Fight, flight, or freeze: How we respond to threats. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/fight-flight-freeze

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