Resisting the urge to pick up adorable little creatures is almost impossible, but some would rather be left alone. Guinea pigs are an interesting case because they are naturally prey animals who spook in the presence of larger creatures, but they have also been domesticated as companions for people.
Yes, some like being held but it depends on the guinea pig. You can hold a guinea pig but always keep in mind to respect your guinea pig's boundaries. Some may hate being held, while others don't mind. You may have experienced guinea pigs who calmly rest in your arms and even seek out human interaction, while others squirm away from human contact and hide. A guinea pig’s response to being held is a combination of their instincts, their past experiences, and the way they are held. Let’s consider these factors so you can determine when and how to hold a guinea pig
How Do Guinea Pigs Feel About Being Held
In the wild, guinea pigs would consider people a threat and promptly run or hide. Captive guinea pigs have been bred to be more social with humans, but their prey-animal behavior is still ingrained in their DNA. Studies have shown that even under calm and controlled situations, guinea pigs regularly seek shelter when interacting with humans.
This shelter-seeking behavior was also seen in control scenarios where humans were not present, but other behaviors increased with human interaction. Behaviors that signal the guinea pig may have been startled increased alongside exploratory behaviors. This suggests that guinea pigs are curious about human interaction in calm controlled settings, but they can still be startled by these interactions. A place for retreat is crucial in these situations to help decrease stress.
If a guinea pig is comfortable being handled and interacted with, they will not attempt to escape or seek shelter. However, an uncomfortable guinea pig may also freeze if they perceive that there is no escape from a situation they dislike.
A guinea pig that feels calm and still acts curious when held may be comfortable with the interaction. These are social animals and they can enjoy socialization with people when held properly. On the other hand, a guinea pig that is stiff or struggling to escape is not comfortable and should be given some space to retreat and relax.
How Should You Hold a Guinea Pig?
When it comes to first-time pets, many parents choose guinea pigs. They are known to be more docile and timid pets. However, an upset guinea pig can rarely still bite or scratch if they feel they are threatened. These are points to consider when wanting to hold your guinea pig. Holding a guinea pig requires fine motor skills, fast reaction time, and the ability to determine if the guinea pig is okay with being held. Small children may hold guinea pigs too tightly or loosely, accidentally causing them physical harm and stress.
If you intend to pick up a guinea pig, try to assess how willing they are to be held. A guinea pig that is approaching and interacting with you is more likely to enjoy the experience than one that is running or hiding from you. Never chase or force interaction with your guinea pig. If they are hiding from you or showing signs of intimidation, work on earning your guinea pig's trust before trying to hold them.
If your guinea pig trusts you enough and isn't scared by interactions. You can attempt to hold your guinea pig with both hands. First, gently slide one hand under their chest and use the other hand to support their bottom. Some animals feel more secure when all of their feet make contact with a surface, so support their feet too if possible.
Guinea pigs are not designed to have any form of vertical pressure on their spines. They should never be on their back, as their spines are fragile and any pressure that's put on their back can injure them when they're in that position. They should always be held in a manner that keeps them horizontal, as they would be when on the floor.
To keep your guinea pig secure while holding them, consider sitting down once you pick them up to lessen the risk of dropping them. It is often best to hold them close to your body. This ensures that there is only one direction they could possibly move in, which may make them feel safer and help you ensure they don’t fall.
How Often Should You Hold a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs are not innately accustomed to humans and being held. It takes time and plenty of positive experiences to desensitize a guinea pig to being held. As mentioned before, try earning your guinea pig's trust before attempting to hold them. Activities that help in bonding with your guinea pig is hand-feeding them guinea pig treats like GuineaDad Pea Flakes, or participating in their floor time, for instance laying down GuineaDad Liners and letting them smell and observe you so they can realize you are not a threat.
When first attempting to desensitize a guinea pig to being held it is important to hold them while you are close to the floor. This minimizes the chances of them getting hurt and allows for an easy release whenever they are done being held.
Regular handling teaches your guinea pig that this is a common experience. If they are allowed to get down safely and are not held longer than they would like, guinea pigs can learn that handling is not an experience to be feared.
Each guinea pig will adjust to being held at their own pace. You can help by ensuring each experience is not overwhelming. Start in short intervals and over time, you can work your guinea pig up to being comfortably held for longer periods. Be mindful that guinea pigs who have been dropped in the past may take longer to adjust or never feel fully comfortable being held.