Petting a small mammal companion is one of the joys of ownership. Numerous studies of dogs, cats, and other animals have established the benefits of petting for owners and pets. Of course, this assumes that the petting is done in an acceptable way. Guinea pigs are individuals with their own personal preferences about being petted, and they often give signals about when you’ve rubbed the right spot or the wrong one.
Before Petting Your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are prey animals. This means they instinctively fear any perceived predator, and this could include you, unless you take time to build trust with your furry pal. If you’ve shared your life with your guinea pigs for a while already, then likely they are already acclimated to their new home and are socialized to you. If your guinea pigs are new additions to your life, give them a week or so to get used to their new home and you. Take time to put your hand in their cage occasionally and let them come over to it, or to sit or lie on the floor in a large exercise pen with them and let them approach you. Once they trust and accept you, then move on to petting.
Guinea Pig Petting Spots
This means that you’ve got some experimenting to do. Some general rules to follow until you learn what your guinea pigs like:
- Be gentle and move slowly. Pet using only a single finger or maybe two.
- Always alert a guinea pig that you are going to start petting; don’t sneak up on them or pet a sleeping guinea pig.
- Never chase a guinea pig so you can pet them.
- Pet in the direction the fur grows.
- Start by petting the head or under the chin. The feet and underside are usually areas to avoid, and the back might even be an area to avoid. Observe your guinea pig’s body language and listen to vocalizations for clues about how he or she feels.
- Keep petting sessions brief in the beginning until you know how your guinea pigs react.
- If a guinea pig walks away from petting, that’s a signal to stop.
Safety While Petting Guinea Pigs
Where you pet a guinea pig on his or her body is important for comfort. Where a guinea pig is at the time you pet him or her is important for safety. Guinea pigs should always be on a stable surface before you attempt petting. This often means in the cage, on the floor, or on your lap. Never pet your guinea pig at a place where your friend might fall, such as a table edge. You can’t predict whether your guinea pig might popcorn or execute another quick movement that could end in a fall. Petting while carrying your guinea pig in your arms could be risky because both hands should be busy holding your guinea pig.
Your guinea pigs need a spot where they feel completely safe, so place some hideaways in your guinea pigs’ enclosure. Ideally, include one more than the guinea pigs who live there. Don’t pet a guinea pig who is in a hideaway. Let your guinea pigs have a retreat where they won’t be disturbed.
Note: A visit to the veterinary might be needed if you know that your guinea pig enjoys a good ear rub or chin tickle, and suddenly your little friend objects to being touched there. As guinea pigs age their favorite petting spots might change, but a sudden change might be a sign of a hidden medical issue.