As prey animals, cavies are natural worriers. After all, being on high alert is how they survive. Having said that, in the wild, a stressed guinea pig can escape from difficult situations. But this isn’t the case for pet guinea pigs. Exposed to constant stressors in their hutch, guinea pigs are prone to long term health issues. They are also at risk of hurting themselves in an attempt to get away from the perceived danger.
So what are the possible reasons your pocket pet may be feeling stressed out? And what are the most common signs you should look out for? Carry on reading to find out more about your stressed-out guinea pig and how you can bring calm to your guinea pig’s life.
7 Reasons Why Guinea Pigs Get Stressed?
As already mentioned, guinea pigs, by their very nature, are highly strung. Of course, when they are scared or feel threatened in the wild, they can get away from the danger, which brings their stress levels down.
Confined to a cage, however, they can’t run away. And when guinea pigs are exposed to external stressors for long periods, that’s when they start showing signs of stress and are at risk of serious health problems.
Let’s take a look at the 7 most common things that may stress guinea pigs.
1. Small enclosure
Guinea pigs are incredibly active and spend a large portion of their day foraging for food, playing with one another and exercising. If their hutch is too small, and they don’t have enough space to do these things, they will become stressed.
This article tells you how big your piggy’s cage needs to be and what essentials you need to set it up…
2. A sudden change in temperature
In its natural habitat, a guinea pig prefers moderate temperatures ranging between 18°C and 23°C. A sudden drop in temperature or extremely hot conditions can stress them out. It can also leave them susceptible to respiratory issues and heatstroke.
Want to find out more about the best temperatures for your cavy? Take a look here…
Your guinea pig is an intelligent little creature (but we didn’t need to tell you that, did we?) and is also very social. As a result, it can become bored really quickly if its environment isn’t stimulating. This can lead to an increase in stress and long term health issues down the line. Loneliness can also trigger your guinea pig’s stress levels, so it’s essential to always have two or more cavies together.
4. Changes in routine
Just like some people don’t do well with a change in routine, this can be a significant stressor for guinea pigs too. Keeping to a schedule for meals and playtime will help an anxious piggy feel calmer. It’s also worth keeping this in mind if you’re travelling. Even a change in your cavy’s environment can cause it to stress out.
Going away for the summer holidays? This handy article tells you how to prepare while you’re away so that your piggy is healthy, happy and calm.
5. Noisy environment
As a prey animal, your guinea pig’s sense of hearing is extremely good. While this works in a guinea pig’s favour in the wild, loud and sudden noises are a stressor for your pet in an enclosed space. It’s essential to keep your cavies in an area away from excessive noise.
6. Potential predators
It goes without saying that predators are one of the leading causes of stress for wild guinea pigs. But even in a safe enclosure, potential and perceived predators will stress your guinea pigs out.
If you keep your piggies outdoors, they must have shelters and tunnels where they can hide from cats, dogs, large birds and foxes. This also applies to guinea pigs that are housed indoors. Overenthusiastic children and the family dog or cat can also leave your cavy feeling stressed out.
7. Too much (or rough) handling
Something else to keep in mind is not all guinea pigs like to be cuddled or handled too much. And almost all don’t want to be handled roughly. Spending time with your piggy will help you understand its likes and dislikes, resulting in a happier and calmer cavy.
Learn more about cuddling your guinea pig here…
Signs Your Guinea Pig Is Stressed
Even though your guinea pig can’t tell you it’s stressed, it still has ways of letting you know. For some piggies, it may be a change in their behaviour, while others will be more vocal. When your cavy whines, hisses or chatters, it’s telling you that it’s anxious and stressed.
Visual signs that your guinea pig is stressed out include:
- Aggression or irritability towards you or othger guinea pigs
- Not wanting to be held or cuddled
- Spends more time sleeping or hiding
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss or bald patches
- Chewing its cage or hutch
- Tossing its head
- Baring its teeth
- Standing on its back legs while baring its teeth
- Shaking or vibrating
It’s not always easy to tell if your guinea pig’s behaviour is due to stress or something else. The best way is to look at a change in your pet’s behaviour while being aware of the various stressors.
9 Ways To Calm A Stressed Guinea Pig
If your guinea pig is more stressed than usual, there are some things you can do to keep it calm. Not only does this make for a happier guinea pig in the short term, but it also makes for a healthier guinea pig down the line.
Here are our top 9 ways to reduce stress levels and keep your guinea pigs calm.
1. Make sure you have the right-sized cage
We cannot stress this enough – your guinea pig’s cage needs to offer as much space as possible. Guinea pigs need space to run around and play. They also need separate areas where they can eat and rest. Without it, they will become stressed out and anxious.
They also need plenty of room to exercise. We recommend getting a hutch with a run, or if space is limited, consider a folding run that can be moved and stored away when not in use. If your guinea pigs are indoors, set up an area where they can enjoy floor time, away from the rest of the family.
2. Never keep a guinea pig on its own
Guinea pigs, as we’ve mentioned, are social animals and enjoy being around other cavies. To reduce anxiety and stress in your pet, introduce a friend or two. Not only will they keep each other entertained, but they’ll also help with physical and mental stimulation.
3. Provide hideouts and shelters for your guinea pig
It’s one thing having a large hutch, but making sure it is set up correctly is just as important. Make sure your piggies have plenty of hideouts in their hutch where they can take cover. This will help keep them calm when they feel threatened or scared.
As social as guinea pigs are, they often need some time away from their hutch-mates and humans. Placing tunnels, hideouts and nesting boxes in different areas inside the enclosure provide your guinea pig with somewhere to get away from it all.
4. Don’t bother your guinea pig if it looks anxious
As already mentioned, your cavy can’t tell you that it’s nervous or stressed. But it can let you know by its behaviour, certain sounds and its body language. If your piggy is hiding away, baring its teeth or chattering, then it’s best not to bother it.
Picking your guinea pig up when it’s already feeling stressed will only make it more anxious and can even result in it biting you. Our advice is to leave your cavy alone to calm down on its own in a safe and comfortable environment.
5. Be calm around your guinea pig
One of the most simple yet effective ways to keep your guinea pig calm is for you to be calm around it. Whether you’re feeding it, taking it out of its enclosure for some playtime or placing a new toy in the hutch, it’s best to do it as slowly and gently as possible.
6. Use a soft voice around your guinea pig
In pretty much the same way, sudden movements can scare your piggy, so too can loud noises. Guinea pigs are sensitive to loud noises, including screaming and shouting. Not only will it send its stress levels through the roof, but it will also leave your guinea pig terrified of you.
Always handle your guinea pig with the utmost care and take notice of the signals it’s giving you. Wriggling in your arms means it’s had enough of been held, while a head toss is its way of telling you it doesn’t want head tickles.
7. Keep noise levels down around your guinea pig
While a sudden shriek or shout will scare your piggy, being exposed to loud noises all the time will lead to long term health issues. If your guinea pig lives inside, make sure its cage is in a quiet spot, away from continual loud noises.
8. Don’t let other pets stress your guinea pig out
To keep your guinea pig as calm as possible, it’s essential to keep other pets away from the cage, no matter how friendly they are. Cats and dogs, for example, by their sheer size, are intimidating for a guinea pig and will cause its stress levels to rise. Never leave your piggies unattended with other pets, as this can end up in disaster.
When housing your guinea pigs, something else to keep in mind is to keep them separate from other animals, including rabbits. While this used to be a popular setup for pet owners, we now know it’s not the safest or kindest option for your piggy.
9. Play music to calm your guinea pig down
Soothing music can reduce our stress levels, and it can reduce your guinea pig’s anxiety too. Remember to keep the volume down and stick to gentle genres. It goes without saying that heavy metal and loud rock music will only increase your piggy’s anxiety.
Check out this playlist for your piggy on YouTube…
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To Finish Off
By spending time with your piggies, you will get to know them better and recognize what their stressors are. Never try just one approach, as no two guinea pigs are the same. While one stress-relieving method will work for one, it might not be as effective for another.
How do you deal with your stressed-out piggies? Perhaps you have a suggestion we haven’t mentioned that could help our readers. Just drop your comments in the space below.