Guinea pig time is one of your favorite activities each day.
You love getting to pull your small, furry friend out of their enclosure for some quality time and playtime.
Unfortunately, your pet may not appreciate this time and can nip at your hands.
What can you do to stop guinea pig biting in the first place?
Guinea pigs tend to bite because of environmental stimuli. For example, they may nip because they smell something on your hands, they need to go to the bathroom, or because the area is too noisy. Pain may also play a role, so take them to the vet if you suspect this could be the cause.
If you want to learn more about why guinea pigs bite and how to prevent it, this guide will walk you through the most common reasons.
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Ways To Stop Or Prevent Guinea Pig Biting
Wash Your Hands
One of the top reasons your guinea pig bites you is because you may smell like something scary or tasty.
Their sense of smell is very keen, and they might be telling you something about the way your hands smell.
These docile animals will bite if they feel threatened by what your hands smell like or if they want to get a taste.
For example, your hands may smell like other animals, such as your dog or cat, if you were recently petting them.
Because your guinea pig is frightened of these types of animals, they may nip at your hands if they smell them on you.
Another reason they may bite your hands is that they smell like something they would like to eat.
If you recently had a meal, chances are your hands smell like food.
Their biting habit may be their way of telling you they would also like to partake in what you recently ate.
Washing your hands gets rid of the scents which can tempt your guinea pig to bite you.
If you find they still bite you after a thorough scrub-down, then you may want to consider wearing gloves for a little while.
This can protect your hands from their little teeth while you work on training your furry friend not to nibble on your hands.
Give Them the Opportunity to Go to the Bathroom
You might be handling your guinea pig with care, but they still nip at your hands.
This can easily be a defense mechanism against something hurting them.
However, it is more likely they are expressing a need to go to the bathroom.
If you have been playing with them for a while and they have not relieved themselves, a quick bite might be their way of telling you they need to be set down so they can go to the bathroom.
Put your guinea pig back in its cage and observe what it does next.
Chances are it will head straight to the area where it usually uses the restroom.
This should clear up the problem, allowing you to pick them back up and continue playtime for a while longer.
One way to ensure you do not get bitten as often is to give your guinea pig a break every so often.
By preemptively allowing them to go the bathroom occasionally before picking them up, you’ll be saving your fingers from those painful nips and bites.
Do Not Stick Fingers in the Cage
Many new owners or young children want to blame this bad behavior on their guinea pig, but the truth is your actions might cause it.
This is a clear invitation for your furry friend to have a quick taste of your fingers.
One of the main reasons why guinea pigs will bite is if they feel stressed or afraid.
Their cage is supposed to be their safe space where they feel comfortable and at ease.
They usually do not experience negative emotions when left to their own devices in their enclosure.
However, when you stick your fingers through the bars of the cage, they can easily start to feel threatened and unsure of their surroundings.
You might intend to just say a quick hello as you pass by their cage, but this is not how they will interpret your actions.
Check out their body language when you do this.
Often, you may find they will nip at your fingers and then run to their hideout to get away from you.
Even if you have a close bond with your pet, they still do not appreciate this invasion of their safe space.
If you do not want to be bitten, set yourself up for success by not offering your fingers as food for your guinea pig.
Keep Noise to a Minimum
The behavior of guinea pigs is often easy to figure out.
These rodents are easily frightened by things they are unfamiliar with.
This is one reason why you want to keep noise to a minimum while playing with them.
They can startle easily if you have the television turned up too loud, the stereo on, children playing loudly in the background, or thunder rolling in ahead of a storm.
A baby guinea pig may be more frightened by these loud noises than an adult guinea pig.
They simply have not lived long enough to have the experience of these sounds.
On the other hand, if you have had your current guinea pig for a little while, they might be accustomed to some of the typical sounds of your home.
Consider the environment in your home before picking up your pet.
They have a good sense of hearing, so they attempt to view everything through their eyes and ears.
Turn down the volume on the television or stereo.
Only play with them when things are calm and quiet.
Odds are you will notice your guinea pig is less likely to nip at you when they feel at ease.
Too Much Playtime
Despite their extremely social nature, there is such a thing as too much playtime.
You might be overstimulating your guinea pig which can lead to a few nips now and again.
If they start to bite at your hands, you might want to consider how long you have had them out of their enclosure.
An affectionate owner may want to spend hours playing with their favorite friend, but your guinea pig is not up for it.
At first, you may have to build up their tolerance to being handled.
Cute guinea pigs are tempting to play with until you grow bored of them.
However, they need to grow accustomed to being held and away from their enclosure for longer periods.
These rodents are prey animals which means they frighten easily and like to hide.
It is difficult for them to do this if they are constantly being handled.
They may simply need more breaks in the playtime until they learn there is nothing to worry about outside their enclosure.
Give them more breaks and work up to longer playtimes to avoid some guinea pig nibbles.
One of the more concerning reasons your guinea pig may bite you is because they are in pain.
If you have lots of guinea pigs and they are all biting you, it might signify they are suffering from something painful such as mites.
These mites bite at their skin, making their bodies more sensitive when you attempt to handle them.
Pay attention to their body language when your guinea pig bites you.
Were they aiming for your hand, or did it look like they were nipping at their body?
Mites or fleas can make them itchy, and they may not have intended to bite you at all.
Their teeth might have been aiming for their own body, but your hands inconveniently got in the way.
Another common cause of biting is if your guinea pig has an injury.
Have you noticed them being extremely active in their enclosure?
If they have been playing a lot or interacting with your other guinea pigs, there is a chance they incurred an injury.
They may have twisted something or sprained a muscle.
Guinea pig owners should always be aware of what goes on in the daily lives of their cavies.
Owners who suspect the pain is behind the biting should consider making an appointment with an exotic animal veterinarian.
Many traditional small animal vets may not have the experience necessary to treat these small rodents.
It is best to take them to see a specialist who knows the common ailments and treatments for your beloved guinea pigs.
If you find your guinea pig has some medical issues, give them a break from being handled for a while.
You may still be able to give them enrichment by allowing them to play in a playpen or an outdoor run.
However, avoid squeezing them, handling them, or forcing them to interact with you in ways that are not comfortable for them until they can heal.
Neuter Male Guinea Pigs
Sometimes, the biting habits of your guinea pig are going to be out of your control.
Hormones can play a big role in how your pets interact with you or how they might strike out at you.
Males who are not neutered tend to be more aggressive and attempt to assert their dominance more regularly than females or neutered males.
Learn more in our dedicated article on guinea pigs getting neutered.
Having your guinea pig neutered is a major procedure.
It should only be performed by a veterinarian who is experienced with these small animals.
They have special needs when it comes to anesthesia and treatment to perform this type of procedure.
Be sure to thoroughly interview a veterinarian about their experience with this type of procedure before committing to it.
They are less likely to attempt to assert their dominance through biting and nipping.
If biting is a serious and recurring issue, you might want to consider having this procedure done.
A bit of animal knowledge about how they will feel most comfortable in their enclosure can go a long way.
They will be happiest and less likely to bite when they feel at ease in their surroundings.
First, consider where their cage is located.
Is it in the main living areas of your home where there is a lot of noise and commotion?
This could lead to your guinea pig feeling a bit overwhelmed.
They are likely to do better when they are near people but away from the hustle and bustle.
Consider storing their enclosure in a bedroom or an office where you spend a lot of quiet time nearby.
Limit their exposure to loud noises such as the vacuum cleaner, other pets, and even drafts.
Make sure your setup is appropriate for these small animals.
Learn about proper guinea pig cage size with this handy chart at the link.
Guinea pigs are accustomed to being hunted in the wild, so they often feel insecure and worried when exposed to wide-open spaces.
They may feel threatened at times, and they need someplace to retreat to.
Check out related information on how cages affect behavior in our article on why guinea pigs run around their cage.
While your guinea pig will not always want to hide, they need plenty of space to do so when the need arises.
Make sure you include a variety of hides throughout the enclosure for their overall comfort.
Just bringing them home from the pet store is an exciting time, and you are probably eager to start spending some quality time with your new pet.
However, you have to consider what a huge adjustment this is for these small animals.
They are being placed in a cardboard box, transported in a vehicle, and then placed in a new cage in a new environment they have never seen before.
It might be overwhelming and frightening for them at first.
The best thing to do is to give them some time to adjust.
Allow them a few days to a week to get used to their surroundings before you attempt to pick them up and play with them.
You might want to start with short playtime sessions so they can get used to the way you smell and the way you handle them.
If your guinea pig starts to bite you, it is time to put them back in their cage for a little while.
They may just need a break or some space to themselves for a little while.
When your guinea pig is new, you need to allow them to adjust to your presence slowly.
However, they can benefit from getting used to your voice and presence.
Spend time beside the cage, talking to your cavies and allowing them to grow accustomed to you being nearby.
Once you think they have gotten used to you, start by offering them treats directly from your hand.
Slowly and gently drop your hand in the top of their enclosure to offer them a treat.
Be sure to cut up vegetables into long strips so they can take them from your hand without concern for your fingers.
For example, carrots cut into thin strips often make excellent treats when you want your new guinea pig to get used to you.
Learn more in our post on feeding guinea pigs carrots.
If they willingly accept the food from you and seem at ease, you might want to take things a step further.
Gently pet their head and run your hand down their back.
They may love a gentle scratch behind the ears.
Scoop them up gently and from underneath their chest, hold them for a quick second, and then immediately put them back down.
This is a positive interaction that can prime them to be picked up and handled in the future.
Do Not Reward Biting
Some owners are tempted to convince their guinea pigs not to bite by distracting them with rewards.
The problem is your guinea pig is likely to come to associate biting with these tasty treats.
Never give your cavies something delicious directly following a bite.
They will interpret this as a reward for the behavior and will be more likely to repeat it in the future.
The only acceptable response for biting is to put your guinea pig back in their enclosure and immediately stop the fun activity.
Walk away and do not return for a while until you feel they have had an adequate amount of time to calm down.