One of the worst things that a pet owner can experience is a lost pet. If you discover that your guinea pig is no longer in their cage, you’ll turn your house upside down looking for them, but you also hope that they will find their way back to you. But are guinea pigs capable of remembering where home is?
Studies have shown that guinea pigs are indeed capable of finding their way home by remembering pathways.
Here, we touch on how guinea pigs can locate their home and a few methods that you can use to find them if they don’t.
Finding Their Way Home
Studies have shown that both wild and domesticated guinea pigs can use their memory of pathways to find their way home. It was initially believed that they accomplished this through an excellent sense of smell, but they actually use kinesthetic learning, also known as “muscle memory.” This means learning through movement and touch in combination with auditory and visual cues.
Guinea pigs are also intelligent creatures that can also remember where their food is and where they are safest. While not every guinea pig will necessarily return to their enclosure, they are technically capable of it.
How Smart Are Guinea Pigs?
If guinea pigs can remember their way home, how smart are they? It’s difficult to gauge the intelligence of most animals, but guinea pigs do learn relatively quickly and can even do a few tricks.
They can also recognize people and squeal with recognition and even pick out familiar tunes. They have good memories, including kinesthetic ones, and you can also toilet-train them.
Guinea pigs are definitely more intelligent than most people likely think!
Why Do Guinea Pigs Run Away?
Guinea pigs sometimes run away when startled, or you might find that they run away from you. There are several reasons for this behavior.
Guinea pigs are prey animals, even though they’ve been domesticated for a long time — as far back as 5000 B.C.! Fear of predators is a natural instinct, so they are on high alert most of the time. This means if they are feeling anxious or a sudden sound or movement startles them, they will run off to find a place to hide.
Doesn’t Trust You Yet
Like with any pet, it takes time to build up trust. They might flee from you if they don’t know you well enough yet or you haven’t spent enough time building a bond. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to rectify this.
Not Used to Being Handled
This could be a young guinea pig that hasn’t been socialized yet or one that didn’t receive enough socialization in their earlier years. If you extend your hand to your cavy (nickname for a guinea pig) and they run from it, this might be because they aren’t used to hands.
It takes time and patience to get your guinea pig used to your hands and being held.
Just Showing a Little Attitude
Like most pets, guinea pigs have their own unique personalities and temperament. Some cavies are easygoing, while others might be a bit sassy. They might prefer to be held only when they’re ready or by certain people.
In cases like this, your guinea pig might not run and hide but will dodge your hands instead. Most of the time, these guinea pigs just need their space, so you’ll need to respect that.
How Can You Find a Lost Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs don’t escape quite as often as smaller pets, like hamsters and mice, but it can happen. You might just turn your back while cleaning their enclosure, and they disappear! Here are a few tips for helping you find a lost cavy.
Secure Your House
Start by ensuring that the house is secure to keep them safe and so they can’t get outside. Make sure all windows and doors are closed—shut closet and interior doors (like bedrooms), and block access to the stairs.
If you have any traps or baits for pests in your home, put them away so your guinea pig won’t get into them.
Finally, if you have other pets, like dogs or cats, put them in a secure location that you’ve already checked for your guinea pig. All these steps will help keep your guinea pig safe while you’re trying to locate them.
Check Each Room
Search each room methodically, one by one, but start with the room that your cavy was last seen. While checking a room, close the door behind you so they don’t escape, and when you’re finished, close the door on your way out. This will help prevent your guinea pig from panicking and running into a room that you’ve already checked.
When looking in dark spaces, use a flashlight, and remember to search inside closets and under furniture. Use caution if you sit or take a step, to ensure that you don’t accidentally crush them.
Lastly, tell everyone in the home to stay in one place or help you with the search—and to watch their step.
Tempt Them With Food
Keep your cavy’s cage in the usual spot, but leave the door open, and place their favorite food in front of it.
Then, put a few guinea pig treats in central and open areas. This way, you’ll spot your pet when they come out of hiding to get to the food.
Guinea pigs are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. You’ll want to search for your pet at these times because they are more likely to come out in the open.
When You Find Your Guinea Pig
When you finally spot your cavy, they might be stressed and disoriented, particularly due to not being in their usual enclosure.
If you suspect that your guinea pig might run away when you come near them, try gently throwing a towel over them, which will keep them in place. You can then gently scoop them up and bring them to their enclosure.
Ways to Get Your Guinea Pig to Trust You
You can try a few things so your cavy will form a bond with you and be much less likely to run away.
1. Tempt Them With Food
Just like with almost any animal, food is an excellent path to your guinea pig’s heart. Giving your cavy tasty treats by hand is a great way to earn their trust. Try this several times a day, and give them things like seed heads from hay or fresh greens, which they’ll love!
If you have time, instead of pouring food into a bowl, allow your guinea pig to take the food from your hand. This will give them a positive association between you and food.
2. Keep Them Near the Hub of Activity
If your guinea pig is new in your life, you’ll need to keep things calm and stable until they’ve adjusted. Once you’ve had your cavy for a while, place them in an area where everyone tends to gather, like the living room or kitchen. This enables the guinea pig to become familiar with the sounds, smells, and sights that make up their environment.
They will also learn more about you and your family members, as well as your behaviors. Your guinea pig might be nervous at first, but they will become accustomed to it all and realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of. This should enable you to become closer to your cavy and form a stronger bond.
3. Don’t Pick Them Up After Feeding Them
Some people might try giving food or a treat to their guinea pig and immediately picking them up. You’ll want to avoid doing this. Prey species are vulnerable when eating, so they won’t appreciate being picked up at this time. They’ll also start to associate something unpleasant happening with food and may refuse to eat.
Try it the opposite way: Pick them up first, and then put them down and feed them. This way, your cavy will associate the less-pleasant thing (being picked up) with a pleasant thing (food). After a while, they will likely start to enjoy being held.
It is quite possible that your guinea pig will find their way back to their enclosure after becoming lost. They are smart enough to do this, but they might need a bit of encouragement, like strategically placed treats and guinea pig food.
If they seem to run away from you and are uncomfortable with being picked up, there are steps that you can take to form a stronger bond.
Guinea pigs are smart little animals, and with patience and persistence, your cavy will start to look forward to your attention and enjoy a nice cuddling session.
Featured Image Credit: Petra, Pixabay