Guinea pigs often become very friendly toward people -- although they should always have the companionship of another guinea pig -- but as prey animals, they also can be very nervous. An older guinea pig who hasn't been handled properly requires a good deal of patience. Treated right, she should eventually become a lot more comfortable around people, although she might never become as relaxed as a guinea pig that was socialized properly from a young age.
The Ages of Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs have longer lifespans than many other small rodents, living up to seven years and sometimes a little longer. They are weaned after a month or so, reach sexual maturity shortly afterward and bond most easily with humans before they’re a year old. From 1 to 4 years, they count as mature and might be more difficult to bond with. From about 4 years onward, guinea pigs may start showing signs of aging and, after 6, they are definitely elderly. Guinea pigs older than 7 might be pretty frail.
All guinea pigs, old and young, need time to settle in to a new home -- moving into a strange place with strange people is unnerving for them. Set up the housing before you collect the guinea pigs, and include at least one nest box for each animal. Pick up as much of their original bedding as you can, even if it's slightly soiled, and place it in their new home before quickly and carefully transferring the guinea pigs. The Humane Society recommends covering the cage with a light cloth, such as a sheet, for the first couple of days. For older guinea pigs, or if you are adopting just one, it's advisable to keep the sheet on for several days, moving it only to feed, change the water and remove particularly soiled bedding.
Bonding with Your Guinea Pig
After a week, start spending time near the cage, talking to your guinea pigs, offering treats, placing your hand near them and, after they let you, stroking them. Don’t start picking them up until they're completely comfortable being petted in the cage. The bonding process might take a few days for young, well-socialized guinea pigs but weeks or even months for older, nervous ones. Take your cue from the guinea pig -- if she panics every time you try to stroke her, don’t. Instead gradually place your hand nearer and nearer each time you offer a treat, bearing in mind that you might have to spend weeks on this. Keep other pets away from the cage. Taming older guinea pigs might be difficult or impossible if your household contains young children.
Guinea pigs may suffer from several age-related health problems. If you adopt an older guinea pig, keep a close eye on your pet’s appearance and behavior and keep in regular contact with your vet for advice and assistance. Look out for loss of appetite or weight, either of which requires an urgent trip to the vet. Hair loss is not necessarily a serious problem but could indicate the development of ovarian cysts in females, which do need treatment. If you have a male, ask your vet to show you how to clean his grease gland and anal sac. You must perform these tasks, as well as grooming, if you have a long-haired guinea pig of either gender, whether the guinea pig is tame or not. Find out how to do so with a minimum of stress for the animal.
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Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.