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Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. February 24, 2021
Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners?

Too many think of guinea pigs as mere playthings without individual personality or any real cognitive ability. Fortunately, more and more animal guardians are adopting guinea pigs into their family and developing the kind of bonds that show us why they can make such rewarding companions. However, there are still people out there who wonder whether guinea pigs know who we are or if they are capable of reciprocating the bond we have with them.

At AnimalWised, we ask do guinea pigs recognize their owners? Are they affectionate to humans? We answer these questions and suggest some might be surprised just how emotionally capable guinea pigs can be.

You may also be interested in: My Guinea Pig Bit Me - Why & How to Stop It

Do guinea pigs recognize their human guardians?

Also known as the cavy, guinea pigs are sociable animals. They like to live in company with others, especially with being with their own species. However, they have also been shown to demonstrate the same enjoyment for socialization with their human family. When we are in their presence, they want to see, smell and hear us. This means that, yes, guinea pigs do recognize their owners. Now we need to know how this happens.

Are guinea pigs wild animals?

Originating in South America, guinea pigs are of the genus Cavia and there is some controversy over their taxonomic classification. However, they are considered to be part of the rodent family. The animal kept as pets is known as the domestic guinea pig (Cavia porcellus). This animal is not generally found in the wild and it has a much more diverse morphological range than their wild cousins.

While guinea pigs are becoming increasingly popular as pets, their original relationship to humans was much more unfortunate. First domesticated around 5000 BCE, the guinea pig was farmed as a source of meat. In some countries they are still farmed for food, but even in these places they are also kept as companion animals. Selective breeding has led to many different coat patterns, sizes and other variations appear in different guinea pig breeds.

Although much of this history hasn't been great for the guinea pig, it does mean humans have had a relationship with them for thousands of years. This relationship is always progressing and the process of domestication means that we get close to each other with every generation.

How do guinea pigs recognize their owners?

When we use the term ‘owner’, although there is an important legal factor, we prefer the term guardian. Animals are not objects and our care for them is based on respect for their nature. However, many people will still use the term owner as a basic descriptor of human guardians of guinea pigs.

The sense of smell of a guinea pig is a thousand times stronger than that of humans. For this reason, they are able to recognize us by our scent. When you first adopt your guinea pig, it is best that you don't wear any strong smells such as perfumes, creams or even shampoo. This way, the guinea pig will get to know your actual smell and start to associate your presence with it.

How to get my guinea pig to recognize me

Guinea pigs appreciate rich food such as fresh dandelion greens, as well as certain fruits and vegetables suitable for cavies. We can take advantage of this appetite so they can gain confidence in us. We can even use it as positive reinforcement for training.

As with other pets, guinea pigs will start to gradually learn your routine. They will know when you wake up, when you are more likely to be at home and expect to be fed at a certain time. Even if it may not feel like it, these actions are allowing the guinea pig to make associations with you. Once they learn you are a provider and not there to cause harm they will start to recognize their owner as a friend.

How long does it take for a guinea pig to get used to its owner?

Guinea pigs are naturally nervous animals that tend to run away when they are scared. It takes time for them to get used to their guardian and this process is dependent on several factors. However, generally, with good levels of care, it should take a guinea pig between 1 and 2 months to get used to their human. Before this time, they may not recognize their owner individually.

For a guinea pig to get used to their owner, we will need to have everything they need. Even the transport we use to bring a guinea pig home should be used in a way which makes them feel comfortable.

Prepare their hutch or enclosure

Before adopting your guinea pig, it is important to think about making the adjustment period as smooth as possible. We want to avoid any unnecessary stress for the guinea pig when they get home. Therefore, it is important to find the right place to put their enclosure. We go into step-by-step detail in our article on how to prepare a guinea pig's cage for them.

The journey from wherever they are to their new home can be difficult. If they have to spend a long time in a transport carrier, it can make them feel very scared, especially due to noise and movement. Make sure you remain calm, provide them with some treats and don't overcrowd them further. Everything they need in terms of cage and accessories should be ready for when they get home.

During the first few days of living with us, they will need a lot of tranquility. We recommend you leave them alone for the first few hours, at least, so they can get used to their enclosure and adapt to their new home. This is part of the basic care your guinea pig will need.

Bringing your guinea pig home

Being transported in a small box is very stressful for guinea pigs and it is normal for them to be fearful and nervous at first. Although a guinea pig can fit into a shoebox with holes in it, it is best to provide them with a carrier which gives them space, light and air. This should be similar to the size of carrier you would use for a cat or similarly sized animal.

The guinea pig will need enough room to roll over, lie down, sit up and be settled. If the trip is over an hour, you should provide them with water and food, enough to provide for the whole journey. You should also have a little hay in there to make a nest. If your guinea pig recognizes you when you arrive, it is bad to make their first association with you a negative one.

When you arrive home, place the carrier in their enclosure and open the door. They should only leave when they decide. Observe them from a distance and do not try to pick them up. In this way, they will start to recognize you and associate you with freedom and not insecurity.

Another important thing to do when adopt a guinea pig is to provide them with the right name. You can find some inspiration with our list of guinea pig names.

Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners? - How long does it take for a guinea pig to get used to its owner?

Do guinea pigs recognize their names?

When building a relationship with our guinea pig, it is very important that we don't force them to do things they don't want. However, this doesn't mean we shouldn't provide them with some form of education. It is very important that we provide positive associations with guinea pigs.

Although we know guinea pigs do recognize their owners, their cognitive ability is not as strong as other larger mammals. They will not be able to recognize their own name, specifically. However, they are perfectly capable of learning a sound which they can recognize as a call. If we make this sound, the guinea can direct their attention toward us.

Choose a name for your guinea pig and make sure it is something which can be said in short, sharp syllables. The guinea pig won't be able to recognize the word of their name, but they will recognize the sound. Make it distinct and of a higher pitch than your normal talking voice (although it shouldn't be a shriek).

When you want their attention, have a healthy snack for them at the ready. When they are a little further away from you, hold the treat and say their name in the style you have chosen. Don't force them to come and don't shout at them. Once they do come, repeat the sound again. Only do this for about 10 minutes per day, split over the day at different intervals.

Eventually try making the sound without having the treat. The guinea pig will start to recognize you want their attention. You don't have to give them a treat, but give them some affection so they still associate their name with a positive experience.

Signs guinea pigs recognize their owners

If we are unsure your guinea pig has started to recognize you as their owner, we need to look at the signs this has happened. Generally, you can tell your cavy knows you if:

  • They don't run away: when you come to their hutch, it is likely they will be cautious. However, once they recognize your scent, they should stay put and not run away.
  • They come to you: moreover, when our bond with our guinea pig is strong, they should associate our presence with something positive. This means when we go near to them, our guinea pig will recognize us as a friend and come over without prompting. Since guinea pigs are sensitive, it is best to be passive and only stroke or hold them when they feel comfortable.
  • They come when you call: for those which have a really strong bond, guardians should be able to teach their cavy their own name and have them come over to you when they come.
  • They show affection to only you: one of the biggest signs that a guinea pig recognizes their owner is evident in displays of affection. We explain further in the section below.
Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners? - Signs guinea pigs recognize their owners

Are guinea pigs affectionate with their owners?

Once their have developed a bond of trust, guinea pigs will indeed show affection to their owners. Since cavies are social animals, they like to show affection and receive it from others. However, they can still be very sensitive, so we need to not overcrowd them or show affection in an inappropriate way. Our guinea pigs will show love and affection in various ways, including:

  • They will let you pick them up and hold them.
  • They will nibble at your shoes, feet or hands when together.
  • They will eat food directly from your hand and even let you pet them when doing so.
  • They may nibble, but they won't bite you or be aggressive.
  • They enjoy your company.

If we are careful, hold them properly and don't overcrowd our guinea pig, they will not only recognize their owner, but they will love them deeply. It is one of the most important reasons why so many people are adopting guinea pigs into their lives. You can tell they recognize you as their owner because they show affection to you, but will not show the same affection to strangers or others they don't recognize.

If you want to read similar articles to Do Guinea Pigs Recognize Their Owners?, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

Bibliography
  • Mettler, M. (2006). Guinea pigs: Acquisition, transport, accommodation, feeding, diseases, reproduction, behavior. Tikal-Susaeta.

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