There will come a time in every guinea pig owner’s life when we will have to do something for or to our pets that they very much do not enjoy. This could be giving medication, grooming or other routine care. So how do we safely handle our guinea pigs during times when they may be stressed and confused and there’s something really important we need to accomplish?
You restrain a guinea pig by picking them up with your hand underneath their belly, and behind their front legs. Use your other hand to support them by cupping it behind their back legs. In this way their weight is fully supported.
Restraining guinea pigs for these situations is not only an important skill, but something that needs to be correctly done to avoid any harm to your pet.
There are lots of different times that you might have to do this. I’ll take a look at all the possible scenarios, some top tips, and any pitfalls that you will want to avoid.
Responsible pet ownership including proper handling of your guinea pig, whether its simply moving them onto your lap from their cage, or doing routine maintenance of their nails or coat.
Why Should I Restrain My Guinea Pig?
You should learn how to restrain your guinea pig even if they are very tolerant to being handled and manipulated.
Many pets seem to have no problem being picked up and touched on by their owners or familiar people. It’s another thing when a vet tech decides to pick up your pet to exam them. Getting your pet used to being held in particular ways (even if they are well-behaved) will make it easier for medical providers (and for you pet) when they are handled [Source].
Having pet savvy friends handle your pet is also helpful to use as practice runs for medical staff who your pet may not see on a regular basis.
Some procedures can be tricky and require you guinea pig to remain very still or have a certain area of their body exposed and another area of their body away from the site that’s being worked on.
You want to make sure your guinea pig is accustomed to being restrained so they don’t (for example) kick out and cause you to accidentally cut their nail too short. This manipulation of the body can be unnatural and concerning to your pet, so building up a tolerance to these positions slowly it vital.
In reality, don’t feel like you must restrain your guinea pig for all the things you do at home that they are comfortable with like cleaning their ears out or brushing their coat. However it is good to know how to do this type of handling if there comes a day when your guinea pig needs something done that they don’t particularly like, or a medical procedure needs to be done that requires such handling.
What Do I Need to Restrain my Guinea Pig?
You really don’t need much to restrain your guinea pig. Don’t imagine guinea pig hand cuffs or straight jackets because that’s completely unnecessary.
If you’re at home practicing, or doing something like cleaning ears or changing a bandage, I would find a nice quiet room with available space to work on like a table. Gather anything you will need a head of time so you don’t have to restart [Source]. Never leave your pet unattended, especially when working on surface like a table or counter.
Lay out something for your guinea pig to grip like an old towel or placemat, so they aren’t sliding about. If this is a potentially messy activity, it may be best to use absorbent padding like a puppy pee pad, or simply a few paper towels.
If you have a second person to help you that’s available, have them on stand by. Sometimes even with a cooperative guinea pig, you may need more than two hands.
Have a towel on hand that’s clean and big enough to wrap your guinea pig in [Source]. It may be easier to hold them or handle them wrapped in a towel so if they do squirm around, you have less chance of their nails scratching against your skin, or them wiggling out of your hold.
How Do I Restrain my Guinea Pig?
In general guinea pigs should be held behind the legs with the palm of your hand wrapping around the front. Think of it as using your hand as a chest harness for your guinea pig. Most importantly, the guinea pig’s bottom needs to be supported, so your other free hand should be cupped under the back legs to support the weight of the guinea pig [Source].
Holding of a guinea pig in this fashion is relatively safe as long as the guinea pig is held firmly without excessive pressure and held close to or over a safe area (like an exam table or pillow on a couch). This ensures that if the guinea pig were to somehow wiggle out of your grasp, it would simply land on a soft near by surface versus falling a few feet to the ground.
How Do I Restrain my Guinea Pig during Nail Clipping?
You may prefer to hold your guinea pig upright during nail trimming. You can wrap your hand around the front of their body and place a finger between their front legs and under their head to have better control.
Placing a finger under their chin will help you control your guinea pigs head and help prevent them from taking a nibble at you. Guinea pigs that are regularly handled tend not to bite, but a new experience like this could cause they some distress and they could lash out and attempt to bite to tell you they are unhappy or uncomfortable.
You can rest their bottom on a table or pillow, or use your own body. Just make sure they are supported from the bottom in this technique.
Another technique is to have your guinea pig flat standing with all four feet on a table. You may want to have a cloth or mat underneath them so that if they try to squirm, they don’t panic from sliding around.
In this technique you can lean over the guinea pig slightly using your body to help keep them in position. You can lift each foot up individually with on hand (leaving all other feet on the table) and clip their nails using your other free hand.
This method keeps most feet on the floor which may be the preferred position for your pet. Having more feet on the floor gives them a little more power to squirm away, so be aware of where the edges of your counter are if you do decide to use the table/ counter technique.
How Do I Restrain my Guinea Pig during Ear Cleaning?
During ear cleaning a similar counter top method can be used. You can use one hand to put some pressure on your guinea pigs back to encourage them to stay in place and stay still. With the same hand you can reach forward and grab the ear gently with your fingers to keep it open and still.
You may need to adjust your hand and instead use your palm, back of the hand, or side of the hand to apply soft pressure between your pet’s shoulder’s to keep them in place. With your other hand you can gently use a Q-tip or cotton swab with guinea pig ear cleaner to gently wipe out the crud in your pet’s ears, paying special attention to not go too deep and give your guinea pig breaks as the process can be uncomfortable.
It’s best to give your pet breaks from procedures while they are still and behaving. If you always give them breaks when they begin to squirm, they may learn that this behavior will cause you to stop whatever they find is unpleasant.
Is it Safe to Restrain my Guinea Pig?
Proper restraint technique is important to keep your pet safe and to be able to carry out procedures that help keep them healthy. When done correctly restraint techniques are actually safer for your pet then attempting certain procedures without. Most vets and groomers are taught proper handling technique of all their patients and if you have any questions on how to hold your pet, consulting a professional is your best bet. Continue to practice your techniques (even when they are not necessary) so they become second nature to you and your pet.
Next time you hear restraint, don’t think of a straight jacket, but rather a super safe hug!
Ades, E. (2010, August 27). Restraint Techniques for Animals. Johns Hopkins University. http://web.jhu.edu/animalcare/procedures/restraint.html.
Handling and restraint. (n.d.). https://nc3rs.org.uk/handling-and-restraint.
Research Animal Training. (n.d.). https://researchanimaltraining.com/ahwla/.
Tynes, V. (2020, October 13). Safe and Humane Handling of Small Mammal Patients. Today’s Veterinary Practice. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/todays-technician-safe-humane-handling-of-small-mammal-patients/.