Guinea pigs are energetic and expressive animals who often have no problem letting you know what they like or dislike. Unless you are experienced with reading their body language, however, it can sometimes be difficult to know what they are trying to communicate with their various behaviors. For example, opinions vary on whether a guinea pig pushing at your hand indicates that it wants you to continue petting it or that it wants you to stop.
So, why does my guinea pig push my hand away? In most cases, guinea pigs use this behavior to let you know they don’t want to be pet anymore or don’t like the way you are petting them. Some guinea pigs will also nudge your hand to tell you that they want to play or to show dominance.
In this article, we’ll give some tips on understanding whether your guinea pig is telling you that it likes or dislikes what you’re doing when it pushes your hand. We’ll also explore guinea pigs’ preferences when it comes to being handled and recommend a few petting techniques that can really win their hearts.
Pet Here Not There
Most guinea pigs are very particular about where they like to be pet. This is mainly due to their nature as prey animals—and sometimes to the direction their fur grows. A guinea pig will let you know what kind of stroking it likes or dislikes with a variety of behaviors, including a shove.
Where Not to Pet
If your guinea pig throws its head upward or pushes your hand away when you are petting its head or face, it’s probably letting you know that it doesn’t like to be pet there. As prey animals, guinea pigs dislike having their eyes covered or vision blocked in any way. They also just seem to prefer not to have their heads or noses stroked.
Where to Pet Instead
Instead of petting your guinea pig’s head or face, try stroking its back along its spine. Some also enjoy being gently rubbed behind the ears or on their necks under their chin.
Remember that guinea pigs are naturally inclined to startle at an unexpected touch, which may predispose them to avoid petting. Make sure your guinea pig can see your hand approaching before you pet it and always pet gently.
Also be careful to always pet your guinea pig’s fur in the direction that it grows. Many domestic guinea pigs have swirls of fur that can be tricky to follow, but petting against the flow of the fur can be irritating to a guinea pig, causing it to push you away.
When to Stop Petting
A guinea pig also may shove your hand away or toss it off if it is not in the mood for being pet or no longer wants to be pet. Guinea pigs in general are not known for being extremely affectionate or cuddly. Sometimes a guinea pig just won’t be in the mood for strokes and cuddles.
If your guinea pig tosses your hand away and acts annoyed even though you are petting its sweet spots, it may just be done with the petting. Backing off or switching to another activity when this happens will help to keep you on good terms with your pet.
How to Know it’s Enjoying Being Pet
It’s usually not difficult to tell if a guinea pig is enjoying being pet. Instead of tossing their head or shoving your hand away, a guinea pig that is enjoying caresses will want to stay close to you and may even purr happily.
Playfulness and Dominance
Guinea pigs can also get a bit pushy if they are in a playful mood or want to establish dominance. Nudging your hand can be a way of expressing that it wants to interact with you or is trying to get you to move. Knowing what kind of attention guinea pigs enjoy (or don’t enjoy) will help you respond in a way that strengthens your bond.
Building Tolerance for Petting
As we’ve noted, guinea pigs aren’t particularly cuddly, but if you know how to pet them (along their back or rubbing neck or chin) they can definitely enjoy this kind of attention. You can also increase your guinea pig’s tolerance for handling by starting slow and building up gradually.
If you notice that your guinea pig gets fidgety and pushy when you hold it for an extended period of time, it could be getting bored and irritated with you. Try decreasing the amount of time you hold it to very short periods and then slowly building back up to a lengthier cuddle session.
Dominance or Territorial Behavior
Like many other animals, guinea pigs can be dominant and territorial. With other guinea pigs, their quest for dominance may show up in chasing, mounting, and squeaking at one another. Some pigs are more prone to showing dominant behavior than others, and they may try some of their tricks on you, which can take the form of pushing your hand away.
Dominant behavior is often just a phase that a guinea pig will eventually leave behind. It often shows up in young guinea pigs as they become adults, guinea pigs who are figuring out how to deal with the presence of a new guinea pig, during breeding season, or because a guinea pig feels that it does not have adequate space or resources.
If your guinea pig is showing dominant or aggressive behavior, continue to interact gently with it, offer plenty of treats, and spend time near it or near the cage if it prefers not to be handled.
Playing with Your Pig
What if your guinea pig is feeling playful and nudges your hand to get you to play with it? Or what if it doesn’t really like being pet, but wants to interact? There are plenty of fun, gentle games you can play with your guinea pig.
Just make sure it never feels overwhelmed or frightened—these games should be fun for everyone involved. Here are some suggestions for fun, guinea-pig-safe games.
- Tossing or rolling a small ball or toy for your guinea pig to follow
- Building a simple maze or tunnel with soft, guinea-pig safe items and leading your guinea pig through it with a treat
- Taking your guinea pig to explore different areas of the house
- Playing hide-and-seek with a light towel or blanket
- Hiding treats among other items for your guinea pig to find and dig out
- Talking to your guinea pig or reading a book to it—they may enjoy the company and sound of your voice
Mites or Other Skin Irritations
Finally, a guinea pig may push your hand away if its skin is irritated in some way. One common cause of skin irritation in guinea pigs is mites. These can cause extreme discomfort which is only increased by petting, and your guinea pig may retaliate by pushing you away. Although you won’t be able to see the mites themselves, other symptoms of a mite infestation include:
- Thickened or crusty skin
- Frequent scratching or biting at itself
- Thinning fur
- Weight loss
- Skin infections
What to Do about Mites or Ailments
If you think your guinea pig may be suffering from mites or some other illness that is causing it to avoid contact, it’s best to have your vet do a thorough checkup as soon as possible. Try to keep your guinea pig calm and comfortable in the meantime.
Don’t try to get rid of the mites by giving a bath unless you’re given a medicated shampoo and instructed to do so by your vet. Otherwise, it could just make your piggie’s condition worse.
How to Avoid Mites and Infections
Of course, it’s always best if you can keep your guinea pig from picking up mites or any other infection at all. The best way to do this is to provide a well-balanced, nutritious diet and constant supply of fresh, clean water, and keep your guinea pig’s enclosure clean. Use a bedding that is soft and doesn’t irritate the skin and occasionally wash out the entire cage.
So, what have we determined about why your guinea pig pushes your hand away? First of all, it’s pretty clear that it is usually a sign that your guinea pig is not enjoying being pet. This could be because it’s just not in the mood. It could also be that you’re not petting your pig where and how it prefers. Guinea pigs will also avoid petting if it causes them discomfort or if they are ill.
If your guinea pig doesn’t want to be pet at the moment, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to interact with you at all. A guinea pig may shove at your hand when it is feeling playful, which is a great time to pull out guinea-pig safe games. Pigs often enjoy exploring, searching for treats, or just hanging out close to you.