Sunday, April 26, 2009

notes on changes in Guineaville

Here are some changes that have happened during this fourth month in the lives of Harmony and Kazula:

1. The piggies started sleeping out in the open. Prior to this, they always slept in the security of a hidey. I attribute this change to a greater level of comfort and security. Yay us!

2. Heat Cycles (every 15-17 days, according to g.p. medical sources):
Harmony went into heat on March 31. The purrs and hip sways last about 3 days. Kazula went into heat on April 1.
Next cycle: Harmony went into heat on April 16. Kazula didn't seem to be in heat again until late on April 18.
That puts Harmony on the 16 day cycle and Kazula at 18 days. We'll see what happens next.

I'm eternally grateful that going in to heat is not a messy affair. It's just a behaviorial change, from our standpoint, and it can be very sweet and funny as well as intense. All we see is lots of purring, hip swaying, and nose to nose touching.

A friend said her guinea pig never seems to go in heat. Perhaps these behaviors are only present when there is more than one pig to act it out on? I want to find the answer to this.

3. We moved the eating / peeing area of the cage to one of the upper lofts. This makes it way easier to keep the cage clean. They will poop anywhere anytime, which is find because herbivore poops are totally inoffensive and easy to sweep up. And because they do most of their peeing while eating, all the pee is soaked into the old towel under the kitchen fleece. I change that one daily and the rest of the cage only needs a fleece and towel change on a weekly basis. Simple!

Also, by isolating the kitchen, hay only gets on that small section of fleece. I change that piece daily and just sweep the hay off the fleece into the compost bag. Done!

4. I made a hay rack for the eating area. I bent a spare cage grid into a tight U shape and hung it on a wall. Soon after, Kazula managed to jump into from one side of the open U and couldn't figure out to get out. I had to touch her rear end to get her to jump along and off it. Goofball! I then added coroplast sides to keep her from repeating the episode. While they will eat what's on the fleece first, it's good to keep spare dry grass and hay in the rack in case they run out while I'm out in the day. Gotta keep those ever-growing teeth chewing!

5. Dominance
We're starting to see some adult behaviours such as quests for dominance. In the past few days, Harmony has been really asserting herself with Kazula. I've seen Harmony use the bulk of her body to block Kazula from walking across the bridge to or from the kitchen area. I've also seen Harmony sort of snap at Kazula after they touch noses. I think I might have heard a growl too. Once I saw Harmony take a light nip on one of Kazula's ears. No mark, no wheek, no blood, but it was a definite sign of the quest for dominance. This is all very funny coming from the one piggie who is the biggest chicken in the cage.

6. Petting / Contact with the Humanoids
We continue to move closer, ever so slowly. My daughter has been able to pet Kazula for about 20-30 seconds at a time, but only when she has kind of cornered her first. If she has an escape route, she'll still run away.

Kazula likes to be near my hands and will touch noses with me! Sometimes I really feel like she's trying to get me to pet her but her skittish side over rules it.

I bring my hand to Harmony many times a day and just let her sniff it. Sometimes I take it away before she is done so it doesn't seem like I'm always imposing on her. Progress is slow but steady. Ultimately we're hoping they'll be so big and happy that they can't much escape us and will enjoy more petting. They are so ridiculously cute that it's really hard to hold back and not snuggle them.

7. Growth
Both piggies have been growing a lot. They are about 3 times the length they were when we got them 2.5 months ago. On May 1st they will be 4 months old. Wow. Apparently growth continues until they are 15 months old. Yikes. Good thing we have a huge cage!

8. Funny
When I place a stack of hay in the kitchen area, Kazula always burrows under it and makes it fly around by heading butting the hay into the air. Harmony ends up with hay on her head as she stands there eating and watching. It's quite funny but hard to capture with the movie camera so far...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Piggie Morning Workout Video

Harmony has just completed her Certification as a Fitness Instructor. To celebrate, we made this video. Put on your finest Jane Fonda-esque workout clothes and get ready to sweat!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

dining up high

We converted one of the cage lofts to a kitchen (which for guinea pigs really means a kitchen/bathroom). I added a half level shelf to give a hiding place by the food (below it), since the girls always like to have somewhere to flee to if there is a sudden sound. Kazula has converted this shelf into her eating spot. She loves to sit up there and be served her hay and veggies.

The kitchen idea really cuts down on the daily cleaning time. Hay is only served in that area, so the fleece in the rest of the cage stays hay-free. They also do most of their bathroom business in the kitchen so cleanup elsewhere is minimal. The change from serving food in the lower level to the upper loft confused them for about half a day, and then they settled in just fine. Where the food goes, they go.

We're still not able to pet or pick up the piggies, but they are very happy to hand feed, and they call me to visit them several times a day. Just whistle if you want me!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

sweet harmony

Harmony was by far the most fearful of the two piggies when we got them. Now she's the most affectionate with me, always coming up and sniffing my hands and wrists when I'm cleaning the cage. She seems genuinely pleased when I come chat with her. She's found that special little place in my heart.

There is absolutely nothing cuter or funnier than when Harmony is excited and starts racing and popcorning around the cage. Because she's quite big, it's both goofy and endearing. She's a sweetie.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

look how far she's come

Kazula was such a tiny, nervous little girl when we got her at six weeks old:

Now, almost two months later, she's much happier, healthier, and more confident:

The magic formula:
love, patience, a big cage, healthy food, and companionship.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

getting a skittish or shy guinea pig to warm up to you

From what I understand, some guinea pigs will always be skittish and resist human contact. Others, with time and patience, become trusting and start enjoying some interaction. A lucky few people have very docile pigs that don't mind being picked up and petted. I think they're the ones that get to be YouTube stars. The rest of us may get there, or close to it, with lots of time and patience.

Here's what has worked for us so far. This has taken place from age 6 weeks until 12 weeks:

1. Provide a safe, secure environment, with regular meal times. You'll know things are set up right if the piggies play happily when you're not there. If they don't play or run around at all, something is not right. The probably will either be the cage setup or their health or both. Check everything and see a vet if needed.

2. Talk with the piggies whenever you can. Encourage everyone in your household to do this as well. You want them to get familiar with everyone. And for now: hands off! You have to do this in very small, patient steps. If you got the piggies to be cute pets for your little kids, you may be in for some disappointment. Each guinea pig is different. Just like people.

3. Spend lots of time cleaning the cage or simply standing near it while talking. Guinea pigs can learn simple tricks after about 30 repetitions. It's probably the same with getting comfortable with you. Expect at least 30 good interactions for them to start bonding with you.

4. Never get between the piggie and its escape route. Each piggie needs at least one hidey hut. If you are cleaning the cage, make sure your hands are not blocking the route to the hidey. Over time, the piggies will start playing while you're cleaning, but only if they feel like they can make a run for it if they need to. Be mindful of things from the piggie's viewpoint.

5. Expect nothing and be delighted in every small step forward. Never ever try and force behaviour. Think of them like little kids. How do you win the favour of a child? Same things: safe, trusting environment, plus time and patience.

6. Don't try and touch the piggies. Just be there available for them to explore you. If you have a big open floor cage, go in and sit down and let them sniff around you. Otherwise, just put one or two hands in (depending on what they're comfortable with) and chat with them and watch.

7. If there are sudden noises while you're with the piggies, keep talking calmly. Gradually they will take more comfort in your voice more than noticing the noise.

8. When placing food in the cage, over time, start lingering a little longer and longer. After a few weeks, you should be able to keep your hand still near the food and have the piggies comfortable enough to come nibble it with your hand nearby.

9.Identify favourite treats and use them. Harmony and Kazula love apple, which they shouldn't have much of. After a few weeks, I can now take tiny pieces in my finger tips and entice them to come to me for hand feeding. I always use the word 'apple' which then seems to get them sniffing the air and coming to me. I hold the piece firmly until they get it with their mouths and pull it away. When they take it, I say 'good girl!'. Even if they drop it, I always praise them. Guinea pigs are never to be reprimanded. They don't understand it. All they will do is fear your anger. Keep it kind and gentle.

10. At six weeks, our piggies would hide if we came near the cage. By 12 weeks, I'm a welcome visitor. Sometimes Kazula even whistles for me to come over! I can place the food in the cage with no problems. They like to sniff my hands and circle around my wrists. If they do frighten, they come back right away to investigate things further.

11. My newest technique is 'Hello'. When they are playing in the cage, I put my hand in and place my knuckles near their noses, one pig at a time. I don't stick out a finger for them to sniff because they are still assuming my hand=food and have accidentally bitten me. It was a gentle bite but my startle startled them. So instead I use the backs of my hand so there's nothing to bite. I say hello, let them sniff, and then gently pull my hand away. I do this as many times a day as I can. The idea is that we will get them comfortable with my hand without expecting there always to be food with it. Gradually I hope to open a finger and perhaps (much further along) touch them. But for now, it's small steps and lots of patience. If they are going to overcome their skittishness, I think this is the most likely way.

I'm not sure what the next step will be. It always seems to become obvious to me when we get there. In other words, the piggies are the boss.

Progress so far:
6 weeks - always hiding when we're around, not even allowing photographs from a distance
12 weeks: calling us over, comfortable with our hands nearby, sometimes touching their noses to us; posing for closeup photos.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

bathing guinea pigs

Some people give their guinea pigs baths. Since ours are still very young and not yet interested in being handled, the decision to do this has not come up. In the mean time, the girls do a pretty good job washing themselves.

I've noticed that instead of drinking from the water bottle, Harmony will sometimes get the water to drip out and then use it to wash her face and body. Clever!

In this short clip, Kazula uses the excess water on the lettuce to have an impromptu washing session:

Did you know guinea pigs have four fingers on their front paws/hands but just three toes on their back ones? Yup, it's true.

Guinea Pig Sounds

This is the list of guinea pig sounds from Wikipedia [guinea pigs]:
Sounds I've noticed
(To play the wikipedia sounds, I had to modify a plug-in in my windows media player to accept .ogg files.) It's interesting to play them and compare to what I'm hearing with our piggies.

Harmony and Kazula are now 3 months old. They made no sounds when we first got them at six weeks, then one day Kazula let out a little wheek when she knew her veggies were arriving, and Harmony soon imitated it.

Once in while the piggies will be close together and I hear what sounds like baby birds chirping. It's a sweet, very distinct sound.

A squeal or a shriek, I imagine, is like a very loud wheek. The closest we've heard is once when Harmony was being picked up and clearly did not like it.

Harmony was once gnashing her teeth which made a chattering sound. It was apparent that she was hoping for a treat.

I'm not sure if we've heard rumbling, chutting, or whining. The girls get along really well so dominance has not been an issue yet. They also come into heat around the same time so one is not particularly driving the other nuts with desire.

I heard a lot of what I think was bubbling and purring when the girls were in heat recently. Otherwise, they seem to use these little birdy voices to converse.

Like all animals, I suspect their voices and sounds are far more complex than this list here. It's now known that all song birds have unique qualities to their voices and song melodies. I know I've heard a lot more from our pigs than what's listed here. The trick is to catch it with the recorder! You never know when they're going to do something.

My favourite sound is when Kazula whistles for me. It's much like a human using their fingers to make a high pitched whistle sound. She has done this a few times so far when she seems to want me to come over and say hello. Very sweet!

Jackie's Guinea Pig Sounds also provides listening files of common guinea pig sounds
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