Some cavies do nip, chew or bite. A little chewing is natural for cavies, it is how they investigate things and how they socially interact with each other. Chewing on an owner's hands, arms, clothing or hair is natural for the curious or sociable cavy. It is not unusual for baby cavies to bite. Like puppies and kittens, cavy pups may be rambunctious and nippy. With time, maturity and lots of secure gentle handling the biting almost always gets better. I've never had a cavy with an attitude or handling problem that didn't improve with time and tender loving care. Whether they improve enough to be a trustworthy children's pet or a couch potato pig is another matter.

Older cavies may bite out of fear, traumatic handling, lack of socializing, playfulness, curiosity or just plain brattiness. Some cavies may have a genetic tendency towards shyness and biting. Often the worst biters I get have been either seldom handled or roughly handled - held too tightly or left to dangle loosely in the air, mostly by children too young to be holding any animal unsupervised. Isolating cavies can also make them skittish. One reason I discourage the use of aquariums and deep plastic tubs as cavy housing is because they severely limit a cavy's exposure to surrounding sights, sounds and smells. All he can really experience is what's immediately around him or straight up (if there is no lid). This isolation can cause a cavy to react wildly to sudden sounds and movement. Keeping the cage in an isolated room seldom visited by family members can also make a cavy unsociable, bored and lonely.

It's important to note that cavies may also nip or bite out of pain or discomfort. It is not unusual for a cavy with mite infestation to react to handling by biting. Sarcoptic mites burrow down into the cavy's skin, causing intense itching, which can be further irritated by handling. It is a good idea to have a nippy cavy examined by a veterinarian to make sure there isn't a physical reason for the behaviour.

Picking up a cavy needs to be done calmly and smoothly, with both hands - no chasing, no grabbing. I like to "herd" the cavy to a corner of the cage then scoop it up with both hands securely supporting it's entire body. The cavy should be held often, on a towel if necessary to protect yourself from being bitten. Slow circular rubs with your fingertips tend to calm and comfort most animals. Feel free to bribe the cavy with hand fed special treats while holding it. I also like to give "body scrunches" -- which means I give firm but gentle squeezes and rubs with one or both hands all over the cavy's body. I have them sitting in a natural position on my lap or chest when I do this. Most cavies learn to enjoy body scrunches. It feels good and they get used to my touch. This also shows them a few nips will not intimidate me or keep me from handling them.

I have a darling little Teddy named Theadora who was a holy terror as a youngster. Nippy, speedy, didn't want to be held or cuddled. She put up the biggest fuss during body scrunches - kicking, squealing and thrashing about. But when I stopped, she'd get quiet, look around, nibble my hand a little bit - and wait patiently for more. She grew to love body scrunches, still does. Theadora will always be an independent little pig, but she is much much easier to handle now and appreciative of cuddling. She still bites, but just little unpainful love bites. It's part of her charm.

When I think about it, a couple of my most favorite cavies have been nippers. Both sows coincidentally. Jetta was a breathtaking red satin Abyssinian. She'd often give a good sharp nip just to let me know she couldn't be taken for granted. Then she'd stretch and yawn and snuggle down comfortably in my arms. I loved that pig. Little Zippity, a chocolate/cream/white American, came to me when she was 4 years old. She was in awful condition, suffering bumblefoot, malnutrition and a mammary tumor. Eventually we got Zippity fixed up and in good shape. The little darling showed her undying gratitude by biting me everytime I picked her up. I don't know if it was a habit from past traumatic handling or if she was just a snot. Zippity enjoyed the attention once I was holding her and absolutely loved gentle tickles and chin rubs. She was so naughty, but very adorable. Headstrong Jetta and Zippity have since passed on, I miss them very much.

Sometimes it helps tone down a bad or wild attitude if you can room a problem cavy with a mellow easily handled one. Cavies often copy and learn from each other and the youngsters especially watch what the older cavies are doing. Even a juvenile delinquent that is exhibiting bad behavior might calm down if he is one-on-one with a well-mannered adult cavy.

Cavies do not seem to learn from punishment or discipline. Squirting them with water or tapping their nose may make them fearful of you, but I doubt they'll get the connection and stop biting. Bitter Apple, an anti-chewing spray available at most pet stores, can be rubbed on whatever body part the cavy usually bites. The unpleasant taste and smell might possibly discourage the cavy from biting, or he is likely to avoid that area.

Unfortunately, some cavies will continue to nip. With effort and attention this problem will improve but maybe not to a point where the cavy would make a good pet for families with children or people inexperienced with cavies. These "Attitude Pigs" will need patient, understanding adult owners that can take an occasional nip without losing their temper or their love for the animal. If he is more sociable with his own kind, such a cavy might do better as a cavy's companion rather than a human's companion. His role can be kind of like a pet for a more sociable easily handled cavy.

When I get cavies that bite or are difficult to handle I plan on keeping them here indefinitely. Hopefully they will learn to trust and relax, gradually mellowing out to become cuddly affectionate pets. If not, they stay here - I never euthanize because of an attitude problem. When possible I will pair a nippy stinker up with a friendly easy-going cavy. That way both animals have companionship even if one prefers not to be greatly smooched and cuddled by humans. Often even these really tough cases will eventually calm down enough to become adoptable - if I'm lucky enough to find somebody willing to adopt an older cavy.

One of the fun things about cavies is that they all have their very own unique individual personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes. Some cavies thrive on having a big fuss made over them. Some prefer a slow dignified scratch between the ears to being held. Others will take all the treats and perks you have to offer - just don't expect any mushy stuff in return. Like people, each cavy needs to be enjoyed and appreciated for what he is.

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