If you’re thinking of adopting a guinea pig, or one of your guinea pigs has died so you have been left with just one, you really need to know that it is not recommended for a guinea pig to be on its own.
All guinea pigs should be in a pair at the very least.
In this article, we’ll detail the reasons why you should ensure that your guinea pig has a companion. Whether you already own a little piggy or you’re looking to start your journey, you’ll hopefully go away with a better understanding of your guinea pig’s complex needs.
Why can’t guinea pigs live alone?
Not only are guinea pigs pack animals, but they’re also prey animals in the wild. So they feel less stressed when surrounded by numbers.
But survival is not the only reason guinea pigs like to be in groups; it’s also for companionship and mental stimulation as well.
Guinea pigs are incredibly sociable and are actually at risk of becoming bored and frustrated if left alone. Evidence has suggested that depressive states occur when a guinea pig is removed from its family, and the RSPCA is quite clear on expressing the need for guinea pigs to be in groups.
It’s important to provide guinea pigs with engagement throughout the day as well as warmth, comfort and a sense of belonging. Quite simply, the absence of company for a long time can lead to abnormal behaviour in your guinea pig and may well have a detrimental effect on their health and well-being.
The only exception is if an animal behaviourist says your guinea pig shouldn’t be housed with another animal, but this is very very rare.
How many guinea pigs should I have?
Having a group of guinea pigs together is always going to provide more stimulation for your little guys then if there is just two. However, the more guinea pigs, the more space is required which – understandably – isn’t an option for everyone.
It’s great if you can have three or four guinea pigs in a group, but two is the minimum. As long as your little buddy has at least one other piggy with them, then you’re already going to be dramatically improving their quality of life.
The recommended setups are:
- One neutered male and one or more females
- Two females
- Neutered brothers (if they’ve been reared together)
- A father-son/mother-daughter pairing
Some owners will say that single-sex pairings are the best option. Others will say that a mixed-sex group is better as personalities are less likely to clash. Either way, it mostly depends on individual behaviours.
If you have more than two, it is also recommended that there is only one male. This mirrors their natural setup in the wild. One male will have several females.
Unless used for breeding, males should always be neutered to prevent breeding and fighting. Neutering a female is much more complicated, so not always seen as the norm.
Do Guinea pigs fight?
Like all families, guinea pigs will have clashes. It’s not often that guinea pigs will get caught up in a fight; however, that’s not to say it doesn’t happen at all. It’s important to know the difference between normal pack behaviour and aggressive, problematic behaviour.
While guinea pigs love company, like even the most sociable of humans, they’ll still grumble and bicker if they have no space. Don’t separate them straight away; firstly, look at their setup. Does their cage meet the minimum guinea pig cage size requirements? If not, extend it to be as big as possible.
Do you have enough beds and enough food bowls and toys to distribute? Do you have a lot of huts and houses with only one door to access them? Try and make it so guinea pigs can have their own space and can move freely in and out of huts.
If you’ve resolved these problems and there is still pushing around and fights going on, as well as guinea pigs depriving others of food, then it’s time to separate. You should also check for bite marks and missing chunks of fur as well as weight loss. See an animal behaviourist, too.
If you have a group of pigs, they may still work in pairs, so try to see who is causing the trouble. Some guinea pigs can simply suffer from a personality clash.
Guinea pigs can suffer from sudden broken bonds, after spending years as friends or littermates. If this is the case, it could be a sign of illness.
How can I introduce guinea pigs?
Guinea pigs are territorial, so if you can, it’s better to put them in a group all at once. Littermates or a previously bonded pair is ideal. But we know that sometimes, a pet will die or one will be rescued on its own.
Try introducing your group to new guinea pigs gradually and under supervision. It’s better if you can have them in separate cages that are close to one another so they can get used to seeing one another without being in the same space.
Swap their bedding, toys and other items around from cage to cage, so they get used to each other’s scent. This is literally called ‘scent-swapping’. They could even swap cages for the day. Just ensure neither gets stressed.
After they’re used to each other’s scent and company, it’s time for them to meet face-to-face. To ensure this goes as smoothly as possible, it’s a good idea to have the meeting in a neutral space so neither gets protective of the area. This is an ideal time to look for any warning signs or dominant behaviour. Have a dustpan or similar item to hand in case you need to physically separate them. You don’t want to injure them or yourself.
If they are squeaking to each other, sniffing each other, spending time together ‘popcorning’ (sudden jumps in the air) then it looks like they are happy! Have some treats around, so they link the new experience with something positive.
Once you have done this a couple of times and it has gone well, then it’s time for them to share the same cage. They will need to monitored more frequently throughout this stage. If they do begin showing hostile behaviour then break them up again and give them longer to spend time together in a neutral environment before eventually putting them in the same cage again.
Can I have a rabbit and a guinea pig together?
The RSPCA and the PDSA advise against having rabbits together with guinea pigs, primarily because they’re not from the same species. They have different needs, and rabbits can often bully guinea pigs.
Not only this, but rabbits can spread a bacteria which doesn’t affect them, but can make guinea pigs ill.