The question of whether it’s okay to own one guinea pig has been around a long time and is one that has been asked a lot of times. But if you’re looking for the short answer to this question, then to put it simply; the answer is no.
In this article, we’ll detail the reasons why you should ensure that your guinea pig has a companion and whether you already own a little piggy or you’re looking to buy one, you’ll hopefully go away with a better understanding of your guinea pig’s complex needs.
Are guinea pigs social?
Not only are guinea pigs pack animals, but they’re also prey animals, and 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.
How many 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 it’s not essential. 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.
Males and females can live perfectly fine together just make sure they’re neutered and make sure there is enough space in the pen to prevent fighting from happening.
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. This doesn’t always mean they should be separated; but rather just monitored. In any group of animals, there will always be a competition for dominance, and you can spot this through behaviour like occasional and brief teeth chattering, scent-marking, and occasional nipping.
However, if you start to see behaviour such as the guinea pigs bearing their teeth, continuous teeth chattering, endless lunges at one another and pushing, then you need to consider what’s causing this.
This kind of behaviour could be happening simply because the guinea pigs don’t have enough space or enough accessories to go around.
You could begin by looking at the design of your cage. Is it too small? 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 (this is caused by stress).
It’s not ideal separating because guinea pigs get lonely on their own, but you can’t risk your babies wounding another or starving each other. If it’s a group, you could try separating two in one cage and two in another to see if it’s just specific pairings that are causing the problem.
If both guinea pigs are continuously rearing up towards one another, then you’ve got two dominant guinea pigs, and they will need to be broken up.
How to introduce guinea pigs?
Guinea pigs are territorial, so if you can, it’s better to put them in a group all at once. If that’s not possible, try introducing your group to new guinea pigs gradually and under supervision – preferably somewhere that’s new to both guinea pigs.
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.
After they’re used to each other’s scent and company, it’s time for them to meet face-to-face and to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible, it’s a good idea to have the meeting in a neutral space with treats and toys around them to distract them. This is an ideal time to look for any warning signs or dominant behaviour.
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.