Can Guinea Pigs and Rabbits Live Together?

Can Guinea Pigs and Rabbits Live Together

Guinea pigs are quite docile and unaggressive. They like learning new tricks and usually don’t cause problems, despite each having a distinct personality. One piggy is happier with another piggy companion. Some say that rabbits are loving, social, intelligent, and unique pets that enjoy living with another of their kind. Others say that they’re mean, destructive, bad-tempered, and unaffectionate beings that don’t care about the humans or animals around them. Either way, both animals enjoy freely exploring and running – no stress involved.

Now, can guinea pigs and rabbits live together? The answer lies in understanding their similarities and their distinctions. Rabbits and guinea pigs are incompatible. The bunny may often injure the piggy, intentionally (physical harm) or unintentionally (carrying harmful bacteria) – possibly even killing it.

In the wild, rabbits live in groups composed of pairs. An entire herd has it’s ‘leaders’ – a dominant family. This hierarchy is essential to keep the peace, and even neutered/spayed rabbits live by it.

One of the first things the furry beings do when they meet is competing for dominance by mounting, chasing, circling, lunging, biting and even pulling at each other’s fur. Once one of them submits by lowering its head, the now dominant one may continue proving it’s superiority for weeks as part of a compulsion to set the newly established hierarchy in stone.

As expected, the ‘royal’ enjoys special privileges. It demands grooming from it’s subordinate (rarely returning the favor) and is the first to get food and treats. Therefore, it makes sense that a rabbit would naturally expect to be dominant over a smaller, weaker animal such as a guinea pig.

Rabbits Bully Guinea Pigs

Bunnies may use their greater size and strength to scare guinea pigs away from a shared food bowl for example. Rabbits often kick and mount (hump) when feeling fearful, annoyed, or startled, thus stressing out their smaller companion and possibly damaging its spine. Sometimes, the larger animal may even corner the piggy by biting it or ‘playing’ with it out of entertainment or boredom. Guinea pigs need adequate room and nutrients, otherwise they will be unhappy, stressed, and might hurt themselves.

In order to reduce aggressive behavior, it’s recommended to spay or neuter the bunny. Losing the urge to mate makes it calm and loving. Besides, fixed rabbits are easier to train and are significantly less dangerous to other animals.

In case the pair is getting along, they shouldn’t be separated because they’re used to each other. However, guinea pigs need constant access to a personal ‘safe space’ that a rabbit can’t enter if it decides to act out destructively – usually out of anxiety and fear.

Why So Anxious?

Bunnies are prey animals, meaning that they’re quite prone to anxiety. Some signs that a rabbit is stressed are when it curls up, paws tucked under its body with drooping ears and fast breathing. Some symptoms that can be noticed over time are increased grooming and scratching, followed by aggressive behavior like ruining the bars of their cage or destroying things inside.

It’s important for rabbits to have sufficient cage space and to have running time every day for them to stay calm. Secondly, they get used to certain environments, people, smells, and noises. Any sudden change is very stressful for a bunny and should be avoided, as it can make them mean.

Behavioral Differences

They also have their differences behavior wise. Rabbits are prone to behavioral problems. They scratch, bite, and kick, especially when they reach puberty. It could be because of hormones, mistreatment, etc.

Neutering/spaying should be considered at around four months of age. Castrating males is vital in order to avoid fighting and unwanted breeding that often stems from sexual frustration – characterized by mounting, circling, lunging, and general destructiveness. Other advantages of fixing rabbits are a reduction in urine spraying (marking territory) and nipping. Excretions lose part of their stench, and the rabbit is easier to litter train. However, it’s important to note that it may take up to several weeks for these improvements to start taking place.

Contrarily, aggressive sexual (or non-sexual) behavior in guinea pigs doesn’t significantly recline when they’re neutered. Piggies are relatively docile; they’re fleeing prey animals that only resort to aggression for immediate self-defence. Therefore, neutering is not necessary unless it’s for medical or reproductive reasons.

Rabbits are Carriers of Bordetella and Pasteurella

Bordetella is the most common bacterial respiratory tract infection among guinea pigs. It’s usually transmitted through the air from other sick animals when they cough or sneeze. A sexually transmitted genital version exists as well. In both cases, the disease has high mortality rates, so it’s important to notice general symptoms, such as fever:

  • dullness or depression
  • loss of appetite that results in weight loss
  • breathing problems and nasal discharge
  • female infertility
  • miscarriage
  • calcium deficiencies during pregnancy or nursing

Pasteurella is another infection that affects both animals, causing abscesses in various organs, but mostly in the upper respiratory tract. In most cases, rabbits exhibit no symptoms – the bacteria can reside in the nasal cavity without causing problems. However, maintaining a strong immune system is crucial to avoid sickness.

A rabbit’s physical strength depends on its emotional wellbeing, which in turn depends on contentment and low-stress.

Rabbits are most active at dawn and at dusk, while guinea pigs are very energetic during the day. This causes a serious disturbance that leads to irritation and exhaustion, weakening the animal in question.

Another difference between the animals is sensitivity to temperature. Rabbits can live indoors and outdoors. However, the guinea pigs’ bodies experience high stress when exposed to drastic temperatures, hurting the immune system.

In addition, a clean cage and clean air are extremely important for strength upkeep. Chemicals and smoke can cause problems in the upper respiratory tract, triggering the disease.

What makes Pasteurella in rabbits especially dangerous to guinea pigs is the high risk of infection. The bacteria is mostly transmitted through infected saliva from biting or scratching – something that rabbits often do to piggies they don’t tolerate.

When the two are housed together, guinea pigs are exposed to these bacteria and become much more susceptible to future health complications.

Avoid Having Guinea Pigs and Rabbits Live Together

Closely housing a rabbit and a guinea pig should be avoided. There are physiological reasons why the two aren’t a fit. Firstly, guinea pigs are active while bunnies are resting and vice-versa. Secondly, piggies are much more sensitive to temperature than rabbits, and putting them in weather conditions that are only fit for the bunny could be dangerous for the piggy.

Differences in behavior and communication often result in misunderstandings and ugly clashes between the two. As the bigger and stronger animal, rabbits can harm the piggy – using their strong hind legs combined with sharp teeth and nails – especially when they’re feeling high levels of anxiety. Sexual frustration is an even bigger motive to harm the guinea pig by mounting, circling, and lunging. Because the rabbit is bigger, these physical actions can cause serious back-bone damage to the piggy, or even kill the small animal. A common solution is neutering the rabbit, which significantly reduces its destructive tendencies, but doesn’t usually fully resolve the guinea pig issue.

Lastly and most importantly, rabbits may be carriers of bacteria that don’t hurt them but seriously harm guinea pigs. In many cases of guinea pig infection, these diseases are transmitted through infected saliva from bite and scratch wounds from rabbits, cats, and dogs. Consequently, guinea pigs should be distanced and protected from the three animals listed above.

In spite of these risks, there are cases in which a bunny and a guinea pig tolerate each other, even getting along at times. In these cases, they shouldn’t be separated because neither animal tolerates sudden changes very well. If after knowing the risks a caretaker still decides to house the pair together, then they must provide a secret hiding place for the piggy that’s too big for the rabbit to enter, just in case.

Clarissa Moolbrock

Clarissa Moolbrock is one of the founders and editor at Guinea Pig Tube. She is also an author of "Complete Guinea Pig Care Guide: The Essential, Practical Guide To All Aspects of Caring for Your Guinea Pigs" (available on Amazon). Being a veterinary technician helping animals and sharing her experience and knowledge with other guinea pig owners is her passion. Her life goal is to popularise guinea pigs as pets and that is why she has started Guinea Pig Tube website.