When we hear the term “guinea pig” we usually think of animals used in laboratory experiments and for scientific research. It became a metaphor and is sometimes even used to denote even humans used for such experiments. The poor creatures became a negative connotation when used in sci-fi movie thrillers.
But have you realized that all that a guinea pig needs is a friend? Not just in the form of you as the owner but also in the form of fellow guinea pigs. No, this is not a Disney fantasy animation story. Do guinea pigs need a friend to be happy? Of course, a guinea pig won’t die without a friend, but it is much, much happier with a friend around. It is not in the same notion of humans needing friends. But just like humans, a guinea pig will feel much more relaxed and secure having a companion around.
Natural Habitat vs Domestication
In their natural habitat, guinea pigs live in herds. Though they are sometimes regarded as exotic animals and are usually preyed by predatory animals in the wild, they don’t remain solitary. They are meant to live in groups and thrive in interaction. They rely on each other for warmth and alerting the herd in case a predator comes in.
As domestic pets, guinea pigs are great companion pets as they are always in need of attention and affection. Each guinea pig has its personality and mood state, and they are very friendly. Though they could be skittish at first, they are relatively easy to tame. They recognise and respond well to their owners and can be very attached to them.
However, if you think you can provide all the companionship that your pet guinea pig needs, think again. While you can be a good friend to your pet and interact with it all day in trying to provide all the companionship that it needs, you can’t take the place of a guinea pig companion. Especially if you’re mostly out for the large part of the day due to work and other important things, then you won’t be able to provide the interaction that it needs during that part of the day.
Just imagine the loneliness your pet is going to feel being alone in a cage when you’re away.
Why do guinea pigs need a roommate?
So in order to provide the best possible natural environment, your pet needs another guinea pig as a companion. It needs someone of its own kind to talk to and play with. It’s almost criminal to adopt just one guinea pig. Heck, it is even illegal to adopt less than two guinea pigs in some countries like Sweden!
You might be worried about additional costs and time in cleaning and maintenance in adopting two guinea pigs. Adopting a second guinea pig doesn’t really add too much to your expenses compared to just one. Even vet expenses don’t cost too much for the most part.
Also, here are some additional advantages that will convince you in adopting a second guinea pig:
- Exercise – If you have work or you study at school, the fellow guinea pig will provide the exercise that your other pet needs when they play with each other all day while you’re out.
- Better food selection – Having a single guinea pig will sometimes result in your pet being picky and finicky in the foods that you give it. Having a friend guinea pig introduced will result in food competition too, and your pet who is picky with food selection will try out treats that his companion is eating, thus resulting in a varied, balanced, and healthier diet for both of them.
- A better state of behaviour – Ok, we’ll use the happier term here. It will be more rewarding to see your pets interact, chasing each other, cuddling and snuggling together.
However, giving your pet guinea pig a companion is not as easy as putting another guinea pig on the same cage. Careful introduction of your pets to each other is necessary.
As an important rule, having guinea pigs of opposite genders is not recommended, unless you are prepared to have an additional 7 or more pups every two to three months. If you’re adopting guinea pigs of opposite genders and you don’t like to have unwanted pregnancies for your female guinea pig, make sure to have them spayed or neutered.
And speaking of pregnancies, as general advice for breeding guinea pigs, please DON’T. Especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Adopting two same-sex guinea pigs is the more recommended option, so you don’t risk your pets to surgery of neutering or spaying. An adult female guinea pig usually won’t have any issues being introduced with another female guinea pig, but there are instances when two adult male guinea pigs might not get along well.
Males tend to be territorial. This largely depends on their personality too, so it is recommended that you introduce two male guinea pigs to each other as babies so you won’t have problems with them fighting each other and they can bond well.
Another option is to introduce a younger male guinea pig (typically as young as six months old) to an older male guinea pig, so they can establish a natural hierarchy with the older one being more dominant than the young one.
Introducing Guinea pigs to Each Other
While some guinea pigs will act like meeting a long lost friend when introduced to each other for the first time, there are just those times when your guinea pigs will fight each other due to personality differences. Similar to dogs or wolf packs, there are guinea pigs who have a dominant personality or want to establish himself being the “boss piggy”, and there are submissive guinea pigs who are just following the leader.
When guinea pigs try to assert dominance to each other, showing the fellow guinea pig who’s boss, this might result in a fight. It can be a necessary process, but if no one gives in and they keep asserting dominance, things might get bloody.
Here are some things to look out for when introducing guinea pigs to each other for the first time and what to do when a fight ensues:
When you put them on the same cage, watch them closely for an hour or so
Look for signs like bottom-smelling, yawning, mounting, aggression, or non-serious fighting. These can be signs that one is upset with the other. If they don’t get along and they suddenly engage in a fight, separate them with a towel to avoid getting bitten.
If they are not in a fight, listen carefully to the sounds that they do
Some sounds that they produce like rumble-strutting and constant teeth-chattering might mean that a guinea pig is anxious or stressed or is trying to show dominance over the other, this can start the fighting between your guinea pigs. Keep a close eye to your pets and just take action when the fighting starts.
Check for the things they might fight for
If your cage is too small, they will fight each other for space. As a standard, having a cage of 10.5 square feet is the minimum for two guinea pigs. If you have a tunnel or house for the guinea pigs with only one entrance, they might fight for that. If you don’t have hay beds, dishes, toys and water bottles for each guinea pig, then they might fight over those things.
Scuffling and lunging on each other is a sign that they are fighting over space or things.
Check for unusual behaviours
If one of your pet guinea pigs seems terrified, just staying alone in one corner not doing anything, it can be a sign that it is being bullied by the other guinea pig. It is recommended to separate them if that is the case.
If you suspect they are not going well with each other, separate them
Introduce a neutral space or put a cage divider to the other guinea pig in which it can still run around but not hide from the other guinea pig so that they can still see each other for safe interaction. Keep them separated for a few weeks. Swap their cages so that they will get used to each other’s smell and hopefully will make them friends over time.
Have patience, follow the tips above and hopefully your pets will have a bond that will last a lifetime.
That’s not to say your pet doesn’t need you as a friend. It can consider you a good companion. It makes his life much more complete when you’re around. You’ll be the provider of his food, water, shelter, and cuddling, and his guinea pig companion will provide everything else.
So it is still important to interact with them often by talking to them, holding or petting them, and giving them treats. Be a loving guinea pig owner to them and make them feel like family!