You’ve heard it time and time again. Guinea pigs need friends. It’s even illegal in some areas to have a solo pig. Guinea pigs live in herds in the wild and do best with the comfort of their own kind. Hey, it’s not personal. It’s just instinct.
Power in Numbers
In their natural environment, guinea pigs’ pals help watch for predators and threats. Without their network, a guinea pig in the wild would have to be on high alert 24/7. How exhausting! That instinct runs deep. Guinea pigs that live alone are generally more nervous and high-strung. Think about how hard it would be to bond with your humans when you’re that tightly wound all the time.
Wild guinea pigs have the ability to pick and choose their social network. Well, technically, it’s a bit more complex than that. When guinea pigs reproduce and the population increases, groups of 10-15 usually split into sub-units consisting of one to four males and one to seven females. In the wild, escalating fighting is rare, because the highest-ranking males of each sub-unit respect the bonds of the others’ groups. They have the freedom to choose individual living and sleeping spaces for their group. Ah, harmony.
The More the Merrier … Right?
Things are a little different for domesticated guinea pigs. It changes a pig when he is served only the finest guinea pig food with slaves on hand for monthly mani/pedis. He can afford to be a little picky when it comes to a roomie. Yes, the instinctive longing for a buddy is still there, but we can’t expect a guinea pig to like just any fella that we plop into his palace.
In the wild, the king of the castle doesn’t have to share his territory with fellow alpha males. So, we may mean well when we pick out a friend, but sometimes we don’t get it right the first time. Remember that blind date your mom set up when you were a teenager? What if they NEVER LEFT? It’s risky to bring home just any pig like that.
Introducing your guinea pig to a baby is often a safe bet, regardless of gender. Baby guinea pigs aren’t concerned with the social hierarchy; they have new foods to try, new toys to play with, any plenty of popcorning taking up their busy schedules. Adult residents tend to see babies as less of a threat, which gets their relationship off on the right foot.
While these bonds usually last, there is always a chance the newcomer will experience a change of heart come puberty. Most common in males, the “teenage” guinea pig may try to challenge their roomie for the throne at around five months old. This can lead to a falling out between the pair. For this reason, some prefer to bond an adult with another adult, in hopes that what you see is what you get.
While females can live nicely in groups, given there is adequate living space and unlimited resources (hay), males usually do best in pairs, with the odd trio here and there if the personality fit is right. A neutered male can fit in nicely with a group of girls, although mixing more than one male in with ladies, regardless of whether they are neutered, can be a recipe for disaster.
When you find the first contender, make sure the space where they are introduced doesn’t smell like any other guinea pigs. It should be a large, open area. Any hides should have two exits, so no one ends up cornered and feeling defensive. Some yummy guinea pig hay always makes a good distraction, too.
Rumbling, humping, chasing, a little chattering, and similar theatrics is normal. Louder chattering with an open mouth and raised paw while circling the other guinea pig is a sign that things may be going south. Lunging, biting to draw blood, and pignados mean it’s time to call it quits. Guinea pigs hold grudges. Once blood is drawn or he decides he isn’t a fan, that opinion is pretty much set in stone.
The best way to find a good fit for your guinea pig is to let him be the one to choose. Most guinea pig rescues will allow you to bring your guinea pig so he can have a few trial runs with potential roomies in neutral territory. It can take a few hours for them to decide if they want to be friends, so be patient.
Sachser, N. Naturwissenschaften (1998) 85: 307. https://doi.org/10.1007/s001140050507