Gloves, shoes and…..guinea pigs? Some things in life just work better in pairs! If you have a lonely solo guinea pig, here’s how to find their perfect match.
Certain small animals are happy living a life of peaceful solitude. Some hamsters, for instance, are better off living solo. But guinea pigs are a different story entirely. Our favorite furry little pals are sociable creatures who thrive in herds and should never be kept alone without at least one other guinea pig companion. This means that guinea pigs should not be housed with other small pets such as rabbits, as sadly, rabbits can end up bullying their piggy friend as they’re generally larger, after all.
If you’re becoming a guinea pig parent for the very first time, you should always get more than one piggy. No reputable rescue, pet shop or breeder would allow you to walk away with just one guinea pig. Alternatively, if you have a single guinea pig due to circumstance, such as a recent bereavement, finding another bond for your piggy is the kindest thing to do.
In our step-by-step guide, we explore common questions surrounding bonding as well as how to safely introduce guinea pigs to achieve the best chances at a harmonious bond.
Adopting guinea pigs together and bonding them
Kavee is proud to champion and support the many guinea pig rescues centers around the world. These incredible places, which are run by selfless, animal loving people, provide shelter and care for abandoned and neglected piggies. Before adopting guinea pigs, if you are wondering which cage size is best for your pairing or herd, check our article on guinea pig cage sizes.
The demand on guinea pig rescue centers worldwide is immense, and the pressure has increased during the pandemic, due to so many guinea pigs being abandoned. For this reason, shelters generally welcome enquiries from potential guinea pig parents who are thinking about adopting some fur babies.
If you are currently a piggy parent with a single piggy, many rescues also offer matching services to help you find the perfect match. Another great reason to support rescues!
Kavee would always advise using a guinea pig rescue rather than a pet store or breeder. Quite simply, it’s the kindest, most ethical choice. You can find a list of rescues in your area here with Kavee’s helpful guinea pig rescue map.
Here at Kavee, we don’t generally advise buying guinea pigs from pet stores because sadly, animals aren’t always kept in the best conditions. Also, as it’s very hard to determine a guinea pig’s sex, especially when they’re tiny, baby guinea pigs are often sexed wrongly by inexperienced pet shop staff. This often results in unsuspecting customers going home with a boy and girl rather two piggies of the same sex.
If you opt to go with a breeder, do some background checks to ensure that they are reputable and that their guinea pigs live in humane conditions.
Is it better to adopt baby guinea pigs or adult guinea pigs?
You may be wondering, what is the best age pairings for guinea pigs? Should both of your guinea pigs be babies or both adults, or perhaps a combination? The simple answer to this is, there is no magic pairing that is better versus another as each bond will ultimately depend on the personality of each guinea pig. Bonding can either succeed or fail regardless of the age of guinea pigs.
That being said, it is perfectly acceptable to match an adult guinea pig with a wee one or to have a pairing between two adults - provided they’re compatible. Both animals may feel threatened and will need to establish a hierarchy by jostling for dominance. However, this is all perfectly normal guinea pig behavior as they work out their relationship. You can find out more about this in our blog post about guinea pig dominance and fighting.
So, how do you know if a bond will work out? Below we take a look at the guinea pig bonding process more in depth!
Guinea pig speed dating and matchmaking services: how does it work?
If you are trying to find a new cage mate for your lonely piggy, some cavy rescues offer guinea pig matchmaking: it's like speed dating but for guinea pigs.
Trained cavy rescue volunteers will arrange and closely monitor one on one introductions with your solo piggy, until they find a potential match.
With this sort of matchmaking, your solo guinea pig will only be paired with a piggy of the same sex - or will be paired with a neutered animal of the opposite sex - so that you won’t end up with unexpected guinea pig babies, as adorable as they are. To discover more about the differences between boy and girl piggies, read our blog post, ‘Male vs Females: Which Guinea Pig Should you Choose?’.
If initial introductions at the rescue go well, you can trial the bond at home. If the pairing sadly does work out, the rescue will help you find a different pairing for your guinea pig in the hopes that the new pairing will work out better.
Rescues running a matchmaking service will allow you to keep trying pairings with your piggy until you find the perfect match.
How do I safely bond guinea pigs? A step-by-step guide
If you have adopted a pair of guinea pigs that have already been successfully bonded by a rescue or previous owner, you will not need to follow the steps below. Instead, you can continue adjusting your piggies to their new home!
But, if you have adopted your guinea pigs from two different locations, or, you are introducing a new guinea pig to your solo guinea pig or existing guinea pig herd, you will need to follow the below bonding process. Following these steps will give your guinea pigs the best chance at forming a successful bond!
Step 1: Guinea Pig Quarantine
Let’s face it, the current pandemic has taught us all an awful lot about this topic! But although you probably know how to quarantine yourself (lots of comfort food and Netflix) how exactly do you quarantine a guinea pig - and why is it essential?
Quarantining a guinea pig simply means preventing physical contact between your piggies for the first two weeks. This is to ensure that any underlying health issues that they may be carrying - such as parasites - do not pass to your solo piggy or existing herd.
To be completely sure that your new piggy is healthy, it’s also wise to have them checked over by an exotic pets vet. Need help finding a guinea pig vet? Kavee has created a free map of cavy savvy vets across the USA and the UK.
Note: this quarantine phase should be skipped in the case of a bereaved guinea pig that is emotionally struggling with loss. Signs of grief in guinea pigs include poor appetite and lack of exercise. Finding a friend for your lonely guinea pig is crucial in this scenario and should not be delayed!
How do I quarantine my guinea pig?
To quarantine guinea pigs, you will need two separate cage setups. Here at Kavee we have a range of C&C cages that are designed with dividers to quarantine guinea pigs. C&C cages setup up within minutes and allow piggy parents to reuse the grids ones the quarantine period is over!
To prevent the spread of possible parasites, here are a couple things to keep in mind when your guinea pigs are in quarantine:
- always wash your hands after handling your new guinea pigs (a change of clothes is also encouraged)
- do not share used / unwashed fleece bedding, accessories, or toys between the two cages
Step 2: Take the sight and scent guinea pig approach
Once the guinea pig quarantine period has ended, you can begin introductions. Start slowly, with two important senses - sight and scent. If their cages are in the same room, they should be able to see and smell each other. This can be easily achieved by placing both cages side by side one another. It’s helpful for them to be able to spend time together with a barrier in place to prevent any fights.
Teeth chattering and rumble strutting at this stage is normal guinea pig behavior and does not indicate the bond will fail. This is also true for guinea pigs that display excitement or disinterest as this also is not an indication that the bond will succeed. The real test is when the guinea pigs share the same space!
During this initial stage, you should also do some ‘scent swapping’. This means swapping their bedding - or items such as snuggle sacks or pee pads - so that they can get used to each other’s scent. Simply place a used item into each cage and observe their reactions. The same principal holds true for scent swaps: if your guinea pigs have a positive or negative reaction to the scent, it does not indicate how the success of the bond.
Step 3: Setting up a neutral space for guinea pig introductions
Once they’re used to each other’s scent, you can now move towards a physical introduction. This initial meeting should take place in a neutral space that does not have the heavy scent of either guinea pig, to discourage territorial behavior. A C&C playpen is a great option for your initial introductions as you can insert or remove a barrier, when needed.
Other essential supplies include:
- a bath towel for protection in case you need to intervene
- fresh veggies for distractions (romaine lettuce, parsley or fresh grass are great choices!)
Step 4: Introducing your guinea pigs
When it’s time for your piggies to meet, allow them into the area and let them have a mooch around. Watch them at all times and look for positive signs such as popcorning or gentle sniffs of each other. They may even groom or relax together.
Guinea pigs may display signs of dominant behavior such as rumble strutting, mounting, or teeth chatter. This is all normal behavior as they work out their relationship.
Introduce some yummy snacks, such as fresh lettuce leaves or a handful of parsley, so that they associate being together with something they enjoy - eating!
Check out this excellent guinea pig bonding example by Saskia from the LA Guinea Pig Rescue.
What if my guinea pigs don’t get along on their first meeting?
Keep an eye out for aggressive behavior such as persistent chasing, facing off against each other with their noses raised, or circling.
Some of this behavior is pretty normal during a first meeting and many guinea pig pairings will sort out any differences pretty quickly. Don’t forget that guinea pigs always have to establish a hierarchy and for this reason some squabbling is to be expected. For more information on guinea pig dominance, check out our article, 'All You Need to Know About Guinea Pig Fights'.
Have your towel ready to wrap your hand if you need to intervene. Never place your bare hands into the playpen to break up a fight, as you could be bitten accidently. Relentless chasing or circling are signs of aggressive behavior and would be a good time to intervene with a towel, to distract them. Move your hand away to observe again.
A short supervised visit of around 10 minutes is best to start with if the pair looks stressed and are not settling down as you can separate them and gradually build up to longer meet ups.
What should you do after separating two squabbling guinea pigs?
If you’ve had to separate your two piggies during their first face to face meeting, don’t abandon all hope of them ever forming a bond. It could still happen but, for now, it’s time to slow everything down. Go back to the scent-swapping stage for a few days before letting them meet face to face again. Whilst some guinea pigs will soon adapt to a new buddy, other pairings may take longer to adjust.
Repeat steps 2 - 4 and observe!
When should you separate guinea pigs?
If the guinea pigs launch themselves at one another, bite each other and draw blood, you will need to intervene as the pair can cause serious physical harm to one another.
If a guinea pig is injured during a fight, don’t leave anything to chance and take them to be checked over by an exotic pets vet. If left untreated, open wounds can lead to infections, so it is important to treat them.
Once a guinea pig has drawn blood in a physical altercation, it is very unlikely that the bond will succeed. For the safety of both guinea pigs, it is best to stop further introductions from occurring. At this stage, it is best to find a more suitable match.
Do guinea pig bath bonding sessions work?
You may come across many sources that recommend bathing guinea pigs together to assist with introductions. Though this is a nice idea in principal, bathing is already a stressful experience for one guinea pig, let alone 2. In fact, piggy parents who do this have often reported that they do not notice a major impact on bonding which is why, from our experience and research, we find that this does not work.
Bi-yearly baths are important for guinea pigs, but less so for guinea pig bonding. Check our article for more information on how to give your guinea pig a bath.
Step 5: Moving your guinea pigs in together
This is the moment the bonding process has been working towards! Once your guinea pigs have had peaceful face-to-face meetings, it’s time for them to take the big step of finally moving in together.
If you’ve followed the ‘scent swapping’ stage correctly, both guinea pigs should be accustomed to each other’s scent. Ideally, for their shared cage, use bedding carrying both their scents - a Kavee fleece liner is ideal for this as you can allow both guinea pigs to spend time on it before placing it in your cage. Placing pee pads carrying both piggies’ scents in their shared cage will also help them settle in.
Plenty of healthy snacks and toys will keep them occupied. Also ensure that you have two of everything - two hideys, two water bottles or bowls and two food bowls in the cage to minimize competition.
And, of course, you should make sure that there is plenty of space, which brings us onto our next point..
Why is your guinea pigs' cage size important for encouraging a successful bond?
You’ll need to have a cage big enough to accommodate two guinea pigs so it’s good to be clued up about cage sizes - something we discuss at length in our blog article on guinea pig cage sizes.
Guinea pigs like to run around a fair bit, which means that they need plenty of room. As guinea pigs don’t have great depth perception, one large expanse of floor space is preferable to a multi-tiered cage.
As we’ve already discussed, guinea pigs love hanging out with their fellow piggies. But they also need their own space from time to time - and they can’t enjoy this if their cage is too small for them to get alone time.
Here are the guidelines from animal welfare organizations on the minimum cage sizes for guinea pigs.
At Kavee, along with many pet owners, we believe the minimum guidance is seriously outdated. We know from our experience of caring for guinea pigs that the minimum floor space advised - the size of most standard pet store cages - is simply too small for guinea pigs to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
It is also worth noting that the recommendations vary depending on the sex of your guinea pigs. Boars need more space than sows as they’re more likely to fight with each other, due to territorial behavior.
The advised minimum floor space for two sows is 8ft2 - equivalent to a 2x3 C&C cage. However here at Kavee, we recommend a cage size of 10ft2 - equivalent to a 2x4 C and C cage - for two sows so that they have more space to run around together as well as enjoying some ‘me time’ to minimize squabbles.
C&C cages are an ideal option for growing your guinea pig herd because they’re so flexible and easy to adjust. If you are going from one guinea pig to two, you can easily add more cage grids to your setup to increase its size.
Keeping your guinea pigs together
Once guinea pigs bond, they are an established pair and, providing they continue to get along well, you shouldn’t separate them unless one of them is ill and your vet tells you that they must be kept apart. Also bear in mind that even if only one of them becomes ill you should always take both to the vet as the other guinea pig may have underlying issues that you haven’t noticed yet.
For more advice on bonding, watch this additional video from Saskia at LA Guinea Pig Rescue:
Help! What should I do if one of my guinea pigs ends up being alone?
Sadly, sometimes a guinea pig pairing just isn’t meant to be. Bonds can fail days, weeks or even months after a pair of guinea pigs have been matched. If they are regularly fighting or are even hurting each other, they will have to be separated for their own safety.
As mentioned, guinea pigs are social creatures and can emotionally suffer if they do not have the comfort and companionship of at least one of their own kind as a cagemate.
Living alone permanently can cause a guinea pig to become lonely and depressed, which may lead to them stopping eating and exercising. This, in turn, could have a devastating effect on their physical health. This is especially difficult for surviving guinea pigs that are grieving the loss of a guinea pig, as it is critical to find them a new friend to bond with.
If your guinea pigs' bond fails, there are other options:
- You could try a different pairing
- Rather than focusing on same sex pairings, you could pair a neutered male with a female; sometimes these pairings have less of a competitive dynamic than single sex pairings
- If your guinea pig can’t tolerate sharing a cage with other piggies, their cage could be kept close by to other guinea pigs so that they can still enjoy the social benefits of being part of a herd but they have a protective barrier between them and the other piggies.
We hope you find our step-by-step guide helping when bonding your guinea pig with a new friend, safely and enjoyably for you and them!
The main thing to remember is that whilst some guinea pigs will bond quickly and without fuss, others can take a while. If you sense that your guinea pigs' bond is faltering in the early stages, don’t be afraid to slow things down and even move back a stage to ensure that they’re moving at a pace they feel comfortable with.
By being sensible and not rushing the introduction process, you should ultimately have two well bonded, happy guinea pigs - which is really all any of us caring piggy parents want to see.