Guide to guinea pig bonding

Some small furry animals are happy living a life of peaceful solitude. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are a different story entirely. Our favourite fluffballs are sociable creatures who thrive in herds and should never be kept alone without at least one other piggy roommate. The effects of loneliness can cause poor piggies a loss of appetite or even psychological distress, so it’s really important that they’re housed with a friend.

If you’re becoming a piggy 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, then finding another little friend 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 chance of a harmonious friendship.

Two guinea pigs looking up together

The Benefits of Having a Companion for Your Guinea Pig

Paired guinea pigs will exercise more

Just like us hoomans, guinea pigs require daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. It benefits their physical health, as well as ensuring that they get enough mental stimulation to keep them entertained. A piggy that isn’t active becomes a complacent piggy, which isn’t what we want!

Guinea pigs are natural extroverts. So when your pig is paired with a companion, they'll get to socialise and express themselves better. They will happily share their days with one another - exploring new toys, nibbling on fresh hay, or cuddling up in a cosy corner together for some shut-eye. It’s even common piggy behaviour to follow each other around their cages - also fondly referred to as a ‘piggy train’ (and one that we’d be more than happy to get aboard!). 

In particular, companionship will do senior piggies a world of good. Older guinea pigs can easily become idle if left on their own. A young whipper-snapper will keep them moving and prevent obesity-related health issues!

Paired guinea pigs will have a more varied diet

If you’ve ever heard the clamor of an eagerly wheeking pig at dinner time, then you’ll know first-hand that piggies are real foodies at heart! 

However, when pups are brought up by themselves, they don’t have an older pig to teach them which foods are the right ones to eat. And - shockingly - they may even refuse some of the tasty veggies you offer them! 

If a companion is eating something new, on the other hand, they will often attempt to grab the food for themselves to give it a go. If their piggy pal thinks it’s delicious, then they’re more eager to find out what all the fuss is about.

A varied diet is essential to ensure your piggy receives all of the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. By meeting all of their daily nutritional requirements, your guinea pig will grow up strong and healthy.

Two guinea pigs eating lettuce

Paired guinea pigs will get mental stimulation

In the wild, guinea pigs are at the bottom of the food chain and tend to live in herds for their own safety. When faced with a predator, they'll typically run in different directions to confuse their attacker, or else freeze and become rigid so as not to draw attention to themselves. Often, they will alert other members of the piggy pack to danger with a high-pitched squeal. In short, cavies are hardwired to find safety in numbers.

If a guinea pig’s natural instinct is to be among their own kind, then giving your piggy a companion will help them feel as happy and safe as possible.

It’s true - your guinea pigs may live like kings and queens in their piggy palace - but at heart, they will always feel like wild little prey animals. You may go to great lengths to keep them indoors, make their cage as comfortable as possible, and take your time bonding with them so that they feel at ease with you. Nevertheless, a guinea pig would instinctively still prefer to have a furry pal to keep them company throughout the day and night to make them feel more secure.

How to Pick a Companion for My Guinea Pig?

As with us hoomans, you probably don’t want to pair two big personalities under one roof or you could have some almighty clashes. Similarly, two wallflowers may not hit it off, either. As such, it’s best to try and choose a guinea pig companion that will either be more dominant or more subordinate based on your own piggy’s personality. Check out the below tips to help select a suitable piggy pal:

Age

Believe it or not, a younger guinea pig paired with an older guinea pig can be an excellent match, because it helps to establish a natural hierarchy. Generally speaking, the senior piggy will display more dominance than the younger pup and they will quickly settle into their social roles.

To sense-check whether this will work in your situation beforehand, you should carefully consider the temperament of your current piggy. For instance, an older guinea pig with a laid-back personality may not get along with a bold and feisty young pup who challenges their dominance.

Size

You should also consider the size of your piggies to help establish a good bond. For example, if you’ve got one big furry potato and one smaller furry potato, this can make for a dream team pair of spuds! The larger of the two piggies will generally be the boss, whereas the smaller cavy will happily take on a more subservient role.

Two guinea pigs outdoors on grass together

Gender

In order to maintain a successful and harmonious herd of piggies, establishing a hierarchy of dominance is crucial. It's therefore highly advised that you keep to same-sex pairings, e.g. two boars or two sows.

If a female and a male pig are housed together then we strongly suggest that the piggies get spayed/neutered to avoid any accidental pregnancies (as adorable as little cavies can be, pregnancy can be tough on you and your piggy!).

Male guinea pig pairs

There is a widely held misconception that pairing male guinea pigs will not work due to aggression and fighting. While this can be occasionally true - especially if you have two particularly alpha boars on your hands - there are many male guinea pig pairs that work just fine. Once they have established dominance, it’s possible for two males to live together quite happily.

The secret to successful male bonding is: SPACE! You’ll need plenty of it. Male guinea pigs need at least 2.25sqm of cage space in order to be able to establish dominance and retreat when they need some time out. 

Another important thing to remember is to keep female piggies well away from your male companions. A pair of bonded male guinea pigs that are living happily together may see red when it comes to a love triangle in which they are fighting over a favored sow. As such, if you also have female piggies, keep them well out of sight and mind of their male neighbours!

Female guinea pig pairs

Female piggy pairings are generally easier to match, and you can also bond herds of female piggies in a much larger group compared to males. However, be aware that it’s not just boars that fight! Two sows with particularly dominant personalities may not see eye to eye either, so you’ll still need to check that any potential pairings are suitable before housing the piggies together long-term. 

Male and female guinea pig pairs

A male and female pairing should only be considered if one or both of the piggies has been neutered/spayed. Due to the potential risks involved with spaying sows, it's preferrable to neuter boars. However, there can be complications with both surgeries, so speak with your cavy-savvy vet to get their professional opinion on the matter.

Two guinea pigs kissing

How about guinea pig speed dating and matchmaking services?

If you're trying to find a new cage mate for your lonely piggy, some cavy rescues offer guinea pig matchmaking - 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 else a neutered piggy of the opposite sex - so that you won’t end up with unexpected guinea pig babies (as adorable as they are).

If initial introductions at the rescue go well, you can move the relationship on to the next stage and trial the bond at home. However, just like us hoomans, your piggies might not hit it off once they try living together. If the pairing sadly doesn’t work out, the rescue will help you to find a different potential match for your guinea pig in the hopes that this will work out better. 

Fortunately, rescues running a matchmaking service will allow you to keep trying pairings with your piggy until you find the perfect match. So your piggy should be happily buddied up in no time! 

How do I Introduce my Guinea Pigs?

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!

However, if you have adopted your guinea pigs from two different locations, or you're introducing a new guinea pig to your solo guinea pig or existing guinea pig herd, you will need to carefully follow the below bonding process. Taking these steps will give your guinea pigs the best chance at forming a successful bond.

Step 1: Quarantine your piggies

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.

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! 

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 can be set up within minutes and allow piggy parents to reuse the grids once 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 advised).
  • Do not share used or unwashed fleece bedding, accessories, or toys between the two cages.

Step 2: Put the cages in the same room

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 against one another. It’s helpful for the piggies to be able to spend time getting accustomed to each other, with a barrier in place to prevent any fights. 

Teeth chattering and rumble-strutting at this stage are normal guinea pig behaviours and don’t necessarily indicate the bond will fail. Piggies will naturally feel the need to suss out any social hierarchies and establish their dominant or submissive roles. In general, it’s best not to make any assumptions at this point - displays of excitement or disinterest are no indication of a successful pairing. 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 unique smell. Simply place a used item into each cage and observe their reactions. The same principle holds true for scent swaps: a positive or negative reaction to the scent won't instantly establish whether the bond will be successful or not, so be patient!

Step 3: Set up a neutral space for the introduction

Once the piggies are used to each other’s scent, you can move to a physical introduction. This initial meeting should take place in a neutral space that doesn't have the heavy scent of either guinea pigs, to discourage territorial behaviour. A C&C playpen is a great option for your initial introductions as you can insert or remove a barrier, when needed. 

Step 4: Introduce 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.

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!

At this point, your piggies might also display signs of dominant behavior such as rumble-strutting, mounting, or teeth chattering. This is all normal behaviour as they work out their relationship so don't worry about it unless it looks like they're getting ready to fight!

Signs of a guinea pig introduction not going well

Hopefully, your introduction is plain sailing, but there are some behaviours that may indicate a clash of piggy personalities. In particular, keep an eye out for:

  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Piggies launching themselves at one another 
  • Piggies biting each other and drawing blood
  • Persistent chasing
  • Facing off against each other with their noses raised
  • Circling 
Two guinea pigs on a wooden table

Step 5: Your guinea pigs are ready to move in together!

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...

Picking the Best Cage Size for 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.

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.

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 shop cages - is simply too small for guinea pigs to enjoy the best quality of life possible. 

It's 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 behaviour.

The advised minimum floor space for two sows is 8ft2 - equivalent to a 2x3 C&C cage. However, here at Kavee, we recommend a 4x2 C&C cage size for two guinea pigs so that they have more space to run around together as well as enjoying some ‘me time’ to minimise 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 two guinea pigs to more, you can easily add more cage grids to your setup to increase its size.

4x2 Kavee C&C guinea pig cage, perfect to home two guinea pigs together

How to Bond Guinea Pigs After They Move In Together

Once guinea pigs bond, they're 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.

Remember that while some guinea pigs will instantly click and feel like they’ve known each other a lifetime, others may be more of a slow burn and require longer to build a connection. Be patient and take things one step at a time. It may be that your cute cavies need multiple set-ups like these to establish a flourishing relationship, so don’t lose faith too quickly!

Tips to bond your guinea pigs

Take them out of their cage

Living spaces can make piggies particularly territorial, so a good way to stop the bickering and build the bond of friendship is to give them regular time in neutral territory. There, they will feel more relaxed with space to play and freely explore.

It’s amazing to see two constantly clashing piggies suddenly turn into the best of friends during floor time! Some piggies simply find it more difficult to get along within the confines of their cage, so putting them in a new environment can help to establish a bond. This can be a sign that you’re more than halfway there.

Keep increasing their floortime sessions, and try another buddy bath before placing them back into their cage. It’s helpful to try a new space during each floortime session, with stimulating accessories, toys, and places to explore. The more fun you make it for your piggies, the more likely it is they’ll chase each other in a piggy train, popcorn with delight, and generally find joy in each other’s company. 

Three guinea pigs outside of their cages, eating together

Don’t remove them too early from a floortime session

Always remember that the key to bonding is patience. Yep, bonding takes time!

Monitor your piggies for the first half an hour or so, then leave them for 1-2 hours. During this time, if you see any typical dominant behaviour such as nose-offs, mounting, chasing, butt sniffing and dragging - don’t panic! This is all okay and to be expected.

However, if you see more aggressive displays such as biting, raised hackles, and prolonged intense teeth chattering, then this is a sign to separate your piggies ASAP.

Generally speaking though, it’s best to try and leave the guinea pigs to sort out any dominance and not jump in to separate them too early. It’s easy to mistake normal acts of dominance for aggression, however intervening too often will only prolong the bonding process of establishing a hierarchy.

My guinea pig’s bond failed… What do I do?

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're 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 don't have the comfort and companionship of at least one of their own kind as a housemate. 

Living permanently alone can make a guinea pig lonely and depressed, which may lead to them no longer 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's 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. 

Guinea Pig Bonding FAKs - Frequently Asked Kavees

How long does it take for guinea pigs to bond?

It’s impossible to say as it depends on the unique temperaments of the individual piggies in question. Sometimes there’s an instant connection, and your guinea pigs may become best of friends in the space of an afternoon. Other times, it may be more of a slow burn, with a friendship being established over a few months.

Can you separate bonded guinea pigs?

Guinea pigs can become depressed and even refuse to eat if separated from their furry housemates, so you should never split up a bonded pair of guinea pigs (unless serious fighting occurs). A small amount of nipping, chasing or mounting is perfectly normal, even in bonded pairs. However, you should separate them immediately for some time-out if any fighting occurs.

What are the signs guinea pigs like each other?

You can tell when piggies have bonded because they will groom each other and happily share their dinner. You can also expect a lot of playing and cosying up between bonded guinea pigs. Naww!

What are the signs guinea pigs hate each other?

If your guinea pig is behaving more aggressively towards another cavy, then it may be a sign that they’re not going to be the best of pals. Some signs to distinguish fighting behaviour from normal displays of dominance are: biting with harmful intent, drawing blood, or using their full force to lunge at the other piggy. You should also look out for loud, aggressive teeth chattering that could escalate into a full-blown physical fight.

Do guinea pigs do better in pairs?

Yes! Guinea pigs are naturally sociable little creatures that thrive on companionship. Without it, they will become lonely and sad. In the wild, they live together in large herds, so it makes sense that they naturally prefer to be kept in pairs or small groups.

Guinea pig careHow tos

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