Many people have a single guinea pig and pet shops seem happy to sell them as solitary pets whereas most rescue centres are inclined to ensure a guinea pig has a companion. So if you're planning on getting a guinea pig, should you have one or two or more? And can a guinea pig live alone?
Guinea pigs are social animals and they thrive on interaction with a companion so you should always adopt two guinea pigs to avoid a singleton suffering from loneliness.
Having said that there are extreme and rare circumstances when a guinea pig can thrive on their own. We will discuss this later in the article.
- Single guinea pigs are illegal in Switzerland!
- When a pet shop’s advice is to keep them single
- Single therapy guinea pigs
- When a guinea pig dies and you have one left
- Good guinea pig pairings and combinations
- Guinea pig combinations that don't work
- Importance of cage size for successful bonding
- Will a rabbit make a good companion for a guinea pig?
Owning a single guinea pig in Switzerland is Illegal
Guinea pigs live in herds in the wild and it is totally unnatural for them to be housed as a solitary guinea pig. In fact, if you live in Switzerland (who have very high animal protection standards) you are not allowed to adopt or buy a single guinea pig as it is against the law and considered cruel.
When pet shops advice is to keep them single
All too often, a pet shop or an owner looking to rehome a guinea pig will advise a potential new guinea pig owner that the piggy they want needs to be on their own. They may say the guinea pig doesn't like or get on with other guinea pigs or that they bully or fight with them. More often than not, this advice is wrong or misguided.
Perhaps that particular guinea pig has had some bad experiences but these small pets are naturally social animals and it is highly unlikely that a guinea pig simply doesn’t get on with ANY other guinea pig.
There could be a number of reasons for this behaviour. Perhaps the piggy was living in a cage that was too small. Maybe there was not enough stimulation with interesting toys and the poor pet was bored or perhaps he just didn’t get on with the guinea pig he was housed with. This doesn’t mean he should be alone.
We have first hand experience of bad advice such as this when we adopted Mr Jaffas from a pet store. We were told he didn’t get on with other piggies so would have to be housed on his own. This was never going to be an option for us so we had him neutered and he now lives very happily with his four female friends.
In the interim period after we adopted him and before he could go in with the other piggies after his neutering, he was visibly depressed and lonely. He wasn’t very active and we never saw him popcorn. As soon as we began to introduce him to the other piggies he was a different guinea pig. He began popcorning and running around like the happiest piggy ever!
Single therapy guinea pigs
Guinea pigs can provide emotional support to people who are suffering from depression, anxiety or illness and sometimes they are recommended by a therapist.
So is it ok for a guinea pig to be solitary in these circumstances? We would still stand by our ethos of having a pair of guinea pigs.
However, there is always an unusual case whereby a guinea pig has thrived alone.
We have heard of a case where someone adopted a terribly neglected guinea pig as a therapy pet.
This person clearly has excellent guinea pig knowledge and has transformed the life of this guinea pig by caring intensively, practically and emotionally and with support from the vet for the treatments the pet needed.
The piggy gets an incredible amount of love and affection from the owner and it really shows as this pet is clearly not lonely or depressed and has bonded really well with the owner.
This is a great result for a guinea pig who was in desperate need and may never have had a good home had it not been for this caring person wanting to help the guinea pig. The person who adopted the piggy clearly benefits from helping nurture the guinea pig and in turn the piggy has an amazing owner who showers them with love and attention.
What we don’t want is for people like this to be made to feel like they’re doing something wrong when they’ve done such an amazing job. We need more people in the world like this. However, bear in mind that this takes an incredible amount of time, effort and dedication from an owner to have such a positive outcome.
What to do when a guinea pig’s only partner has died
There are always going to be times when a lifelong guinea pig partner dies and you have one guinea pig left alone.
Your guinea pig may grieve after the loss of a companion. He or she may become depressed and this can lead to illness. This will most likely be felt more strongly if your guinea pig was one of a pair rather than a herd.
So what is the best action to take in this situation?
Find a new piggy partner
The best way to help a guinea pig getting over the loss of a partner is usually to find them another friend.
You can explain your situation to a rescue centre. They are experts and will help you make the right choice. Some even have dating sessions so you can be sure of a good match before you commit to a particular piggy.
Rehoming your remaining guinea pig
This is a difficult situation for you as you will most likely be very attached to your pet.
But it might be that you don’t want to continue the cycle of having guinea pigs forever and at some point you’re going to be left with just one. So what can you do with the guinea pig that is left alone?
Rehoming your guinea pig can be a really tough decision to make. However, you need to consider how they feel and whether rehoming is a better alternative for them than being alone.
If they are still young and have many years ahead of them, rehoming may be the best option.
Keeping a solitary guinea pig
If your guinea pig is quite old and has limited lifetime left, you may feel it is better for them to stay with you and keep them as a single piggy.
If you choose to keep your guinea pig as a solitary pet, you will need to make sure you spend extra time paying attention to your guinea pig, giving cuddles and perhaps move their cage to a different location in the home where they can see you more.
Also, make sure they have plenty of items in their cage of interest that keeps them active.
A solitary guinea pig should NEVER be kept outdoors.
If your piggy still seems unhappy or you can’t give them the attention they need to thrive, it is better that you find them a good home with another guinea pig. Try contacting your local rescue centre and they should be able to help you.
Good Guinea Pig Pairings and Combinations
If you are getting guinea pigs, you need to make sure they will be good friends. There are certain combinations that work and others that are more problematic.
Remember, even with the options we recommend, you will have to go through a proper bonding session with your new pets. They need to be introduced gradually and not forced on each other to make sure it all goes as smoothly as possible.
Neutered Boar with 1 or more Sows
This is one of the most successful combinations. The reason this combination makes such a happy group is because they naturally live with one boar to many females in the wild. Always remember that however many females you have, there must only be one male in with them and he MUST be neutered.
When you have two females together, one will usually be dominant. Providing they are not both dominant characters, they should be good companions.
It is recommended that they should either be brothers or they should be bonded before they are 6 weeks old. Be aware that if there is a scent of female guinea pigs around, it can disrupt their relationship. This can happen if you have female guinea pigs housed nearby or if you have been handling females and not washed your hands afterwards.
The RSPCA state that if they are neutered there is a better chance of them getting along with each other.
Older male and very young male (under 6 wks)
This can be either a great or a bad combination so you’ll need to go through a careful bonding process. Bullying can happen but it can be a great relationship with the older male taking more of a parental role towards the younger guinea pig.
If you look at the respected animal welfare organisations such as RSPCA, Bluecross and the Animal Humane Society, they do vary a little in their recommendations. Bluecross say there shouldn’t be more than one male guinea pig in a group or herd whereas the RSPCA say neutered brothers who have always been together can be friends.
The RSPCA doesn’t mention anything about an older boar and very young male combination but other guinea pig experts have found this can work.
However, both Bluecross and the RSPCA recommend neutering males. It is much easier for males who lose a partner to find a new mate as they can partner up with a female or a group of females.
Combinations that Don’t Work
There are some combinations that should be avoided:
Unneutered male and female
This should definitely be avoided because guinea pigs breed fast and from a young age. There have been many stories of owners having mixed unneutered genders and ending up with so many guinea pigs they simply can’t cope.
Always make sure you get your guinea pigs correctly sexed and don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion to make sure. Pet shops regularly get this wrong resulting in numerous baby guinea pigs being brought into rescue centres.
More than 2 males together
Having 2 male guinea pigs together has been known to work but often when the boy guinea pigs reach puberty their hormones run riot and this can often result in fighting.
Cage size is important for successful bonding
The cage you choose for your guinea pigs must be spacious and have areas where they can be alone if they need to be. This will help reduce arguments between them and give them the best chance of getting on with each other.
Will a Rabbit Make a Good Companion?
Guinea pigs and rabbits should not be housed together. Although you will have seen many pictures of rabbits and guinea pigs together, you should never consider mixing the two. They have different needs and can’t communicate in the way that a pair of guinea pigs can. Rabbits have very powerful kicks and this can be extremely dangerous to a guinea pig.
The best companion for a guinea pig is another one of its kind.
Adopt a pair of guinea pigs
So, if you want to adopt a guinea pig, we recommend you have two guinea pigs and find a rescue centre where you should be able to find plenty to choose from.
We don’t recommend buying from a pet shop as there are so many guinea pigs in need of loving homes. Your commitment to adopt a guinea pig and care for them could radically change their lives for the better.