Everything you need to know to bond guinea pigs.
Did you know that guinea pigs should always live in groups of two or larger? It’s one of the most overlooked facts about guinea pigs and something that pet stores don’t tell you – that they are herd animals and very social creatures that do better with a friend!
This guide will teach you how to bond guinea pigs in a safe and low-stress way. I break down the entire process so you have the best chance of success at finding your guinea pig the perfect friend!
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Why Bond Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs are very social animals. In the wild, guinea pigs would live in herds. They thrive when they are able to interact with other guinea pigs.
Imagine if you didn’t get to see another human your entire life – how happy of a life would you live? Guinea pigs can easily get depressed if they are kept alone. In some countries it’s actually against the law to keep single guinea pigs – that’s how important having a friend is to their well-being!
If you currently have a single guinea pig, getting them a new friend might make a big impact on your pet. Some people notice their guinea pig become more outgoing and less timid. Your guinea pig will feel more secure when they have another guinea pig to interact with.
How to Choose the Right Friend for Your Guinea Pig
So, you’re ready to get your pet guinea pig a friend – how do you choose the right one?
Male or Female?
While personality is the most important factor to consider, gender is also something to think about.
First off, you don’t want to end up with any babies. Trust me, you don’t! There are enough guinea pigs in rescues and shelters because people breed at home. Plus, it can be extremely dangerous for the female if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you have an unfixed male you don’t want to add an unfixed female. If you have an unfixed female, you don’t want to add an unfixed male.
The easiest pairing is usually a neutered male to one or more females. This is how guinea pigs would form a herd, so it’s the most natural for them. But it can be hard to find a neutered boar and can be expensive (and hard on the pig) to have the surgery done.
The other option would be to pair two females or two males together.
When it comes to two females, personality is going to be the most important factor. Outside of that, females are generally pretty easy to bond together if their personalities mesh well.
You may have heard that a pair of male guinea pigs is much harder to bond than female guinea pigs, or that two adult males will always fight. This isn’t 100% a myth, but don’t let this scare you away from bonding two males!
Two males will need a larger cage size and may have a tendency to argue more – especially if there are females around. Males generally get larger than females and need more space to tolerate having a friend. If you also have female guinea pigs, a bonded pair of males may fight or argue more if they are able to smell the females. It’s something to keep in mind
And again, don’t let this scare you away from attempting a male pair – I currently have two male pairs right now and they both get along amazingly well!
Something you DON’T want to attempt is bonding more than two males or more than two males to one female. There are very rare exceptions to this rule, but those males are more than likely going to fight constantly over the female. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try this pairing unless they were very familiar with bonding and of the personalities of their guinea pigs. If you are new to bonding, stick to single sex pairs or a neutered male to a female!
The Right Personality
As I mentioned before, the personality of your guinea pigs is going to be extremely important when deciding if two guinea pigs are right for each other.
When guinea pigs live together, they will have a sort of order of the importance of each guinea pig. If you are bonding a pair of guinea pigs then one of them will be the dominant piggy and the other will be the subordinate piggy.
Many people will bond a baby guinea pig to an older guinea pig. This is because babies are usually going to be subordinate just because of their age. These bonding sessions are sometimes super easy because the older pig doesn’t have to push around a baby to establish dominance, and the baby doesn’t know enough about the world to really challenge the older piggy.
There’s no hard and fast rule about what personalities will work together and what won’t. You might not want to put two guinea pigs with really strong personalities together. You really just have to get to know the personalities of your guinea pigs and decide whether you think they would have a chance of getting along.
In the end, it’s going to be up to the guinea pigs whether they like each other and whether they can come to an agreement. If you aren’t sure if two piggies will get along, I would try a bonding session anyway! Sometimes guinea pigs will surprise you.
Guinea Pig Bonding Basics
When you’re ready to try and bond your guinea pigs, make sure you have two or three days that you’ll be able to keep an eye on them. A weekend usually works well.
I will start my bonding first thing on Saturday morning, hopefully transfer the piggies to their new cage by the afternoon, and be able to just keep an eye on them Saturday night and all of Sunday. In my experience, you can usually tell pretty quickly whether piggies are going to get along or not.
Before we dive into the actual bonding steps, there are a few things I wanted to mention that are good to keep in mind throughout the process.
First, bonding is not as simple as putting two guinea pigs together in a cage and hoping they get along. Bonding is a process and it’s important to follow the steps the right way. This will make the process less stressful on both you and your guinea pigs. Ma
Second, keep in mind throughout the bonding steps that things will generally go smoother the LESS you bother your pets while they are sorting things out. Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to bother them, but in general, during the bonding process you just want to leave them alone. The main thing is to let them sort out who is dominant and who is not without distractions.
Finally, remember that bonding doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you can do everything right and the bonding just doesn’t work out. Sometimes one of the guinea pigs just isn’t going to like the other. Be optimistic about your bonding session, but make sure to have a back up plan for the piggies in case they decide they don’t want to be friends after all.
How to Bond Guinea Pigs
It’s finally time to bond your guinea pigs – let’s dive into the actual bonding process!
Set Up the Bonding Space
The first step to getting started bonding the guinea pigs you need to set up a space to bond them in.
You want the bonding space to be a neutral area – as neutral as possible. This means you want to have no smells of either of the pigs on anything in the space. And it needs to be big enough that the guinea pigs have plenty of space to spread out and get away from one another.
What I have found to work the best is a pen set up on the floor of a room that neither of the guinea pigs has ever been in before. I use c&c grids to create a playpen, similar to what I do for guinea pig floor time. I’ll use new blankets or a few clean fleece liners to cover the floor.
When you are first starting the bonding process, you don’t want to put any hides in the pen with them. This can create a safety hazard where one pig can get away from the other – which can escalate into a fight.
All you want in the pen to start off with is a big giant pile of hay in the middle. I like this pile to be big enough that the pigs could hide in it if they really wanted to. Also hang a few water bottles; at least one per guinea pig.
Once you’ve been able to watch your pets’ behavior for a while, you can add hides in when you’re confident that it won’t cause a big fight. Make sure to only add hides that have multiple entrances – tunnels and cubes work the best for this.
Put the Guinea Pigs Together
Once you have the bonding pen set up, you’re now in the introduction phase! You can go ahead and put the guinea pigs in together.
This is where it can be hard to just leave them to it. You don’t want to be hovering right outside the pen being anxious. This will just be distracting to the guinea pigs and make the process that much more stressful for everyone (you included!).
What I usually do instead is stay in the room nearby. I want to be close enough that I could quickly and easily break up a fight, but not so close that the guinea pigs are able to see my every move. I try not to make much noise and don’t talk to the pigs too much.
Now you just leave the guinea pigs to it and monitor their behavior to decide whether things are going well – or not so well.
What is Normal Guinea Pig Bonding Behavior?
So what are natural behaviors during bonding? The first time you do a bonding session it can be hard to know the signs of friendly behaviour vs aggressive behaviours.
All of the following behaviors are totally normal and are just a guinea pig’s way of communicating with another piggy. They can be a little scary or overwhelming if you’ve never seen them before so I want to break them down for you here.
Chasing – chasing is extremely normal and you will probably see a lot of it at different speeds. During bonding, what you normally want to see is one guinea pig head raising or chattering at another pig, and that pig running away (and probably being chased a bit).
Rumble strutting – this looks kind of funny, it’s basically when a guinea pig makes a rumbling sound and rocks its body back and forth. This is a dominance behavior that is one guinea pig telling the other one they are the boss. I actually see this with my guinea pigs all the time – not just during bonding. This is normal behavior guinea pigs use to communicate all the time.
Chattering – chattering can sound a little scary, but it is also totally normal guinea pig behavior. Guinea pigs chatter their teeth together to make this sound. Chattering is one guinea pig telling the other pig to get away, or that they are the boss, or that they are doing something the other pig doesn’t like. During bonding, you’ll probably see a dominant guinea pig chatter at the other pigs and the other pigs will squeal at them and run off.
If two pigs are chattering at each other, make sure to keep an eye on them but don’t separate them unless one of them starts lunging at the other one or there are other signs of a fight happening.
Head raising – guinea pigs will try to raise their heads higher than another pig as a sign of dominance. You might see two pigs facing each other trying to raise their heads higher and higher. One of them will usually win and the other one will run off in the other direction.
Nipping – minor nipping during bonding is not a big deal. This is usually to tell another guinea pig to move out of the way or show them who is boss. It doesn’t break the skin and is more of a nose push than a real bite.
Squealing – you’ll probably also hear a lot of squealing. Sometimes it sounds like your piggy is terrified or in pain when they squeal, but usually, during bonding, it’s just them telling another pig they are too close or that they aren’t going to bother them. A lot of times a subordinate pig will squeal at a more dominant pig coming near them to tell them they don’t want any problems.
Basically what you want to see during bonding is the guinea pigs establishing who is the boss pig and who is below them. You want to see one pig initiating a challenge through chattering or head raising, and the other pig just running away or moving out of the boss pig’s way.
Watch out for Bad Behavior
There are some behaviors that you don’t want to see during bonding – or really at any point with your guinea pigs. If you see this aggressive behavior during the bonding session, be ready to separate your guinea pigs to avoid one of them being injured. I recommend having a dustpan or oven mitt ready so you don’t get bit while trying to break up a fight.
Lunging – this is usually pretty scary to watch. One guinea pig will quickly jump at the other one, usually with their mouth open like they are ready to bite. Lunging itself is not always a huge problem if the guinea pig doing it isn’t trying to bite and the other piggy is running away. But if the lunging is very aggressive or the guinea pig is trying to lunge and bite, it’s time to separate them.
Tornadoing – this is when the guinea pigs are lunging at each other and end up spinning in a circle trying to bite or nip one another. This is pretty scary to watch and they need to be separated if this is going on. This is a fight escalating quickly and can lead to one of the guinea pigs getting hurt.
Biting – biting is not acceptable behavior and can also lead to a piggy getting hurt. If one piggy is trying to bite the other one, definitely be ready to separate them.
If one of your guinea pigs draws blood at any time, that’s it. End the bonding session at that point and tend to the wound of the one that is bleeding. Once a guinea pig draws blood on another the pairing just isn’t going to work.
Move into the Cage
The final step of the bonding process is to move the guinea pigs into the cage they’re going to be living in.
This step can be a little bit stressful because you are basically resetting the bonding process in a new area. You won’t see as intense of bonding behaviors, however, because they are already familiar with each other and already have determined who is the boss pig.
Make sure the cage is also a totally neutral space. If one of the piggies has been in the cage before, make sure to wipe it down really well (a water and vinegar solution works well for this!). Make sure to use fresh bedding and no hides that could smell like one of the piggies.
If I’m confident enough in the bond to move the guinea pigs to the cage, I generally don’t hover around much at this point and just leave them to it. I will check on them pretty often and stay in a room nearby so I can hear any wheeking or chattering, but there’s no need to just hang out in the same room with them.
As long as they have settled down and there’s no major chasing or chattering going on in the cage, I leave them to it and let them sort out the last stage of the process!
Final Thoughts on How to Bond Guinea Pigs
Guinea pig bonding can be a little bit overwhelming or even scary when you’ve never done it before. Not every bonding session is going to be successful, but if you follow this guide you can go into your bonding session confident you’ve given yourself the best chance possible!
Learn More About Guinea Pigs:
- Cage Sizes: What Guinea Pigs Really Need
- What Do Guinea Pigs Eat?
- How to Feed Veggies for Guinea Pigs
- How to Make Your Own Guinea Pig Fleece Liners