Rabbits vs Guinea Pigs: Which is right for you?

Should you consider rabbits or guinea pigs?

Something I get asked on a regular basis is the differences between rabbits vs guinea pigs and which make better pets. Usually, this question comes from someone who either doesn’t have any pets or is looking to get a new pet and wants to know which animal would be better for their lifestyle.

I’m going to be sharing my experience owning both of these pets and giving my opinion and recommendations to help you decide whether you should consider pet rabbits or guinea pigs.

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They Are Social Animals

The first thing to know whether you are considering either rabbits or guinea pigs is that they are social animals. If you are thinking of getting either of these animals then know you need to plan to get more than one.

Guinea pigs need to live in at least pairs. It’s generally pretty easy to bond guinea pigs if you set them up right and consider their personalities.

Rabbits also should live in at least pairs. Bonding rabbits can be a lot trickier than bonding guinea pigs, but I haven’t actually had to do any rabbit bonding myself. I would recommend trying to find an already bonded pair if you are a first-time rabbit owner.

Usually, the question I get asked is “should I get a rabbit or a guinea pig?” so I wanted to make it clear right off the bat that you shouldn’t be getting just one of either.

Life Expectancy

A basic difference I want to share right off the bat is the life expectancy of guinea pigs vs. rabbits. This can be a little bit morbid, but how long an animal lives and therefore how long you’re responsible for its care should be something that you take into consideration when researching a new pet.

Guinea pigs live an average of about 5-7 years.

Rabbits live an average of about 8-12 years.

I’ve met a lot of people who are surprised when I share how long both rabbits and guinea pigs usually live. I think a lot of people think about a hamster and expect all smaller pets to live 2-3 years. That’s not the case.

Obviously, none of us know what the future holds, but make sure to consider the life expectancy and how your plans over the next 5-10 years might affect your pet ownership.

Housing Needs

This is where we really start to get into the differences that tend to really impact whether guinea pigs or rabbits are going to fit into someone’s lifestyle.

Guinea pigs are a little bit easier to house than rabbits. Guinea pigs can be kept in cages full time, as long as they are in a cage that is large enough. The minimum cage size for 2 guinea pigs is 7.5 square feet.

While they do need larger cages than most people think (and bigger than pet stores sell), the fact that they live in a cage would make them a better option for someone in a smaller living space like an apartment or bedroom.

Playtime outside their cage is nice, but as long as they have a large enough cage with plenty of space to run around it’s not a requirement the way it is with bunnies (which we’ll talk more about in a minute).

To give you an example, I have 7 guinea pigs housed in one room with more than minimum space for each cage. The same space is only suitable for my two bunnies.

I always say that rabbits are very much a lifestyle pet, and there are a couple of different reasons for that. First, rabbits cannot live in cages full time (and honestly, I don’t recommend they live in a cage at all). I recommend housing rabbits in an x-pen or c&c cage, but even then they need plenty of playtime every single day.

Rabbits are easily litter box trained so it makes giving them playtime really easy. They are pretty smart animals and definitely learn routines and expectations. My bunnies all know what “no” means.

Rabbits are more similar to owning cats than guinea pigs in my opinion. My rabbits are actually full-time free roam, which makes them even more like cats.

Rabbits are really good at getting into things they shouldn’t. You have to be sure to rabbit-proof the space that is going to be used for free roam time. Be sure to check out my rabbit-proofing video to learn more about this. This step is very important so you don’t end up with ruined things or an injured bunny!

If you are limited on space or want to keep your pets limited to one area of your house, then guinea pigs will likely be a better choice. If you’re ok with your pets needing more space and needing specific space prepared for them then you could consider bunnies.

Daily Care

The daily care requirements between guinea pigs and rabbits are also better for different types of lifestyles.

Guinea pigs can potentially require more daily care than rabbits do. They need daily hay, water, fresh veggies, and some attention.

If you are using fleece with your guinea pigs, then you will also have to spot clean their cage every single day. With many people choosing to use fleece these days, this is definitely something to take into account. If you aren’t spot cleaning with fleece regularly, it can lead to a respiratory illness very quickly.

Rabbits need hay, water, and fresh veggies every day. They will also need their litter box cleaned on a regular basis, though how often will depend on the size of the litter box and the habits of your particular rabbits.

Rabbits need a lot more attention and enrichment than guinea pigs do. Most of them want attention and will enjoy hanging out with their owners.

Your rabbits will also need the playtime we’ve already talked about. It is very easy for bunnies to get bored because they are very smart. When they get bored is when they are going to start destroying your stuff, so you want to provide them toys and attention to keep them happy.

The best way I’d describe it is that guinea pigs usually require more daily upkeep each day, which bunnies generally need more playtime. If you want an animal you can just kind of hang out with and enjoy time with, then a bunny might be more up your alley. If you don’t mind cleaning and having more required daily tasks then guinea pigs may be the way to go.

Handling

Both guinea pigs and rabbits are prey animals, so in general, they are going to be skittish and not a huge fan of being handled. All animals have their own personalities so you could end up with a super relaxed guinea pig that loves being held, or you could end up with a super skittish bunny that hates all human contact. But in general, I wanted to go over how handling is different when it comes to my rabbits and guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs are not as smart as rabbits are, so they tend to always view being picked up as a threat. However, they do learn over time that being picked up doesn’t mean they are going to be eaten immediately and some of them even grow to like it.

You can definitely work on taming with your guinea pigs to get them more comfortable with the process and make it a more enjoyable experience for them.

Some guinea pigs are never going to let you pet them in their cage. This is totally a pig to pig preference and there’s not much you can do about it. I have some guinea pigs that will allow me to pet them in their cage sometimes, and I have some piggies that won’t let me anywhere near them. Once they’re out of the cage though, they’re generally all pretty calm and well behaved because they are used to the handling.

Rabbits also do not like being picked up since the only time they would be lifted off their feet in the wild is if a predator caught them. Their prey instincts kick in so being picked up is often pretty stressful for them.

I don’t personally think there is a reason to be picking up your rabbit on a regular basis. I have worked with my rabbits on this so they understand they are not overly stressed when being picked up and so they are comfortable with it. You want them to be comfortable being handled for things like nail clipping, grooming, health checks, and vet visits. But I don’t think they need to be picked up and carried around just for fun. They don’t like it and it can be very stressful for them.

Unlike guinea pigs though, many bunnies do enjoy being pet. Many bunnies enjoy human attention and some will even bond with their owners enough to groom them. They aren’t “pick up and cuddle” pets, but they do enjoy spending time with, sitting with, playing with, and bonding with their owners.

Of course, there are always going to be individual animals that are the exception to the points I just covered, but this is my experience with my pets and the general theme I’ve heard from talking with other pet owners. The bonds I have with my bunnies are a lot different than the bonds I have with my guinea pigs.

Health Care

Vet costs between rabbits and guinea pigs can also be vastly different. Vet costs always vary depending on where you live and the experience of your vet, but in general, my rabbit vet costs are higher than the costs for my guinea pigs.

If and when your pet does need to go to the vet, you want to make sure you’ll be able to afford the cost. For example, a wellness checkup for one guinea pig with my vet is about $40. A wellness checkup for one rabbit is $55.

One main health cost difference between rabbits and guinea pigs is that pretty much all rabbits need to be fixed. For female rabbits, it decreases the risk of cancer. For males, it can cut down on aggressive and destructive behaviors. Again, the price will be different in different locations, but this can be quite expensive and it’s something you really need to do if you don’t adopt rabbits that are already fixed.

Having a good exotic vet available when you need them is an important part of being a responsible pet owner, so be sure to take this aspect seriously. The difference between a guinea pig surgery and a rabbit surgery could be hundreds of dollars.

All animals are going to need to go to the vet sometime, so make sure you consider how much you’ll be able to afford for vet costs when considering if you should get a pet.

Final Thoughts on Guinea Pigs vs Rabbits

While this is not a comprehensive guide to the differences between rabbits vs guinea pigs, I hope this does help you understand some of the basic differences between the two. As always when considering a new pet, make sure to do further research into these animals before you bring them home!

Learn More About Guinea Pigs and Rabbits:

Rabbits vs Guinea Pigs: Which is right for you?

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