What being a 'Social Animal' meansAs social animals, guinea pigs need to live with other guinea pigs. If you are considering keeping guinea pigs as pets, it is always best to have two, and this article will tell you why. Progressive countries that put animal welfare first legally require two guinea pigs for companionship if you keep guinea pigs at all. Single-guinea pig homes should be avoided if possible.
But the reality of meeting this requirement with pet guinea pigs in today's homes is challenging and fraught with pitfalls and not just because of the resources needed -- space, money and time. Some aspects of guinea pigs' behavior can defy common sense, which means assumptions and decisions people tend to make about guinea pigs can quickly get them into trouble. Here are real-world scenarios and realistic suggestions for managing them. Please review these articles before deciding on your next steps for you and your piggies.
A Happy Guinea Pig Experience for All
Starts with the CageThe real, true minimum cage size for two (or even one) guinea pig is the 2x4 C&C Cage (which is 2.5' x 5' providing 10.5 square feet of internal space). NOT the 2x3 grid version and not the even smaller Midwest cage. The 2x4 C&C should be the minimum you provide for guinea pig housing. It's what they need. A 2x5 C&C (2.5' x 6.5') is preferred.
UPGRADE your cage BEFORE adding new guinea pigs
If you already have a guinea pig and you do not have a 2x4 grid minimum C&C cage already, upgrade that before adding another guinea pig. If you want to do right by your guinea pigs, please give them a properly large habitat to really live in, not just get by. Also make sure you've outfitted their cage for stress-free living. Many, if not most, pet guinea pig owners don't get this quite right. Visit our Cage Feng Shui article for more info.
Ideal Guinea Pig CombinationsRemember that classic Star Trek episode, The Trouble with Tribbles (well, most of you are probably too young), Guinea pigs are just so darn cute, you can't help but want more. "We have two, let's go adopt another."
"Oh, look how cute that one is? We can fit one more." It is so easy to get carried away and the grass is always greener when looking at the gazillion photos of cute guinea pigs out there. Stop! Reign yourself in. Be happy with who you have. Love the one you're with. Pick a metaphor. Yes, you should have two, but don't go overboard. Age doesn't matter, because even if you have babies, in a few short months, they'll all be adults. They grow up very fast.
- We do not recommend keeping more than 2 guinea pigs if you are new to guinea pigs (less than a year's experience).
The Thing about MalesWe have worked very hard for years to dispel the myth that males can't get along. Males can actually get along just fine. In fact, it's our experience that all things being equal, males are actually a bit friendlier and make better lap piggies than females. Just by a hair, but a bit noticeably so. By and large, guinea pig personalities vary greatly from guinea pig to guinea pig. There is no reason to seek out one gender over another for personality.
- A SMALL CAGE does not accommodate two males
If you have a 2x3 grid-sized cage OR a Midwest cage and you have a male guinea pig, DO NOT get another male as a friend until you upgrade the cage to a 2x5 grid-size preferably or a 2x4 grid-size minimum. Some people think their small or Midwest cage is quite big already. It isn't. Compared to a smaller cage? Of course. Is it big enough? It is not.
- It can SEEM okay in a too-small cage for a while (about 6 months typically)
The problem with two males in a too-small cage typically starts with people thinking they have a big cage when they don't and their guinea pigs are young and haven't gone through adolescence yet. Initially, it will be fine, but the aggression will worsen and they won't have enough space and properly arranged cage environment to allow them to work it out.
- Myth: Brothers or cage-mates will get along
Another common-sense assumption people make about guinea pigs, males especially, is that if they are brothers, they'll get along just fine. This is a fallacy. Being litter or cage-mates has pretty much nothing to do with how well they'll bond in the longer run. This contributes to the problem in that people typically are getting young guinea pigs from a pet store. Things will be going along okay in that too small cage, until the trouble starts. They are growing up at the same time and experiencing their hormonal changes at the same time.
TWO Males can get along great! THREE? Not so much.Three males together. Is it possible? Yes, it is. Is it likely? No, it isn't. If you have two males, do not seek another one to add to the mix. The odds of it working out are maybe 10-15%. You would need a Jumbo cage (2x6 grids) to have a chance at making it work. And it can seem like it's working for about 6 months. Most of the time, people can get young males to get along until they've all had time to go grow up and get through adolescence. Then the games begin. The challenges for dominance become more intense. When serious battles ensue, they usually aren't forgotten nor forgiven. Now one has to deal with how to divide up the cage (that tends to be too small to start with) and the pigs, typically leaving one without a cage-mate. This is not a fun position to be in, it's best to avoid it in the first place if you can.
Helping TWO Males Tango SuccessfullyThere is no getting around the biological fact that males are hard-wired to be more aggressive than females. You might think that getting a male neutered would reduce that behavior, but it doesn't. So, don't neuter for behavior, only to prevent pregnancy.
Above and beyond following good introductions protocol, here are keys to getting two males to get along.
- In pairing up males, look for a good size and age differential
Just because a single male seems like he has a docile personality, doesn't mean he's going to be docile when introduced to another male. In fact, a previously docile or non-alpha male may decide he's finally had enough of not being the boss and may decide to challenge a new male for the top position. You just don't and won't know ahead of time. Your safest bet is to look for a clear size differential between two males, coupled with an age differential such that one of them isn't also an adolescent with raging hormones (3-9 months roughly). If one can't really know the personality interplay ahead of time, you can hedge your bets on a good difference in physicality.
An older adult male (or Dad-type) is a good pair up for a young adult. The ideal pairing is a newly weaned male (separated from the mother at 3 to 4 weeks) and an older adult male or even the father of the baby male. A father/son combination is a common scenario that can work out well. Just don't think that if you have two or more males in a litter that you can have the Dad and two or more brothers living together. Likewise, three or more brothers is also typically a recipe for disaster. It starts out fine when they are young, but as they turn into adults, the challenges for dominance can be too much, causing harm and too much stress.
- Provide ample cage space
It is by no means a guaranteed fix that bickering males will get along in a bigger cage, but it is guaranteed that they will never get along in a small cage once they cross that line on aggression. They have no chance when they are in such close quarters all the time. There needs to be enough room in the cage for multiple hideys with room for all of them and significant ability for them to have distant and different places to hang out. This just can't be accomplished in a small cage. Ideally, two males should be in a 2x5 grid-sized cage. (2.5' x 6.5') and if possible a second level of some kind. The 2x4 grid cage is the smallest you should consider for housing two males.
- Consider the kinds of accessories in the cage
Males can get territorial about various locations and hideys in the cage. The plastic Pigloos, for example, are not a good idea for males with issues. You want to try to have items in the cage that have an ingress and egress (entrance and exit). You don't want things in which one male can trap another.
Tunnels are good, Fleece Forests are great! Things like our Magic Muff and Tunnel of Fun or similar kinds of items are great because they provide that snuggly comfort but they can escape out any end if they desire. Also, items like our Corner Cabin and the Corner Curtain are good, too. A great and easy DIY version for the corner is to just clip an old towel in the corner -- making sure there are no frayed threads in the towel. Fold it in half and use binder clips to form a triangle wedge in the corner. It creates a cloth door opening on each outer corner of the triangle. They can run through it or just hang out and hide and get away from the other male.
- Consider their cage layout
With males, top and easy advice: put a Fleece Forest at each end of the cage with a potty pad or plush bed under it. It will be a favorite of both pigs and when they are chasing each other around, they can each end up in their own Fleece Forest and be happy.
Add some kind of upper level. Males should absolutely have some kind of upper level. It is so beneficial for them to really work those cute little butt muscles and keep their behind strong. It's a great preventative for impaction later in life (not pleasant) that is fairly common with aging males. Going up and down a ramp will go a long way in keeping your males more fit. And the upper level provide sight, sound and smell distance from the other male as well as giving them something to do to relieve boredom as desired.
Especially with males, resist the urge to do the typical guinea pig owner thing and put all the hideys and things up against the cage walls and in the corners. We discuss this further in our Cage Feng Shui article. Wide open spaces are not cool for guinea pigs. Put things in the middle of the cage allowing them access around the whole perimeter and figure-eight type access around or through the remaining hideys or structures in the cage. This breaks up them always being in visual sight of each other so much and provides stimulation and interest.