HOW TO BOND GUINEA PIGS – TOP TIPS
Guinea pigs, cavies, piggies, fluffy potatoes, furry mini-hippos, wheek machines, grass guzzlers; whatever you want to call them, there is one thing that we can’t dispute … guinea pigs LOVE company! Not just of the human-kind either, they are social animals that need the company of their own cavy-kind.
So, as a guinea pig slave (or ‘pet parent’ if you prefer) there may inevitably be a time when you are left with a single guinea pig and you need to bond them with a friend/friends. Either that, or you are just addicted to your fluffy potatoes and keep acquiring more piggies to join your herd! Whatever the situation, it is of course important that a new guinea pig gets along with you existing piggy (or piggies!).
Sometimes this bonding process of introducing a new partner or member of the herd can be really easy. Excellent! But other times, well, not everyone sees eye to eye (or whisker to whisker) do they?! Most often, people will have two boys together, or two or more girls together. A neutered male can live with a herd of girls or you can have a boy-girl partnership, as long as one of them is neutered to avoid the obvious breeding implications! Neutering is not a decision to be taken lightly however and should really only be done if absolutely necessary.
It is really important that guinea pigs have companionship, so the pros of bonding far outweigh the potential problems of piggies not getting on with each other. Just be prepared to have another go and persevere if the first piggy-date doesn’t go to plan!
A good rescue centre can help with bonding guinea pigs, so if you have one near to you, that’s a great place to start. They can help and advise you and even arrange and supervise the ‘play dates’. We’ve had the support of our local rescue with any newcomers to the HayPigs!® herd and until recently, we had a really easy time adding to our herd of happy pigs! But with our more recent introductions it has not been so easy. This is perhaps due to the big change in the dynamic of our group in recent months, with three of the herd, including our neutered male, passing away in the space of four months (due to a variety of different issues). This upset and stress does of course have an impact on the piggies who are left and could be a factor in why the recent introductions have been more difficult.
Anyway, regardless of ‘why’, here are just a few tips we have picked up along the way from our (relatively modest!) experiences of bonding so far.
- Space. Lots of it. In this case, bigger really is better! Neutral territory is best (e.g. in a large enclosure on the grass if the weather is good, or on a big ‘floor time’ space) so that existing piggies don’t feel threatened by a newcomer invading ‘their’ space. We’d recommend you start with a separating wall (C&C cage is great for this or a similar cage mesh) so the piggies can see one another and interact without being able to ‘get at’ each other. We tend to keep this in place for the first few meetings and then when you do remove the dividing wall, it is less of a shock meeting!
- Clean and fresh bedding to keep existing smells and scents to a minimum. Also, a small drop of lavender oil on the back of the guinea pigs’ necks can be calming and also help disguise their scent around other piggies for a period of time.
- Ensure there are plenty of tunnels/huts/hideys so there is not a fight over who gets to use them. Try to allow for the free flow of movement too, so a guinea pig doesn’t become cornered by an over-enthusiastic ‘newbie’! As well as plenty of accessories, we all know guinea pigs love their food, so provide lots of tasty treats to nibble on. There’s nothing quite like some fresh grass or tasty hay and forage to distract - and relax - a guinea pig.
Often, things will go well and you will see signs of friendly behaviour, or maybe some dominance from certain piggies, who want to be in charge. Most of the time this is fine and they will settle into who will be the boss and who isn’t quite so bothered!
However, sometimes there will be a clash of personalities and two piggies will show dominant behaviour … neither will want to give in! Things to look out for: rumble-strutting (waggling their bottom and making a rumbling noise); the ‘who can lift their chin the highest’ game; chattering their teeth; showing their teeth; chasing, nipping or biting. None of these are ideal! Some dominance behaviours will only be mild and if the other guinea pig doesn’t rise to it, things will settle. But if neither want to back down, a full-on fight could ensue. Watch your piggies during introduction sessions and be prepared to break them up if they do start fighting - but ensure your safety too, as guinea pig teeth are very SHARP! Have a towel handy to throw over the top of the guinea pig before you pick them up or remove them from the environment, to hopefully avoid getting bitten in the heat of the moment. You might even want to put some thick gardening gloves on, or use oven gloves.
If things go well in a neutral space, do then ensure to keep an eye on the pair or group that are bonding as they are returned to their usual enclosure, as this may then provoke a territory battle. Try all you can to minimise this (fresh and clean bedding, enough beds/hideys/food to avoid arguments etc.) and of course, the more space your piggies have, the better it will be! The occasional display of mild dominance behaviour or a look that says ‘get off my carrot’ is normal (let’s face it - we all have THOSE days!). If moods do change as you return your piggies to their usual enclosure, keep an eye on them and again, worst case scenario, be prepared to step in and separate them if things turn nasty.
Sometimes bonding can be a gradual thing and you may need to just take it slowly with introductions and then give the piggies some ‘time out’ in-between. Other times, piggies just will not get on with each other and if this is the case, you must of course prioritise their safety and separate them to avoid fighting and injury. But when you get the dynamics right and have a happy herd of piggies all munching away happily together, it really does warm the heart!