Guinea Pig Companionship (and why we ALL need a friend).
"Guinea pigs need a friend - and not a different species kind of friend - they need another of their own kind."
COVID-19. OK, I’m going there. While it’s still topical.
If the recent Global pandemic due to the COVID-19 virus - along with the resulting restrictions and lockdowns - has taught us anything, it’s that us humans are (generally speaking) social beings. Many of us have, hopefully, been able to find some pleasure in the temporary reduction of ‘busy-ness’ to our normally hectic and fast paced life. However, the simple things, like gathering with family and friends have been made all the more difficult in the last year, even impossible at times. This lack of contact and social get-togethers with friends and family has probably been one of the most discussed topics during the tougher periods of COVID restrictions. Not to also forget the strain that being more isolated has on people’s mental health and well-being. This just goes to show and reinforce that social interaction is really important, on so many levels. Be it the three-year-old role playing with their friends in the way only three-year-olds can; holding a conversation with a friend where you can truly see their facial expressions, pick up on non-verbal cues and there isn’t a time lag on each sentence; grandparents being able to visit and cuddle their much-loved grandchildren…you know I could go on…
Erm, excuse me, isn’t this a blog about guinea pigs?
But hang on, what’s this got to do with guinea pigs, I hear you cry?!! Well, they really are a lot like us. They need social interaction to thrive. Baby guinea pigs need to watch and learn from their older role models as much as they need to race around and play with their fellow siblings. Guinea pigs need an established hierarchy between the males, females, old and young so that they all know, and fit into, ‘their’ place. Guinea pigs need other guinea pigs to cuddle up to if it’s chilly or to steal that prize piece of carrot from! But, food jokes aside, the natural dynamic of guinea pigs in the wild would be to live in a group, or a ‘herd’. There are many ways in which guinea pigs communicate with each other through the behaviours, actions and sounds that they make and this group dynamic is fascinating to observe.
Guinea pigs need a companion too!
So, when we bring guinea pigs into our lives as family pets, it’s really important to bear their social nature in mind. They really will not be happy living in isolation completely on their own. Well, would you be? Guinea pigs need a friend - and not a different species kind of friend – they need another of their own kind. Some examples of groupings that can work well are two males (boars) together, or two or more females (sows) as a pair or a group. If you do have a group of girls, then it can also work well to add a neutered male into the mix, as he will ‘keep the peace’ between the females, but won’t be able to create any baby guinea pigs! Another pairing that can work well is a male and female, again, as long as the male (or female, if she is perhaps already spayed) is neutered (to avoid breeding).
(FYI: Breeding guinea pigs is not something we would recommend, as there can be many dangers and health complications with pregnant females. Plus, there are always more than enough guinea pigs in rescue centres needing a home without adding to this with accidental or irresponsible additional breeding.)
In Summary: “You Got A Friend In Me”
Whilst it might be telling that the first song about friends that springs to my mind is from ‘Toy Story’ (yes, I am the proud owner of a three-and-a-half-year-old and yes, we have Disney+), it is without joke that I summarise: companionship is REALLY important for guinea pigs. They all need a friend and even if you think they will be ‘OK’ on their own, the likelihood is, they won’t. If you need help to bond a lone guinea pig with a new friend, don’t forget there are lots of rescues out there who can help you with this and they will no doubt also be grateful for any support that might come their way.
Here’s to a brighter day, sometime soon, when the humans (like their guinea pigs) can party with all their friends once more!!