Saturday, February 22, 2014

So You Got a Guinea Pig -- Why Add Another You Ask?

Just like the subject says - You have one guinea pig, why get another?  First, we'll start with the most basic biological reason.  Guinea pigs are a species that live in colonies naturally.  They feel a connection to their own kind.  No, it doesn't mean they don't connect with people as well - they do.  In fact, in small groups they'll go into a guinea pig chorus, cheering each other on for the common goal of mind control on their human.  Multiple guinea pigs are likely to be less shy.  They are a prey animal and it's natural for them to be leery, especially of hands coming from above to swoop down and snatch them away.  It takes some work to get them to understand that you're there to love them, not eat them.  When one stops to get a head scratch, the other one(s) start to get a little jealous about that, and it tends to calm the herd.

Chewy and Chunky out to see if there are goodies.
Piggy trains crack me up.  They follow each other in a line, so concerned that someone else is going to find something new and exciting and they will miss out.

Here comes a piggy train at full speed!
This keeps them moving with their inquisitive nature.  When they see me with veggies, they'll go up to each others mouths for inspection to see if there's a treat in there.  It's like they're saying:  "Did you get a goody?  Nope.  Ok, good, lets keep staring at her until she gives us something."  They also have a wide variety of vocalizations that are a hoot to listen to.  I can hear a high pitched wimper/whine from across the room, and I will know it is Dan eating in the hay box, and someone else is sticking their head in there eating hay.  I know he's whining "Mooooom, Chunky's eating all my hay!"  It also encourages them to eat more of a variety, because anything that's good enough for one of the other pigs to eat, they're all going to try.  A little friendly competition won't hurt anyone.
Hay tastes better with company.
I have other pets, can't they be a companion?  No.  Rabbits are frequently added as companions for guinea pigs because they're roughly the same size and both eat green pellets and drink from a water bottle.  HUGE mistake.  They are entirely different species, speaking different languages, with very different nutritional needs.  Rabbits are much stronger and can hurt a guinea pig accidentally or intentionally with a swift kick.  Rabbit pellets cannot be fed to guinea pigs.  They contain no vitamin C, which is detrimental for guinea pigs to lack.  The dangers of mixing your guinea pigs with other animals are similar.  Animals are animals, they can feel threatened by a guinea pig, maybe a misinterpretation of body language, or flat out aggression can maim or kill a guinea pig in seconds.  Please don't allow another animal to be your guinea pig's companion, and if you do allow your other pets to be near your guinea pig, only allow it under close supervision.
Chunky doesn't mind other animals, but he prefers his piggy pals.

You decide to add a cavy companion.  Now what?  Well, it does get a little tricky from here.   First, you want to add a guinea pig of the same sex.  This is extremely important.  Breeding guinea pigs can get out of control fast, and there are health risks that will be saved for another posting another day - please do your research if you consider breeding.  A boar that is hopped up on breeding hormones will not make as good of a pet as one that doesn't have females on his mind.  Check out, your local shelter, or rescue.  There many, many adoptable guinea pigs out there just waiting for someone to love them.  Many of them have already been handled a lot and are very friendly, because they were spoiled with love until their human got tired of them and decided they were a disposable pet.  Those guinea pigs from a big box pet store most likely came from a place very much like a puppy mill.   Lots and lots of guinea pigs in tiny cages with little to no human interaction, because it is about the profit, and these are the places that can supply guinea pigs to the big pet chain stores at the rate they are ordered.   When you buy there, you are supporting these mass breeding and mass buying efforts between the breeder and big box store.  I urge you to consider that, and if you want a baby that you cannot find available for adoption, search for an ethical breeder who handles and loves their guinea pigs and wants them to go to the best homes.  Not to the home that hands over money the fastest on impulse.
Everyone likes company over breakfast.
It is important to say that all guinea pigs are individuals.  They have their own personalities.  Everything I am saying here is a generalization to the majority of guinea pigs.  There will always be an exception here and there, so be prepared to take the time to find another loving solo-pig home, or keep another cage on hand for the long term if this does not work out.
What's cuter than one guinea pig? Three!
Tips for the best method of success:
#1.  Do not just take a guinea pig and place it in your resident pig's home.  That's an intruder and your guinea pig is likely to be alarmed and take action.  The new guinea pig will be on the defensive and fight back.  The key is to move slow.
#2.  Introduce the guinea pigs on neutral ground with many goodies.  This makes the meeting a pleasurable experience.  When it's time to introduce the new guinea pig to the shared cage for the first time, have it freshly cleaned, rearranged, and put in some new fun stuff to change it up.
#3.  Bathing both guinea pigs first so they smell the same can help.
#4.  Rumbling and swaying is natural.  They're going to sniff each other.  They may mount each other to compete for dominance.  
#5.  Monitor them closely with a towel, but leave them be unless fighting is serious.  If fighting becomes serious and there is blood shed, throw the towel in and grab one immediately.  If there is not blood drawn, let them squeal, chase, and work out their piggy hierarchy.  They will compete to determine who's the leader and who's the follower.  It's natural; you only want to step in if there's serious fighting.
#6.  Introducing a younger pig is likely to go better than adding an older one.  A baby guinea pig is likely to accept the other pig as a leader much more quickly.  Two older pigs are likely to work out their differences more harshly.  Two "teenager" guinea pigs guinea pigs on the brink of adulthood are more likely to be hormonal and aggressive temporarily.
#7.  Be patient.  The payoff is very much worth it.  I introduced all three of my boys one at a time when all were over a year old.  Success is very possible.

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