Do guinea pigs need to live in groups, or can they enjoy a perfectly healthy life on their own? Certainly, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there concerning this subject.
While pet stores often insist cavies make a wonderful solo pet, veterinarians and rescue centers claim otherwise. According to them, guinea pigs must live with at least one other companion to avoid many physical, mental, and social issues.
If you’re confused about what to do – get a companion for your single cavy or adopt two pals instead of just one – we’ll clarify several questions pertaining to this very matter. Right now, let’s go over if guinea pigs can live alone, how being a solo pet affects their health, what health problems may arise, and the benefits (if any) of living with one or several companions.
In the Wild: the Aspects of Cavy Society
Cavies naturally live in large groups with several mixed-gender members of varying ages. In some regions, they have also been spotted in relatively small family groups, usually consisting of one or two females and a male with their offspring. These social variations tend to depend on environmental factors, and as such, are a result of regional adaptation.
Simply put, larger groups can prosper easily in areas with high ground cover and less predators, while cavies are forced to live in smaller groups in places with less ground cover and more predators. So, naturally, the smaller the group, the easier it is to hide from their enemies.
These groups, no matter how many members are in them, are highly sociable. Each member thrives in this society where there is constant companionship and mutual assistance. As social creatures, cavies will seek contact with other cavies. When given the opportunity, they tend to associate in groups of several to several dozen.
Group Living and Decreased Stress
According to research, the social conditions of group living affects guinea pig socialization, rearing, behavior, and stress management. Long-lasting relationships and strong bonds strengthen their society, thus improving environmental conditions and greatly decreasing stress.
In group living, a lot of socialization happens. It is through this socialization that cavies learn certain skills and understand dominance based on hierarchy. Group dynamics is an integral aspect they learn early on. Understanding how everyone fits into the group and hierarchical expectations lowers their stress levels and betters their overall health.
Should Guinea Pigs Live Alone?
In short, the answer is no, they should not live alone. The scenario is not ideal, and is unnatural really, since social relationships are such an essential part of their lives. They don’t live alone in the wild, so obviously, they weren’t meant to do so.
Since cavies normally demonstrate a strong need for companionship and contact with their own species, your pet should have at the very least one other cage mate. Remember, cavies need social relationships, which allows them to better cope with stress and survive.
When they’re on their own, cavies experience not only social and physical issues, but mental ones as well. Isolation, more often than not, leads to lonely, depressed, and unhealthy pigs.
Now, having said all that, it is still possible for a guinea pig to live a happy, healthy life as a solo pet – but you’ll need to ensure your pet lacks for nothing, has a healthy diet and a proper cage, is physically and mentally stimulated, gets their socialization from your visits many times a day and outside-the-cage playtime.
Can Cavies Be Kept on Their Own?
Guinea pigs should not be adopted as a single pet. However, there may be situations where a guinea pig needs to be housed alone, such as if their cage mate has passed away and the owner is not planning on getting any more guinea pigs. While it’s not ideal for their socialization, providing proper care and attention can help ensure that they still lead a happy and healthy life.
As long as you provide them with exactly what they need – plus your interaction several times a day – your last guinea pig can live solo without negative consequence to their emotional, physical, and mental health.
If your pet is used to spending time with their favorite human, having been handled from an early age, then they won’t be stressed when interacting with you and instead look forward to your daily visits. In such an instance, you must make up for their lack of a same-species companion by spending plenty of attention and time with your guinea. Not just through-the-cage interaction, but rather, a lot of outside-of-the-cage exercise and play time. Additionally, it’s best to make sure your solo cavy is mentally stimulated with guinea-safe toys. Tunnels and additional habitat levels allow them a means to physically exert themselves when not exercising with you.
Again, while you can do quite a bit on your part to ensure they’re healthy, happy, and well-cared for, same-species companionship is, undoubtedly, the best option for your solo cavy.
Do Guinea Pigs Really Need Company, or Can They Live Perfectly Fine Alone?
In short, guinea pigs do need company from another fellow cavy (or a few of them!). However, companionship of the human nature can suffice, if getting another guinea pig is not possible, but only if certain conditions are upheld at all times – without exception.
These conditions are to ensure your cavy remains healthy and happy. Any type of stress in their life can end badly for them, unfortunately. That’s why, as social creatures, they need the security and safety of another guinea pig to keep them well-balanced, both in mind and in body.
Muffy – My Fluffy Little Busybody
After the death of her sister, Lilly, our dear Muffy was the epitome of sadness. She barely ate, preferring to sleep most of the time, and rarely wheeked. Typically, a vocal creature who would often start up a conversation with one of her devoted human servants, this was certainly a bad sign. Not knowing what to do – should we take a chance on pairing old Muffy with a younger pig or keep her solo – I contacted the rescue center we adopted her from to ask for advice. Having run her guinea pig exclusive center for over 25 years, I knew I was going to get some “real,” unfiltered advice from the owner.
Now, while she did tell me immediately that guinea pigs need companionship – something I was well-aware of – she also did clarify that it can be harder to pair older pigs. Imagine trying to pair your 90-something-year-old grandmother with a teenager, she told me, it just isn’t going to work. Although matching up two elderly cavies was another option, again, the chances of everything working out was 50-50. Additionally, she also told me that if we chose to keep her solo, we would have to put in extra time and energy to make sure Muffy stayed healthy and content with her situation.
In the end, that’s what we decided to do instead of going through the process of finding her a companion that she would tolerate. With three kids in the house and no other pets at the moment, let me assure you that Muffy is a very happy guinea pig indeed, though she is single. We spend lots of time with her, make sure she has plenty of outside-the-cage play, and quite possibly, annoy her with our excess enthusiasm!
If you have a solo guinea pig and want to pair them with a new companion, take a look at the 4 steps to introducing guinea pigs.