Guinea Pig Relationship Ups and Downs

Christmas PigsImage courtesy of Sally

Athena and Victoria

New guinea pig owners are often nervous about what constitutes normal guinea pig behavior between members of their herd. They often separate their guinea pigs for fear that they’re fighting when the pigs were just trying to establish boundaries and pecking order. They also worry that pigs that don’t cuddle together all the time don’t really like each other. Piggy politics can be complicated, and sometimes there are only subtle signs to indicate that two (or more) pigs are actually quite happy to be together.

Vicky and Athena had the strongest bond I’ve seen between any of my guinea pigs. Bertie and Pinniped are also well matched. But like any close couple, they have their off days and spats. When they do, they can really dish it out.

Vicky and Athena were masters of this. Vicky loved to hassle Athena to the point where Athena would show her teeth and hiss like a pressure cooker. These two very rarely came to blows, but it was a little unnerving to see Athena puff out and sound so angry when she was such a laid back pig. This pair usually stopped at the posturing. Once Athena showed her teeth, Vicky would stop pestering her, and they’d go off and stuff themselves in the hidey house for a nap.

Bertie and Pinniped tend to go for the lunge/bite/snap at each other. Have you ever seen two kids slap each other on the arm saying “you’re it!” “No, you’re it!” back and forth? I’ve seen these two do this – except they use their teeth. It’s most often when they want the same cozy or piece of food. The exchange is lightning-fast and stops after a round or two.

They also caterwaul at each other worse than a pair of fishwives. When the screaming is at its worst, it’s enough to make me lose my mind. The hollering usually starts when one or the other is in heat, so it can last as long as two days. All. Day. Long. It is often accompanied by chasing, humping, biting and occasionally peeing on each other (which gives new meaning to the phrase “pissed off”). I’ve had people ask how they can stop their guinea pigs from peeing on each other. You can’t. Gross as it may seem to you, it’s a basic part of their vocabulary to warn off another pig.

I waver between yelling at them to stop it and shut up or sitting down with popcorn to watch the show. I have yet to get a good video of an all-out screaming match, because they stop by the time I get the camera set up.  However, I did managed to catch one of their more subdued displays of vexation:

This is their basic bickering, complete with constant grousing, humping and peeved popcorning.  Imagine this, much louder, with a bit more chasing and lasting for hours, and you’ve got a feeling for what they’re like at their worst.

In the end, after the dust settles, things go back to their normal routine. Well, at least until they find something else to disagree about. I am curious, though, if boars have screaming matches like this, or if it’s just a sow thing.

So the biting and the bickering may look vicious, but there’s more posturing to the attack than brute force.  First, guinea pig skin is really tough to puncture. In addition, guinea pigs are prey animals and no one wins (except the predators) if there are serious injuries from a fight. In my experience, battles tend to look a whole lot scarier than they truly are.

That’s not to say pigs can’t have a serious falling out. If your pigs are biting each other hard enough to draw blood or becomes a true battle that looks like a whirling ball of fur, then your pigs have a severe clash of personalities and they need to be separated.  Separation can be temporary or permanent, depending on a bunch of factors, including age, health, and living quarters.

There is a good overview of guinea pig social interactions on CavySpirit’s website called Social Life. I review it every time I do guinea pig introductions.

After all this, you must wonder why I insist that these girls are happily bonded? With all they do to each other, how can they be best friends? Because life is generally peaceful. Athena and Vicky were nearly joined at the hip and Vicky was seriously depressed when Athena passed (she had no one to hassle). Bertie and Pinniped do things together more often than not. Unlike Athena and Vicky, they are not cuddlers; I do not find them snuggled up with each other by choice. However, even with three levels of living quarters, they are often sleep within a handsbreadth of each other. It’s a small thing, but clearly indicates two pigs that are happy together.

Any good friendship will have it’s ups and downs. And sometimes it’s not easy see how deep the bonds are in a couple, especially when it appears at first glance that they don’t get along. Relationships are rarely simple, even with guinea pigs.

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Sally has owned guinea pigs for over 20 years and has organized the Boston Pignics since 2003. She is the CavyMadness “guinea guru” and assists guinea pig beginners on other cavy forums. Sally currently cares for a pair of sows.

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3 Responses to “Guinea Pig Relationship Ups and Downs”
  1. Ana says:

    I have 3 girls, two of which go into heat at the same time, more often than not. I know exactly what you mean, last night, (it’s always all night) there was tussling, squeaking, squeals….the sound of tiny elephants stampeding. The strangest thing is that it ended in something that has only happened 2x, both during this heat cycle…….there was a particularly loud bout……and then….CHIRPING! The elusive chirping! This happened a few days ago, but just for a second….this was for a bit, Until I was feeling around for my glasses to see what the heck was happening, and I knocked a pen off the nightstand, startling them and ending all noise. I said to my husband, ‘did you hear that?! I think someone was chirping!’ He goes….’Yeah, That weird Star Wars sounding *poop*?’ (he wasn’t happy with the 4am piggy wake-up call) . It did sound like an ‘angry bird’ (lol) and C3PO……very weird, wish I would have seen who was doing it. Someone else was still furiously squeaking along with the chirper, so, it didn’t sound like a happy exchange…just like an argument where one person suddenly begins speaking in tongues or something, lol.

  2. Starlyc Limler says:

    Boars have this a lot as well. I normally end up separating them for my own sanity.

    @Ana, I’ve done a lot of research on chirping when I first got my Guinea Brothers, & it seems no one knows what it means. The best they have is it’s them singing. I was fortunate enough to hear my piggies sing as well. Apparently, many people don’t ever get to hear their babies sing.

    Starlyc Limler

  3. Emily says:

    I have 2 girls one night I woke up I heard the smaller one squealing I got up and turned on the the light they were chasing each other. Were they playing.

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