Though mostly docile, affable, and entirely too cute to be taken seriously, guinea pigs are as complex of a mammal as any other. Why do they fight? Can they harm each other? What are the signs of dominant behavior in guinea pigs? These are just some of the questions we’ll answer in this article.
We will explain the context behind some of the more problematic guinea pig behaviors, tell you what to look out for, and explain how to best react in scary situations.
By the time you’ve gone through this article, you’ll be ready to tackle most social issues that might come up between your piggies, no matter what they might be. That way, your animals will be way happier, and you’ll be happy, too!
How Long Does Guinea Pig Dominance Last?
Before getting into more detail, we need to set the expectations right. Dominant behavior between guinea pigs can last for just a couple of days, but in extreme cases, it might stretch out to weeks or even months at a time.
This is why it’s important to be able to tell if your piggies are getting along, and what some potential red flags in their behavior might be. If things get heated, it might take a long while before you can settle your animals down properly, and that’s perfectly normal. Not fun, though!
How Do You Know if Your Guinea Pigs Are Getting Along?
Guinea pigs make for great pets, sure, but put as few as two of them together, and you’ll get the kind of social dynamics that not even soap operas would be ashamed of. Figuring out if there’s trouble in paradise should hardly be an issue, thankfully.
What Are the Red Flags Between Guinea Pigs?
One of the first signs that your guinea pig is displeased is often them chattering their teeth. This is a very general behavior that they’re quick to resort to, and it’s not necessarily a sign for further escalation.
If you see that your guinea pigs are often widely opening their mouth at each other, though, or that they are hiding and/or chasing one another, you may have a small crisis in the making. They may well get physical unless you jump in and do something.
And yes – guinea pigs can and will fight if push comes to shove. Ideally, this will never happen, but if you end up with two extremely territorial animals, be sure to keep a close eye on them.
What Are Not the Signs of Aggression Between Guinea Pigs?
On the other hand, we also have a list of positive behaviors that you do want to see between guinea pigs.
Popcorning and squeaking (‘wheeking’) will be a sign that your animals are getting along fine. You want to see them generally being close to one another, and if all goes well, they will also eat at the same time and lay down next to each other.
Are your guinea pigs grooming each other? If so, that’s a social slam dunk, and chances are that you won’t really have any problems with them in the future.
Does the Guinea Pigs’ Gender Matter?
Most issues arise from some sort of incompatibility between animals, right off the bat. It’s important to keep in mind that, ideally, you’ll have a single male and a single female guinea pig living together. Neutered, too, unless you’re eager for a litter of guinea piglets in a matter of weeks.
Having multiple guinea pigs of same-gender living together gets a bit more complicated than that, mind. You will invariably have to accommodate them to some extent, with the males being bigger divas than females are.
Can Multiple Male Guinea Pigs Live Together?
In practical terms, male guinea pigs are way more territorial than their female counterparts. Boars – as they are often called – will not often be able to live with many others of their kind.
Even in those cases in which you’ve had two males growing up together, they may end up in a cycle of dominant behavior during puberty, and this kind of spiraling into aggression is anything but easy to deal with.
Can Multiple Female Guinea Pigs Live Together?
The good news, then, is that female guinea pigs – sows – can live together in pretty large groups without major issues.
Sows can start mounting each other when in heat, but this should only last a short while every other week or so. If you do notice that your female guinea pigs are suddenly behaving aggressively or just aren’t getting along anymore, chances are that one of them is having a health issue.
How to Best Introduce New Guinea Pigs to the Group?
We’re generalizing here, but far as guinea pigs go, it’s best to keep them paired up and get new cages for other piggies you might get in the future. If you really want to add a third wheel to the mix, though, there are a few rules you should keep in mind, for everyone’s sake.
- Adding a sow to a cage with two boars is always a bad idea
- Putting two dominant animals together is always a bad idea
- Adding another boar to a cage with two agreeable males is asking for trouble
If you’d like to properly and safely introduce new piggies to the fold, the safe way of going about it is to add a neutered boar to a cage with multiple sows. If you know the animals well, you could also try pairing up a dominant pig with a submissive one (e.g. young male with an older one).
How Long Do Guinea Pigs Fight for Dominance?
Now that you have a better idea of what the red and green flags are in guinea pig behavior, it’s time for us to go into greater detail on dominance showcases and expectations.
As we said before, a struggle for dominance between two guinea pigs can stretch out over a very long period of time: for weeks, even. During this time, they will fight basically whenever they get the chance to do so.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how long it might be before things settle down. If, for example, you pair an older male guinea pig with a significantly younger male, there’s a good chance the older boar will attempt to exercise dominance for as long as he will be able to.
After a while, the younger boar will probably turn the tables on the old one, and you may end up with a cycle of unwanted behavior between the two.
Do Physical Fights Between Guinea Pigs Last Long?
In most cases, actual fighting between pigs won’t last long unless they’re extremely stressed-out with one another. More often, they’ll get into short scraps every once in a while, and those might escalate the situation further.
Though short, these clashes may increase in frequency and length as your guinea pigs continue not being able to stand each other. An ideal situation would be one in which one of the pigs accepts its submissive status right away, but it goes without saying that this won’t always be the case.
It will be up to you – the owner – to jump in at the right time to stop this from happening.
Will a Dominant Guinea Pig Remember the Submissive One After Separation?
Strange as that might sound, guinea pigs are great at holding grudges. If a fight gets going for real, chances are that you’re going to need a permanent solution to keep the two apart.
Now, the good news is that a simple barrier of some sort will do the trick in most cases. Of course, to pull this off properly, you’re going to need a large enough cage to accommodate all the changes you will need to make. Two hay feeders, two food dishes, two water sources – the whole package.
In some cases (and if your guinea pigs are particularly aggressive), there just won’t be anything else for you to do. Consider installing a barrier between your piggies: the nuclear solution, if you will.
What Other Reasons are there for Guinea Pig Fights?
We should point out that it’s not just dominance that can spark a fight between guinea pigs.
If the cage is too small for your animals, for example, that’s going to cause a fight every once in a while. Should they be bored, too, they might get rough.
A bit more disturbingly, ill or injured guinea pigs can become targets for their healthier pals. It’s not often that something like this happens in non-dominant pairs, but you may want to keep your guinea pigs separated if one of them is recovering from something.
How to Stop Dominant Behavior in Guinea Pigs?
The first step towards cooling things down between guinea pigs is to figure out what’s causing the friction. If the cage is too small, you need a bigger cage to hold your piggies. If they need to share toys, get one for each of them. Down below, you’ll find a handy shortlist of some other things to do in a pinch:
- Get a cage that’s large enough for each guinea pig to have its own space
- Make sure that each guinea pig has its own resources (i.e. food, water, toys) and doesn’t need to share
- Get a unique hiding space for each pig
- Consider using dividers if need be
Finally, another crucial piece of advice that ties into every other piggie-related problem is for you to visit a vet if you can’t find the source of the issue.
It’s not always easy for a layperson to figure out if something’s amiss with their pets, especially if the issue is still early in the making. A check-up every once in a while is a great idea, for sure, but consider visiting the vet if you see flare-ups of problematic behavior that otherwise isn’t present, too.
How Do Guinea Pigs Show Dominance?
Aside from outwardly visible signs of displeasure we mentioned before, there is also a set of dominance showcasing behavior in guinea pigs that you need to be aware of. We’ll list them in their usual order of escalation.
When the going gets tough, your dominant guinea pig may start screaming and rumbling at their unlucky peer. If you can stop the confrontation at this point, you may yet avoid further problems.
Chasing and Cornering
After a screaming match, the dominant guinea pig will start chasing after their target, attempting to corner them for further acts of aggression.
Note that this is not the same as usual playtime chasing, which happy guinea pigs may also engage in. In those cases, chasing will be more akin to following one another. It’s less unpredictable and significantly less chaotic, not to mention far less scary to witness.
Mounting / Humping
The ultimate show of force for guinea pigs, they will attempt to dominate one another by mounting and/or humping them into submission.
If the aggressor is happy with the outcome and establishes clear dominance, they will cease problematic behavior for the time being. If, however, the victim decides not to roll over for the bully, be prepared for a proper fight.
How Do Guinea Pigs Show Submission?
A submissive guinea pig will, in most cases, just sit there and vocalize from time to time. They may also be eager to get out of the way when their bully comes closer.
Another potential show of submission that’s slightly less obvious is during the mutual piggie sniffing. The one that holds his nose up higher is – in most cases – the dominant animal, while the submissive one will have their nose to the floor.
How to Tell if Your Guinea Pig Is Being Bullied?
If you’re attempting to figure out if one of your piggies is being bullied, you only need to stick around the cage for a while and keep an eye out.
All of the behaviors described in this article are rather plainly obvious, so in most cases, you shouldn’t have an issue figuring out if one animal is hounding the other.
Signs of Guinea Pig Bullying
Between some guinea pigs, playtime can look awfully similar to genuine fighting. As the owner, it’s up to you to familiarize yourself with your animals’ behavior, because you never know when things might escalate further than they usually do.
If, for example, you notice that one of your usually docile piggies is pestering another more than is usual, keep an eye on them. We previously mentioned that the balance of power in guinea-pigdoms is prone to change: you never know when one might challenge another!
On that note, consult this shortlist of signs of potential bullying if you’re worried about there being problems in the future:
- If one guinea pig is actively (and unusually) avoiding the other
- If some of your guinea pigs are going through puberty (they may challenge their elders)
- If one of your pigs is suddenly eating less or not eating while another is close to the bowl
- If you notice one of the guinea pigs is hiding more than usual and avoiding their peers
None of these things are necessarily signs of bullying, but they can be, so make sure to stay alert and police your piggies, if need be.
Can Guinea Pigs Kill Each Other?
As a rule of thumb, it’s very rare for one guinea pig to kill another, but it can happen. If, for example, you have a very large guinea pig that’s being aggressive towards a far smaller animal, you will want to separate them as quickly as possible.
Ideally, your animals will never fight, but keep in mind that guinea pigs can get extremely vicious when angry, and their scratches and bites can (and will) draw blood.
By now, you’ve been made aware of just about every major issue that can crop up between your guinea pigs!
Whether it’s just a passing fad or a sign of things to come, you will now be more aware of behaviors you may not have previously known were complex guinea pig social cues.
It’s not like we humans popcorn when we get a raise, nor do we chatter our teeth at folks we disprove of. We need context for other species’ socializing to make sense, and it was the exact goal of this article to provide you with that context, far as guinea pig behavior goes.
As a final remark, it shouldn’t take too long for you to figure out what your piggies are like. These are, after all, incredibly social animals, and each of them has its own unique personality that you will need to take into account if you’re assessing them for aggression.
Be aware of who and what they are, keep in mind the things we’ve written about, and you’ll be good to go, no matter what sort of argument your piggies find themselves in. Good luck!
- Morales, Edmundo. The Guinea Pig: Healing, Food, and Ritual in the Andes, 1995.
- Vanderlip, Sharon. The Guinea Pig Handbook, 2003.