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All you need to know about guinea pig fights

If your piggies’ cage is becoming a battle ground, here’s why it happens - and how you can sort it out.

Louise Baty author of article
By Louise Baty, pigmum to Magic and Ruby

@loubaty

Generally speaking, guinea pigs are gentle, uncomplicated little souls - quite content to potter about, munching hay and the odd dandelion leaf between naps. 

They’re sociable too, thriving on companionship with other guinea pigs. After all, wild cavies live in herds of 10 or more. So for the most part, guinea pigs are lovers not fighters. That’s why we adore them so much, right?

But sometimes there’s trouble in piggy paradise.

Occasionally, you may hear unexpected squeaking coming from your piggies’ cage. No, not the excited wheeks they emit whenever the fridge door opens and they hear the rustle of food packets. 

This sort of squeaking is different; urgent, loud - and angry. Yes, it’s clear that they’re really not happy about something.

If you go over to the cage to look, you might find two of your guinea pigs baring their teeth, chasing or even nipping at each other. And your adorable fluff balls aren’t playing around…

They’re fighting.

It can be really upsetting to see your pig babies upset about something and, worse still, potentially hurting one another.  

It can also be a bewildering, stressful situation to try to deal with. What on earth do you do when you find your guinea pigs fighting?  

First things first, you need to understand what’s causing all the aggro. 

So why do guinea pigs fight?

There are actually quite a few potential reasons. 

REASON #1: THE WRONG GUINEA PIG PAIRING

wrong pairing can cause fighting in guinea pigs

One of the key rules when pairing up guinea pigs is to know what sex they are. Knowing this from the start, and arranging your pairings accordingly can nip any potential problems in the bud. 

Unless you wanting guinea pig babies - which is generally inadvisable, given that guinea pig pregnancies and births need specialist management and can be really dangerous for piggies - the best combinations tend to be single sex pairings or small groups.

A single, neutered male may get along well with one or two sows but don’t ever home one sow with two boars. There will be too much natural competition between the boys for the girl’s attention and at least one of the group is likely to end up getting hurt. 

With same sex pairings or groupings, this obviously won’t be an issue. But that doesn’t mean that your duo or little group won’t have disagreements. 

That’s because, just like humans who live together, individual personalities have everything to do with how harmonious the home is on a daily basis. 

If you already have guinea pigs, you’ll know just how individual each guinea pig’s personality can be. You may have a shy little one who hides at the sound of human feet approaching or a bold soul who’ll dart up to the side of the cage to pull a piece of cucumber offered through the bars. Perhaps you have a relaxed, laidback dude or dudette or a more lively, inquisitive adventurer… 

As with humans, guinea pig personality types are myriad and the simple fact is that not all types get along together.

REASON #2: GUINEA PIG DOMINANCE SQUABBLES

dominance issues can cause fighting in guinea pigs

With guinea pigs, there is an extra point to consider - dominance. 

Some piggies tend to be more dominant whilst others are happily submissive. This is natural - in the wild, herds of guinea pigs always have dominant ‘leaders’ along with more laid-back submissives who’ll follow their lead. 

With just two or three piggies in a cage together, there still needs to be a natural herd hierarchy. When guinea pigs are first housed together in one cage, they must work this out for themselves. Until one guinea pig assumes the subordinate position and the dominant guinea pig is crowned (not literally, obviously, but wouldn’t an official guinea pig crowning be something to see!) then there will be friction.

If you have more than one guinea pig stubbornly hanging on to claim that top spot, there will be unrest in the cage until it’s sorted. 

As a rule, male guinea pigs tend to be more dominant and, therefore, will fight amongst themselves for longer than female piggies will. 

It’s important to be able to recognise whether the ‘fights’ you’re seeing amongst your guinea pigs are actual squabbles or whether they’re merely vying for dominance. 

Some signs that a guinea pig is trying to assert themselves as leader of the ‘herd’ include shuffling their bums around the cage to mark territory with their scent, chattering their teeth or snorting and chasing other piggies - especially if one has grabbed a prime spot on a bed, under a cosy hidey or smack bang in a delicious looking clump of hay. 

This is all normal behaviour so try not to worry. 

However, sometimes things may get a bit more hairy.  Your pigs may bare their teeth and stand on their hind legs in a rather menacing fashion. They may chatter their teeth more loudly and even fling themselves at each other. 

They may even bite and draw blood. If this happens, you will need to step in to avoid your piggies getting hurt. More on this later. 

When your fluffy friends are in the midst of establishing their hierarchy, it can be stressful to watch but try to reassure yourself that once one guinea pig has accepted the submissive role (clue: this will be the one who quickly scurries off when being shooed away from the prime spot on a bed, under a hidey or in the hay!), things should be relatively settled and calm. 

REASON #3: YOUR GUINEA PIGS ARE ILL OR HURT

Illness can cause fighting in guinea pigs

Let’s be honest, nobody is at their cheerful, charming best when they’re feeling poorly. So why should guinea pigs be any different? Generally speaking; as prey animals, guinea pigs are pretty adept at masking illness or injury to avoid making themselves even more vulnerable to predators. 

That said, if you notice that one of your pigs is unusually grumpy or aggressive towards the other piggies in the cage, ask yourself if there’s a chance that they may have developed a health issue - especially if their aggressiveness seems to have come from nowhere.

You may want to give your piggy a gentle check over to check for obvious wounds or infections such as bumblefoot or ulcers. But it’s always wise to consult a professional - in this case, an exotic pets vet - so that you can get them to rule out any niggling health concerns that could be causing your pig to lash out at his house mates. 

REASON #4: YOUR GUINEA PIG CAGE IS TOO SMALL

big cage for guinea pigs kavee C&C avoid fighting

A big cage is likely to avoid fights

Guinea pigs need plenty of room to explore, forage and stretch their legs. Unlike hamsters and mice, they don’t like climbing and don’t have the best depth perception either so one large expanse of floor space is preferable to a multi-tiered cage. 

Guinea pigs are sociable creatures who generally love spending time and bonding with their fellow piggies. 

But just like humans they need their own space for hanging out and for snoozing. For this reason,  it’s crucial to have a hidey or bed for each of your guinea pigs to avoid competition and squabbles. Also aim to provide one food bowl and water bowl or bottle for each of your piggies to avoid competition and confrontation. 

However, there’s no getting around the fact that if your piggies’ cage is too small then there simply won’t be enough space for them to have that all important ‘me time’ they require to be happy and healthy - and, crucially, to not annoy their cage mates!

So how big should your guinea pig cage be?

Take a look at these guidelines from animal welfare organisations on the minimum cage sizes for guinea pigs. 

Number of guinea pigs

Minimum floor space

Recommended floor space

2 sows

2x3 C&C = 8 ft2

2x4 C&C = 10 ft2

3 sows

2x4 C&C = 10 ft2

2x5 C&C = 12ft2

2 boars

2x4 C&C = 10 ft2

2x5 C&C = 12ft2

1 neutered boar & 2 sows

2x4 C&C = 10 ft2

2x5 C&C = 12ft2

4 sows

2x5 C&C = 12ft2

2x6 C&C = 14 ft2

Here at Kavee though, we believe this guidance urgently needs updating. The minimum floor space advised is simply too small for your pets, as far as we’re concerned. 

As we’ve already explained, guinea pigs need lots of space to stay healthy and happy. 

So, if you have the room in your home, GO BIGGER than the minimum size recommended - by at least one size up (see the recommended floor size) but ideally, even bigger - as big as you can manage in fact!

It will give your piggies the best quality of life possible.

Also be aware that the recommendations vary depending on whether you have boars or sows. That’s because boars need more space as they’re more likely to fight with each other. 

If you’ve already checked out standard pet shop cages for guinea pigs, you’ll no doubt have noticed that most generally don’t meet the floor space guidelines. 

The fact is that if your guinea pigs are in a cage too small for their needs, they won’t have the floor space to run around and get their much needed ‘alone time’ away from their cage mates. Unfortunately, if they’re crammed in too tightly, they are more likely to bicker. 

This brings us to the reason why guinea pig owners turn to C&C grid cages for their guinea pigs. These types of modular cage, such as Kavee’s C&C cages, don’t just meet the current minimum floor space guidelines advised by animal welfare organisations - they far exceed them! You can read more advice from Kavee about guinea pig cage sizes here

It’s also worth bearing in mind that while a loft can add extra space to a C&C cage (and can be a great area for a piggy to enjoy some much-needed alone time), it doesn’t replace the floor area at ground level. For that reason, a 4x2 C&C cage with loft & ramp should be considered as offering the same floor space as a 4x2 C and C cage without ramp & loft.  

REASON #5: THEY’RE BORED

bored guinea pig fighting kavee

Yes, just like us humans, guinea pigs get bored and tetchy too! 

If they don’t have enough toys or places to hide and play in their cage then your piggies may well end up bickering with each other out of sheer boredom. 

Try to liven things up by offering them fun new toys to play with and explore. Take them out of their cage for cuddles with you and to stretch their legs - either in an outdoor run or around your house, providing it’s all safe and piggy proof, of course. 

HOW TO SEPARATE YOUR GUINEA PIGS SAFELY

In the midst of a guinea pig fight, you might need to step in to prevent them seriously hurting each other. Sadly, a large guinea pig could do a lot of damage to a smaller, younger or weaker piggy.

First things first, it’s important to protect yourself when you do this. As you may already have found out, guinea pigs have very sharp teeth and their nibbles can really hurt!

Wear protective gloves - gardening or oven mitts may do the job nicely - to ensure that you aren’t bitten accidentally when you’re trying to separate your fighting piggies.

HOW TO DIVIDE YOUR KAVEE C&C CAGE

Unfortunately, once guinea pigs have bitten each other , it is highly unlikely that they will get along so a permanent separation needs to be considered for their own safety. However, as guinea pigs are sociable creatures at heart, they would still benefit from being able to smell and see each other.

Handily, C&C grid cages enable you to do just that.

As these types of cages are modular, you can quickly and easily rework the grid formation using the grids to split one cage into two separate spaces with a common wall and separate coroplast bases and fleece liners. 

That means that your piggies will be close enough for comfort but won’t be able to get at each other for further skirmishes. This video shows just how quick and easy it is to separate and merge C&C cages by adjusting with the grid formation.

It’s all pretty straightforward, honest!

Here are some more clever ideas for splitting your C&C cage:

- Build a large 8x2 C&C cage and split it down the middle so that each piggy has a 4x2 C&C cage 

8x2 c and c cage for guinea pigs that are fighting

 

- Build a wide 6x4 C&C cage and split into two 6x2 or two 3x4 cages

how to section off a c and c cage for guinea pigs that are fighting
6x4 c and c cage for guinea pigs that are fighting

- Build a double 4x2 C&C cage with a guinea pig housed on each level

4x2 double stacked tiered C&C cage for guinea pigs

Remember that guinea pigs don’t thrive alone so if you really feel that your piggies don’t get along, even when they’re in a split cage, it may be necessary to sort out separate cages for them with different companions so that they don’t get lonely.

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