BONDING - CREATE A LIFELONG RELATIONSHIP
Unless they have previously been together and already know each other, two or three guinea pigs will need to be introduced to each other the first time they meet. This introduction is a critical phase for your piggies to get along and bond into a happy family. Done correctly, they will most likely be friends for life. There is always the possibility that two piggies may just never get along, but that is rare. Immediate friendship is also often illusive. As with humans, friendship is not something that is just automatically there, it has to be cultivated; trust being earned. The same can be said for guinea pigs. An introduction that ends with no one being hurt is always off to a good start. There are many methods of introductions and I will just list a few of the ones that I have used and know work.
It is best to introduce a new piggie to your cavy family in neutral settings, usually the floor.
The first method is to start out with one person holding one pig and a second person holding the other pig some distance apart, and then release them both, and let them “find” each other. I always like to have a big pile of hay in the middle. Friendships tend to form better over food. Don’t we do the same…. We go to dinner with someone because it’s a neutral setting and a chance to get to know someone better without our own personal space being compromised. Some people put a little hand lotion on their hands and then pick up the pigs, so that they both “smell the same”. There are 5 steps to this type of introduction. The first step is when they are let go to find each other. Then, once they are aware that there is another STRANGER in their area, they will each want to be the boss. They will start out by sniffing each other to check on the sex of the intruder. Males and females alike will both want dominance over the other cage mate. Step 3 is when they decide that they have to appear to be “bigger” than the other. They will yawn to show how big their teeth are; chutter their teeth; rumble strut (stomp from side to side in place, chuttering their teeth); chase; and then mount each other. This dominance show can last from just a couple of minutes until more than an hour, or more. It is during this time that minor bite injuries may occur. UNLESS THERE IS MAJOR ARTERIAL BLOOD LOSS OR DAMAGE, DO NOT SEPARATE THEM! They are doing what guinea pigs do in their world. It looks brutal to us, but they know what they are doing. At this point, don’t try to pet, touch or intervene…. You may be the one to get bitten. Your gentle little guy isn’t himself at that time and has very little clue as to his surroundings. The fourth step is when both piggies will lay down some distance apart from each other. It’s at this point that they pretty much have worked out the hierarchy, but are just testing the waters. The fifth and final step is when they will move side by side, pointing in opposite directions. The intros are pretty much finished at this point and they can be put in a clean cage with lots of hay. They may do the dominance act again, but it should be much less severe, then they will settle down and start to get to know each other.
Another method, and my personal favorite, should only be done by someone with experience handling guinea pigs, and is a little more gentle way to introduce piggies. First, I bathe the piggies at the same time so that they can huddle together in the sink (stress—minimal, that is, is a great bonding agent!) and with warm water and very smelly gentle shampoo, give each pig a bath, being careful not to get any water in their ears or up their nose. Dry them off with a dry towel; and make sure you have a second, big fluffy towel to finish drying them with. Then, with the larger dry towel folded in half, with the fold towards your chin, put both cavies side by side, facing your chin on the towel. Fold the bottom half of the towel up, ensuring that they can’t fall through the bottom of the towel. Then fold both the left and right sides of the towel over the piggies, swaddling them tightly. Hold them like this until they are just about dry. I just sit and hold them, giving both of them treats and just talking and stroking them. The stress turns to relaxation. It will take about an hour, but the piggies will start to get restless and move around. At that point, unwrap the towel and start to towel dry them to get them a little drier. After holding them for a while unwrapped, they should be more comfortable with each other and can then be put in a clean cage with lots of hay and left to get to know each other. As with the other method, unless there is serious bodily harm, do not separate them. This method usually works quite well.
Also using this method, if I am introducing males, I might throw in one more step just before I give them a bath. I check and clean their anal sacs with a Qtip.
The introduction process may work instantly, or may take several sessions. Patience is the key. The one thing you want to remember is that skirmishes are normal. As long as there is no MAJOR blood loss (we are talking arterial spray, large gaping wounds, eye wounds) DO NOT SEPARATE THEM!! This is the biggest mistake people make when trying to introduce pigs. Guinea pigs live in a hierarchal society. Someone must be boss, and trust me, just by us telling them who is in charge, doesn’t work. They have to figure it out themselves. These minor skirmishes are their way of doing just that. It looks frightening to us, but they have been around for millions of years, doing things their way. The human stepping in because we are frightened with their skirmish won’t help solve their “boss” problem.
WARNING: PLEASE BE SURE YOU HAVE TWO SAME SEX GUINEA PIGS!! There are far too many unwanted guinea pigs in this world already. If you are having trouble sexing a guinea pig, please see your local veterinarian or vet tech. They can usually sex your guinea pig for little to no charge; or seek out a guinea pig rescue and ask them for help. You want to make sure you get same sex pigs or a spayed or neutered pig if you are going to put a male and female together. It is possible to have a guinea pig spayed and neutered, so even if they are of opposite sexes, don’t let that stop you, just make sure that you keep them separated until 3 weeks after the neuter, but still close enough so that they can still see and talk to each other.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years where I have had people say to me: “Someone told me you can’t put 2 males together because they will fight and kill each other.” Let me just say this: W R O N G ! I have several cages where I have , 4 and even 5 males living together with no problem whatsoever! Sometimes you may have to get an aggressive male neutered to calm his raging hormones, especially if he has been around females, but it most definitely is possible to have several males together.