Your Guinea Pig's Social Life
Above and beyond basic care requirements, many people struggle with knowing the right thing to do to keep their guinea pig (or pigs) happy. Should you have two? What sex? How do you introduce them? Will they get along? What if they don't? What if they fight? What if a companion dies? Do they get bored or lonely? What if you have an unplanned litter? Should you neuter or not?
|One Cavy or Two?|
Guinea pigs are a social, herd animal. They do better in groups. A pair of guinea pigs is a better option than just one. There are a number of issues to weigh on both sides of the one or two cavy question. Bottom line, the decision for just one is usually the result of what is best for you. The decision for two is usually the result of what is best for the guinea pig. We usually go with what is best for the guinea pigs. If you cannot provide the best possible life for the animals, then perhaps you should consider an animal that would be happier living within your constraints. That may sound tough, but it's worth thinking about. Any responsible rescue will try to guide you to an animal that works well for your situation.
Many people will tell you they have one guinea pig and he or she is just fine, happy as a clam, living out a great life. And that may be, but most of these situations don't have a point of reference for a comparison of that same guinea pig living with or next door to a friend.
On the other hand, if you are adopting a guinea pig from a shelter or some other situation that may have resulted in the death or sub-standard life of that animal, and that animal must live as a single guinea pig due to your circumstances, then should we debate the finer points of how happy that animal is versus how happy it could be? It seems silly at that point. Regardless, we are presenting information to help you make a decision using a combination of the best interests of you and your animal. You need to decide the priorities.
At Cavy Spirit, we have a lot of anecdotal and experiential evidence of guinea pigs being happier living with another guinea pig. What about scientific evidence? See some of the comments below. Basically, even if you have a guinea pig, be it male or female, that cannot get along with another guinea pig, that guinea pig is almost always happier being near another of it's kind, even if separated by a cage wall. There is the rare guinea pig who is happier being a loner, but it is very unusual and definitely not the norm.
Here are some of the issues to think about when deciding whether to get one or two guinea pigs.
The guinea pig pair itself
Is the pair a mature, bonded pair with a known personality? Are you 100% certain of the sex? Remember, pet stores frequently missex animals and knowingly or unknowingly sell a pregnant female or a breeding pair. The more you know about the pair you are considering adopting or buying, the less risk you have of some of the other issues in this list. If you are considering getting two independent guinea pigs who aren't currently living together, then it's just about the same as the next section Adding a 2nd Cavy.
If the pair is young (under 6 months) and same-sex (siblings or otherwise), then you will be risking the fact that they MAY not get along in the future, especially as they progress through adolescence. If you get a male/female pair and the male is neutered or the female is spayed and they are currently living together, it is very rare that they will cease to get along at any point in the future. Any tiffs are usually temporary and they will settle right down again.
While it is a risk that a same-sex pair may stop getting along in the future and it does happen, it is not a common occurrence. However, you should be prepared to deal with it, if it happens.
Adequate cage space
While we publish minimum cage size requirements for 2 guinea pigs as 7.5 square feet (or a 2x3 grid cage), our Cavy Spirit minimum is 10.5 square feet (or a 2x4 grid cage). Even ONE guinea pig needs 7.5 square feet. So, adding a few more square feet for two should be possible in most cases. Two boars should not be housed in less than 10.5 square feet, in our opinion. For more information on cage sizes and ways to provide it, please visit our Guinea Pig Cages web site. (The 2x4 grid cage pictured sits on a 5' x 30" work table.)
What if you need to separate your guinea pigs at any time because they stop getting along? You'll need to make sure that you can provide them both adequate cage space with a common grid wall so that they can be next to each other for company and safe interaction. Ideally, that means a pretty large cage -- a 2x6 grid cage (which requires a 7.5 or 8 foot long table). That cage allows a common grid wall divider down the middle to provide the minimum cage space of 2x3 grids (or 7.5 square feet) per guinea pig. That can be a tall order for many people (15 square feet of cage space). In those circumstances, many people will compromise on cage space (such as the one pictured to the right) and some will try to compensate with additional floor time. A split 2x4 grid cage (photo right) will provide each guinea pig with 5 1/4 square feet of space. That does not meet our minimum but is still almost 2 sq feet larger than the typical "large" SuperPet cage.
Many people think that if you have two guinea pigs, you will spend twice as much in time, cleaning, and maintenance. Not so. It just doesn't work that way. One might experience a cost increase of maybe 25% by adding one guinea pig.
Another cost that might occur, which is very hit and miss, is vet care. You do increase the chances that you may have a medical problem down the line. And while some vet expenses can be significant, most are not. However, if you travel down the ill-advised path of breeding, count on more vet bills. And if you happen to buy or adopt a pregnant guinea pig, be aware that you also have an increased likelihood of required vet care.
In general, a non-breeding pair of guinea pigs does not cost much more, in time or money, than a single guinea pig.
Behavior and Health
We've been talking about the "happiness" of the guinea pig. We use the term loosely. We are not intentionally applying human emotions to the animal. We are using the term as a general way to describe a better state of health and behavior of the animal.
Many guinea pig forums abound with woeful stories of people whose guinea pig seems bored, listless, won't wheek or talk, pop, run around, etc. Guinea pigs interact with each other with their acute sense of smell and hearing as well as speech and touch. To remove the ability for a social animal to interact with another can dramatically impact the health and overall emotional state of the animal. Not only that, you as the caretaker miss out on all kinds of fun and interesting behavior.
Also, if you happen to get a very young guinea pig from a pet store, as is so typical of pet store guinea pigs (they are usually barely weaned), that guinea pig hasn't been taught much yet from any other guinea pigs. Some guinea pigs will not eat fresh food you may offer because they don't recognize it as food and aren't used to it.
An amusing, but standard, guinea pig behavior is their friendly but serious competition for food. Some people have had a single guinea pig who is very fussy and finicky about what kinds of food it will eat. When a friend is added, that fussy guinea pig usually can't stand to see the other guinea pig eating something that they are not, and will eat it too. In this way they help each other keep their diet varied, balanced and healthy. They play together. They chase each other. They usually snuggle together. They keep each other healthy and happy.
Imagine being abandoned on another planet with no other human to see or talk to. Just some giant alien creature who tries to kindly interact with you every so often. Well, for some us, that would be cool and fun. But for most of us, wouldn't it be nicer to have someone to share your life with? That's what it means to be a social animal.
Bonding with You versus the The Other Guinea Pig
A common concern we hear about getting two rather than one guinea pig is that the guinea pig won't "bond with me" if he or she has a friend.
Generally speaking, this is not a concern. Guinea pigs are not dog-like in their behavior and bonding with humans. Please don't have those expectations or you are likely to be disappointed. Guinea pigs all have their own personalities. Some are more friendly than others. Over time (and it can take quite a bit of time with guinea pigs) they will learn to trust you and recognize your scent and sounds. In this process, it doesn't make much difference if they have a friend or not. A friend does make a difference to them when you are not around.
|Adding a 2nd Cavy|
You already have a guinea pig and are thinking about getting a friend for him or her. You've reviewed the issues above and decided that you can provide the proper cage space and resources needed.
What additional considerations do you need to think about?
What kind of guinea pig to get?
Male or female? Young or old? First and foremost, you want to make sure that you do NOT end up with a breeding pair or a pregnant female. Not convinced? Think you may want babies? Please don't. Please read the Breeding page first.
If you have a male, you'll want another male. If you have a female, you'll want another female. This is the easiest path to take, since it does not risk surgery to neuter or spay.
Have you heard that males fight? Did you know that females may fight, too? Did you know that some males and females also won't get along? Guinea pigs all have their own personality. It's a matter of matching up personalities. Many, many people have pairs or trios of boars who get along great. We match up boars all the time.
We try to match up a dominant with a subordinate guinea pig. It helps to have a feel for their personalities. What if you have no idea about the personalities? An older with a younger guinea pig is a good option (larger to smaller one). They usually establish a natural hierarchy with the younger one being subservient to the older one. You just need to be careful that you don't have a very feisty younger guinea pig with a very laid back older guinea pig. In that case, the younger one may challenge the older one's position as 'alpha' guinea pig (or top guinea pig or the boss guinea pig).
Please note: Males living with males (and no females) do NOT need to be neutered! It will NOT change their behavior.
When you pair up a young guinea pig with any other guinea pig (young or old), there is a chance that as he or she goes through their adolescent period (3-5 months), they will challenge the other guinea pig for top guinea pig position. This can lead to some fighting. Most of the time they figure it out for themselves. Occasionally, the fighting is extreme and they must be permanently separated. Again, remember this can happen with ANY guinea pig pair, male/male or female/female.
Where to get the guinea pig?
Rescue, shelter, private person, breeder, or pet store? The best option is to go to someone who has a very good understanding of the personalities of their guinea pigs. Someone who is used to pairing up guinea pigs. This is usually a rescue. For additional options see the More Resources page on the Cavy Rescue site.
What to do when you get the new guinea pig home?
Quarantine first! Introductions later.
What if it doesn't work out, they don't get along?
Please see the first section! You need to be prepared for this possibility or don't attempt it. What if the introductions don't work out? You've given it many weeks of effort, but the two guinea pigs won't get along without serious fighting. You'll need to provide them a cage space where they can see each other, but not get to each other. Ideally, this is a very large cage with a common grid wall.
What if we made a mistake with the SEX?
For some reason you now have a fertile male/female pair? Now what? This can be a BIG PROBLEM depending on your circumstances!
First and foremost, if you find yourself in this situation, separate the guinea pigs IMMEDIATELY! Separate them even if you think the female is already pregnant. Why? First, she may NOT be pregnant yet. Second, females have a two-horned uterus and while rare can get pregnant in the second uterus while carrying a litter in the other (the condition is called superfetation). Third, if she is very definitely pregnant, you probably don't know when she will deliver. The female goes into heat in a big way within an hour or two after delivering. There is a very high likelihood that she will conceive again if the male is present.
Now the question becomes what to do. Do you keep the male and female separate in a large cage with a common wall? Or do you get the male neutered so they can be together? This is another big decision. See the section on neutering.
Do NOT attempt to allow them to be together, supervised or not. Some people think they can time the estrus cycle of the female and remove the male only during fertile times. Some people think it is okay to supervise "play time" and push the boar away from the female when he tries to mount her. DON'T DO IT! Those who play with fire will get burned and have been burned -- at the expense of the animals.
|Adding a 3rd Cavy|
You already have two females?
You can add another female or a neutered male. If one female is very dominant, you'll want to try to find a less dominant female.
You already have two males?
You can add another male. A younger male is usually a good idea if the pair is adult. If the pair is still young, adding an older male usually works and a young one could work but perhaps not as well as an adult.
You already have one female and one neutered male?
You can add another female.
Our advice is based on our experience of combining guinea pigs. The bottom line is one boar per group of females. We have not been able to successfully introduce a second boar to one or more females. It's a combination that rarely works. We have heard of a few cases of this working, but they have been in larger herds which have a significant degree of free-range space. They do not live in traditional cages, large or otherwise.
According to Social and Behavioral Requirements of Experimental Animals, "Guinea pigs live in groups of five to ten individuals in the wild (Sutherland and Festing, 1987) and thrive under group housing, although it is unlikely that two or more sexually mature males will live together without incident unless they have been together since birth." Remember the comment here is about mature males living together with females present. "In their natural environment, guinea pigs exhibit a strong herd or family orientation, and this should be maintained in the laboratory setting, if at all possible. The one boar per harem arrangement is the recommended procedure in breeding colonies. Guinea pigs should not be housed singly . . ."
When adding another guinea pig to a group, ALL social dynamics within the group will likely change. The social order will be disrupted and need to be resorted out from scratch.
Also, any time you remove a guinea pig from a group for any length of time, say a few days to a week, they usually go back through the entire social ordering process again. In other words, it's like doing introductions all over again.
Males living with males (and no females) do NOT need to be neutered! It will NOT change their behavior. It will NOT make them less aggressive. Their personality remains intact after neutering.
Any surgery for any animal risks the life of that animal. In addition, it is pretty difficult to find a competent vet who has a done quite a few cavy neuters with a high success rate. The risk factor for neutering cavies is significantly higher than cats or dogs.
If you don't already have a male and female, then get a same-sex pair and avoid the neutering issue all together.
While we are very aware of some deaths of males due to neutering, some of it is due to improper post-surgical care, which can be prevented. Some of these neuter deaths are because of missed infections picked up after the surgery was done. On the other hand, the number of ACCIDENTAL pregnancies due to having a fertile male and female in the same house is quite high. And don't forget, a pregnancy risks the life of the sow as well. So, we believe you need to look at the big picture.
Do you have total control over keeping your fertile guinea pigs separated? If you have kids, the answer is probably no. If you have anyone who is permitted to play with, watch, or take care of the guinea pigs, then the answer is no. We have heard story after story of the kids who let them play together for just a minute. The babysitter who didn't know any better. Even the parents who didn't know any better!
So, which ever decision you make, be informed. Be responsible. For more technical information on neutering, see our page on neutering. And be aware that after a guinea pig is neutered, he must not be put back with the female for 3 to 4 weeks. He may still have live sperm until that time. Also, a guinea pig should be at least 3 or 4 months old and at least 650 grams of body weight before being neutered.
What about spaying the female? Spaying a female will prevent ovarian cysts and related problems which may develop later in life. However, it is generally not recommended to spay as a preventative measure. A spay is a much more invasive, risky procedure. Even vets who routinely do cavy neuters will shy away from doing spays because they don't do enough of them. To prevent pregnancy, it makes more sense to have the male neutered than the female spayed. Sometimes there are other circumstances which can change that decision. The same applies to spays on finding a very competent vet with a high success rate.
Additional reading on Spay/Neuter:
"Should I Neuter My Boar?"
by Vicki Palmer Nielsen of the Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue
Warns on the dangers of neutering. Advocates keeping fertile pairs separated and not doing unnecessary surgery.
When you bring home a new friend for an existing guinea pig, or you get two guinea pigs from two different sources, then BEFORE you try putting them together, you need to keep them apart for two to three weeks to make sure the new guinea pig does not have any medical problems which could be transmitted to the other.
If one is sick or has any parasites or fungal infections, you'll want to treat that one first, rather than risk spreading the condition to the other guinea pig.
Quarantine means keeping the guinea pigs in two different rooms, which of course requires two separate cages. If you bought a pet store cage and have since realized it's too small, you can use the cage for quarantine until the pigs can be introduced.
You should handle the new guinea pig last. You should wash your hands after handling the guinea pig. It's a good idea to keep a smock in the room with that guinea pig. That way you have less risk of transmitting parasites or other things on your clothing.
Examine your new guinea pig very closely and carefully while in quarantine. Look for signs of mites (scratching and hair loss). Mange mites are not visible to the naked eye. Look for lice, fleas, fungus (ringworm). Look for eye or nasal discharge, excessive sneezing, wheezing, loud breathing and more. If you suspect your new guinea pig is not well, please take it to a good vet as soon as possible. Do not delay. Guinea pigs can go downhill fast.
Typical problems with pet store guinea pigs are URIs (Upper Respiratory Infections), mange mites, fungal infections, scurvy, and pregnancy!
Have patience, take your time, always on neutral territory, and don't give up too soon. Brief words of wisdom for introducing guinea pigs.
You've honored the quarantine period, your new piggie is healthy and you are ready to introduce him or her to your other guinea pig(s).
What you don't want to do is plop the new guinea pig into your existing guinea pig's cage. Never try to introduce guinea pigs in one of their cages. Be prepared. This may happen in one afternoon or it may take months!
At Cavy Spirit we call this process the Dating Game. Our system works well for us. We are going to tell you about our system as well as suggestions from others.
The Cavy Spirit Dating Game
The initial introduction is done to determine how fast or prolonged the process will be. We also use this process when we are trying to find a good mate for someone else's guinea pig.
Get a large bath towel or two.
Put the towels on the couch (neutral, unfamiliar territory).
Spread them out over the middle of the couch.
Each person holding a pig, sits at opposite ends of the couch.
Make sure the towels are between you and there is a good amount of space (it helps to have a big couch!). Floor works, too. Keep kids quiet and out of reach. No other distractions.
Let the pigs find each other on their own time.
You may need to nudge them in the right direction. Have another towel handy to toss on the pigs if you need to separate them.
Let the games begin!
More often than not, pet owners want to break up guinea pigs exhibiting normal dominant behavior. Everyone looks worried and asks, "Is that normal?" And be prepared to answer the question, "Mommy, what are they doing?"
How long and what next?
Usually, the first 15 minutes is just getting acclimated to the new surroundings and the idea that there is another guinea pig there. It's the next 15 to 30 minutes that can get interesting. The nice thing about being on the couch is it makes it easy for them to run to you when they get uncomfortable. But, keep your interactions and interference to an absolute minimum.
Some guinea pigs will get along just great. Some will decide on peaceful co-existence right from the beginning. Some will act like long lost buddies or lovers! But, most will go through the standard dominance dance getting to know each other and trying to figure out who is going to be the boss of who. They must and will decide this. It may not be now, but it will get decided.
When to separate them? Serious blood is drawn or a wound is inflicted. Some nipping or minor biting can be quite normal. Even little tufts of hair in the mouth can be normal.
Some standard dating game behavior is (any sex combination):
Safe, non-combative, dominance behavior
Butt dragging (they are leaving their scent)
Mounting (any which way: rear mount, head mount, side mount, flying leap mount!)
Nose face-offs (higher in the air wins, one must lower their nose to be subservient to the other)
Teeth chattering: a little (signal of dominance)
Raised hackles (hair on the back of the neck and along the spine)
Posturing for possible attack, battle for dominance is escalating
Teeth chattering: sustained (signal of anger, aggression, warning)
Nips, light bites, may result in little tufts of fur in their teeth
Wide yawn, but this is no yawn, they are showing their teeth
Snorting (like a strong puff or hiss)
These behaviors may sound serious and they should be monitored VERY CLOSELY, BUT do NOT separate the pigs exhibiting this behavior, yet. This is when the average pet owner loses it and pulls the pig out. Most of the time, this behavior will continue for a while until one backs down.
Fighting with intent to harm
Bite attacks are no longer warning nips, they are lunges with intent to harm.
Combination of raised hackles, loud and angry teeth chattering, rumblestrutting in place with the head staying in one position while facing the other guinea pig doing the same thing. Usually a signal of a biting attack. But they may back down before they engage.
Both pigs rear up on their haunches, face to face. This is a clear, brief signal of their intent to launch full attacks at each other. Separate if possible before the attack.
Full battle. The pigs are locked together in a vicious ball of fur. This is very serious. Separate immediately, but be careful. Throw a towel over them and use a dustpan or something other than your hand to separate them. Unintended bites from their very sharp incisors can cause serious damage.
The best indicator to watch for on when to separate guinea pigs is the posturing of the nipping and bite attacks. If that gets more serious, that's the time to separate them. If blood is drawn, it's definitely time to stop that session. Hopefully, you can separate your guinea pigs before any serious harm is done.
We have only witnessed one full onslaught battle and that was not during an introduction, but did result in a serious injury to one of the guinea pigs. It was a battle between a father and son over the sows during floortime (one of our social experiments that bombed). We have seen two sows raise up on their haunches, but the actual attacks were minor. They were able to sort out their hierarchy.
We have probably gone through the dating game process close to 100 times! To date, over the course of several years, NONE of the guinea pig pairs that we have matched up and adopted out have ceased getting along, and that includes many boar pairs and some boar trios. (We do periodic follow ups on our adoptions.)
The "Piggies who Bathe Together, Stay Together" Game
Here is another technique used for harder-to-introduce couples or trios, especially when adding a new male to a bonded male pair. You'll only want to try this method if you are already competent at handling guinea pigs and giving baths.
When you are ready to "introduce" the three, take everybody out and put them on the floor. Lay a blanket down and enclose it so they can't escape. Make it big enough so they have room to roam around. They will all notice each other.
Watch their behavior closely. You will notice some things right away. If they hate each other, it's apparent pretty quickly. There will be teeth chattering along with more serious fighting. They may leap at each other and start fighting (it looks like a levitating mass of squiggling piggies). This is bad. Make sure you have an oven mitt or dust pan or a towel you can wrap around your hand to separate them. DO NOT USE YOUR BARE HANDS. Fighting pigs will bite ANYTHING, and very very hard. It will draw blood. Even if they are not actively fighting but are in "fight mode" they can bite. Make sure no small children are around where they could try to stop it and get bitten. See the dating game behavior above to help you determine if they should be immediately separated.
If nobody fights right away, you can relax a bit. They may rumble around and mount each other. This is all normal. You'll notice a lot of bum-sniffing and chasing. This is ok. If they start fighting, refer to the above.
The last option is the best -- instant acceptance. They will run up to each other, sniff, maybe mount a few times, and then settle down to groom the other pigs' ears or something. This is fantastic, but unfortunately doesn't happen all that often right from the start.
If the pigs fight, or fight after a little while, give them all a bath. You can put all three pigs in the bathtub (keep the oven mitt handy) and run about 1 inch of warm water. Soap them all up at the same time with something that smells good. Use a small-animal shampoo that is kitten or bunny-safe (not a baby or human shampoo). The pigs will be freaked out about the bath and will forget that they are mad with each other. Don't get any water in the eyes, nose, or ears. Rinse them off carefully and well making sure that you get all the soap out.
Put them on some towels on the bathroom floor. Dry them off as much as possible with a towel first. Then finish drying them with a hairdryer. Make sure it's on the WARM setting and never get it too close to their skin. Make sure your hand is always on their fur so you can feel the level of heat you are giving them. They will run away. Keep chasing them around a bit until all three pigs are completely dry. When you're done, they will all smell exactly the same.
Try the introductions again, this time on a new blanket that's just out of the dryer or is completely clean. They shouldn't fight. The bathroom scare will hopefully cause them to bond together, and they will group together out of necessity.
If the introductions go well, clean the two boars' cage very thoroughly. Use a vinegar and water solution to clean the Coroplast and throw all other items (pigloo, food dish, etc.) in the dishwasher. Clean any other hidey boxes or toys. You want to remove ALL scents from the cage. When you replace all the items, move them around so that nothing is in the same place as it used to be.
Then put all three boars in the new cage. They will feel that it's an entirely new home and won't be so territorial about defending it against the new boar.
|Keeping the Peace|
Guinea pigs need exercise and stimulation above and beyond their cage environment, even if you have provided a good-sized cage. There are suggestions for toys, floor time, cage accessories, bedding, hay, and of course, easy-to-make large cages on the Guinea Pig Cages website.
None of it has to cost very much. There are lots of ideas and sources for inexpensive solutions to just about everything.
If you end up with a pregnant guinea pig, first be sure to remove the boar. Find cage advice above. You will need at least two good size cages or a properly large cage sectioned off.
If you have decided to get the male neutered (if you have one), then assuming he meets the age, weight, and health criteria, the best time is while the female is still pregnant. That way, he can have a full month of proper wait time away from the female while she is pregnant or nursing.
Boars are okay with babies for a couple of a weeks. They don't eat them, attack them, or trample them. In fact, while a neutered male is in his "wait" period (3-4 weeks after surgery before he can join the mother), the babies can help keep him company. While the babies are very young, a common grid wall is fine. They are small enough to go through the holes as they please. After about two weeks (plus or minus, you have to be the judge), they start to get to be too big to go through the grids. Then, depending on the status of the babies, males -- okay to visit the dad, females, not -- you can create an opening in between the grids which allows the babies to go through, but not the adults, or just block them off with another grid staggered and secured with zip ties so that the holes are entirely too small. Make sure any openings are truly secure. You shouldn't mess around with openings unless your boar is neutered and is just waiting for the sperm to die!
A fertile boar should be in his own cage. Baby boars should be separated from their mother at 3 to 3 1/2 weeks. They can be placed with the adult male, neutered or fertile. Females can be left with their mother for an indefinite time. The mother will naturally wean the babies at 3 to 5 weeks.
|Death & Companions|
If one of a bonded pair dies, the other guinea pig may be just fine or may go into what appears to be a depression. They may become sluggish and not eat as much and not appear normal.
Also, that rare chirping sound that a guinea pig makes which not too many people have heard, seems to be noticed more in this situation, where the guinea pig appears to be missing it's mate or pal. Sometimes this happens late in the night.
Should you get a friend for the remaining guinea pig?
Will your guinea pig accept a new friend?
It depends on the personality of the guinea pig. See the section on Adding a 2nd Cavy. A guinea pig that is used to having a friend may have an easier time accepting a new one.
Will your guinea pig be as happy as before?
Maybe, maybe not. But if your guinea pig is depressed and lonely, probably a fairly good match will help with the depression. While your guinea pig may not be as happy as they were before, if they are depressed, they would likely be happier and healthier than being alone.
Will you be as happy as before?
Some people are so in love with their guinea pig and hold such a special place in their heart for it, that replacing one that has been lost is just not an option.
Do you want to continue taking care of cavies for some additional years? Sometimes people are ready to 'take a vacation' from caring for guinea pigs after a number of years. You may just want to make the best of your existing guinea pig's remaining time with you.
How long should you wait?
If your guinea pig is depressed, give him or her a bit of time. Maybe a week or two. Be sure and spend extra time and lavish more attention on your guinea pig. Maybe they will come around and be okay after they go through their mourning period.
Another reason to wait before getting a new friend is so that they really understand that their old friend is truly gone. Giving them some time alone may help them appreciate a new friend a bit more.
If you are planning on getting a new friend and your current guinea pig is very depressed and it's health is suffering, probably the sooner the better on getting a new friend.
If you don't get a new friend?
Be sure to give your remaining guinea pig lots of extra love and attention. Try moving them into a more active area of your home. A slight change of scenery might be good for them. Also, consider getting your guinea pig a stuffed animal friend. Most cavies will be fine with them. If they start to eat or tear it, then of course, remove it. Check the Toys page for additional ideas and advice on keeping a guinea pig happy.
Interesting Info from the Animal Research World
What follows are some references from various animal research sources which discuss some of the implications of the social nature of guinea pigs.
Most of these references were found from searching the Animal Welfare Institute website.
When animals are introduced to each other and pairs or groups are established, there is an initial period during which they work out their social relationships (dominance ranks, etc.). There may be aggressive interactions; however, when conditions are right, the social organization will stabilize. Once the hierarchy has been established the interactions are subtle, and based more on avoidance or ritualized threat than overt aggressive action. If their daily routine is disrupted, if resources such as food or resting spaces are limited, or the animals are poorly grouped, the hierarchy becomes disestablished and the number of aggressive interactions increases. The animal's well-being is threatened when:
a) space is insufficient for maintaining behaviorally adequate distance;
b) feeding or resting space for all individuals is insufficient; or when feeding and resting cannot be accomplished concurrently;
c) regrouping is performed so frequently that animals must repeatedly undergo the stabilization process; and
d) group sizes are inappropriate for the species.
The above statement challenges intense confinement practices which prohibit animals from engaging in their normal social-behavioral activities.
In addition to sufficient primary space for resting, animals also need what could be called secondary space, for freedom of movement at their own will. An important exception may occur at the time of parturition (birth), when most individual animals should be given their own quarters.
Most animals should not be housed singly unless required by medical condition, aggression, or the dictates of the study. Singly housed animals should have some degree of social contact with others of their own kind. For most species, at the very least there should be potential visual contact. Olfactory and auditory contact with other animals is also usually desirable. From Social and Behavioral Requirements of Experimental Animals.
From these data is was concluded, that young male Guinea pigs develop more favorably in colonies than in pairs or singly. Citation: Stanzel, K., Sachser, N. 1994. The ontogeny of male Guinea pigs living under different housing conditions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 40, 94
No changes in body weight are observed if adult male guinea pigs are removed from their groups and kept singly in their home enclosure. In contrast, subjects markedly lose weight and show a marked reduction of water intake if isolated from their groups and caged singly in an unfamiliar test room. It is recommended that if guinea pigs have to be caged singly, they should remain in their home room, for enabling them to express their need for olfactory/auditory contact with conspecifics. Citation: Fenske, M. 1992. Body weight and water intake of guinea pigs: influence of single caging and an unfamiliar new room. Journal of Experimental Animal Science 35, 71-79
What does that mean? Olfactory translates to sense of smell, auditory to sense of hearing, and conspecifics means of the same species. This passage means that adult male guinea pigs were healthier when, if they must be kept apart from other guinea pigs (perhaps due to fighting or testing in this case), they are kept next to their pals in the same cage with the ability to smell and hear the others.