I don’t get asked this question as often as I used to, however, someone did ask me a few days ago so I thought I should outline the many reasons why it’s not a good idea to house rabbits and guinea pigs together for any amount of time.
The idea of keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together started when neutering small animals was new to the field of veterinary science and weren’t the routine thing to do. Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, has progressed over the years and it is now much safer to have your rabbits and guinea pigs neutered than it used to be. It’s always better for communal animals to have some company of their own kind.
Rabbits are generally not a vocal animal and communicate mainly with body language and whilst guinea pigs do use body language to communicate, most piggy owners know they are vocal and do squeak a lot! Keeping them together will mean they won’t be able to communicate with each other properly. For example, rabbits can tell a lot from another rabbit by their ears, as holding them in different positions mean different things whilst guinea pigs have very small ears and do not move them like rabbits do. Through frustration, a rabbit could bully a guinea pig as they are unable to understand it. Two bonded rabbits will cuddle up and groom each other, whilst guinea pigs are a herd animal who behave differently and don’t snuggle up together in the same way rabbits do. A rabbit may feel lonely if kept with a guinea pig, and it may feel harassed by the rabbit. They really don’t make good companions for each other and while they might appear to get along, they’ll never be able to fully understand each other.
Different dietary needs
Although both species are herbivores who need fresh vegetables and unlimited hay, the similarities end there. They require different nutrients and quantities to each other, so the problem cannot be solved by feeding them separately as they both like to graze and will not eat all of their food in one go. Unlike rabbits, guinea pigs are unable to synthesise their own vitamin C, which is an important part of their diet. Rabbits can become ill from ingesting too much vitamin C, or from not getting enough of other necessary vitamins. If you keep them together, it will be very difficult to monitor who has eaten what.
Rabbits are much stronger than guinea pigs
Rabbits have very large, powerful back legs that can seriously injure a guinea pig. Even the smaller breeds of rabbits can cause a lot of damage, which is even riskier in smaller spaces. When rabbits are really happy, they will binky (a high hop) which can knock a guinea pig flying. They also kick out their back legs if they want to run fast. Even if the rabbit didn’t do it intentionally, they could cause irreversible damage. They will thump their feet too, and all it takes is for the guinea pig to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it could be seriously harmed. Rabbits also mount other rabbits as part of normal social behaviour, which could crush a guinea pig and at the very least, cause stress to the guinea pig. Entire rabbits will mate with anything, even guinea pigs, and not only will they put pressure on the pig’s back, they sometimes nip and bite the back of the neck, harming the guinea pig. Guinea pigs can also ingest rabbit hair, which can cause internal blockages.
Rabbits can transfer illness
Rabbits can carry a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is harmless to rabbits, but guinea pigs are very susceptible to and it can cause respiratory disease. Guinea pigs are not hardy animals, so any illness within them is a worry.
In the wild, rabbits dig large warrens to live in, whilst guinea pigs stay above ground, hiding out in bushes. Most domestic rabbits still like to dig from time to time, and kicking dirt around can cause eye irritations in guinea pigs, as well as respiratory issues if they stay too close to a digging rabbit. Rabbits are agile and like to hop onto and under things, on the other hand, guinea pigs are unsteady on uneven ground. Holes can cause trip hazards too, and they can get stuck in rabbit burrows.
Guinea pigs are unable to cope with the cold, unlike rabbits who can tolerate the winter. Rabbits are prone to heat stroke in the warmer weather, whereas guinea pigs are able to tolerate warmer temperatures. Because of this, there is no happy medium with the accommodation as it will either be too warm or cold.
In conclusion, it really isn’t worth risking keeping rabbits and guinea pigs together. As pet owners, it is our duty to care for our animals and ensure they are kept in the best way possible. If you keep rabbits and guinea pigs together at the moment, it’s not too late to change this. Rabbits should be neutered and bonded to another rabbit, and guinea pigs need the company of their own kind. Contact your local rescue and perhaps you could offer a home to an unwanted rabbit or guinea pig to keep your’s company.
If you are interested in adopting a pair of rabbits, read these 10 things you should know before owning rabbits.