It’s the worst when your pets aren’t getting along! Even normal guinea pig behaviors can be stressful for humans to watch, as we worry about them feeling sad or getting hurt.
Guinea pigs are pretty rough with one another, so behaviors like humping, chasing, and teeth chattering are all normal. Fighting guinea pigs might raise their heads at one another, “yawn” or bare their teeth, spin around in a tornado, pull out each other’s hair, or draw blood.
They shouldn’t be separated unless they’re harming one another, such as when blood is drawn or they’re keeping one another from accessing resources for an extended timeframe. In the latter case, try providing more resources before giving up!
Keep reading to learn how to tell if your guinea pigs are fighting, why it happens, and five things you can do to stop it.
Are My Guinea Pigs Fighting or Playing?
Sometimes it can be difficult to know if guinea pigs are truly being aggressive with one another, or if they’re behaving normally.
Normal behavior, or “play,” includes chasing each other around, humping, purring, and gnawing on the same toy. When guinea pigs love one another, you’ll see them together often.
What is Guinea Pig Dominance Behavior?
Guinea pigs also tend to have a hierarchy, which is established through dominant behaviors. These can look scary to those new to guinea pigs, and often people will separate them when they really need time to work things out.
Dominance behaviors include:
- Teeth chattering
- Lifting their heads high
- Sniffing the other’s butt
- Muzzle punching (which can look similar to biting, but is done with a closed mouth)
During bonding, dominance behavior might get quite aggressive. However, the bond hasn’t failed unless they draw blood on one another or they stop one another from accessing resources for an extended period of time. A piggy continuously losing weight after a bond is a good sign that they should be separated, for instance.
We’ll talk more about when to separate, and when not to, below.
What Does True Fighting Look Like?
Some signs your guinea pigs are truly fighting include:
- “Yawning” or baring teeth
- Pulling out fur
- Spinning around and going after one another in a “tornado”
- Biting or drawing blood
These are signs that a bond isn’t going well, or it may be breaking if the guinea pigs have been together for a while.
If blood is drawn, separate your guinea pigs immediately and permanently.
Why Are My Guinea Pigs Fighting?
There are various reasons guinea pigs fight. Here are some possibilities:
They Don’t Have Enough Space
Check out our cage calculator to see how big your guinea pigs’ enclosure should be. Remember, the minimum isn’t enough for all guinea pigs. Males in particular sometimes can’t get along unless given a cage that’s larger.
If your cage is below minimum requirements, you’re asking for fights to occur! Your guinea pigs can also suffer from boredom, lack of exercise, and even depression.
Pay attention to when and where your piggies fight. Do they both like the same hidey house? Are they getting into it by the food bowl? Be sure to provide one of each item in the cage per pig, as this will often (though not always) reduce territorial behavior.
They Aren’t a Good Match
Sometimes guinea pigs simply don’t like one another! Both might want to be the piggy in charge, and when no one gives in, things tend to escalate. Or, maybe one piggy is just a bully and doesn’t like the other!
This doesn’t mean they need to live on their own, but that they need to try living with other guinea pigs instead.
One Guinea’s Scent Has Changed
If one piggy has been to the vet, groomer, or just had a bath, they might not smell like themselves. Most times this will resolve once the foreign smell goes away, but sometimes it can break a bond.
One way to avoid this is to keep your guinea pigs together whenever possible. You might take both to a vet appointment, for instance, even if only one is being seen.
They’ve Been Separated
If you’re constantly separating your guinea pigs, they’ll need to reestablish their hierarchy and bond each time. This tends to damage their bond, sometimes irreparably.
Many people will misguidedly introduce guinea pigs in short sessions, separate them, and then introduce them again. While this works for animals like dogs and cats, it doesn’t work well for guinea pigs.
What to Do if Guinea Pigs Are Fighting
1. Ensure They Were Bonded Properly
Proper bonding of guinea pigs includes:
- A scent-free, neutral place—not somewhere either guinea pig has lived before, such as their cage or even their playpen for floor time.
- New or freshly cleaned items—again, we don’t want any guinea pig scent on these!
- A large area—not so big that they can ignore each other the whole time, but ideally at least as big as their cage.
- A hay pile—guinea pigs need constant access to hay, and this also gives them something to do together and as a distraction.
- No hides or double-entrance hides—some prefer having no hides at first, then adding double-entrance hides as the guinea pigs begin to get along. This allows you to see everything clearly. Others prefer to give them places to hide, which can give your piggies more security. Never use single-entrance hides, as the entrance can be blocked, leading to fights.
- A towel or oven mitt to protect your hands in case of a fight—guinea pigs don’t tend to bite people, but you may be bitten trying to get between them.
- Keeping the guinea pigs together permanently—don’t separate and reintroduce them, but keep them together unless they fail to bond. Once they leave their neutral space, they should immediately be placed in a fresh, clean cage with no scents from either guinea pig.
- Close supervision until their bond settles—don’t leave them alone while they’re still getting to know one another, but instead carve out a few days where you can supervise constantly. Also supervise after transitioning them to the cage, as a bond can break during this time.
If your guinea pigs were tossed into a cage together with no preparation, they’re going to feel stressed and likely get territorial.
Separating them and doing multiple bonding sessions is also incredibly stressful, as they can’t truly get to know each other and their place in the new dynamic.
Remember that bonding can take days, and not all guinea pigs will be best friends. Even those who seem indifferent to one another or who show dominance behaviors regularly are benefitting from the company of another guinea pig.
They will still take cues from one another, socialize, and feel more secure as part of a pair or herd.
2. Expand Your Cage
Many times, guinea pigs will fight because there isn’t enough space. First, check that your cage meets the bare minimum for two guinea pigs. If not, it must be fixed not just to solve this problem, but to allow your guinea pigs the space to live life fully.
If your cage meets the minimum requirement, know that this isn’t enough for many guinea pigs. Males, especially, often have troubles in the bare minimum amount of space. This is because, in the wild, male guinea pigs never live together. Instead, they live in herds consisting of one male and several females.
When bonding two males, we’re asking them to go against their own instincts as territorial creatures. This is why it’s so difficult to bond males compared to females.
Each guinea pig needs their own space or “territory” to feel safe, males especially. If they feel another male is encroaching on their space, fights can break out.
I suggest making your cage as big as you possibly can, given your budget and the space in your home. Guinea pigs can never have too much space, and a large cage benefits them hugely.
Even a few extra square feet can make a big difference in how much they fight, and how much they run around and popcorn!
3. Use Hides With Multiple Entrances
If your guinea pigs are constantly showing dominance behavior or fighting, remove any single-entrance hides from the cage. Hides with more than one entrance will allow guinea pigs to escape from one another, as multiple entrances can’t be blocked by one bully.
Multi-entrance hides are awesome in general, but especially useful for new bonds, fragile bonds, and male pairings.
4. Provide More Resources
Territorial behavior can occur when a guinea pig is protecting their resources. These can include:
- Water bottles
- Food bowls
- Hay racks or hay bags
To prevent territorial behavior, have at least one of these items per guinea pig. If you have two guinea pigs, this means having two water bottles, food bowls, hay racks, and at least three hides.
Extra hides give guinea pigs choices, which further prevents them from choosing the same favorite place!
You might also want to provide two of each hide type, especially if one becomes a favorite, and two toys if you use them.
Another option that will prevent you from having to spend as much money is to scatter feed and provide a hay pile. This means ditching bowls and hay racks altogether.
Feed pellets and veggies by scattering them around the cage, allowing both guinea pigs to access them. Place a big pile of hay, or even multiple, on the cage floor or in a litterbox area so it’s not easily guarded.
5. Separate the Guinea Pigs as a Last Resort Only
Many people separate their guinea pigs too early. Or, they separate them when they’re fighting and put them back together later on. This is the worst thing you can do for their bond! Guinea pigs shouldn’t be separated unless they draw blood fighting or keep each other from accessing the things they need.
Some examples of this include a guinea pig staying in their hide out of fear and not eating, a piggy blocking access to the water bottle, or your guinea pig losing weight after being paired (which shows they aren’t eating enough).
Every time you separate and reintroduce your guinea pigs, they’ll have to reestablish their bond—which can lead to more fighting and more stress.
If your guinea pigs must be separated forever, such as in the circumstances listed above, they’re going to need new partners. Guinea pigs are social animals and must be paired with at least one other guinea pig.
Another option is to keep them side-by-side with grids between them—but this isn’t ideal as it doesn’t allow them to interact fully. It’s only suggested if you’ve tried to bond your guinea pig many times and found that they don’t do well with others.
Remember that keeping your guinea pigs separate also means double the cage space as they’ll each need the bare minimum. Splitting their original cage in half isn’t a permanent solution unless the cage is at least 15 square feet.
Guinea pig dominance and bonding behavior can be stressful to watch, but unfortunately, it’s an essential part of their lives together. It’s vital to know when to separate, and when to keep your piggies together so that they can work it out.
Remember that fighting behavior includes tornadoes, ripping out fur, and drawing blood. Humping or chasing isn’t a reason to worry and is entirely normal.