The Truth About Single Guinea Pigs: Is It Okay To Have Just One?

Getting a guinea pig, especially for the first time, can be stressful.  Especially if you aren’t sure if you should get one or two.  This question weighed heavily on many potential pet parents: Is it okay to get one guinea pig?  Is a single guinea pig best? A pair?  

Typically, it’s not okay for guinea pigs to live alone. Most don’t do well as single pets, because they’re social, herd animals, thriving with at least one friend. However, some guinea pigs are human-oriented and transfer their social needs to humans. And live happy lives with devoted pet parents. 

So, what should you do?

Is it okay to have just one single guinea pig_ (2)

This is a very controversial topic in the guinea pig community.  So, I did a lot of research before weighing in.  Let’s go over some of the things you’ll need to know, and some options for decisions that you’ll have to make. Hopefully, this guide will save you some time and help you make your own choice.

Should You Get Just One Guinea Pig? 

It’s okay to get just one guinea pig…

But only under certain circumstances

According to many scientific studies, most guinea pigs live less stressful and happier lives in a social group (or at least one pair).

7 secret guinea pig hacks

However:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are exceptions.

The bar graph below shows the results of a brief, manual sourced survey.

The owners all had solo guinea pigs. They stated that their piggies showed signs of happiness (e.g. popcorning and zooming) throughout their lives.

Although this is a small set of data, it’s worth mentioning that most of the piggies lived beyond the lifespan of the average guinea pig, which is 5 to 7 years. And that they were spoiled, cheerful members of the household.

Is it okay to have a single guinea pig?

Experts agree (and anecdotal evidence supports) that the majority of guinea pigs wouldn’t be fundamentally happy without a piggie bestie …at least not compared to it’s life with a friend to spend his days with.

How can you know if a guinea pig would be happy if it lived a solitary life with you (and your family)?

To make sure that you’re giving your piggie the best chance of happiness

Consider two important factors:

  • The personality, history, and age of the guinea pig
  • Your time and ability to play and interact with your guinea pig

A True Guinea Pig Singleton?

So, you want a guinea pig?  

But, you want (or are only able) to get one.

Ideally, you want to make sure that the piggie you’re getting is one that is happier with humans than other guinea pigs.

This type of guinea pig is rare.  

But, they do exist.   

Try to find a little friend that meets “singleton” criteria noted in the table below.

Human-Oriented-Not afraid of guinea pigs, but has no interest in other guinea pigs; proven by multiple experienced bonding attempts
-Would much rather spend time with people.
-Sees himself as part of a human group.
History-Multiple bonding attempts with guinea pigs have been made.
-Didn’t work out because of lack of interest (not aggression)
Age-Try to avoid getting guinea pig babies as singles.  
-Babies particularly need companionship and socialization of other guinea pigs to learn how to be a guinea pig.  

How do you know your potential piggie has these qualifications?

If you want a guinea pig that truly flourishes without the benefit of piggie companionship, make sure you look in the right place(s).  

Find to a guinea pig rescue center, shelter, a breeder, or pet store that:

  • has a good reputation 
  • Is run by well-trained staff or people with a lot of guinea pig experience 
  • you trust

Such locations can give you the (good faith) background information that you need to make an informed decision about an individual guinea pig.  

Effective rescues test multiple guinea pigs with others, trying to find proper matches.  They evaluate guinea pig behavior under particular guidelines when they do introductions. 

Bottom line?

They take the “guess work” out of the introduction process between guinea pigs.

Perfect Singleton Pet Parent?

Like most potential pet parents, you’ll want the best for your piggie.  Guinea pigs are highly social animals.

If you choose to have a singleton:

You must meet all the social needs of your piggie.  They won’t have a piggie friend to depend on for socializing.

You’ll be your piggie’s sole source of interaction, stimulation, and enrichment.   

Guinea pigs only sleep around 4 to 6 hours a day.  The rest of the time, they’re up exploring, playing, and interacting with their environment.  Additionally, guinea pigs live an average of 5 to 7 years.

Seriously consider if you have the time and energy commitment that’s necessary to provide the attention that your little needs…

Generally, solo guinea pigs can live happily in human homes under a mixture of the following conditions:

  • An owner who works from home
  • Multiple family members that interact with the piggie different parts of the day
  • Has a family that provides lots of snuggles, cuddles, exercise, and interaction
  • An enclosure placed near the “action” part of the house
  • Surrounded by owners who plan simple enrichment activities

Ultimately, you don’t want your guinea pig to be lonely or depressed.  Guinea pigs can die from loneliness and depression.

Interestingly enough, this information just scratches the surface of caring for solo guinea pigs.

Let’s talk about…

How to Keep Your Solo Guinea Pig Happy (& How to Avoid Piggie Depression)

Keeping your solo guinea pig happy doesn’t have to be overwhelming. All guinea pigs (whether solos or groupies) have the same basic needs:

These are best practices for all guinea pigs.

However, you want to make sure that you put a little more thought and care into new and enriching activities for a single guinea pig.  

After all, you don’t want your single, fur baby to get lonely, bored or depressed.

A picture of a guinea pig and a little girl - Is it okay to have only one single guinea pig?

Here are a few ideas for mental stimulation, interaction, and exercise:

  1. Rearrange your piggie’s habitat.  Swap out hideys or other toys to give your furry burrito something new to explore.  This can be done every time you clean the enclosure or as often as you like.
  2. Stuff food in unusual places.  Get a paper towel roll or toilet paper roll.  Stuff it with hay or herbed forage and enjoy watching your piggie wrangle their treat out of the roll.
  3. Talk to your cavy.  Do this frequently.  Your guinea pig may not understand everything that you say, but piggies are smart enough to pick up on tone.  They’ll respond positively to your warm and excited tone of voice.  
  4. Provide multiple tunnels.  It’s in their nature to hide and observe.  Tunnels allow guinea pigs to easily do both.
  5. Paper is an easy toy.  Ball up a couple of sheets of paper.  Toss them into the enclosure for your piggie to play with.  Get a huge pile of shredded paper for your piggie to burrow into.
  6. Keep an enormous pile of hay nearby.  Hay is foundational to a guinea pig’s diet.  A big pile of it is a lot of fun to burrow in.
  7. Guinea pigs love food hunts.  Hide treats somewhere in your single’s cage or around the room for your guinea pig to find.
  8. Floor time.  And lots of it.  This can be done in a large play pen in the house or outside in a shady area, weather permitting.  Provide a bunch of toys and let your piggie explore.  
  9. Provoke a tasty workout.  Poke a hole through slices of carrots or lettuce.  Then thread twine through them.  String it around the top or sides of an enclosure.  Your piggie will have to work for the treat!
  10. Apple tree sticks are usually a big hit.  Guinea pigs enjoy chewing.  The sticks are easy to purchase and can be a big hit with piggies. 

To see some of these activities mentioned in action or to get a few additional enrichment ideas for your guinea pig, check out the following videos:

Each guinea pig has their own personality.  Some will enjoy certain activities more than others.  No worries. Test the activities out, a few at a time.  Eventually, you’ll figure out what your piggie likes doing the most.  

Whatever you decide to do to keep your single guinea pig happy and stimulated, remember one thing:

Develop a routine.

But, try to have playtimes (and feedings) around the same time or in the same situation each day

Guinea pigs are habit-based creatures.  And they’ll do better when they know what to expect.  Minor changes are fine.  But, try to stick to a schedule

Since, the intent of trying to do what’s best for solo piggies doesn’t always mesh with the reality of life ,  I decided to gather…

Data on Solitary Guinea Pig Ownership (from Pet Parents Who Keep Single Guinea Pigs “Alone”)

I manually collected data from a variety of forums to better understand how and why pet parents kept their guinea pigs alone. And to help identify the best approaches and tips for life with single guinea pigs.

Specifically, I looked for information around the following topics:

  • What “Alone” Really Means (Or Why Owners Need to Cut Themselves Some Slack)
  • Reasons Why Guinea Pigs End Up Living a Solo Life   
  • And much more!

Then I cross-referenced what I analyzed with best practices from a lot of guinea pig research that I did online and in the library.

Now it’s time to share what I discovered and how it can help you.

7 secret guinea pig hacks

What “Alone” Really Means (Or Why Owners Need to Cut Themselves Some Slack)

I collected 455 accounts of owners living with guinea pigs that they described as being “fine” or “happy” alone.  

  • 53.6% (244) of pet parents indicated that they have a guinea pig (or multiples) that live “alone” in their cages, but in the same room with other piggies.
  • 46.2% (210) of pet parents have a solitary guinea pig that is the only one in the house.
  • I only found 1 account (.02%) of a pet parent kept two guinea pigs in the same house, but in separate rooms.

As I examined the comments, I quickly realized something:

Alone doesn’t necessarily mean alone.

There’s alone:

Like you’re a guinea pig with only humans for company, alone….

And then there’s strategic separation.

Simply put, if guinea pigs can’t get along, then about half the owners put their piggies in separate cages…but in the same location:

This is an awesome option when piggies can’t get along for two reasons:

  1. Guinea pigs still benefit from being able to see, hear, smell, and communicate with one of their kind.   Even if the communication involves cursing each other out in piggie language.
  2. Owners benefit by avoiding furious balls of shrieking fur, splattering blood over the cage.  

It’s win-win.

Reasons Why Guinea Pigs End Up Living a Solo Life

When I first began my research, I thought that personal preference would be the main reason why they guinea pigs were kept alone:

I was wrong.

Overwhelmingly, the main reason why guinea pigs ended up living as singletons was aggression

And that’s not all.

Take a peek at the data below.

  • 276 (60.7%) of owners had guinea pigs living alone (in some capacity) because of aggression.
  • 74 (16.3%) of owners kept solo guinea pigs because they only ever wanted one piggie or they didn’t know that it was best to keep guinea pigs in pairs.
  • 58 (12.7%) were alone because of a cage mate’s (or roommate’s) death.
  • 32 (7%) people kept one guinea pig for a variety of reasons: not wanting unneutered boars to start unwanted pregnancies, want to avoid their piggie being bullied or stressed through the process, concerned because piggies were disabled, etc.
  • 15 (3.1%) didn’t give a reason why their piggie was living solo

So, let’s dive into the top reasons why guinea pigs end up living as singles (either as the only piggie in the house or unable to share a cage).

We’ll start with the the main reason listed…

Aggression

When I took a closer look at the data, I noticed something surprising:

98.2% of pet parents attempted (and failed) to find a compatible companion for their solo guinea pig. Only 1.8% didn’t bother, because they’d been told that their guinea pig was too aggressive to be with other piggies.

Wowza!

It seems that research suggests the majority of pet parents prefer for their piggies to have roommates

Or at least that the understand that most guinea pigs do better in pairs.

“New animals should be carefully introduced and monitored for aggressive interactions.”

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Very true.

Here’s the problem:

A lot of things can (and do) go wrong when making introducing guinea pigs – especially if an unexperienced person is making them.

And to make things trickier:

Some guinea pigs are prone to attack other piggies and are extremely difficult to socialize. This can be a result of trauma or a very bad experience with another guinea pig.

Take a peek at this account of an extreme example that I found in a forum.

The result?

Unless you can get them separated quickly…

Blood. Scratches. Scrapes.

Raging flurries of fur balls.

And potential vet bills. The mega-expensive vet bills.

It’s no surprise that most of the people throw in the towel after one or two unsuccessful tries.

To minimize aggressive behavior, make sure you do the following:

  • Have a large living space. 7.5 square feet is the minimum cage size for 1 or 2 guinea pigs. But, honestly, the more space, the better. Guinea pigs get very grouchy when they don’t have enough space to run, play, and explore – especially boars. Make sure you incorporate floor time as well.
  • Have enough food and toys. Guinea pigs are likelier to fight when there are limited amounts off food and entertainment. So make sure that you have more than enough of both.
Is it okay to have one single guinea pig? - picture of 4 guinea pigs together

Issues & Options

  • Get an expert involved. If you’re a new pet parent and you don’t have much experience with introducing guinea pigs, then find someone who does. This someone has tons of experience with pairing guinea pigs, has access to many possible matches and probably works at a shelter or rescue.
  • Find a pair of besties. Don’t adopt (or buy) a guinea pig based on looks. If you want to avoid the headache of trying to match a piggie once you’ve already brought him home, go to a rescue and find a pair that’s already properly matched. They’re bonded and ready for a good home. Your home!
  • Be prepared with two cages. Always anticipate that pairings may not work out. Some guinea pigs don’t want to share a cage. But, they’re perfectly happy enjoying each other’s company from separate enclosures. They can still see, hear, and talk to each other. That’s key to true happiness for most guinea pigs.
Image of two guinea pigs: Is it okay to have one guinea pig?

Bereavement (or Death of Another Piggie)

The death of a pet is devastating.

I’ve been there:

It sucks.

Big time.

When I analyzed the research, I wasn’t surprised to find that the pet parents comments revolved around two feelings:

  • grief and heartache over their lost piggie
  • concern for the piggie that was left behind

You know what was pretty shocking?

More than half of people who had single piggies from a death, reported that their remaining piggie seemed happier

Without their guinea pig friend that passed away.

I’d always assumed that the remaining guinea pig would be completely devastated.

39.7% of owners claimed that there was no visible change in behavior or temperament, but 5.2% noticed that their guinea pig seemed lonely and depressed.

Signs of depression in guinea pigs include:

  • a lack of energy; very little movement
  • isn’t interested in normal things like foraging, playing, or exploring
  • decreased appetite; usually leading to a loss of weight
  • a lot of extra hiding; quieter with less “wheeking”

Remember that 5.2% of people that noticed their piggies were sad and lonely?

All of them noted that they eventually ended up buying (or adopting) a new guinea pig to keep their first guinea pig company.

But, most didn’t.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20-Is-it-okay-to-have-one-guinea-pig_-16.jpg

Of the owners that did keep their guinea pigs single, did so for the following reasons:

  • 76% felt that that since their piggie seemed happy that they would be able to provide enough love and attention to keep her that way
  • 18% wanted to stop the cycle of buying more guinea pigs, having them die, then having to buy more to keep the remaining guinea pig
  • 4% felt that the bonding process would be too stressful for their senior furry friend
  • 2% felt that they didn’t have the money to care for a second pig

Issues & Options

  • Stop the cycle: Foster a guinea pig from a shelter or rescue.  Your guinea pig has company, but you’re not fully committed to caring for another piggie when your senior piggie passes away.  
  • Too Stressful:  Of course, you know your piggie best.  But, sometimes introducing your senior piggies to a baby piggie can give them a new lease on life.  But, if stress is still a big concern, you could always consider pairing your remaining guinea pig with another senior guinea pig.  Contact an experienced rescue or shelter and see about finding a compatible match.  They can enjoy their golden guinea pig years together.  
  • Money issues:  If money is tight, that’s understandable.  Everyone’s circumstances are different.  However, if it makes a difference, taking care of two guinea pigs isn’t that much more expensive than taking care of one.  There are ways to pinch pennies and make guinea pig supplies more affordable. You can buy in bulk, grow produce for your piggies in your kitchen or backyard, work out a deal with your local grocery store. etc. The possibilities are endless!

Owner Preference

Now, there’s a group of owners that honestly just prefer having one guinea pig.

The polling shows that the majority of these pet parents really feel like they’re able to their guinea pigs enough love and attention.

Is it okay to get a single guinea pig? - picture of a circle graph

And in some situations, they can…

If they have the right guinea pig and they’re living circumstances allow for the attention that their piggie will need.

If you decide to go with one guinea pig, it’s really best to choose a guinea pig:

  • It’s a true singleton guinea pig. (See the heading A True Guinea Pig Singleton?)
  • A very aggressive guinea pig (probably traumatized) that does well with humans, but would injure or kill another guinea pig

For this, you need to go to a rescue (or other location) that has tons experience with pairing guinea pigs and evaluating guinea pig behavior.

Super Simple Tips Pairings and Introductions (Or Give Your Piggie H.U.G.S.)

It’s a tough pill to swallow:

But, many single piggies are alone because of human errors or a lack of resources.

It’s not deliberate.

But, it is something that tends to happen.

Every potential pet parent must try to minimize human errors as much as possible.

To that end, every owner should consider H.U.G.S. during guinea pig introductions:

  • Have patience: A lot of it. Otherwise you’ll give up too soon. You’re just introducing the piggies, but they have to check each other out and bond. There’s a whole social hierarchy that must be established. That takes time.
  • Understand piggie behavior: Whoever is facilitating the pairing needs to understand how the process works, when to back off, and when to separate.
  • Get good candidates: Just doing a single introduction won’t always cut it. You want a wide variety of possible pairing for your piggie. Is your piggie more dominant? Look for a piggie that seems to have a more submissive personality, so that they don’t clash. Avoid impulse buys.
  • Set the scene: Ideally guinea pigs should be introduced in neutral territory. A place that is scrubbed free of the scent of each other. That way the scent of each other won’t bring out their dominance.

Best Pairings

Experienced guinea pig owners sometimes have a gender preference when adopting a new piggie. There are pros and cons to owning females (sows), males (boars), or a mixed gender group.

Typically, the best, most successful pairings usually include the following:

  • A pair of boars. It’s a myth that male guinea pigs have to be single. Males don’t automatically fight. It really depends on the personality of the boars and how well the introduction process is carried out. Groups of three tend to be a little trickier, but it has been done.
  • A pair of sows. Generally, females get along pretty well, once they’ve worked out who is in charge. However, sows can still fight and fall out; just like males.
  • One boar with a harem of females (or just one or two). This is the natural combination of guinea pigs in a wild and usually does quite well. But, please neuter the male first. It’s less risky than spaying females, and you don’t want any unplanned pregnancies.
  • Baby guinea pigs ( 6 to 8 weeks old) can pair well with older guinea pigs. Usually babies defer to the authority of older piggies and look to them for guidance. Guinea pig babies don’t want to be single or alone. And older guinea pigs tend to accept babies. Keep an eye out for conflict as the babies approach their “teenage” stage of about 4 to 5 months old. At that time, piggies start challenging other guinea pigs, which can start a lot of dominance behaviors (or fighting).

Try Before You Buy (or Adopt)?

Want to find a buddy for your single? But, don’t want to commit to housing multiple sets of guinea pigs?

Totally understandable.

Some people don’t have space for lots of cages. And others don’t want to commit to caring for a guinea pig that they haven’t fallen in love with or that may not work out as a roommate for the piggie they already have.

Try the following options:

  • Find a rescue that allows “piggie dating”. Staff will introduce your little friend to many other guinea pigs. *NOTE: This might take several tries.
  • If you feel comfortable, find a rescue or shelter and consider fostering guinea pigs to see if one is compatible with your singleton. You can see how well the guinea pigs take to you and your little friend as well as do the “good deed” of giving a needy piggie some extra love and attention.

The Bottom Line About Having a Only a Single Guinea Pig

Is it okay?

It is:

But, only under certain circumstances.

If you have a guinea pig that:

  • Is a true “singleton”
  • Needs to be rescued from a negative situation

Then go for it.

And be prepared to give your solo piggie tons of enrichment and attention.

However:

Most guinea pigs need a friend of their own species. Even if that friend is in a cage next door. It’s still better than being the only guinea pig in the house.

Pairing guinea pigs isn’t easy.

Quite frankly, it can be a nerve-racking, difficult event (or events).

But like anything worthwhile, you have to put some time, effort, and thought into the process. And one of the best ways to show your love for your guinea pig is to make sure that your highly socialized little friend is gifted with a compatible companion.

Not only is having a friend meeting a fundamental need of the majority of guinea pigs, but having a pair of piggies is tons of fun for the owner. You get to see them communicate, play, learn from each other, and grow. That’s exciting! And so gosh darn cute!

Have patience. Be persistent. Fall back on the tips and tricks from this article. Call in the experts when necessary.

If it doesn’t work out, be okay with that outcome.

At least you know you did your best to provide your guinea pig with the best life experience possible.

And isn’t that what all piggy slaves want to do for their fur babies?

Related Questions

What is the most common cause of death with guinea pigs?

The leading cause of death of guinea pigs is pneumonia. Guinea pigs are susceptible to other illnesses as well: ringworm, bumblefoot, upper respiratory infection, etc.

Where should I adopt (or buy) a guinea pig?

By and large, it’s best to get your guinea pig from a shelter or rescue. A quick google search will reveal horror stories of people buying guinea pigs from pet stores that are either sold with underlying illnesses or missexed to unsuspecting pet parents. People think they’re getting guinea pig, but they end up with a huge vet bill or with a pile of guinea pig babies.

7 secret guinea pig hacks

(PDF) Factors influencing cortisol and behavioral responses to maternal separation in Guinea pigs. (n.d.). ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/20450315_Factors_Influencing_Cortisol_and_Behavioral_Responses_to_Maternal_Separation_in_Guinea_Pigs

Beck, A. (2013). Guinea pigs: Keeping and caring for your pet. Enslow Pub.

Company – Guinea pigs – Our pets. (n.d.). The Largest Animal Welfare Charity in the UK | RSPCA.  https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rodents/guineapigs/company

DVM, S. L. (2015). The Guinea pig handbook. Barron’s Educational Series.

How many Guinea pigs should you keep? (n.d.). Wood Green – The Animals Charity. https://woodgreen.org.uk/pet-advice/article/how-many-guinea-pigs-should-you-keep

How to introduce Guinea pigs. (n.d.). Saving pets, Changing lives – PDSA. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking-care-of-your-pet/looking-after-your-pet/small-pets/introducing-guinea-pigs

How to play with your Guinea pig. (2019, February 26). Lafeber Co. – Small Mammals. https://lafeber.com/mammals/how-to-play-with-your-guinea-pig/

Keeping rabbits and Guinea pigs together. (n.d.). The Largest Animal Welfare Charity in the UK | RSPCA. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rabbits/company/rabbitsandguineapigs

Sex-specific difference in social support—a study in female Guinea pigs. (n.d.). ScienceDirect.com | Science, health and medical journals, full text articles and books. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S003193840300091X

Why it’s illegal to own only one Guinea pig in Switzerland. (2020, May 13). New York Post. https://nypost.com/2020/05/13/why-its-illegal-to-own-only-one-guinea-pig-in-switzerland/amp/

Wiese-Thomas, W. (2019, March/April). Single Guinea Pigs: Part 2 – Companionship Options; Part 3 – Caring for Single Guinea Pigs. Guinea Pig Magazine, (49), 34-37.

Wiese-Thomas, W. (2019, January/February). Single Guinea Pigs: Challenges and Responsibilities. Guinea Pig Magazine, (48), 28-30.

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