Managing with Males ⚣

The same advice here about males can be helpful if you have one of those rarer DIVA female situations as well.

Two is Company

Two males will get along the vast majority of the time. And males should have a friend, so it’s important to understand how to successfully pair them up. The odds of having two males live together happily into adulthood are about 85% to 90%, but there is a slim chance that it just won’t work out and it wasn’t a good pairing. If you have two adult males (6-12 months old or more) who’ve been living together longer than 6 months, then you can consider them bonded.

Three can be a Crowd

If you have two males now, you may not want to upset the apple cart thinking that since they get along, you can add a third. That’s a decision many people come to regret. If you have to, you have to, but know the risks going in and be prepared to have to separate them if needed. Also, be prepared for a second big cage and possibly needing to get a 4th male so that one isn’t a single. And if not in two cages, have one very big cage such that it’s possible to humanely divide the cage giving each side an appropriate amount of space. That means having a Jumbo C&C cage (2×6 grids = 7.5 feet long) preferably with lofts on each end as well.1

The odds flip with THREE males getting along into adulthood. It’s more like about a 15-20% chance it will work out in the long run. Sadly, more often than not, it won’t. Don’t be fooled if they are still young (babies through a few months old) as everything is always honky dory perhaps with some rumble-strutting, chasing, and mounting — but no hard-core fighting. That is, until their teenage and young adult guinea pig years.

You also risk breaking the bond between your original pair.

If you have two bonded males now, we do not recommend adding a third. If you have to add a third guinea pig, pay special attention to the things you need to do (listed below) to try to mitigate aggression as they vie for dominance.

The Brotherhood Botherhood

It’s a common assumption that if they are ‘brothers’ they’ll grow up together and get along great. And it can seem that way in the beginning. The thing with litter-mates is they go through their hormonal changes at the same time. It can definitely work out for some, but it can be a significant challenge for many.

The Social Hierarchy

One of them is or will be the boss. When looking to pair up a male, how they behaved on their own or with a different guinea pig is not necessarily how it will play out in a new pairing. The low pig on the totem pole may decide he’s had enough and try to assert his dominance with a new one or new group — especially adolescents or young adults (5-12 months old range). The safest bet is to look for a size differential between two males so that there is an obvious “I’m the boss and you’re not” disparity that can more quickly settle the issue.

Their Most Obvious “TELL”

Have you seen that behavior they do when they are nose-to-nose and their heads keep going up higher in the air? It’s rather a competition and a challenge. The ALPHA pig stays high, the one willing to be #2 will put his head under the head of the alpha pig.

Adapting to Change takes TIME

Big changes are stressful on guinea pigs. They need months not days or weeks to settle in enough to “let their hair down” so to speak.

Big changes include:

  • Being adopted
  • Moving
  • New guinea pig friend
  • Separation from a guinea pig friend or family
  • New cage
  • Big fights with cage-mates

Even when initial introductions seem to go well, this is why you tend not to see their ‘real’ behavior until they’ve moved passed their concern about more changes coming. It can take a couple of months for the ‘bickering to begin’ because they were just sharing mutual panic about their circumstances in a ‘truce of survival.’

“Rule of THREES” when doing Introductions

When pairing up guinea pigs, especially males, use the “Rule of Threes” as your guideline for setting your expectations on their behavior.

When pairing up males (step one and two are done OUTSIDE of the cage in a neutral area). When putting a new pair or group in a cage, try to time it with a newly assembled or purchased cage, OR thoroughly clean and wash everything and rearrange items in your existing cage so that it’s new to a current resident when putting them in the cage together.

  • First 3 MINUTES
    If they haven’t launched into immediate attacks, reared back on their haunches, lunges, major fighting — we’re talking rolling ball of fur fighting — then WHOOHOO, GREAT, carry on with the dating game.
  • First 3 HOURS
    There is usually a LOT of chasing and mounting from many directions, teeth chattering, rumble-strutting (butt swaying back and forth while rumbling), scent marking (phew, open the windows, ha ha ha!), etc., ALL of which are NORMAL when introducing males. Nipping and biting are also normal. Stop any lunges or major biting (dustpan inserted between them or towel thrown over them) — never put your hands in the middle of boar fight — voice of experience.

    When they yawn, they aren’t tired. 🙂 They are showing their teeth as a sign of dominance. It’s like a tough guy puffing up his chest to look more threatening.

    Most people panic too soon over standard boar behavior thinking they are being too mean to each other and separate them right away. That’s a mistake. You have to give them time to do their dance and sort it out.
  • First 3 DAYS
    It will still be pretty intense on the chasing, mounting, and rumble-strutting for a while. Keep an eye on them, but get some sleep without worrying too much.
  • First 3 WEEKS
    It will settle down some, but behavior can still be a bit feisty for a while as they start to get used to their new digs together and figure out a routine and come to the very, very slow realization that the humans who control their lives aren’t going to keep making more upsetting changes.
  • First 3 MONTHS
    Over this time things will settle down some more as they continue to accept their new reality and sort it out amongst themselves on how their relationship is going to work. By the end of three months, things will have settled down into a workable routine.

Secrets of Successful Male Bonding

As in all things guinea pig, we try to work with their nature and not against it.

  • Males need a BIGGER cage than females do.
    Giving males the right size cage with a good layout is mission-critical for your males to get along well over the years. The recommended size for two females is a large, 2×4-grid C&C cage giving 10.5 square feet of inner cage space. That one is 30″x60″. The recommended size for two males is an extra-large, 2×5-grid C&C cage, giving 13 square feet of space — or 30″x76″.3 And ideally, adding a decent-sized loft with two ramps so that they can run up, down, and around is ideal. This way, they have enough room to explore, get exercise, not be on top of each other, burn off energy by running around instead of picking on each other, and generally stay healthier as well. Ample cage space means they can get away from each other physically, visually, and smellily (that’s a word!).
  • Make sure everything in the cage has an ingress and egress
    Nothing where one can trap another and block their peaceful retreat or exit — large enough entrances or always an entrance and an exit. For example, those plastic pigloos are the worst thing for males.
  • Lofts with a Double Ramp in the Cage are great
    A double-ramp option allows for full-circle zoomies and preventing one from body-blocking another guinea pig’s access to a ramp.
  • Follow the P+1 RULE on Hideys
    This is true for all guinea pigs, but especially males. The number of “hideys” you have in a cage should be at least P+1 — the number of Pigs in the cage plus one. Of course, you need a big enough cage to accommodate that. What defines a hidey? Something that the guinea pig can HIDE in, meaning there is a top or cover to it of some kind. An open fleece bed, for example, is not a hidey, but a ‘cozy.’ Cozies are great to have, but make sure you’ve got the hideys you need as well. This helps prevent bickering over territory. Hopefully, your cage is big enough to have two Fleece Forests2 as they are a great item for males.
  • Cage Feng Shui
    How you arrange things in a guinea pig cage can contribute to their comfort level or make it more stressful than it needs to be. This is true for all guinea pigs, but especially males. People have a natural tendency to put hideys and such up against a wall or in a corner. Leaving an open, center part of the cage. Here’s the thing — instinctually, guinea pigs don’t like big, wide-open spaces. They are prey animals and very naturally prefer to hug the perimeter of their environment for safety. Give them that ability. Move hideys AWAY from the wall. Let them be able to explore behind the hidey and around it. Give them open tunnels and things to run through in the middle of the cage. They need to be able to do figure-eights and explorations in the base of their cage — around items. And it gives them more of an opportunity to NOT be staring at their cage-mate all the time.

    A wide-open cage with no cover or hideys covering at least about 20%-25% can be stressful for guinea pigs.

Special Boar Care needed after Introductions

No matter how it goes, until you are absolutely certain they are now best buddies, be sure to check each one for bite wounds every so often. When you pick one up, hold him in your lap and use your fingertips to do a gentle finger crawl through their hair over their entire body. You are feeling for little scabs or bumps on their skin. Those incisors are sharp. If you find a scabbed over wound, make sure it isn’t infected. It should be flat and not inflamed. Sometimes the wounds get infected. It’s usually not a big deal, but needs to be cleaned out and fixed up if you find one.

Cleaning up Boar Glue! Ha ha ha

The birds and bees of boars! 🙂 When you’ve got boars you’ll be wondering about some weird stuff that gets in other boar’s hair that is really hard to get off. It’s the, um, semen, from another boar. It can get stuck on fleece or almost anywhere. It seems stronger than super glue and you frequently have to cut it out. 🙂 It can be particularly noticeable after a fiesty introduction session.

Additional Resources

1 C&C Cages
C&C Cages are kit cages made from Cubes and Coroplast. They’ve been around for over 20 years and are the best way to house guinea pigs. They are recommended by everyone — worldwide — from guinea pig enthusiasts to vets, to rescues, to humane societies and animal associations. All pet store cages are too small. The bigger the cage, the easier it is to keep clean. The bigger the cage, the more fun behavior you get to enjoy from your pet guinea pigs. You can make your own or purchase ready-to-assemble kits.