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Guinea Pigs as Rabbit Buddies

by Suzanne Rubins

Rabbits are sociable creatures who enjoy the company of humans and animals. While there are some exceptions, house rabbits are usually happiest with an animal friend for constant companionship. The natural choice is another rabbit, but many share homes happily with gentle cats or dogs. Giving your rabbit a guinea pig friend is another option to consider. Many shelters bunk guinea pigs in with rabbits due to a shortage of cage space, and in our shelter outreach work we find that they frequently become bonded friends. Some rabbits become quite depressed when their pig pals are adopted, and vice versa. While most shelters do not have the flexibility, the MSPCA Boston staff noticed that Lightning, a hefty New Zealand White, and her little friend Larry became distressed if separated, so decided not to adopt them out alone. They look great togerther: a giant pear and a slim little capsule, both with identical sleek white coats. Larry plays Land Shark by lurking underneath the hay and poking his pointy nose straight up to check out what's going on. He grooms Lightning and has to climb onto her nose to reach her forehead. They stayed at one of our foster homes for a while and then went together to a great adoptive home.

Guinea pigs and rabbits are easy to care for together because they have similar housing, dietary and health needs. Your rabbit's box of Timothy hay provides nutrition, a bathroom, and an ideal burrowing zone for a guinea pig. The basic diet of hay, pellets, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit treats works for both animals, though guinea pigs need supplemental vitamin C. This is available from special formula pellets and foods like red or yellow peppers and oranges. Rabbits can share these extras, but be careful if your rabbit is obese. It's fun to watch them eat together: sometimes shy guinea pigs will sneak up and swipe food from rabbits many times their size. They have an ant-like ability to drag enormous collard leaves into a safe place, and mine once captured a whole apple from a grocery bag and hid it in another room. They purr when you pet them and have an extensive repertoire of squeals, chirps, grunts and editorial comments. Their feet do look kind of scrawny for those of us used to big furry rabbit paws. Both should be cared for by a vet who specializes in exotics.

Guinea pigs are usually easier to introduce to a rabbit than another rabbit because there's no interspecies competition for dominance. Our Clydesdale, a small lop who has limited eyesight, rejected the bunny friend we gave him because she was too energetic. Once we decided to make him sanctuary because of his age, we introduced him to two bad-hair-day guinea pigs adopted from Boston shelters, so he has company without the stress of meeting another rabbit. Gloria grooms him and takes naps right beside him, and Grover homes in for attention whenever anyone pets Clydesdale. He, in turn, is their protector: two pet sitters have received "ferocious" bunny head-butts in the ankle after picking up Grover and setting off his squeal alarm.

While guinea pigs generally make good rabbit friends, it's important to make sure both animals are healthy because they can carry diseases which may be harmful to the other species. It's also never a "sure thing" when introducing animals; not all will get along so always observe them closely until they are settled, or adopt a bonded pair.

Copyright - 2001 Suzanne Rubins