How to Win Friends

1 May

Castration is a drastic measure, but for our six grumpy guinea pigs, the advantages have outweighed the risks. It all goes back to their adolescence, when they suddenly stopped being friends and started tearing chunks out of each other. Barry’s ear got bitten completely in two. This was a shock to us, because all the information we’d read declared that guinea pigs are social animals and MUST be kept together. Besides, other pet owners had told us dire tales of guinea pigs who had died of loneliness.

We took them en masse to Broadley’s vet hospital. There were seven of them then, as their dad was still alive. They were filthy from exploring the flowerbeds, and I hadn’t dared bathe them while they were hurting. The nurse on duty was Cath. I learned that day that Cath is passionate about guinea pigs (and rabbits), and has stacks of experience and knowledge about them. When we presented her with our sea of growling, dirt-blackened, bitten-up animals with patches of fur missing, she exchanged horrified glances with the vet. I felt sure they thought we had been systematically abusing them.

I described our set-up, and asked for advice. Cath’s first advice was, of course, to separate them. Then, to bloody well give them baths. She and the vet strongly advised against castration, as it doesn’t necessarily affect guinea pig behaviour, and general anaesthetic carries a higher death risk for little animals.

We duly fenced the garden off into territories and separated their tower block into apartments. The guinea pigs spent all summer patrolling the fences and rumbling at each other, and all winter growling at their ceilings and floors.

Winter tower

Horatio, awake before the others on Christmas Eve.

Then we had to neuter Colin, because he kept gumming up the rabbit’s eye. (Never mind how.) Afterwards, his territorial behaviour ceased, and all the other guinea pigs were nice to him. It was as though we had given him a social skeleton key. Was this a fluke?

When Twogoose and Horatio began furiously threatening each other, we decided to try neutering them too. We  felt confident that the skills and equipment at Broadley’s meant it wasn’t too much of a risk. Cath noticed them waiting there for the snip, and gave us a worried call to check that we were sure we wanted to go through with it. Our client money makes no difference to her: animal welfare is everything. We said we understood the risks – but we spent the rest of the day biting our nails, waiting for the call to say they were okay. They were. They have enjoyed each other’s company ever since.

How lovely it would be, we thought, if all the guinea pigs could live together again! Being all brothers, there was a chance they would all respond to neutering. We sent Clive, Barry and Orkney to be castrated too. Cath watched over them during their operation and recovery. She has taken a special interest in our guinea pigs since that first terrible day, and whenever she sees me, she asks, “how are the boys?” When I need guinea pig advice, she is the person I phone.

Here she is with her rabbit Ralph last month, just before she beat 11,000 contestants to become Veterinary Nurse of the Year. It is completely deserved.

Cath

[Photo from Broadleys Veterinary Hospital.]

The guinea pigs’ tender areas healed just in time for their annual exodus to live among the grass and daffodils. Here’s Orkney, lurking in his new bedroom. They usually lurk for three days before leaving their hutches to explore the garden.

Orkney lurking

This time, it took them just a few hours to step outside and start grazing. We have placed all the hutches together, and have been watching closely for signs of distress. We left most of the territory-fence up just in case, but  removed sections so they can explore the whole garden.

Summer setup

There was a brief squabble over who got to sleep in which hutch, but after that they settled in beautifully. Not one of them has got angry with the others – not even when there was a hailstorm to rattle them up. The change in them is remarkable! I never thought I’d see them daring to turn their backs on each other.

Long may the peace continue.

Among the daffs

Horatio, Clive, Orkney and Twogoose.

7 Responses to “How to Win Friends”

  1. hutchagoodlife May 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Hi there, Whee are some blogging guinea pigs and our Mummy has kept piggies for many years so she is a little curious about the situation. I understand there are six boars. Are they all living together?

    In which case you may already have an answer to why they were not getting along. When male piggies reach adolescence they would normally be driven out of their herd in the wild. This means you can only keep male guinea pigs in pairs or one neutered with females. Very rarely people are able to get trios of male piggies to work but you need a lot of space and to match up pigsonalities.

    Whee hope this helps and really recommend you go and check out http://www.theguineapigforum.co.uk for any advice or even just for a nose at some adorable piggy pigtures!

    Squeak to you soon

    Nibbles, Nutty, Buddy & Basil
    xxxx

    • Snailquake May 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

      Thanks very much! I wish we’d found you three years ago. :)

      • Snailquake May 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

        Um – when you say “in the wild”, do you mean that literally, or are you using the term to refer to your naturally evolved behaviour generally?

        My understanding is that guinea pigs as a species have always been domesticated, and have never existed in the wild. Clearly, male guinea pigs do behave as you say – I’m just wondering if there is a wild species of cavy that you’re comparing yourselves with.

        • hutchagoodlife May 3, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

          Yes, whee are all descended from wild guinea pigs though no one is completely sure when whee were domesticated first. It is believed that it may have been the early 16th century, when they were introduced by traders and became pets. However some guinea pigs were partially domesticated as food as early as 5000BC.

          Wild guinea pigs look almost identical to domestic guinea pigs but slightly stockier, and less pointed facial features. They live in family groups in the wild of about 10 piggies but males are usually driven out quickly as they are competition for the dominant male.

          You can google pigtures and see them but this page may be of interest to you:

          http://animal.discovery.com/mammals/guinea-pig-info.htm

          Please feel free to ask if you have any other questions. This is our favourite topic! Us!

          Nibbles, Nutty, Buddy & Basil
          xxxxx

          • Snailquake May 7, 2013 at 12:00 am #

            That’s really interesting. Thanks very much for the info! (And the puns.)

  2. dewimorgan May 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Awww! Now they’re beastie besties!

  3. Anonymous May 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you for the trouble you take to share your zoo life with the World! May you all continue in peace!

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