How would you feel if another human you don’t know suddenly showed up in your home and helped themselves to your food and water and snacks? Crawled into your bed, forcing you to sleep on the couch? Played with your toys? Took the attention of your loved ones? How would you feel if you were told to "deal with" the presence of the newcomer, possibly even scolded for not "playing nice"?
You'd feel anything from unhappy to downright cheesed off...possibly act territorial and threatened...wouldn't you? Of course you would. We all would. Yet many folks don't apply this same common sense to animals.
We've received distressed e-mails from owners trying unsuccessfully to match up their guinea pig with a new roommate. In most cases, they've found a new pig at a pet store, brought it home, and placed it in their guinea pig's cage without warning. In one case, someone brought two guinea pigs home and put them with theirs in a cage she'd been in by herself for quite some time. The owners were surprised when their female fought with the newcomers. I had to explain that she probably felt ganged up on, understandably got territorial, and understandably asserted her rank as Alpha Female.
Guinea pigs are communal animals and benefit greatly from companionship, but it can take time for a guinea pig to find someone s/he likes. Rapid introductions rarely go smoothly. Introductions require neutral territory and a slow hand.
There's an art to matching guinea pigs. There is an entire language of sounds, behaviors, and body postures that accompany the introduction process between guinea pigs, and we humans need to be able to read all of that. So matching requires skill and perceptiveness...and still, even, a bit of luck. This is where adopting rescue pigs offers an advantage. Cindy, our rescue's founder, gets to know the personalities of the pigs in her charge. She has an impeccable feel for who could mesh well with who, whether you're matching to a mild-mannered senior male, a bossy middle-aged female who's been ruling her roost solo for a couple of years, or a rambunctious baby.
When done well, guinea pigs are delighted to finally have a companion. Some matches are instant, some take time. Ultimately, it's all about individual personalities — and guinea pigs, though small, have BIG personalities.