In our ever-popular blog post, Myth #1: Male Guinea Pigs Can't Live Together, a reader named Shubhangini wrote to us about a predicament with a guinea pig colony in which all the pigs were incorrectly sexed at a pet store. Thinking there were four female guinea pigs, a chain of events -- starting with significant fighting -- led to the revelation that there are three boys and one girl. The question on deck: Do they have to be separated?
The short answer: Emphatically, urgently yes.
I decided to answer this question in a new blog post, instead of in a reply in the Comments section of the aforementioned post, because at least once a week (every week) we get an email from a panicky owner who left a pet store with incorrectly sexed pairs of guinea pigs. Usually it's a pair of females, or a pair of males, that turns out to be one of each. This situation with Shubhangini may be one of the worst cases of pet store incompetence I've heard of recently.
This is a simple matter of biology. Unneutered males + unspayed females = babies. There's no way to get out of a situation like this without at least one litter of babies. (Females can get pregnant, again, very quickly after giving birth to a litter.) The situation gets worse if all the pigs remain in the same cage together because more unneutered males and unspayed females are being added to mix. I'll leave you to do the reproduction math. It's math that adds up to a substantial financial toll on the human owners, and the logistical issues of having to separate a growing number of female guinea pigs from a growing number of male guinea pigs.
There's added concern here because there's multiple males and one female.
Guinea Pig Males Fight Over Girls
First, there's what Shubhangini is already seeing: the fighting amongst the males. It will flare up again, the severity will escalate, and someone -- or several someones -- will get hurt.
Neutering all the males will not help. You still have three boys competing for one girl. They'll still fight over her. Someone will still get hurt.
Multiple Pregnancies Are Unhealthy For Female Guinea Pigs
Second, there's the inevitability of multiple pregnancies because all of the unneutered boys will mate with that female, repeatedly. One round of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and nursing puts tremendous strain on a female guinea pig's body. Back-to-back pregnancies put further stress on that body; too many pregnancies and pregnancies past the "safe age" can have dangerous, if not fatal, consequences for the mother, the babies, or both.
No Girl Likes To Be Harassed By A Gang Of Boys
Third, there's the psychological welfare of the lone female, who has to put up with and fend off the advances of three hormonally overcharged males. (Even when all the boys are neutered, they will still harass her and mount her.) Ask yourself how you'd feel being the only female in a cage with multiple males, no means of escaping the harassment on your own, and absolute dependence on a human pulling you out and keeping you out. It's a depressing, highly stressful situation for the female.
For Shubhangini, my recommendation is finding a guinea pig rescue to whom the female -- in all likelihood, now pregnant -- can be surrendered. The rescue will eventually find homes for the babies and their mother. This is the simplest, least expensive solution.
1. The cost and logistics of housing and caring for the mother and her babies, and the challenges of finding them all homes, is probably more than Shubhangini is prepared to deal with. (This is a statement based on observations of other folks, not a criticism of Shubhangini.)
2. The cost of neutering three guinea pig males will be exorbitant.
3. Keeping the female in a cage near the males -- whether they get neutered or not -- will continue to cause strife among the males. Remove her from the home environment and you'll likely have a peaceful trio of boys.
4. Shubhangini's own comments reveal that keeping the pigs separate is already proving to be at least a slightly stressful endeavor. This sense of overwhelm will grow over time, breeding resentment and decreasing enjoyment of the pigs' company. Shubhangini and all four guinea pigs will suffer for the resentment and decreased enjoyment, which would be very sad indeed.
Surrendering the female to a rescue will be, in the short term, difficult (emotionally). Over the long term, though, it offers the best chance of health and happiness for all the animals and humans involved.