Adopting Ralph the Guinea Pig

Carl’s the Guines Pig’s Early Days

Two years ago, pretty much to the day, I was operating on Carl, a black seventeen-week old guinea pig.  This was the second time I’d operated on him within eleven weeks.  The first surgery I removed his eye and, following months of complications I then closed up the wound during the second surgery.  One week prior I had considered I adopting Carl if no one else was and, during the surgery, I decided I was definite rehoming him.  On that hectic Sunday, as I was sat writing up the last of my clinical notes for the day he was in an open box next to me coming around from the anaesthetic.  This is the start of the journey to adopt Ralph, a long journey!

Guinea pig plastic surgery
Carl after his second surgery sporting his stitches and shaved face

Having adopted Carl, my interesting in guinea pigs grew further and during my MSc I did some work with Cavy Corner Guinea Pig rescue in Doncaster.  We both passed information to each other with me volunteering at some of their events.  I decided that should I adopt another Guinea Pig it would be from them.

Why Carl Was a Lone Pig for Two Years

I do not advocate housing guinea pigs alone. They not solitary species and should always be housed with other guinea pigs whenever possible. Saying that, I kept Carl by himself for almost 2 years. The reasons;

  • Carl was isolated for over guinea pigs from the age of eight weeks so I didn’t know how well he would reconnect with one.
  • Secondly, and the main reason, since before I adopted him, Carl suffered from upper airway infections which proved to be contagious having spread to a friend’s rabbit I sometimes care for. Initially he had flares very often, showing symptoms for several days at a time though, luckily, he always recovered without the need for antibiotics. Any stressful period he faced he suffered with another infection. However, over the last year these reduced in both severity and frequency, with him now not showing signs of them even when stressed.

 

Over the first year of having Carl, it became obvious that me getting him a friend would almost definitely cause him to have a severe bout of infection which would spread to whichever guinea pig I adopted. Therefore, at that point, the risks were really high and, given Carl had been isolated from eight weeks old, the chances of them not making friends of another guinea pig were quite high. It was decided that at that point the risks of getting a friend outweighed the potential benefits.

Guinea Pig in cage

Over the last six months, the tables have reversed that. It became clear Carl wanted friend and, the odd time he’s had an airway infection it is only been very mild. As a result, I decided it was time to try him with a friend.

Discussing Adoption

I contacted Sue at Cavy Corner regarding getting Carl a friend and Sue’s response was very positive. She was very happy about trying him with another guinea pig to see what would happen. However, when I first contacted her the time wasn’t right. I was away from home quite a bit so I wanted things to stabilise before I look to getting him a friend.

 

I stayed in contact with Sue over the weeks and had further discussion with her a few days after I volunteered at Cavy Corner’s most recent fun show. We discussed the possibilities of me getting a friend for Carl and how you go about this in a safe way; both of us deciding it would be a good idea.

 

From my point of view, the first step, order a bigger cage!

 

From Cavy Corner’s point of view, the first step; invite Carl around for a date!

Sue knew that due to

Carl chilling out

Carl’s airway infection and his previous experience of surgeries, I didn’t want him undergoing surgery unless he really needed it so I wasn’t fond of getting him castrated so it was decided to try and match him with a boar. Bonding two boars together is less successful bonding either to sows or a sow and boar but, I knew these risks. There was also a very high risk that Carl, having not been around guinea pigs for so long, would not appreciate the company of another guinea pig and, therefore, leaving him a lone guinea pig. But, I felt it was only fair to turn the decision over to Carl himself.

Carl Goes on a Date

One evening,  myself and Carl took a trip to Cavy Corner. We decided the best way to go about it was the Carl to stay in a separate room to the rest of the guinea pigs at cavy Corner to reduce the risk of his infection spreading; it spreading around the “Caviary” would have been a disaster. However, the chances of a successful bonding were higher if the bonding took place in a neutral environment such as at Cavy Corner. I sat and had a drink with Sue and just discussed what I was up to as well as what she was up to and all the guinea pigs at Cavy Corner I then went home, having left the Carl at Cavy Corner for the night.

 

It was a quiet night at home!

 

Putting Together the New Cage; Nightmare!

 

The next day there was a knock on the door; the new cage. A Ferplast Plaza 140; a flatpack cage. I’d read online reviews saying it took around 90 minutes to 2 hours to put the cage together. I didn’t believe it would take me that long. Having spent times putting many cages together when working at a pet shop in my early 20s (during a break from vet school) and mending cat cages as a vet, I decided after 20 minutes max I’d have it sorted.

An hour and half later I’d only just got it put together! It was a nightmare of a cage to put together.

All of the joints were really stiff and the instructions were unclear. However, once put together, it is a really nice cage which comes to pieces which, to some extent, should help with transporting it. I still struggle to get most of it apart which does make life more difficult when moving it.

The Result of the Bonding

The previous day, whilst at Cavy Corner, Sue asked me what the latest time I’d like to be contacted regarding whether Carl’s bonding was successful or not. My response, any time I don’t mind. Sue’s reply, “I’m often up till 3AM with the guinea pigs, I don’t think you want to be contacted at that time!” I then replied, any time up until midnight but I do want to sleep after then!

 

Sue contact me at around 11 o’clock the next day to inform me that Carl had a friend. My reply do we have a name.

 

“Ralph”

 

That is all I asked.  I didn’t really care about anything else.  I only wanted his name so I could refer to him in some way other than “the new pig”.

Bringing Ralph Home

I returned Cavy Corner later in the afternoon to meet Ralph, a mere nine week old tricolour guinea pig with a very very long nose, huge feet, and facial markings that make look like he has really long fringe!

 

Him and Carl were curled up together and getting on great.

 

After talking to Sue about Ralph and signing the forms, we arrived home and I put them both in the new cage for the first time and, within seconds they were both eating and remained very very calm. Definitely a successful bonding and I was very glad I got Carl a friend. It was obviously just what he needed. My only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner.

Photo courtesy of Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue

Over the next three weeks Carl and Ralph got on great. Ralph was a very cheeky boy who, for the most part, got his own way. He stole food from Carl, pushed Carl out of bed, and always got the first lot of veg.

 

I also took to task with taming Ralph. This process has already started Cavy Corner but, with having been young, this wasn’t complete. Alongside this, Ralph hadn’t had the best start in life. He’d been adopted from a breeder who had too many guinea pigs and therefore had been neglected on that front.

Not all was Rosy; The Squabbles

Two months on, for the most part, Carl and Ralph are still getting on. As soon as I had owned Ralph for three weeks, coinciding with him hitting puberty at twelve weeks old, we faced some struggles. Before this point Ralph and Carl had never had a squabble but the testosterone surges within Ralph took over a bit and lead to a lot of arguing and some fighting. The opposite to what I thought, Carl is always the one to win fights. Before he was such a pushover but he obviously wanted to remain dominant. They were a rough couple of weeks but it all seems sorted for the most part now.  Carl is the boss but Ralph tries his luck and in some situations get his own way.

Ralph also has one huge benefit, the huge fluffy bed! Luckily for Ralph, Carl has never liked that bed so has never slept in it but Ralph hopped in it when he first arrived home and so it’s definitely his.

How Things Are Now

 

Ralph is still sometimes nervous of being handled but, is chill

 

ed out in virtually any other circumstance. I recently moved house so at times there was a lot of banging and Ralph didn’t even turn round throughout the noise, often sleeping straight through!

 

There is one problem left, when I first adopted Ralph I put twice as much food in the cage. Pretty much all of which was consumed by a very greedy Carl. Carl slammed on weight very quickly and is now very overweight. I have taken action and rationed their food.  I’m sure with Carl now on a diet and losing weight, he will slowly regain a waistline, but I’m not sure is completely happy about the reduced food!

 

Ralph is getting on well and has definitely retained his cheeky side!

Guinea Pigs Need to be Sociable

I want to reiterate that in almost all circumstances guinea pigs should be kept together. They are very sociable species and need to be able to interact with other guinea pigs, ideally within the same enclosure however, if you cannot bond your guinea pigs, the next best thing is for them to be in cages next to each other.  These will allow them to smell, see, verbally interact with, and possibly touch each other.

Carl in his fluffy bed!

Though they are a sociable species, they should only be housed with other guinea pigs. Housing them with other animals is inappropriate. Their body language and other methods of communication are different to those of other species, as is their diet. Many believe they can be housed with rabbits and they sometimes still are in pet shops but, rabbits being a lot bigger can hurt them. Also, the dietary requirements change with eat species and therefore they should be kept separately. Astonishingly I recently heard of someone housing guinea pigs and birds within the same cage! This is wholly inappropriate for both species and is likely going to cause a lot of fear amongst the two.

Guinea Pigs, like rabbits, do enjoy interacting with people either through gentle handling or talking to them.  Every little thing helps for them to remain happy, have interactions with others and settle with as little stress as possible.

Unless there is a strong medical or psychological standpoint, as was the original case with Carl, it is of utmost importance for guinea pigs to be housed with others.  On the odd occasion where this is impossible and a guinea pig has to be completely isolated from others of their species, housing them close to another mammal will provide some socialisation, interaction and enrichment to their lives.  If your guinea pig is alone it is of huge importance that you spend a lot of time with them to help with their need social needs.  However, it is important to realise that however sociable you are with your guinea pig, it will be nowhere near as beneficial to your pig as them having another guinea pig friend if at all possible.

A special thanks to everyone at, or supporting, Cavy Corner. You have all in some way helped with the rescue recuperation and adoption of my little tricoloured Ralph and, Carl’s increased, sustained happiness and welfare.

Photo courtesy of Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue

The more information on Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue, visit their website or Facebook page and, to discuss the care or possible adoption of a guinea pig contact Sue or Winston; details are on their website. Feel free to also ring them with any concerns about the welfare of any guinea pigs and they can give advice or support on these matters.  Alongside that, feel free to contact myself regarding the behavioural or social needs of animals.  I will also answer aim to answer any comments left below.

 

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