by Dianne Cook, LVT
Rabbits and guinea pigs continue to gain in popularity as more people realize what wonderful companions these amazing little herbivores can truly be. While the day-to-day caring of both species is somewhat similar, each animal has their own unique attributes and considerations. Before you bring home a new bunny or piggy pal, it is important you consider which species best fits your preferences and lifestyle. Let’s read through some of the things that make rabbits and guinea pigs so special, as well as some considerations for both species.
What Is It About Rabbits?
A Hare for Every Style
With those long ears, big eyes, and sweet faces, it’s no wonder rabbits have won the hearts of pet parents around the world. Rabbits come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. From 2.5 lb Netherland Dwarves to 18 lb Flemish Giants, there’s bound to be a rabbit whose size appeals to you. Beyond size, however, it is important to consider general coat care and upkeep. Long-haired breeds like Angoras and Lionheads require daily grooming, as their coats can easily become tangled and unhealthy. Short-haired breeds like Holland Lops and Californians don’t require the same level of grooming as their longhaired counterparts, but it is still recommended to brush their thick coats at least a couple of times a week. Molting, or the seasonal shedding of old hair to make way for new growth, is something all rabbits experience (some more frequently than others), and the volume of hair lost during this time can be alarming. Daily brushing is required during molting, regardless of your rabbit’s breed.
Building the Bond
Rabbits are sensitive, social animals and make wonderful companions for folks who take the time to understand, accept, and support their natural instincts and behaviors. Because rabbits are a prey species, it requires a patient, deliberate investment on the pet parent’s part to learn their rabbit’s unique language and work to build their trust. A rabbit may start out as shy, aloof, or hesitant, but consistent gentle, positive interactions will soon bring them out of their shells. This short, educational video describes ways to strengthen that special human-animal bond with your small herbivore.
There are as many rabbit personalities as there are rabbits. Some rabbits are easygoing and relaxed, while others are demanding and constantly on-the-go. Some actively seek affection and constant attention from their caretakers, while others tend to be more independent, territorial, and haughty. Even the friendliest and most engaging bunny has a tendency to be willful and picky from time-to-time. It’s part of their charm. Taking time to learn your rabbit’s unique quirks and temperament will ensure you are able to happily coexist with such a complex, demanding companion.
Long Live the Lagomorphs
Like other exotic companion mammal species, there is a misconception that rabbits don’t require a long-term commitment because they only live a short while. Though lifespan is largely determined by factors outside of the pet parents’ control (like breed, gender, and genetics) the average life span of a well-cared-for rabbit is eight to ten years. With appropriate nutrition, husbandry, and quality veterinary care, many rabbits can even live to see twelve years of age or older! To learn how to best support your rabbit through all of their life stages, read: Rabbit Life Stages.
Rabbits Can Make Excellent House Pets
Wicked smart and naturally fastidious creatures, rabbits are relatively easy to litter train. Adding a litterbox to your rabbit’s enclosure or in their living area makes daily maintenance easier as your pet’s waste will be contained to one area. Rabbits’ ability to be litterbox trained also means many pet parents choose to allow their bunnies to roam freely around the home or in designated rooms. If you opt to give your rabbit free roam, it is imperative to properly “bunny proof” any areas of the home in which your rabbit is allowed access. Additionally, because rabbits favor body language as their primary source of communication (though they certainly have their own unique language), these quiet companions tend to be considerate neighbors.
What Makes Guinea Pigs So Special?
Variety is the Spice of Life
Guinea pigs come in a multitude of breeds, each boasting its own variations in coat texture and length. From solid-colored, smooth-coated piggies, to multi-colored cavies with long, flowing hair, or even hairless kiddos with spotted skin, there’s a guinea pig out there for novice and experienced piggy parents alike. It is important to take your lifestyle, home environment, and time-commitment into consideration before deciding what breed of guinea pig to add to your home. While some breeds like American Shorthairs and Abyssinians are relatively low-maintenance, long-haired breeds like Silkies and Texels require quite a bit of grooming and additional upkeep. Similarly, if you like to keep your home on the cool side, no matter how cute Skinny Pigs are, it may be best to choose a breed with fur.
Guinea Pigs Make Excellent Companions
As herd animals, guinea pigs naturally seek companionship. While it is true guinea pigs generally prefer having a friend (or two) of the same species to hang out with, these highly social animals also form strong bonds with their humans. As prey species, it may take a bit of patience and gentle persistence (not to mention a few yummy treats) before you earn your piggy’s trust, but the reward is certainly worth the effort. Guinea pigs recognize and respond to trusted humans and are often interactive and affectionate, though in their own unique ways. Once you’ve found favor in the eyes of your guinea pig, you will find those little bodies often harbor big personalities.
They’re Gentle, Unique, and Intelligent
Inquisitive by nature and inherently gentle, guinea pigs make delightfully entertaining companions for folks of all ages. Known for “popcorning” and “zoomies,” day-to-day guinea pig antics are sure to bring a smile to your face. Though they aren’t likely to be awarded any advanced academic accolades, with the right motivation, guinea pigs can learn an impressive repertoire of simple tricks. Time and consistency are key to teaching your charming little friend a new skill (not to mention treats. Lots and lots of treats).
One of the most common misconceptions about guinea pigs is that they don’t live very long. While they do not share the same life expectancy as other common companion species, like dogs or cats, guinea pigs live an average of five to seven years, with some piggies even reaching double digits. Species appropriate nutrition, suitable husbandry, and routine medical care are essential to ensure your little friend lives the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible. To learn how to best support your guinea pig through all of their life stages, read the following article: Guinea Pig Life Stages.
Good for Small Spaces
Guinea pigs can make excellent pets for people who live in small spaces, but it is important they are provided with an appropriately sized enclosure. After all, just because they’re small animals doesn’t mean they don’t need adequate room to move. While many companion rodents (like rats and chinchillas) rely on vertical space to encourage climbing, guinea pigs need room to run, forage, and explore, and thereby require floor space. An appropriately sized guinea pig enclosure and space for a large, safely enclosed play yard (for daily floor time) will likely take up less than 20 sq. ft, depending on the number of guinea pigs you have. Guinea pigs also make polite neighbors. Though piggies can get quite vocal when they have something to say (or they think you might give them another piece of cilantro), they won’t wake the entire neighborhood with an impromptu midnight chorus.
Additional Considerations for Both Species
They’re Prey Species
This cannot be stated enough; both rabbits and guinea pigs are sensitive prey species, so it will take time, patience, and understanding to earn your little ones’ trust. Speak softly, engage in daily play, and take the time to figure out your pet’s unique likes and dislikes. When at all possible, don’t force interactions with your rabbit or guinea pig when they aren’t feeling up to it and make sure to have a healthy, nutritionally appropriate treat nearby to help encourage happy, positive interactions. Though these may seem like simple steps from a human perspective, your time and patience will establish you as a welcome, positive source of affection and socialization (not to mention treats).
They Have a Very Specific Diet
As hindgut fermenters, both rabbits and guinea pigs have incredibly specific diet requirements. At least 70% of a rabbit’s or guinea pig’s diet should consist of a variety of high-quality grass hays coupled with 20% of a species and age-specific, fortified, pelleted diet. It is also encouraged to ensure 8% – 10% of your pet’s diet consists of fresh produce. Dark leafy greens should make up the majority of the latter category and fruits should be offered infrequently in very small amounts. No more than 2% of your little one’s diet should consist of treats.
They Require Specialized Medical Care
As prey animals, rabbits and guinea pigs are both experts at hiding signs of illness or discomfort. Unfortunately, this inherently stoic disposition means even the most well-meaning pet parent can miss the subtle signs of a brewing health issue. Before bringing a new pet home, it is important to find a veterinarian who is well-versed in small herbivore care and common medical concerns and answers all your questions to your satisfaction. To find an exotics savvy vet near you, check out the following resources: https://rabbit.org/vet-listings/ or https://aemv.org/.
At the end of the day, both rabbits and guinea pigs make wonderful companions, but each species has their own unique traits and considerations. Some folks may prefer the compact size and quirky antics of guinea pigs, while others may be drawn to rabbits’ tidy litterbox habits and complex personalities. As long as you are able to provide your chosen species with the appropriate companionship, diet, husbandry, and medical care, the best pet for you is whichever species best aligns with your personality, lifestyle, and preferences.