Bonds In Trouble

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Staff member
Mar 10, 2009
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Coventry UK
Why can an established bond fail?

Every fall-out has of course its own dynamics and causes, but here is short list of the most frequent ones:

- A latent dominance issue or a genuine dislike can flare up again. Group and pair dynamics change over time and piggies can simply go off another piggy - like humans do!

- Teenage hormones. Both genders go through a hormonal stage between 4-14 months of age. This is more pronounced in boars and leads more often to fall-outs, but sows can suffer from strong seasons, which can derail a bond on occasion.
Here is our boar guide with much more detailed information on the different phases of the teenage months as well as lots of helpful tips: Boars: Bullying, Fighting, Fall-outs And What Next?

- New territory: Guinea pigs need to re-establish their hierarchy in any new or enlarged territory. Especially with boars, a new round of dominance behaviour can lead to a fall-out on occasion. Always to mitigate this by transferring soiled bedding into a new place to make it smell like their territory should.

- Medical separations: The most frequent cause for adult guinea pig fall-outs are medical separations. This can even happen with sisters that have been kept in adjoining cages during recovery.
If at all and with permission from your vet, please keep your guinea pigs together as much as possible and in regular contact on your lap if necessary. Mingle their scents with a soft rug if they are not together.
Once a guinea pig has decided that another one (even a life long companion or litter mate) is no longer part of their group, it will not be accepted back.

- Pregnancy/birth/nursing separation in sows: Nursing sows enjoy a special protected status in their group/pair during this time. This is not a problem when the mother is the dominant guinea pig. But an under-sow will gain in status and stature through her babies, which put her at the head of her own little family, and she may not be inclined to go back to her old position. Bonding back sows after the end of the nursing period is one the trickiest bondings and may not necessarily be successful.
There are some very good reasons for separation in the first instance, so it is not necessarily a case of leaving pregnant sows together at all cost; it is more a weighing up of factors in every single specific case.

- Ovarian cysts in sows: Hormone output in sows never stops. This can lead to longer term issues in some sows. Most ovarian cysts never cause any problems or any visible symptoms, but in some sows especially small growing ovarian cysts can cause aggressive behaviour. These sows are usually constantly in season. Please have your sow vet checked by an experienced vet. She may require hormone treatment or a spaying operation.

What are the signs of a dysfunctional bond?

- Boars: Incessant humping/mounting and chasing around the cage by a boar that is pumped up by testosterone and simply won’t let his mate be. This can either lead to a fight-back by his companion, or the companion becomes withdrawn/depressed if it is not in his nature to stand up for himself (bullying).

- Sows and mixed genders: Lots of heavy teeth chattering and chasing. Increased and increasingly acrimonious face-offs and scrapping. Taking a mouthful of fur (sows usually only bite in defence).


Bullying is preventing the companion from eating, sleeping or getting any respite either through physical blocking or truly incessant humping. Locking them into a hidey or corner or denying access to water or food by lying in front of it (please always have more than one access and water bottle to prevent this and ideally use hideys with two exits).

The typical signs of a bullied piggy are being quiet/withdrawn/depressed/staying out of their companion's reach and often weight loss/failure to put on weight as much as the comrades. Bullying can happen in any setting. Boars are often more upfront than sows when it comes to bullying. An overnight trial separation with a divider can give you the answers you are looking for (see next chapter).

You also need to check a bullied piggy for bite wounds to the rump (in boars), which can masquerade as little scratches. However, the stress can also manifest as mange mites with self-biting or be a sign of an underlying health problem, so please see a vet to exclude any medical angle.

Here is a list of dominance behaviours in ascending order of aggression. Any mild and medium dominance behaviours you have to tolerate.
Please note that loud screaming by the 'under-piggy' is NOT pain, but submission!

Dominance Behaviours In Guinea Pigs
Bonding and Interaction: Illustrated social behaviours and bonding dynamics

How can I test whether a bond is no longer working?

You can try a trial separation with a see through divider. If the “underpiggy” is suddenly perking up noticeably when away from his mate, you know for sure that they are not happy in their relationship. The other side causing the problem is generally not happy and is not aware that they are a problem, so you have to ignore their reaction.
If both piggies still want to be back with each other, then you know that their bond is still functioning.

However, you can trial separate only so often without additionally destabilising a bond that is already under stress, so you need to consider carefully when to do it. But a trial separation will give you the most honest answer to whether a piggy you worry about it still happy in their relationship or not. You can then work out any further measures from there or have the reassurance that your piggies still want to be together.

For re-introductions after a trial/short-term separation, please follow our advice in these threads here:
Bonding and Interaction: Illustrated social behaviours and bonding dynamics
Introducing And Re-introducing Guinea Pigs

What to do if my piggies have had a major fight?

- Firstly, please separate both piggies immediately and check them carefully over for bites or bad scratches especially on the face, neck and ears and the rump.

Disinfect any wounds with hibiscrub or sterile saline solution (both available from a pharmacy). You can make your own saline by mixing 1 teaspoon of salt with 1 pint/500 ml of boiled, cooled water.
Please see a vet promptly for an antibiotic if the bites are deep or as soon as you notice any swelling or pus in the bite areas in the weeks after (abscess).

- Take a deep breath and wait until you yourself have had a chance to recover from the shock!
If it is just shallow scratch wounds or no lasting harm, you can try a re-introduction on neutral ground after a cooling down period of 1-2 days.

- A “buddy bath” is only recommended for boars to remove the testosterone stink from their coats to prevent them from getting riled up again after a short separation.
In any other case the stress from a bonding bath is actually counterproductive rather than helpful and no longer recommended despite it still making the rounds online as a magical trick. Our long term experience on this forum has shown otherwise.

- Please also make sure that you thoroughly clean the cage and all furnishings, so they are as neutral as possible.
Illustrated Bonding / Dominance Behaviours And Dynamics
Introducing And Re-introducing Guinea Pigs

When rebonding doesn't work out

If this doesn’t work, please keep your guinea pigs as next door neighbours with interaction through the bars for mutual stimulation. They need to be able to meet and interact each day with a separator. Hearing distance is not enough!

You can with younger and social guinea pigs considering rebonding them, ideally by dating at a good rescue that offer this service, so the no longer accepted guinea pig can choose for itself who and whether it wants a new mate. This way you get a new guinea pig is acceptance has happened and you do not end up with a third single guinea pig.

Recommended UK rescues: Guinea Pig Rescue Centre Locator
Recommended rescues in some other countries: Guinea Lynx :: Rescue Organizations
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