Friday, August 3, 2012

Rodent Relations I: Biting

This winter I had the Girls Next Door watch Bertie and Pinniped while we were out of town.  When I came back they told me all about feeding and caring for them.  Then they told me how Pinni bit Bertie and how they had to break up the two of them.

The twins knew Willow had lived alone because the Newbies bit her and I think they were a little sensitive to Pinni and Bertie's behavior.  They thought the two pigs were having a falling out.  And they aren't the only ones who are nervous about what constitutes normal guinea pig behavior.  This type of question comes up a lot.  New owners often separate their guinea pigs for fear that they're fighting when the pigs were just trying to establish boundaries and pecking order.  They also fear that pigs that don't cuddle together all the time don't really like each other.  Piggy politics can be complicated, and sometimes there are only subtle signs to indicate that two (or more) pigs are actually quite happy to be together.

Bertie and Pinni are one of the strongest bonded pair of pigs I've had (my best bonded were Vicky and Athena).  But like any close couple, they have their off days and spats.  When they do, they can really dish it out.  And because there is so much badness two pigs can get into - I'm going to cover it in a trilogy of posts.

Today's unseemly behavior:  biting, snapping, hissing and lunging.

Best buddies: Athena and Victoria
Vicky and Athena were masters of this.  Vicky, for whatever reason, loved to hassle Athena to the point where Athena would show her teeth and hiss like a pressure cooker.  It was quite impressive to see those big sharp teeth.  These two very rarely came to blows, but it was a little unnerving to see Athena puff out and sound so angry when she was such a laid back pig.  This pair usually stopped at the posturing.  Once Athena showed her teeth, Vicky would stop pestering her, and they'd go off and stuff themselves in the hidey house for a nap.

Bertie and Pinni tend to go for the lunge/bite/snap at each other.  Have you ever seen two kids slap each other on the arm saying "you're it!"  "No, you're it!" back and forth?  I've seen Bertie and Pinni do this - except they use their teeth.  It's most often when they want the same cozy/food/tunnel.  Sometimes it's in reaction to being pestered for too long, or suddenly and rudely awakened from a sound sleep.  The exchange is lightning-fast and stops after a round or two.

It may look vicious, but there's more posturing to the attack than brute force.  First, guinea pig skin is really tough to puncture.  Anyone who has ever given an injection to a guinea pig can attest to that.  In addition, guinea pigs are prey animals and no one wins (except the predators) if there are serious injuries from a fight.  In my experience, battles tend to look a whole lot scarier than they truly are.

That's not to say pigs can't have a serious falling out.  If your pigs are biting each other hard enough to draw blood or becomes a true battle that looks like a whirling ball of fur, then your pigs have a severe clash of personalities and they need to be separated.  Separation can be temporary or permanent, depending on a bunch of factors, including age, health, and living quarters.

There is a good overview of guinea pig social interactions on CavySprit's website called Social Life.  I review it every time I do guinea pig introductions.

In the end, I told the Girls Next Door that Pinni and Bertie were just having a disagreement, and that they shouldn't worry that I would have to separate the two pigs.  Everyone is allowed to be cranky once in a while, even guinea pigs.

Next up with Rodent Relations: Bickering.

1 comment :

  1. Great topic, looking forward to reading the next installment.


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