March is Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month. Have you ever wondered whether cats and guinea pigs can get along? You might assume that any combination of cats and rodents in the same household is a bad idea. Find out if cats and guinea pigs (or cats and hamsters) can be friends, and get tips on introducing them.
Cats and guinea pigs: Can they get along?
The safe answer is no. But it’s not the only answer.
Let’s first consider the fact that cats are commonly called “mousers.” Why is that? Over the past 10,000 years, cats have played an important role as nature’s best form of rodent control on farms. Keeping mice and rats away from food sources benefited farmers, which led to the domestication of house cats.
Guinea pigs typically measure 8-14 inches and weigh 1.5-2.5 pounds. This means that while guinea pigs are much larger than the average mouse, they’re about the same size, or actually smaller, than the average rat. (Excuse us while we shudder!)
Bottom line: As they’ve honed thousands of years’ experience hunting down rats, cats are equally adept at hunting guinea pigs.
One potential advantage? Early age of introduction
All cats have an innate prey drive, regardless of breed. However, you’ll have a much better chance at peaceful coexistence if you introduce cats and guinea pigs when they are kittens and “pups,” as it were.
Try to introduce a guinea pig to a kitten under 10 weeks old. The idea is the kitten will grow into a cat that is familiar with and likely more accepting of small rodents. Ideally, the guinea pig will also be quite young, or a pup.
What about cats and hamsters?
What’s an even riskier household pair than cats and guinea pigs? Cats and hamsters. Let’s not forget that cats are called “mousers” for a good reason: Although some hamsters can grow to be as long as guinea pigs, smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils are even more likely to incite your cat’s prey drive.
Introducing cats and guinea pigs
Let it be heard loud and clear: Even if you successfully introduce cats and guinea pigs (or cats and hamsters), you should never leave them together unsupervised.
So, if you have a lot of time and patience, follow these tips for your best chance at a smooth introduction between cats and guinea pigs:
- First, make sure that the guinea pig cage is sturdy. (A flimsy cage is no match for a cat intent on attacking.)
- Start by keeping your guinea pig in a room that your cat can’t access. If this isn’t an option, place the cage in an area that is out of your cat’s reach.
- Acclimate your cat to the guinea pig’s presence before letting the animals see each other. You can do this by placing your cat’s food outside the door of the room where the guinea pig lives. If your cat seems upset or predatory by the sounds and smells of the rodent, remove the food from that location for now.
- If your cat seems calm by the sounds and smells of the guinea pig, use a washcloth to rub your guinea pig and let your cat sniff the cloth. Once your cat seems comfortable with the cloth, rub the cloth on the cat as well. Exchange scents between the animals for a week or so before allowing them to interact.
- Allow brief eye contact between the animals: Place your cat in a cage while you hold, feed, and/or play with the guinea pig a short distance away. Do this for a few minutes, and then separate the animals again.
- Next, get the assistance of another person. While you hold your cat, have the other person hold the guinea pig in the same room. Each of you should calmly pet the animal you are holding. If each pet remains calm, “decrease the physical distance between them incrementally. Move closer by a foot each time you have a petting session.” (Pippa Elliott, MRCVS.)
- If both animals remain docile enough that you and the other human can sit next to each other while holding the pets, try cross-petting, or taking turns petting the animal the other person is holding.
- After several successful cross-petting sessions, let your guinea pig roam freely in its room while you hold your cat. If your cat remains calm when your guinea pig approaches, it’s time for supervised play.
- Allow both your cat and the guinea pig to roam freely in the guinea pig’s room. Make sure the rodent’s cage is open so the guinea pig can escape to it if need be. If ever your cat begins to stalk or appear aggressive, separate the animals immediately and try again another day.
- Again, never allow cats and guinea pigs to roam freely without supervision. Even if your cat appears friendly early on, things can unfortunately change at any moment. After all, it is the nature of your cat to see rodents as prey.
So, can cats and guinea pigs ever be friends? Given the right age of introduction, time, and patience, it is possible (but not entirely probable) that these two animals can coexist under strict supervision.
Cover photo by Karlijn Prot on Unsplash