Should I Get a Guinea Pig or a Rabbit?


Should-I-Get-a-Guinea-Pig-or-a-Rabbit

Both guinea pigs and rabbits make cute and loveable small-sized pets, so it’s not easy to pick one over the other. In terms of care, diet and companionship, these animals are very similar.

If you are wondering which to get, a guinea pig or a rabbit, you’ll want to consider the key differences between the two. While there is no such thing as one being a better pet than another, certain features might make one a better fit for your home and family. 

In deciding to own a pet, it is important to research their needs, habits and traits of the animal you are considering adopting. There’s much to learn about both rabbits and guinea pigs.  Make your choice easier with help from the information below.

How Do Guinea Pigs and Rabbits Compare?

There’s a reason it’s difficult to choose between these two animals. They share a lot of characteristics that make them great pets. This side-by-side comparison offers a quick overview of each animal’s basics, to get a general idea of where they match up and where they differ:

Guinea Pigs Rabbits
SpeciesRodentiaLagomorpha
Typical adult
size: length/weight
8-10”/up to 3 lbs.18-20”/8 to 10 lbs.
Recommended minimum living space  7.5 sq. ft for one guinea pig12 sq. ft living space + 32 sq. ft. exercise space for 1 rabbit
Average life expectancy5 to 8 years8 to 12 years
DietHerbivorousHerbivorous
TemperamentDocile and friendly, but easily spookedGentle, but easily spooked, occasionally aggressive
Need for companionshipVery social and craves companionshipVery social and craves companionship
Activity level2 or more hours to run daily. (If living in a small cage, should be let out to run around)2 or more hours outside of the cage every day.
Quiet or Loud? A bit noisy. A whole range of sounds.Mostly quiet, but do have some sounds.
Grooming needsA mix of professional and at-homeA mix of professional and at-home
Sleep habitsUnpredictable. More often awake than asleep. 20-30 minutes naps daily.Crepuscular-they generally sleep during the day and night and are most active at dusk and dawn
Average adoption costUnder $50Varies. Est. $100
Average annual cost$300-$400 per year$500-$600 per year

How Much Space Do I Need for a Rabbit or Guinea Pig?

rabbit-and-guinea-pig-cage

Space Requirements of a Rabbit

If you live in a small space, don’t have access to an outdoor area for building a rabbit run, or just don’t want a rather large cage in your home, you’d better investigate the size of living space that a rabbit requires.

Rabbits can get large. From head-to-tail, they can be more than 24” long, when stretched out. Because they need to be able to stretch, run, hop, play and dig, rabbits can’t be confined to a small cage or hutch.

How Much Space is Enough for a Rabbit?

Most sources, such as The Animal Files and the Rabbit House recommend an enclosure tall enough for a rabbit to stand on its hind legs, so about 2’ to 3’ tall and at least long enough for your pet to take 3 to 4 hops. At an estimated 18” per hop, depending on the size of the rabbit, that means you’ll need something about 6’ long. Overall, the amount of recommended space for one rabbit to have an adequate exercise area is 32 square feet.

That 32 sq. ft. of running space is in addition to the recommended living area. The living area should be a separate little hideout, complete with water, food bowl, toys and a place to snuggle and sleep. For that, you want 12 square feet per rabbit. 

The living space and running space can be linked together. In fact, it is recommended that both spaces are easily accessible to your bunny, with their separate uses clearly defined. In other words, the water bowl, food, potty area and toys shouldn’t be strewn about in the rabbit run. Rabbits like their small, private and enclosed space to sleep and rest. Rabbit.org says, “A rabbit’s home base should be seen as the rabbit’s “nest.” A special place where he can feel safe and secure. Make the nest enjoyable and she will enjoy being there, even when the door is open!”

You are probably getting the idea: rabbits require a lot of space. 

What Kind of Housing Does a Rabbit Need?

There are a few basic rules when it comes to your rabbit hutch or house: no wire floors is the first. They are uncomfortable for a rabbit’s paws, at best. Instead, provide your rabbit with a plastic-bottomed or tiled surface under their feet, even if you are using a wire enclosure. The Rabbit House recommends, “choosing flooring that’s hardwearing and easy to clean can make cleanout day much easier.”

You can purchase your rabbit house or make one of your own. There are lots of instructions and guides online if you choose to go the DIY route.

As for materials, remember that rabbits are big chewers. You can direct them towards things they can chew, like toys, and that will help a lot. Still, you want your bunny enclosure to be made of materials that are safe for rabbits. No chemically treated lumber, for instance. Anything you use should be non-toxic and chew-proof. 

You can also find some great hutches online that you just assemble and go.  Alternatively, you can bunny proof your home and let them roam free for their exercise. 

Rabbit housing isn’t something that can be an afterthought. The requirements and recommendations for keeping a pet bunny happy and healthy clearly require some planning and preparation.

Space Requirements of a Guinea Pig

In comparison to a rabbit and, in fact, in comparison to many other pets, a guinea pig does not require much space. To begin with, their living and exercise space are one in the same. Especially in smaller living quarters, a guinea pig is easy to accommodate. 

How Much Space is Enough for a Guinea Pig?

Guinea pigs will need a lot of the same items in their living space, such as water, food bowl, playthings, a restroom area and place to sleep (you can read about all the guinea pig essentials here). They need a generous amount of space to run around in but at an average length of 8 inches, they don’t need their own run or special exercise space. They just need some room to get wild in their cage!

The Humane Society of the United States recommends the following guidelines for guinea pig enclosures:

  • One guinea pig:  7.5 square feet cage (minimum), but more is better; example: 30″ x 36″ 
  • Two guinea pigs:  7.5 square feet (minimum), but 10.5 square feet is preferred; example: 30″ x 50″
  • Three guinea pigs: 10.5 square feet (minimum), but 13 square feet is preferred; example: 30″ x 62″ 
  • Four guinea pigs: 13 square feet (minimum), but more is better; example: 30″ x 76″ is a good size.

What Kind of Housing Does a Guinea Pig Need?

Guinea pigs don’t like a wire-bottomed cage, either. A solid bottom, like a plastic liner, is much better. It will keep your house cleaner too, since the bottom of the guinea pig’s cage must be lined with bedding. A wire cage is fine, otherwise. 

As the Humane Society of America says, “No animal is meant to live in a cage all the time, so make sure to provide your pig with proper exercise outside of a cage.”

In short, housing a guinea pig is kind of a cinch. If it’s kept in a safe place, your guinea pig’s quarters can fit just about anywhere!

For outdoor placement of your guinea pigs, the hutch you choose becomes more important because it needs to withstand both weather and predators. You can read our article where we discuss the best outdoor guinea pig hutches here.

Lifespan of Rabbits vs. Guinea Pigs

When well-cared for, rabbits can live 10 years or more. Guinea pigs tend to have a slightly shorter average lifespan. Still, both animals are not short-term or “starter” pets, if there is such a thing. In fact, they can live as long as some dogs. 

Rabbits and Guinea pigs may be smaller creatures, but they take considerable commitment. If your family is considering either of these pets, it’s important to know you’re ready. As PeTA says, “Caring for a small animal is a big commitment.”

 If your family wants to bring home naturally short-lived, try a goldfish. 

Which is a Better Pet for a Child – a Rabbit or a Guinea Pig?

As previously mentioned, there really is no such thing as a “starter” pet. If your family is ready to take the plunge, it’s a great idea to consider who is in your household and how they might interact with your new pet. And it’s also important to know an animal’s temperament, to make sure it’s a good and safe fit for everyone in your home.

How Do Rabbits and Children Get Along?

guinea-pig-or-rabbit-for-child

If they are always supervised , children and rabbits can get along very well. Rabbits tend to be skittish and easily frightened. This is natural behavior that might be attributed to a rabbit’s low position on the food chain, according to the Sacramento House Rabbit Society. Keeping that in mind might help you understand why they tend to hurry off when hands, even tiny ones, come near.

Keeping in mind a rabbit’s natural tendency to be a little afraid, you should know which behaviors indicate that your pet may be feeling fearful. According to the Anti-Cruelty Society, here are some warning signs that your bunny is fearful and/or irritated: 

  • Growling – The rabbit might be feeling aggressive and ready to fight off an attack. Growling can be a precursor to a scratch or bite, so consider it a warning and back off.
  • Thumping – This can mean excitement, but it most often means a rabbit feels in danger.
  • Sitting tensely, with ears back – This is a defensive position. 

When not feeling defensive, rabbits are sweet and docile creatures. Coach your child to be gentle, move slowly and use a quiet “inside voice,” and gradually the rabbit will start to understand it’s in a safe space. 

If your child is still too young to understand how to adjust behavior to make sure the rabbit is safe, it might not be the best time for your family to adopt a rabbit. Alternatively, you can make sure only adults and older children handle the rabbit, while your youngest one gets to be a helper. 

How Do Guinea Pigs and Children Get Along?

guinea-pig-child

When it comes to children and guinea pigs, it’s a very similar story to children and rabbits. If your child is young, you must always supervise the interaction . 

  • Guinea pigs are afraid of sudden movements or loud noises. 
  • Your child must practice a quiet voice and gentle touch with the new pet.
  • Because guinea pigs are small and delicate, stress the need to move slowly and carefully
  • Encourage your child to spend time with your guinea pig – they love the attention!

Guinea pigs are gentle and if you and your child work together to learn how to properly handle your new pet, there is no reason a guinea pig can’t be a great pet for your family. If your child is too young to understand these rules for the new pet, but you are sure you want to adopt a guinea pig, just make sure your child is a helper and a grown-up does all the handling.

Family-friendly Sleep Habits: A Rabbit or a Guinea Pig?

How a Rabbit Sleeps 

Rabbits don’t sleep all night. Fortunately, they don’t sleep all day, either. As crepuscular creatures, they are somewhere in-between. 

Crepuscular creatures are frisky and active in the days around dawn and dusk. So, they won’t necessarily jive with your family’s natural sleep cycle. They might be a little noisy when the kids are trying to fall asleep. But if a little skittering and scattering isn’t enough to keep them awake, your bunny won’t disturb their slumber. 

How a Guinea Pig Sleeps

If rabbits’ crepuscular nature is somewhat in-between what humans are used to, guinea pigs’ sleep habits are something altogether different from how we snooze. 

Guinea pigs aren’t big sleepers; at least they don’t set aside chunks of time for sleep. Instead, they take little “cat naps” throughout the day, separated by bursts of activity. 

Because they don’t sleep through the night, their scurrying sounds might click-clack throughout the night. Probably not enough to keep you awake, though. 

Companionship – Who Needs It?

Both rabbits and guinea pigs are social creatures. They both enjoy the company of their human family members, but they absolutely love having one of their own to hang out with and live with. 

We humans are busy. Even small animals require someone to spend time with when we’re away. Or when we’re home, but not available for play.

It’s not a must to get a bestie for rabbits, but they do tend to thrive and stay healthy when they have the companionship of another.

Guinea pigs on the other hand crave a parter in order to stay healthy. In this post you can read about why getting your guinea pig a pal is a good idea.

If you are introducing a friend to the mix, here are some things to consider:

  • The gender of the two animals
  • Bonding suggestions from experts on bunnybasics.com or Animal Humane Society, for example
  • Make sure you have separate living quarters for each animal until they get used to one another
  • Make sure your existing cage is big enough to accommodate two, once they become inseparable!

How Difficult Is It to Train a Guinea Pig or Rabbit?

rabbit-jumping-trick

Unless you are a very talented and devoted pet trainer, you probably won’t get a guinea pig or rabbit to sit, heel or fetch. But you can train them to respond to simple commands and learn how to shed unwanted behaviors, such as:

  • Chewing
  • Digging
  • Going potty in the wrong places

And you can encourage wanted behaviors, like:

  • Coming over to you when you call their name
  • Going potty in the right places

The way to a rabbit or guinea pig’s heart is through its stomach. Reward them with food they like when they respond to a command. Start associating the desired behavior with positive reinforcement and keep on repeating until you see results. 

The Attention and Maintenance a Small Animal Needs

Bringing an animal into your home, is just the first step toward the relationship that will last years. Once they are part of our family, pets rely on us for their every need, for their health and for their safety. From ensuring they have comfortable living quarters and a proper diet to making sure they get enough exercise, grooming and health care. 

Exercise and Playtime

Rabbits and guinea pigs both need regular exercise and the best way you can help either animal get enough it to make sure they have adequate space. And make time every day to let them out of their cage for some safe, supervised playtime.

You should get in on the action. Rabbits and guinea pigs need interaction with you, too!

Burrowing

Both guinea pigs and rabbits love to dig and burrow! Give them a chance to do it. 

  • Rabbits: straw, hay, paper bedding 
  • Guinea: paper bedding, aspen shavings or fleece

Diet

Rabbits and Guinea pigs both eat a plant-based diet. Rabbits eat roughly twice the amount that guinea pigs do, mostly due to body weight. 

Here are some of their most favorite things – you’re sure to notice some overlap between the two.

Guinea Pigs

  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini
  • Pelleted food 

Find an extensive list of produce and serving amounts here.

We also created this post were you can read about what kind of foods to feed and not to feed your guinea pigs.

Rabbits

  • Hay
  • Vegetables Pellets

For an extensive list and more dietary information, visit here.

Which Animal is More Budget Friendly?

We’ve established that rabbits need more living and exercise space and more food. They also live longer. Over a pet’s lifetime, a rabbit will tend to cost you more than a guinea pig.

The Costs of a Rabbit

It’s not that rabbits are particularly high maintenance. It’s just that taking care of an animal, even a smaller one, costs money on a regular basis. The adoption fee for a pet is just one small deposit on the years of pet ownership to come. 

The Anti-Cruelty Society knows very well how many people are underprepared for animals they take into their lives. To help potential adopters understand the expectations and costs associated with taking care of a pet’s every need, they developed this helpful chart.

First year: about $800   Annually, thereafter: about $400-$500
The types of expenses include:
Initial costs: adoption fee, spaying, habitat, food and water bowls, bed, grooming tools.
– Recurring costs: food, treats, check-ups, health insurance (if available)
– Incidentals: vet bills, toys, repair and replacement of items and supplies, boarding/sitting costs

The Costs of a Guinea Pig

First year: about $300   Annually, thereafter: about $300-400
The types of expenses include:
– Initial costs: adoption fee, spaying, cage, bedding, food and water bowls, bed, grooming tools
– Recurring costs: food, treats, check-ups, health insurance (if available)
– Incidentals: vet bills, toys, repair and replacement of items and supplies, boarding/sitting costs

Grooming Needs

Keeping a Guinea Pig Groomed and Healthy

Small animals have all the same parts and potential issues that big animals do.  Taking care of them and keeping them in tip-top shape requires a very regular regimen. 

Guinea Pig Grooming Basics

BathingGuinea pigs bathe themselves. Like cats, they perform regular cleaning by licking and smoothing their fur. But should your pet find itself in a situation that requires more than that, such as feces stuck deeply into the fur.    When that is the case, proceed with caution and follow your vet’s advice for how to properly bathe your guinea pig. Or find a reputable online source for help. 
Ears, Eyes and NoseExamine your guinea pig’s eyes and nose regularly for unusual discharge. These can be signs of an underlying health issue.    Perform weekly checks of your pet’s ear health. Look for any indication of ear mites, infection or wax buildup, such as: Scratching or rubbing of ears Head shaking Foul smell Dark crusty substance Waxy buildup When you see a buildup in the ears, dip a cotton swab in coconut oil and gently clean away of any visible dirt and wax. 
Hair TrimmingDaily brushing with a soft baby brush or a metal greyhound comb will help remove some of the loose hair and lessen shedding. Daily brushing is especially important for long-haired guinea pigs, less necessary for the short-haired varieties.
TeethRegularly monitor the health of your guinea pig’s teeth, looking for any signs of unhealthy teeth:   Top and bottom incisors of uneven length Signs of deterioration Bumps along the jawline Sores or injuries in the mouth Pet seeming to have difficulty chewing or eating
The Grease GlandAt the end of its tailbone, your guinea pig has a very small gland that secretes an oil for scenting and marking. When the secretions build up, you’ll need to clean the gland:    Break down the wax with something safe and gentle: coconut oil or olive oil work great.  Let the oil sit a bit, then wipe it off with a warm, wet washcloth.  You may have to repeat the process. Or you may have to go for an all-out bath of the rear end. 

Keeping a Rabbit Groomed and Healthy

Rabbits have many of the same needs as guinea pigs, in that you’ll have to keep an eye on many of the same things. From fur brushing to eye and ear checking, you’ll have to pay close attention to the health and appearance of your bunny to keep him healthy and happy. 

Bunny Grooming Basics

Fur brushingAt least twice a week to keep the rabbit clean and groomed.   Remove excess fur to help deter furballs, which can cause health problems. Matted hair may be too difficult to brush and might need to be shaved.
Mite, fleas or parasite checkWhile you’re brushing, keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms. Contact your vet at the first questionable sign. 
Eyes and earsKeep clear of fur and hay or other debris, by cleaning up with a moistened cotton swab.
NailsTrim monthly, either at home or at the vet’s office.
Hind areasCheck for any urine or droppings stuck in fur. Clean with tissue or baby wipes. 
Scent glandsLocated under the chin, and near the anus. If the gland near the anus gets blocked, it should be cleaned with a cotton swab dipped in coconut oil. 
FeetLook for any signs of injury or issue. 

The Perfect Pet

There is no perfect pet, there is only the pet that is perfect for you and your family. Before adopting, the best thing to do is to research as much as possible about your options. By learning as much as you can, you may get a better idea of how a new animal will fit into your family.

You may also consider fostering an animal to see what it’s like to take care of its every need. Taking time out to explore your options and consider the impact of a furry family member will have on your household is a responsible and potentially rewarding exercise. 

In addition to the responsibility you’ll practice for, you’ll also find out a lot about the fun and love a rabbit or guinea pig can bring to your home.

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