Rabbits and guinea pigs are both small, cute animals that people think of as alternatives to cats and dogs. Rabbits and guinea pigs have a lot in common, but they are by no means the same. These two types of pets have specialized care requirements that you’ll need to take into account before you decide which one to introduce into your home.
In general, rabbits are more social with humans and require a lot more space. Guinea pigs do much better with at least one partner and tend to be calmer and timider. They are both herbivores with similar diets and require a lot of time to exercise and play.
Neither rabbits nor guinea pigs are the low-maintenance pets that most people expect when bringing them home. It’s important to learn about the common behaviors and care requirements of both types of pets before making your decision. This way you can pick the pet that better matches your lifestyle.
Rabbit care compared to guinea pig care
Rabbits and guinea pigs are put into the same general category of animals so people tend to think their behavior and care are exactly the same. To be fair, rabbits and guinea pigs do have a lot in common. However, they do have some distinct differences that can make all the difference when choosing the right pet for you.
The similarities between rabbits and guinea pigs
The overall care for rabbits and guinea pigs is quite similar. They both have plant-based diets, they have similar behaviors, and both are very social species. The amount of time you put into caring for a rabbit is very similar to what a guinea pig will require.
1. Rabbits and guinea pigs are both small prey animals
Because rabbits and guinea pigs are small prey animals, they will naturally be a lot more skittish than other common household pets. Until they get to know you better, they will have the instinct to run and hide to avoid being caught. You can absolutely have a close bond with either of these species, but it will take a lot of time to really gain their trust.
2. Rabbits and guinea pigs have specialized diets
Rabbits and guinea pigs both have sensitive digestive systems. They need a very specific diet in order to maintain their health over the long term. The exact proportions of food in their diet will differ between rabbits and guinea pigs, but both need access to hay (such as timothy hay) and both will require an assortment of fresh leafy vegetables on a daily basis.
3. Rabbits and guinea pigs need to see a special veterinarian
Rabbits and guinea pigs cannot be brought to the same vet as a cat or dog. Instead, they need to see a veterinarian who has specialized knowledge and experience working with small animals. Typically this will be called a small animal veterinarian or an exotic animal veterinarian.
If you are looking for a veterinarian near you, I recommend checking out the House Rabbit Society’s vet listing page. You can find veterinarians suitable for small animals in your state. If you are based in the UK The Rabbit Welfare Association has a similar vet listing you can use.
4. Rabbits and guinea pigs have similar behaviors
Rabbit and guinea pig behavior is not exactly the same. However, there are a lot of similarities between the two. For example, they both do a cute hop when they are happy. For guinea pigs, this is called popcorning, while for rabbits, it’s called a binky.
You’ll also notice that many of their shy behaviors are quite similar as they tentatively approach new objects and sniff them. Rabbits are a little easier to understand because they have larger ears that express a lot of emotion that you don’t see in guinea pigs. However, guinea pigs are more vocal and you can often tell how they feel by listening to their squeaks.
5. Rabbits and guinea pigs need daily exercise and playtime
Neither rabbits nor guinea pigs should be left in a cage all day long. They need time in a large area to play and get a healthy amount of exercise. They also both need daily social interaction and overall require a lot of attention to keep them happy.
6. Rabbits and guinea pigs don’t like to be handled
As a general rule, rabbits and guinea pigs are both pets that don’t like to be held. This is contrary to what many people think since they expect small animals to be cuddly and easily picked up. Instead, both would prefer if you interacting with them when all four feet are on the ground.
7. Rabbits and guinea pigs should be housed indoors
Traditionally, rabbits were housed outdoors in hutches. But in the past decades, we have come to realize that pet rabbits can live safer and healthier lives if we keep them as indoor pets. Guinea pigs, similarly, should be kept in indoor enclosures to keep them safe from outdoor predators and weather conditions.
8. Rabbits and guinea pigs are fragile animals
Compared to cats and dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs need to be handled a lot more gently. If they are held incorrectly, there is a chance they could be accidentally injured with broken bones. In serious cases, they can even become paralyzed if they are handled too roughly.
9. Rabbits and guinea pigs are social species
Rabbits and guinea pigs both come from species that live in groups. As pets, they do best if you can keep them with a friend of their own species. If that’s not possible, you’ll need to give your pet a lot of extra attention to make sure they receive as much socialization as possible.
10. Neither are great pets for young children
Because both types of pets are fragile and require specialized care, they are not great choices to give to a child. If there are children in the household, make sure an adult is primarily responsible for your new pet’s care and interactions with children are supervised to prevent injury.
The differences between rabbits and guinea pigs
While rabbits and guinea pigs have a lot in common, they also have some major differences in their care that you need to take into consideration before deciding which pet is right for you. You’ll need to plan out the amount of space you can give your pet and temper your expectations about their overall cleanliness.
1. Rabbits have a longer lifespan
Both rabbits and guinea pigs live longer than you probably think, but they also differ from each other. Depending on the breed, most rabbits have an expected lifespan of 8-10 years. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, have an expected lifespan of 5-7. In both cases, you’ll need to make sure you plan to care for your new pet for many years, but it is a slightly longer commitment for pet rabbits.
2. Rabbits are quiet
While rabbits are capable of making several different vocalizations, their noises are so soft that you’ll barely be able to hear them. Rabbits will mostly communicate using their body language, making them very quiet pets to have.
Guinea pigs can make a number of different squeaks and trills depending on how they feel. They’ll squeak excitedly when they are happy and give a nervous trill when they are scared. Depending on how your guinea pig is feeling, they can actually be quite loud.
3. Rabbits are larger than guinea pigs
Most people don’t realize how large rabbits get. Even a dwarf rabbit will typically reach 3 or 4 pounds which most breeds weigh around 5 or 6 pounds when they are full grown. There are even some giant breeds of rabbits that can reach 10 pounds or even more!
In contrast, guinea pigs are much smaller. On average, they will weigh anywhere from 1-3 pounds, but most of the guinea pigs that I interact with at the animal rescue center are only 1 or 2 pounds.
4. Rabbits need more space
Because of their larger size, rabbits also need a lot more space than guinea pigs. Not only do they need a very large enclosure (I recommend using an ex-pen instead of a cage), but they also need a whole room of space to exercise every day. Guinea pigs also need more space than people expect, but generally, a good-sized enclosure for a rabbit would be a good-sized exercise area for a guinea pig.
5. It’s easier to litter train a rabbit
It’s not completely impossible to litter train a guinea pig, but they do not take to it nearly as easily as rabbits, and some will never be litter trained. Rabbits are not as easy to litter train as cats, but most can learn to use their box with a little extra encouragement, especially if they have been spayed or neutered.
6. It’s easier to socialize a rabbit
Both rabbits and guinea pigs tend to be skittish animals, but rabbits are usually the friendlier of the two. I work with both rabbits and guinea pigs at my local animal shelter and it takes a lot less time and effort to gain the trust of a rabbit compared with a guinea pig. Rabbits will typically start to trust me by the end of 1 or 2 socialization sessions, while it can take several weeks before guinea pigs feel comfortable coming out of hiding.
7. Guinea pigs nibble on fingers
Guinea pigs definitely nibble more than rabbits do. If they see your finger, they’ll usually try to nibble on it to see if it’s food. This isn’t a serious or aggressive bite, but it can pinch a little. On the other hand, most rabbits will sniff your finger to determine if it’s food. There will be a select handful of rabbits who nibble on fingers, but most will not.
8. Rabbits are more likely to get aggressive
While they may not be as big nibblers as guinea pigs, rabbits are more likely to get aggressive and bite. This isn’t to say that all rabbits will bite you, but it’s not uncommon for a rabbit who gets scared or territorial to lash out and swipe with their claws or teeth. I’ve never been seriously bitten by an aggressive guinea pig, but I’ve had 5 or 6 bites from rabbits that were bad enough to cause bleeding.
(As an aside, rabbit bites may hurt, but they are not likely to be serious or cause an infection)
9. Rabbits smell less
Both rabbits and guinea pigs are pretty good with their self-grooming habits and don’t need baths. However, since rabbits tend to have better litter box habits, they also end up smelling less. Even when cleaning out the enclosures of rabbits who haven’t been litter trained yet, I can smell a distinct difference between guinea pigs and rabbits. In my opinion, rabbit poop is also less gross than guinea pig poop. It’s not squishy at all and has pretty much no distinct smell to it.
10. Rabbits need to be spayed or neutered
It is not common practice to neuter guinea pigs, while it’s considered pretty much essential for rabbits. In rabbits, neutering can reduce aggressive and territorial behavior (such as urine spraying), and it can prevent common causes of cancer. It’s especially necessary to get a female rabbit spayed because they have a high chance of getting uterine cancer. Learn more about preparing for a spay or neuter surgery.
Deciding which pet is right for you
Now that you have an idea of what to expect from either pet, it’s time to decide if a rabbit or a guinea pig is the right pet for you. Remember, in both cases you will need to give them a lot of space and attention. If you don’t have time right now, you can always wait until later in life before adopting your small animal.
When should you get a rabbit
Rabbits are better if you want a quiet household and have a lot of space available. They can also be great if you want a companion pet since rabbits can live cage-free and live with you similar to the way cats and dogs do.
What to consider before getting a rabbit:
- Rabbits can be free roam. They don’t need to be kept in a cage, so once they are litter trained you can allow them to have free reign of your house and spend more time with you.
- You can rabbit-proof your home. Rabbits like to chew on cords, furniture, and baseboards. You’ll need to take the time to go through your home and rabbit-proof to keep your new bunny out of trouble.
- You want a companion pet. Rabbits are easier to socialize and bond with people. If you want a companion pet but can’t get a cat or a dog, rabbits are a great choice for you.
- You want a quiet pet. Rabbits will sometimes thump loudly when they are scared, but otherwise, they are very quiet pets.
- You like a cooler home. Rabbits prefer temperatures in the lower 60ºF. While a cool home isn’t completely necessary, pet rabbits will be happier if you’re the kind of person who keeps the temperature on the lower side.
When should you get a guinea pig
In general, guinea pigs are better pets for people who have less space available but still want a social pet. If you give them enough time, they can be a very friendly and lovable addition to your home.
What to consider before getting a guinea pig:
- If you are living in a small space. You can set aside an area of your apartment or room for your guinea pig to live, and not need to worry about making the entire place into a safe space for your new pet.
- You want a non-aggressive pet. Guinea pigs are rarely aggressive, so you won’t need to worry about getting bitten if they get territorial.
- You don’t want fur everywhere. Guinea pigs shed a whole lot less than rabbits. If you don’t want fur getting on everything, guinea pigs might be the better choice for you.
- You want to adopt a pair. It’s a lot more common to find guinea pigs in pairs at an animal shelter than it is to find rabbits in pairs. This means you won’t have to go through the stressful process of bonding a second pig.
Can you keep rabbits and guinea pigs together as pets?
It used to be more commonplace for rabbits to be kept together with guinea pigs. Since neutering rabbits used to be a more dangerous procedure, it was considered normal to bond them with a guinea pig for a companion instead of another rabbit. However, this has largely fallen out of practice, and in general is not advised.
The procedure for spaying and neutering rabbits is much safer now than it used to be, so it’s easier to give them a companion of their own species. There is also the problem of territorial behavior. Rabbits would sometimes attack the other guinea pigs and injure them.
Why rabbits and other guinea pigs should not be kept as companions:
- They have different nutritional requirements in their diets and should eat each other’s food.
- Rabbits may intentionally or unintentionally injure the guinea pig.
- Some diseases can be passed from rabbits to guinea pigs.
- The body language of rabbits and guinea pigs are different enough that it will be difficult for the animals to communicate with each other.
Is supervised playtime okay
Before allowing your rabbit and guinea pig to spend time together, I would see how they interact with a fence separating them. It is possible for the two to be friends and interact peacefully, but rabbits can get aggressive and you don’t want to risk injury. Also if your rabbit is sick or has ever had snuffles, I recommend keeping them away from the guinea pig, because they can pass on the sickness and it is usually more severe in guinea pigs.
- “Guinea Pig Housing.” The Humane Society. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/guinea-pig-housing.
- “Guinea Pigs: The Right Pet For You?” The Humane Society. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/guinea-pigs-right-pet-you.
- “Is a Rabbit the Right Pet For You?” The Humane Society. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/rabbit-right-pet-you.