Guinea Pigs or Rabbits: What’s The Best Small Pet?

For many years both rabbits and guinea pigs have been popular children’s pets. However, like anything else, each option has both its strengths and its weaknesses, and some parents are surprised by what they discover after bringing one (or more) of these animals home.

The aim of this article is therefore to provide further details on the guinea pigs vs rabbits argument, in order to help you as a parent make a more informed decision about which pet is likely to be most suitable for your child. In this way, you can feel more confident that you’re bringing home a pet that will quickly become an important and valued member of the family, rather than a thorn in your side.

Rabbits

Rabbits can be strong animals, and guinea pigs can be better for smaller children.

Whether it’s Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Fiver from Watership Down or Bug Bunny, rabbits are popular characters in the media, and this helps to boost their appeal in the eyes of children. But all is not necessarily what it seems, and many first-time rabbit-owners find themselves taken by surprise by a number of factors.

For one, many rabbits grow to a considerable size and have sharp claws, which can make it difficult for children to handle their rabbit safely. A large adult size can also mean expensive accommodation is required due to the size of the hutch necessary for such an animal. This means that it’s important to select a suitable breed of rabbit that won’t grow too large – even at maturity. Examples of suitable smaller breeds might include Netherland dwarfs and Dutch rabbits with their white saddle.

The next thing you need to know about rabbits is that the males can become aggressive with age. This most certainly isn’t the case every time, but as males mature they may not only fight with their own kind, but can also inflict damage on their keeper. For this reason, female rabbits normally make more even-tempered pets, and so are more suitable for children.

Lastly, be aware that rabbits can have a relatively long life span when compared with other small furry pets. A well cared-for rabbit may live to a decade or even more, so if you find yourself with an animal that your child dislikes you may be cleaning it and grooming it yourself for an awfully long time. Taking the time to choose the right rabbit to begin with is therefore essential.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs can make fantastic pets for people of all ages.

Guinea pigs are typically very docile indeed and are far less likely to scratch, kick or nip than rabbits. This helps to make them easier to handle, and of course they only grow to a very reasonable size which makes housing them much easier. They also have a considerably shorter lifespan of 4-5 years, which means far fewer responsibilities if and when your children tire of their new pet.

So far, so good. So what are the downsides of guinea pigs? For one, guinea pigs can be quite skittish and move quite quickly. When it comes to getting your guinea out for handling, it is possible to spend a few minutes chasing the animal around its cage before you successfully make contact.

For you, as an adult, this is no major hardship, and guinea pigs are so docile you’re unlikely to ever be bitten when trying to catch your guinea pigs. Children, on the other hand, can find this process rather nerve-wracking, as the sudden movements take them by surprise. In many cases, therefore, when it comes to handling you will likely have to catch the guinea pig and hand it over to your child.

The other potential downside to guinea pigs is that they are generally not as hardy as rabbits. Coming from another country, guinea pigs can struggle to deal with cold, damp Britain and, as a result, may end up with coughs and colds during the winter months.

While a rabbit, therefore, might be perfectly happy in a secure hutch with plenty of straw for a bed over winter, you may find that your guinea pig struggles with these conditions. Generally speaking it is kinder to bring the hutch in out of the worst weather, either bringing it directly into your home, or at worst into a garage or shed to cut down on the wind and rain your pets are exposed to.

Can you keep rabbits and guinea pigs together?

It’s recommended that you don’t keep rabbits and guinea pigs together. The two animals together do not make an ideal combination mainly because:

  • they have different needs, especially when it comes to dietary requirements
  • rabbits may injure guinea pigs by thumping them, both intentionally and unintentionally, with their strong back legs (What does it mean when rabbits thump?)
  • they both behave and communicate in very different ways and this can cause friction when being kept together
  • rabbits can pass on Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is a common cause of respiratory disease in guinea pigs

The best companion for a rabbit is another friendly rabbit and the best mate for a guinea pig is another friendly guinea pig.

Find out more about handling guinea pigs and if you’re considering taking your pet abroad, find out how we can help with pet travel.