Is the Guinea Pig or Rabbit the Right Pet for You?

Which of these small mammals makes the best pet – a rabbit or a guinea pig? Well, this is a trick question because both are fantastic animals and make great pets! One might fit your family and lifestyle better, but both make a great family member.

Let’s look at the different attributes, needs and temperaments of the rabbit and guinea pig to see which critter will fit best into your home, expectations and lifestyle.

First of all, children of all ages should always be supervised when handling, playing, and caring for either cavies or rabbits.

Also, it is a common misconception that rabbits, and guineas are low maintenance pets.  They are not – they require significant attention – on a daily basis – so be certain you understand this before you bring one into your home.

Unless you are thinking about getting a tiny breed of rabbit, one obvious difference between a cavy and a bunny is their size.

Guinea pigs are rodents that are smaller and when well cared for have life spans of anywhere from 5 to 8 years. However, rabbits are lagomorphs that can live more than 12 years when they are fed the right diet and kept in a great environment. Each has daily needs such as a specific diet (including fresh food and water), routine cleaning of their living quarters, and daily play time away from their enclosures.

While guinea pigs and rabbits share several traits in common, such as both have continuously growing teeth (open rooted) making availability of various hard chew toys and snacks an absolute necessity, they have a few significant differences.

Space Requirements

According to the House Rabbit Society, “one guideline to go by is at least 8 square feet of enclosure space combined with at least at least 24 square feet of exercise space, for 1-2 rabbits, in which the rabbit(s) can run and play at least 5 hours per day.” ​In summation, the cage should be at least five times his size when stretched out; bigger is better!

The Merck veterinary manual recommends that 7 square feet of space be provided for a single guinea pig (for example, a cage 42 by 24 inches [106 by 61 centimeters]). An additional 2 to 4 square feet (0.6 to 1.2 square meters) of floor space should be provided for each additional guinea pig and a cage height of 18 inches (46 centimeters) is desirable.

Both animals are herbivores which means feeding them is not an expensive proposition.

They will thrive on a produce-based diet that includes grasses, unlimited amounts of timothy hay, and certain vegetables and fruit. Both should be provided an extruded/pelleted diet made specifically for their species.

Guinea pigs are one of the few animals, besides humans, that must have daily vitamin C in their diet. The high quality extruded/pelleted guinea pig diets have stabilized vitamin C in them, but it never hurts to give them fresh bell peppers daily as a vitamin C supplement.

Another variation between the two pets is who should handle them. Guinea pigs are a little more fragile than rabbits, and so are more suitable for older children. Rabbits can be more difficult to handle. Younger children under constant adult supervision can handle a lot of different rabbit breeds, although the Dutch variety is most placid and most popular option.

Sleepy rabbits??

Another difference is in their sleep patterns. Bunnies need to sleep for up to 8 hours straight, whereas cavies like to nap periodically for around 4 hours throughout the day and night, often sleeping with their eyes open to keep a watch out for any predators.


Both can be quite affectionate and friendly when socialized and handled properly.

These two species are generally social and enjoy the company of others of their kind and well-behaved humans.  Very importantly – both species are very fertile, so the separation of the sexes is a wise idea!

It is not a good idea to keep rabbits and guinea pigs together as they may not get along with each other and they also have different food requirements.

Guinea pigs are known for a unique behavior referred to as “popcorning” which involves an excited jumping up and down. Watching groups of cavies’ popcorn together is quite an entertaining experience. In addition, cavies are vocal little beings, with a wide range of squeaks and


Unlike guinea pigs, rabbits are on the quieter side!

They are known for their intelligence and some rabbits are able to learn tricks and respond to their names.  Many rabbits can also be litter box trained to the delight of their owners!!

Both critters like a cool temperature between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit as the ideal temperature range and prefer less humid conditions.

What about spa treatments?

While both guinea pigs and rabbits can be relied upon to groom themselves, they do enjoy being brushed. Brushing is also a good time to check your little friend for signs of disease or unwanted pests. Plus, it’s a great way to bond.

Your guinea pig and rabbit can be groomed with a soft-backed brush, while hairless guinea pigs can be rubbed with a bit of lotion to keep the skin soft. Nails should be clipped about once a month.

There’s no denying that both rabbits and guinea pigs make wonderful pets and have done so for decades. The good news is we know how to care for them, about their diet and the sort of environment they need to live in, so they do well and thrive.  So…. Choose wisely – carefully consider which one of these great little pets will fit into your home, family and lifestyle – then find a reputable source such as a pet store or breeder and plan to spend the next many years with your new best friend!!

Meet Petland’s Consulting Veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Edling, DVM, MSpVM, MPH:
Dr. Edling received his BS in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1981 and his degree in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Colorado State University. He previously served as Vice President of Veterinary Medicine for Petco and was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. In addition, Dr. Edling comple

ted the American Board of Veterinary Practitioner’s residency program for Companion and Wild Avian Medicine and Surgery, at North Carolina State University, where he also received his Master in Specialized Veterinary Medicine (MSpVM) in 2001. In 2011, Dr. Edling completed the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Johns Hopkins University. As a veterinarian, Dr. Edling works closely with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV).

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