Guinea pigs are a classic pet, a little bundle of adorableness that’s perfect for children and parents looking for a low-risk first pet. Ferrets, by contrast, are a more exotic pet that’s on the long and larger side and requires a lot of specialty care.
If you think that those sound as if they are extreme opposites, you would be right. If you think that this might be a case of opposites attracting, you would be wrong.
To say that guinea pigs and ferrets don’t get along and putting them together is a recipe for disaster is an understatement. Is there any way in which these opposites and enemies can be made to get along? And is it even safe to try?
Let’s take a look at why you shouldn’t put guinea pigs and ferrets together and what, if anything, you can do about it.
Reason #1: Predator/Prey Situation
The first, biggest, and most obvious reason why guinea pigs and ferrets are a bad mix is the fact that as far as ferrets are concerned, guinea pigs are nothing but a big fat furry dinner for them.
Whatever other “relationship issues” might exist between animals, it’s fair to say that when one side wants to devour the other, it can get in the way of any socialization or trust exercises you might try.
Guinea pigs, by contrast, are classic herbivores. Give them some greens, guinea pig pellets, and other guinea pig- and hamster-friendly food, and they’re quite happy. What’s more, guinea pigs don’t have the kind of big sharp teeth that a ferret has for eating prey.
All of this is more than enough to leave your guinea pig understandably apprehensive at the idea of sharing space with a creature that sees them, contrary to the sharks and fish in Finding Nemo, as food, not friends.
Reason #2: Guinea Pigs Fight Back
That being said, it isn’t as though guinea pigs are entirely defenseless, either. Anyone who has ever had a guinea pig knows that, despite their outward appearance of a docile flat ball of fluff, their teeth and claws can be surprisingly sharp.
What does that matter when ferrets already have sharp teeth and claws themselves? Isn’t it good that the guinea pig can defend itself? Of course it is, but for the sake of your ferret, you don’t want it to come to that. It is bad enough to imagine losing one pet, but two pets would be unbearable.
Because yes, guinea pigs can deal ferrets mortal wounds while defending themselves from attack. Their teeth and claws are sharp enough to leave huge gashes in the ferret’s side, which can prove too much for them to survive.
Reason #3: Quick Movement Issues
Maybe you think that despite the glaring predator/prey issue and the fact that guinea pigs can put up a surprisingly decent defense, you can still have them hang out together under close supervision.
If the ferret comes anywhere close to the guinea pig, you’ll simply move the ferret back or snatch the guinea pig away from harm. Simple, right?
Well, not really. Both of these animals are very quick, which means that you’d be lucky to get one, let alone both, in an instance where they are both moving fast — and when a guinea pig’s running for its life and the ferret for its dinner, they will be booking it.
You’re simply not going to be able to prevent either the ferret catching the guinea pig or the guinea pig escaping to who knows where.
Reason #4: Odor Issues
If that weren’t bad enough, there’s also the fact that ferrets aren’t exactly the cleanest animals to keep.
Guinea pigs can typically be trained to go to the bathroom in a little corner of their cage. While the odiousness of their leavings can vary, they are typically nothing compared to ferrets.
Why does that matter? Even if you’re fine with a potentially odiferous ferret running around, your guinea pig might well wrinkle its nose at the idea, and when mammals are turned off by something’s scent, they typically react badly.
The predator/prey situation already makes this pairing a tense one, and then you add to that odor issues that could provoke the guinea pig into (rightly) thinking your ferret isn’t the kind of creature it should be hanging around with.
On the flip side, your ferret may be able to sniff out your guinea pig, tracking it through the home or finding its cage and terrorizing it there.
Reason #5: Personality Issues
Then there’s the fact that guinea pigs and ferrets simply have very different personality types. Of course, there is plenty of variation among both species, with some guinea pigs and ferrets being more hyperactive or aloof.
That said, on average, guinea pigs tend to be a lot more sociable than ferrets, who are not as naturally social, especially with humans.
Why does that matter? You already have enough problems keeping these two together without a clash of personalities. The last thing you need is for those personality issues to exacerbate all those other problems with potentially disastrous results.
For example, your guinea pig may want to play with you only for your ferret to suddenly become territorial. It may not be social, but it already scents food in the area and now sees this furry little snack is also getting your attention instead of them. What do you think they might do?
Can You Do Anything About it?
Make no mistake — guinea pigs and ferrets are not meant to be together. Under normal circumstances, you absolutely should not keep the two together. If you need to do so, however, is there any way you might be able to beat the odds and keep these natural enemies in the same space?
A lot of that has to do with how big that space is. Unless you want your guinea pig to your snack or your ferret to suffer a horribly slashed coat, that “space” should under no circumstances be the same cage or even the same room.
If you are going to keep these animals in the same home, they need to be in separate cages and, ideally, as far away from one another as possible. The less consciousness they have of one another’s existence, the better.
For example, you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure the two animals don’t scent one another. You don’t want the guinea pig disturbed by the ferret’s strange scent or the ferret getting dinner ideas about your guinea pig.
If you need to keep the two in the same room, make sure the cages are far apart. Always make sure that the ferret is well fed so it doesn’t take chances due to hunger and lunge towards the guinea pig’s cage.
You probably shouldn’t have them both out of their cages at the same time, but if you do, make sure that you hold both at all times. If that sounds like a lot to handle, you’re right, which is why you’ll probably want another set of hands to make sure that both the ferret and guinea pig are held fast so neither can escape.
Both ferrets and guinea pigs can be great pets, but are natural enemies that shouldn’t mix.