Aren’t They Frightened?

Roary, Dandy, and Coco

Almost the first question we get when people learn we have both cats and guinea pigs is “Aren’t the guinea pigs frightened of the cats?” 

There are variations to how this question is asked: “How do the cats and guinea pigs get along?”  “Don’t the cats try to get at the guinea pigs?”

The answer is both very simple and very complex.  The simple version is “No, the guinea pigs aren’t frightened of the cats.  They all grew up together, and each thinks of the other as part of the family.”

The complex answer is, “But, of course, we don’t let the cats play with the guinea pigs, because they’d hurt them, even if they didn’t mean to do so.  We don’t let the adult cats have unsupervised play with kittens for the same reason.  Cats, after all, are pointy on five of their six endpoints.  Adult cats, as any cat owner who has tried to pill or groom an unwilling cat, can really pack a wallop.”

But, the truth is, the guinea pigs aren’t afraid of the cats.  Our cats are indoor only but—before our local weather went from too windy to extra hot, without a break—in order to give the guinea pigs a chance to stretch, we would put them in an outdoor, ground level hutch.

(They now have the same style hutch, but indoors, on a rolling tray.  It’s very posh.)

One day I watched a neighbor’s outdoor cat very carefully stalk up to the hutch, clearly expecting to intimidate the little rodents within.  Instead, it was the cat who ended up intimidated because the guinea pigs came happily over to the side to say “Hi!  Who are you?  We have cats of our own.  We like cats.”

I’ve also watched the guinea pigs very carefully push out a long blade of grass to a waiting cat.  I have no idea how the guinea pig knows that the cat wants the grass, but this has happened more than once, so it wasn’t coincidence.

Two of our three currents cats have a very unusual relationship with the guinea pigs.  Because Mei-Ling was extra shy, in order to socialize her, we ended up bringing in the spare guinea pig hutch and keeping her in there.  She lived in that space (which was roomier than the cat hutches at the shelter) for her first ten days with us.  Rather than viewing the hutch as a prison, she nominated herself an honorary guinea pig.

Now, every evening, when we move the guinea pigs from their hutch to their nighttime quarters, Mei-Ling provides an escort.  She never tries to get in with the guinea pigs or to take advantage of the lid being open to “get at them.”  She simply has made up her mind that they deserve an honor guard.

Roary, our medical foster (now firmly a member of the household), spent his first several months at least part-time in the spare hutch, because he was not supposed to stress surgical sites by too much running and jumping.  He also seems to view the guinea pigs as rather odd cats, and quickly joined Mei-Ling on escort duty.

But even Persephone, who has a hair trigger temper and never resided in a guinea pig hutch, never bothers the guinea pigs.  She likes sleeping on top of the hutch.  Maybe she finds the sound of them trotting about and discussing life relaxing.

So there you are!  A FAQ that has nothing to do with writing.  Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about writing or about the background patter of the world in which I do my work.  Meanwhile, I’m off to write!

7 Responses to “Aren’t They Frightened?”

  1. pauliwarren Says:

    this was delghtful!

  2. James Mendur Says:

    As someone who has lived in cities mu whole life (or at least an apartment complex in a suburb, as now), I’m used to having people around at all times. Sometimes, noisy, annoying people.
    Your home sounds fairly well away from other people, with nary a mention of neighbors, neighbors’ kids, the wannabe rock band in the garage three doors down, the local town activities, or any of the stuff I’m used to. And you grew up in a city, right? What was it like adjusting to a more quiet living space?

    • janelindskold Says:

      Actually, it’s the reverse. I live in the city of Albuquerque in a subdivision. However, after living in house w/an active family, an apartment in the Bronx, having my own house with a yard that I share w/just one person is terrific.

  3. Mar Hammitt-McDonald Says:

    Jane, this is terrific information to know! A few years ago, a friend had asked me if I could adopt her granddaughter’s guinea pig, but at the time, I was concerned that she would be terrified to be surrounded by predators. If another opportunity to adopt a guinea pig presents itself to me, I’ll give it more thought. 🙂

    • janelindskold Says:

      Just make sure the guinea pig feels secure, and the cats are pouncing. Ours grew up together, and that makes a difference. Guinea pigs are VERY social, and really need a companion. Another guinea pig is ideal, but at least keep a guinea pig where it gets human contact. Tucked in a bedroom where it only gets sporadic contact leads to a sad animal rather than a socially bouncy one!

  4. Harried Harry Says:

    Your discussion of your household is a treasure. Some people are afraid to have pets but they miss all the wonders of sharing the pets will provide. As a kid I didn’t want a pet since I would have needed to “share” with my 12 siblings. When I went in the Army after high school, my dad got a dog and treasured him till the dog passed. After I finished college and then got married, my wife wanted a dog so we got one. We’ve had pets ever since. Our kids are grown and two live in other states, which means our pets help us keep our sanity.

    Stay cool everyone, the heat has come!

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