Which makes a better pet — a boar or a sow?

29 Aug

When people come to me looking for a pet cavy, this is usually one of the first three questions I am asked. And the short answer is always the same — I, personally, prefer boars.

The long answer, the one where you actually figure out what works better for you, is a little more involved. To make a decision, you have to weight the pros and cons of both genders.

In general, it is my experience that male cavies are more outgoing than females. Or, more accurately, the males just aren’t quite as shy as the females. This essentially means two things for your pet’s personality — the shy cavy is going to spend more time hiding, and won’t be as interested in coming out of its pen or exploring. It will take longer for a shy cavy to warm up to you and become tame. So a female cavy may be slow to trust and interact with humans, while a male cavy will be more quick to learn to whistle at its owners, to allow itself to be picked up without running away, or even to allow itself to be handled at all.

As an additional bonus, the males do tend to live longer than females.

But while these traits make the males more desirable pets from my point of view, there are some disadvantages to owning males. In my experience, the males can be somewhat less interested in keeping house, which may result in a messier cage from time to time. But the real difference is the level of aggression — in general, male cavies are much more aggressive than females. This may affect your decision if you, for example, plan to keep more than one cavy, because male cavies are much more likely to fight one another over territorial disputes. Females, on the other hand, are highly social and may even fail to thrive if kept solitary. Exceptionally finicky or aggressive males may be slightly prone to biting, although it is rare for any cavy to bite a human. And it is worth noting that a timid female, if frightened, is just as likely to bite as an angry male.

Please note that these are all generalities, based on my personal experience with raising cavies. There are always exceptions. I have had shy, timid boars I never could convince to allow me to handle them. On the other hand, I’ve had boars so outgoing I had to sell them because I couldn’t convince them to stop exploring long enough to comb their long hair, and at least one so friendly he insisted I pet his nose every time I walked passed his pen. I’ve seen a similar spectrum with the sows. My first guinea pig was a sow, and she would happily fall asleep in bed with me (though it did take several months to gain her trust). And I’ve had sows so aggressive I had to house them alone to keep them from attacking other cavies — one such sow once left a boar with a crosshatch of bite marks down his back.

In my opinion, it comes down to numbers, and which challenges you’d rather cope with. If you only want to have one cavy, go with a male. It’s a better situation for the animal. If you plan to get more than one, then ask yourself this: would you rather get females and spend the first several months building trust with your new pet, or would you rather get a more outgoing set of males and risk that they might fight among themselves and need to be housed separately for their own well-being?

From my perspective, there is one hard-and-fast rule about picking the gender of your new pet. Unless you seriously intend to breed cavies for show, sale or other purposes, I would never recommend buying cavies of both genders. The risk is simply too great — not because cavies are exceptional about reproduction, but because they struggle with reproduction. In the off chance your sow does become pregnant, there is a roughly 50 percent chance childbirth will kill her. So for the sake of your future pet, please make decisions about breeding carefully, or keep pets of one gender or the other.

For more information on choosing cavies as pets, please see the following additional articles:

Deciding whether a cavy is the right pet for you

Guinea pig personalities: does breed make a difference?

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