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Have More Fun With Your Guinea Pigs Through Environmental Enrichment

Adopt a Pet Animal Welfare Pet Care Pets Pet Health Animals Posted Jun 23, 2020
Whether during the pandemic or as part of a more usual weekly routine, time at home with your guinea pigs is an invaluable opportunity for you all to have fun, and to prepare them for fun filled times while you are out-and-about. Environmental enrichment is key to this fun!

Environmental enrichment involves providing stimuli for your guinea pigs, that either directly or indirectly engages them, mentally and/or physically. You too can be part of this – actually, this engagement has psychological benefits for you too!

Guinea pigs need regular exercise and environmental enrichment for their physical and psychological welfare. Below, we revisit some of these previously shared ways to promote enrichment, and also offer additional ideas!

1. Teach your guinea pigs new skills

Guinea pigs, like all animals have the ability to learn. They are particularly motivated by food, and with many healthy forms of treats on the market, this interest in food can be used to motivate and reward changes in their behaviour based on cues from you. For example, you may be able to teach your guinea pigs to raise for a treat on the command of ‘up’, by consistently reinforcing with a treat. Even without food you may be able to teach your guinea pigs to be alert to their name and accept a chin rub. It’s important that only POSITIVE reinforcement is used with your pigs: ignore undesired behaviour, but reward desired behaviour. Using negative reinforcement or punishment is never recommended.

guinea pig on someone's lap

2. Enjoy 'lap time'

Not all, but many guinea pigs have demonstrated to their adoring owners that they will sit on their owners’ laps to be patted – pleasing owners and guinea pigs alike. Hint: look for signs they are ready to go…to the bathroom. Be sure to use a towel, or even waterproof cuddle mats which have been made for this very reason. Start off using positive reinforcement, and having small durations of lap time, and be sensitive to your pig having had enough.

Girl cuddling guinea pig

3. Have a ‘Pignic’, inside or out.

Like humans, guinea pigs too are fans of picnics. You can host a ‘Pignic’ inside or out, depending on what’s available to you and the weather. Inside is a safe year-round option, in which a sealed picnic rug can be used to manage toilet breaks. You can even cut grass or have a grass square delivered to add to the feast and fun. If venturing outside, grass may be easy to access, though ensure it has not been chemically treated or recently mowed, that you have an enclosure, the weather is suitable, and your guinea pigs are constantly monitored so they are safe from prey animals and accidents. Folding wire puppy playpens are good to create a safe temporary outside enclosure in which you and your guinea pigs can enjoy the time outside.

guinea pig with girl outside

4. Create ‘good’ opportunities for play.

Play opportunities are active opportunities for your guinea pig to engage with their environment, however even though your intentions may be good, be aware that not all opportunities you create for play are good:

  • Avoid placing your guinea pigs within an exercise ball, as unlike hamsters and in the movies, guinea pigs’ backs are not suitable for these toys and can be harmed. The flooring can also damage their feet.
  • Harnesses should also be avoided, again because guinea pigs’ backs are not suitable.
  • Non-bleached paper such as bags and paper roll holders can be played with, and stuffed with food, including picked grass.
  • Plastic tunnels and balls are also unsafe as they can be suffocating and/or chewed on and ingested. Tunnels made of breathable fabric can be sourced, so can cuddle sacks made of soft breathable materials, and tunnels made of chewable wood. Tunnels also need to be of a sufficient size that your guinea pig can move through freely, without getting caught inside.
  • There are also a growing range of chewable, edible guinea pig toys on the market that promote healthy chewing and play.
  • Place food to encourage searching, see Marcy the guinea pig pictured doing just that, along with her safe chew toys and atop her breathable fabric tunnel.

When it comes to play items, if you are unsure, consult an opinion from a veterinarian who specialises in guinea pigs.


5. Be sure you have guinea pigS

Yes, multiple guinea pigs are a must, as guinea pigs are naturally a social species that thrive with the companionship of fellow wheekers, so keeping no less than a compatible pair is recommended. Either have same sex pairs or that the animals are desexed. It is true that in very rare circumstance there may be a guinea that cannot be part of compatible pair, for example, due to early life trauma. In this rare situation, still being housed in the close vicinity of other guinea pigs is recommended. There is much to learn about bonding guinea pigs and also avoiding unwanted litters – you can read more about this at the RSPCA Knowledge Base.

Two guinea pigs eating greens

What can you see yourself and your guinea pigs doing? Why not make a start soon – enjoy the fun!

By the South East Queensland Guinea Pig (Cavy) Welfare Work Group, a working group of representatives from the RSCPA, rescues, breeders, owners and vets that convenes regularly with the RSPCA QLD Principal Scientist Dr Mandy Paterson, to further guinea pig welfare.

Dr Mandy Paterson
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