Enrichment Ideas for Guinea Pigs

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Wiebke

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This guide is an article I have written for Guinea Pig Magazine issue 34 (September 2016).
It is the propriety of GPM and is being shared on here with the magazine's permission.



Enrichment can take many forms. Here is a look at a number of areas you can enrich your guinea pigs' lives.
Making your piggies' lives more interesting doesn't need to include lots of expensive toys or treats; some of the best things are very simple and yet very effective!

I Company and interaction

Company of their own kind is the best enrichment!

Guinea pigs are group animals. The most basic and vital enrichment is the right of guinea pigs to companionship of their own kind, either in the same cage or with round the clock interaction and stimulation through the bars.
That is why in Switzerland it is now law that guinea pigs cannot be kept as singles. The more interaction and stimulation a guinea pig has, the brighter, happier and healthier it generally is. Companionship is the best gift you can ever make your single guinea pig, even if it is just a friend through the bars - it can literally prolong a life!

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A little kiss for my best friend and partner in crime - Playing 'bowl ball' with your mates


Human interaction
The more time you invest in a pet, the more you get back; interaction works both ways! This doesn’t necessarily mean cuddle time, but time spent talking to guinea pigs, just watching them and discovering the world and new things from a guinea pig perspective.
Guinea pigs are not just animated cuddly toys; they are lively personalities that can give you back so much if you give them the opportunity to live their lives to the full and allow them to draw you into their own fascinating world.
Please be aware that you as a human and a different species can never quite fill the vital role of another guinea pig and that the vast majority of guinea pigs would prefer cavy company over human company.

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Why not turn yourself into an adventure playground for your guinea pigs on a lazy Sunday morning?
 

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II Exercise

Daily run time and exercise

Once guinea pigs have settled in their new surroundings (and provided you are allowed to by a landlord), giving your guinea pigs daily indoors run time in a puppy run or another safe space is a wonderful opportunity for piggy exploration, adventures, “popcorns” and “zoomies” – i.e. crazy hops like popping corn and full speed running.
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Popcorning happiness!

Why space really matters for zooming guinea pigs!

Guinea pigs of all ages and abilities can profit from exercise! Here is nearly 8 years old arthritic Mali, who is also blind from cataracts, but that doesn't keep her from happily waddle-zooming in a scent spoor loop!

If you just let your piggies roam freely in your house, please make sure that they cannot get at any cables, or get into any nooks and crannies you don’t want them to. You can bet that they find them all! Guinea pigs, like all rodents, can’t vomit, so they explore the world with their mouths and teeth. They are not as bad as hamsters, but they can leave little nibble marks on furniture and some can develop a taste for wallpaper! Some guinea pigs also figure out how to climb stairs.
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Squeezing through to try and get behind the sofa. - Minx discovered stair climbing as her favourite hobby 10 days before she gave birth to two unplanned pet shop pregnancy babies!

You also need to be able to wipe off or remove any pees and poos.

Create your own leak-proof resting places with an old or a cheap new bathroom mat and some protection or pee proof their own choice of resting place!
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Race and obstacle courses
Many guinea pigs that are comfortable with their surroundings love to run at full speed, especially sub-adults and young adults, but some love to do it right it right to the end of a long life.
Cavies often enjoy loops through or around tunnels, cardboard boxes with door openings, foot stools etc. and they love to play dodgems with their companions by bumping deliberately into them at the end of a mad run.
You can also create small obstacles like hurdles (about 1 ½ - 2 inches high) with rulers or other suitable rods of wood or plastic. Little ramps can also be fascinating; it doesn’t matter if it takes a few days to figure out!
Some guinea pigs love the high life and love to climb or jump on things, so giving them the opportunity to do so safely will give you lots of fun, too!

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Outdoors time and how to bring it indoors
Even if you do not have access to a lawn, time spent sniffing the breeze and experiencing all the outdoors sounds count as enrichment. You can grow grass and wheat grass or dandelion in seed trays on your windowsill or allow your guinea pigs to raid a fresh herb pot.
If you have access to a lawn, make sure that your run is at all times protected against ground and aerial predators and make sure that the grass has not been urinated on by dogs or foxes; that is highly poisonous to guinea pigs and can kill if fresh. Guinea pigs also need adequate protection against sun (double shade on a hot day etc.) and sudden weather.
Feeding Grass And Preparing Your Piggies For Lawn Time
Hot Weather Management, Heat Strokes and Fly Strike

Free roaming time in your garden should only ever happen if your garden is fully fenced in with no gaps (including underneath any panels) and only ever under full adult supervision - do not leave your piggies on their own as they can disappear very quickly!
Make sure that you have your guinea pigs well trained to come back to you or a pick-up box/run beforehand as chasing/cornering them can seriously spook them so badly that they may not come back and get lost or get stuck somewhere.
If you are a child – LETTING YOUR GUINEA PIGS RUN FREE IS NOT A GOOD IDEA and can get them lost and killed!

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New patriarch Hywel is not keen to share a plate of fresh grass with his many wives...
 

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III Sensory enrichment

Things for the nose and the palate

Guinea pigs have a a multiple of taste buds and a much better sense of smell than humans. Tickling the nose and the palate gives them therefore more pleasure than us. Even just an open window can mean enrichment.
The more different foods young guinea pigs are exposed to, the less picky they will become, especially if continue to rotate. High calcium foods like spinach or kale can still play a role as occasional special treats, for instance. Apple or pear tree leaves, bark or branches or fresh herbs and bits of fruit come in the same category, as do freeze dried readigrass (which can be fattening if fed too much) and dry forage.
You can also swirl a saucer with some fruit juice (that is too sugary to give regularly) and let your cavies sniff and lick it.
What guinea pigs should NOT be exposed to is cigarette smoke, incense sticks, perfumes and air fresheners, especially not scented ones!

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A lick of pineapple juice - cranberry juice! - clearing out my smashed banana bowl - taking apart an unsprayed rose bloom


Working to get to their daily food
String up suitable veg and let your guinea pigs work at getting at the chunks! Make sure that they are still within reach. Guinea pigs are not quite as agile as dogs or cats and can’t catch things by jumping up. Even scattering the daily veg and pellets around your cage or run or hiding them where piggies can smell and work out how to get at them is enrichment, especially for older guinea pigs that prefer to snooze in a corner during run time!

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Working hard to get to the source of their food - including Minx working out where her food is coming from!

Just a stack of food bowls and a few pellets hidden in some of them...


Diving and snuggling into soft hay
Soft orchard or meadow hay is ideal for making a big pile in a bow or on the run floor to the let your guinea pigs have a romp. Please always make sure that you use soft hay to prevent eye injuries. Some cavies love to burrow, others prefer to jump on top. This is a favourite enrichment for those guinea pigs that have their hay in a rack in the cage; a tray with soft hay underneath a rack of stalkier timothy hay serves as day bed, play ground and toilet.
Hay should make up to 80% of the daily food intake, so this is at the same time a very healthy activity. Try out different grass or cereal hays to further the enrichment – this is the guinea pig equivalent of eating different varieties of bread and cake!
It is hay, not chewing toys, that keeps the back teeth ground down evenly to allow the self-sharpening front teeth to do their job as intended and the guts to work at their best!
Hay is also a great insulator. A hay filled lidded cardboard box with a walk-in opening makes a snuggly bedroom on a cold night!

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PS: Alfalfa/luzerne hay is a legume and too high in calcium and protein to give to guinea pigs regularly, except for highly pregnant and nursing sows and babies; and even then just a handful max!
 

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IV Playtime with objects and learning tricks

Play and wrecking time with or without food

Guinea pigs have a destructive streak, and the best toys are always the cheapest – brown paper bags (any handles please cut through), toilet or kitchen roll inners (if necessary cut open lengthwise if your guinea pigs could get their heads stuck), brown cardboard houses are ideal. You can stuff them with soft fresh hay (timothy is often too stalky for this purpose), fresh grass or favourite veg, sit back and enjoy!

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A hay filled paper bag - an old bathroom mirror


Serving some special hay in a ball made from a cut up toilet roll:


Squeezes and hide-and-seek
Guinea pigs love to discover hidey holes and to squeeze through narrow past tight openings and through narrow passages. If you let your guinea pigs gnaw or squeeze their way through tight gaps, do so only under your supervision, in case they get stuck. Otherwise, it is dangerous!

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'Where has Minx gone?' - Breaking into a hay filled cardboard box - somepig has found my tissue box - recycled bird food boxes


One of the best plays is to just dump the dirty fleece and cosies into the run and let your guinea pigs romp through them. Or to pile the fresh cosies in a heap in the freshly cleaned cage before you finish the job.

Fun with another groups' used cosy cave

Dominant Hywel and a neighbouring sow's tunnel

The “Car wash”: Cut strips into an old bit of fleece or rag, but not quite through. Tie the solid end of the rag to the top of the cage sides and let your guinea pigs streak through. An old hankie, pegged to the side of the cage to fall on the floor as a tent, is also a source of fun!

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An old towel pegged to the cage - enjoying a nap in the neighbours' dirty laundry on cleaning day


Teaching tricks
You can teach confident and happily settled guinea pigs tricks. Always give plenty of praise and encouragement as well as using healthy treats as lure during the teaching process. It is however very important to always keep in mind that your guinea pigs should have as much fun as you doing this and do it always willingly!
You can go for more showy circus tricks, if you wish to, but practical daily rituals are often more useful.

Line munching

Training your guinea pigs to come into the 'lawn shuttle'


Dangerous and unhealthy toys and treats
Shop or self-made toys, hay holders and huts can lead to injuries if an inquisitive guinea pig is getting its head or body stuck. Shop toys and edible huts can have hidden wires. If in doubt, let your guinea pigs use these only ever in your presence!
Potentially Dangerous Cage Accessories And Toys

Also note that any treats that contain sugar/honey, dairy/yoghurt, seeds and fat are junk food and not healthy at all. Guinea pigs after weaning are lactose intolerant. Salt and mineral wheels are not necessary with a good balanced diet and will be ignored, the same as most shop bought chewing toys.
 
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