It’s summer, the sun is shining and grass everywhere is being kept short by little furry lawnmowers: guinea pigs. Guinea pigs often entertain themselves, but enrichment can be just as fun and challenging for guinea pigs as it is for other pets.
Wild animals constantly experience new and interesting things in their daily lives. It´s hard for them to get bored with novel things to investigate, food to search for, predators to avoid and other animals to meet and interact with.
Captive animals can miss out on these challenges, but by considering enrichment in their daily care, we can encourage natural behaviours and keep them mentally stimulated. Every day we have an opportunity to make our animals’ lives more interesting.
Why do guinea pigs need enrichment?
Guinea pigs can get bored just like any other animal and this can lead to weight gain, depression and illness. They tend to gain weight without adequate exercise, and some guinea pigs need more inspiration to move about than others. Keeping their home fresh and exciting is a good way to encourage exploration as well as increasing their activity levels. Carrying extra weight can add unnecessary strain on their hearts, so keeping them fit and healthy should be a goal for any pet owner.
Guinea pigs are also more intelligent than some people give them credit for. They may not be rocket scientists, but they can problem solve and it’s a skill that only improves with practice.
Enrichment comes in many forms, from presenting food in different ways to providing chances to explore new places. It’s about keeping them active, thinking and excited about life.
Check out some of our ideas to get you started
There’s so much more to life than grass! Treasure hunts with tasty treats to discover encourage exploring their whole environment. Try filling a box or tray with leaves or hay and hide vegetable treats in it, or scatter their food around the enclosure. Even the smallest treats are more exciting when you’re not expecting them!
Some of the cardboard items we throw away or recycle can have an extra lease of life with our guinea pigs. Cardboard toilet roll tubes make rolling hay feeders when stuffed and left on the ground. If that’s too easy, try fixing them a little higher up on the side of the run.
Food in motion
Some guinea pigs like climbing, and some never contemplate anything higher than their own nose. Slices of vegetables, like cucumber or capsicum, can be suspended from the top of their run on a piece of string, or skewered on a stick which is either left loose in the enclosure or suspended. The swinging treats encourage stretching, balance and coordination. Just make sure the string isn’t long enough for your piggie to become tangled in and create a hazard for your pet.
Summer water fun
Try some water play when it’s warm. Some piggies might think you’ve gone mad, but some enjoy a refreshing splash on a hot day. Floating treats in a shallow dish create an entertaining game and the soggy food helps keep them hydrated. It’s important to supervise them and make sure the water is shallow so they can’t run into any difficulties.
Guinea pig teeth don’t stop growing. They need a constant supply of hay to keep them in check, but guinea pig friendly sticks are a tasty addition to their dental care regime. Apple and willow twigs are some favourites. If you don’t have any available, perhaps friends or family would be happy to donate some clippings?
Hide and seek
Guinea pigs love to tuck themselves out of sight. It’s something their wild counterparts adapted to do for survival but hiding places can also be fun. There are plenty of creative hiding options to choose from. Wide cardboard tubes or plastic piping, old plant pots and wicker baskets are alternatives to shop-bought shelters. Cardboard boxes are old favourites and can be customised with cut-out doors and even windows to peek out from. Pegging up old towels across corners of their run, like curtains, provide shade from the sun and are a more snuggly option. Some guinea pigs love wriggling underneath a blanket cut out from an old fleece jumper when they fancy a nap!
Moving the furniture
Wooden logs and rocks provide natural obstacles, shelter and different levels to climb on. Their closest wild relatives, cavies, live in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes where the ground is uneven and rocky. Moving the furniture from time to time keeps the layout interesting, and sometimes a little novelty is all that’s needed to get a popcorning pig charging around the run.
Creating a strong relationship with your guinea pigs helps build trust but also makes routine healthcare jobs, such as nail clipping, less stressful for your pet.
When planning enrichment, it’s important to think about choice, variety and safety. In the wild, animals make choices to stay safe and healthy. Our pets live in a safer environment but providing them with decisions to make keeps them mentally stimulated.
Aim for balance with your pet. Provide them with new and interesting things to do while still including old favourite items that are familiar and reassuring.
The final thing to consider is safety. Always supervise your pet with new experiences in case they get into trouble. Make sure any food treats are guinea-pig friendly, avoid painted or treated wooden objects that might have nasty chemicals on them, and check that your creations don’t have any places that guinea pigs can get stuck in.
Enrichment is rewarding for humans as well as our animals. It keeps us thinking about opportunities to make life as fun as possible, and watching pets enjoy something new is immensely satisfying. Good luck!