Guinea pigs need exercise, mental stimulation, environmental enrichment, and the ability to express normal behaviours. The normal behaviours that guinea pigs need to be able to express include social interaction with other guinea pigs, walking, running, tunnelling, exploring, playing, stretching horizontally, retreating to a shelter and hiding, foraging, chewing, gnawing, and jumping.
Environmental enrichment is designed to improve your guinea pigs environment to enhance their physical and psychological wellbeing and welfare. The environment for guinea pigs should enable them to express their natural behaviours and help avoid them developing abnormal behaviours. The following suggestions will help you to provide your guinea pigs with what they need to exercise and express normal behaviours:
- Give your guinea pigs enough space to run about and play. Provide an enclosure as large as possible; the minimum dimensions for the enclosure of a pair of guinea pigs are 2500 cm2 of useable floor space for guinea pigs over 450 g with an additional 900 cm2 for each additional guinea pig weighing over 700 g. Enclosures should be at least 25 to 30 cm high. So as an example, an enclosure for a pair of guinea pigs could be 2m x 0.5m x 25cm high to provide the minimum space required but ideally their enclosure should be larger than this. Please see this article for more details on the housing and space guinea pigs need.
- Provide them with foraging opportunities such as untreated wicker baskets filled with hay and food hidden around their enclosure for them to find.
- Make their environment varied and interesting with different levels and areas for your guinea pigs to explore; you can use things like ramps and boxes. You can even make a ‘forest’ out of polar fleece material strips tied to the roof of their enclosure so the strips dangle down and your guinea pigs can push and run through their fleece forest!
- Provide your guinea pigs with toys such as balls made from plastic, untreated willow or dried grass, and small stuffed toys. Ensure that there are adequate toys for each of your guinea pigs to have at least one of their own at any one time. Guinea pigs should also be given chewing items to help keep them entertained and to wear down their teeth (which grow constantly). For example, cardboard boxes, and wooden branches from non-toxic trees such as apple trees that have not been sprayed or treated with any chemicals. A shredded paper pile can provide burrowing, chewing, and hiding opportunities, as well as make a comfortable bed. All items must be safe for your guinea pigs and should be regularly checked and replaced if they are becoming unsafe and soiled. Some of the toys and accessories marketed and sold for guinea pigs are, unfortunately, unsuitable and can be harmful, such as wheels and leashes so choose carefully.
- Change the environment in your guinea pigs’ enclosure by rearrange the items and/or swapping new ones every week to make the environment more interesting.
- Ideally, provide your guinea pigs with access to a safe outdoor area and give them the opportunity to graze on grass. They should be protected from the sun/rain/wind, and possible predators. If they are not in a secure outdoor enclosure that is predator and escape proof they should be supervised at all times and still be in an escape proof area. It important to ensure the grass hasn’t been sprayed with weed killer or any other chemicals. See more details in this article. Ideally, outdoor access should be provided daily as long as the weather is not too cold or hot.