One of the most effective (and fun!) ways that you can improve daily life for your guinea pigs is to provide a wide range of enrichment for them. Guinea pigs are social and active animals, and to compensate for an indoor life in a cage that – no matter how large – is smaller than the great outdoors, it is important to offer them new materials and experiences to challenge their bodies and brains.
Effective enrichment items and activities will also allow guinea pigs to exercise as much of their natural behaviour as possible. With this in mind, it is a good idea to consider their natural environment and typical activities when selecting enrichment – having items like grassy patches, rocks, tunnels and hiding places, areas with varying levels (but not too high – piggies aren’t really climbers!), and lots of opportunities to chew and forage will likely make them feel most comfortable.
There are eight main types of enrichment. Choosing elements from each of these categories will help ensure that you don’t become stuck in an enrichment rut, while making sure that your piggies get the most out of their daily experience.
Finally, when brainstorming what kinds of enrichment to offer your guinea pig, keep in mind that it is important to maintain a balance between novelty and consistency. Encountering new things from time to time can help keep life interesting, but imagine if your home was constantly turned topsy-turvy each morning – it would be upsetting! Moderation is key. It is also important to consider any potential risks posed by enrichment items (places for heads or paws to get stuck, strings that can come loose, fibres that can be chewed) and all items should be easy to clean thoroughly.
Below are some examples of an enriched setup for indoor guinea pigs – by rotating on a weekly basis the location of the different elements inside the enclosure, and adding or subtracting a few items each week, a healthy balance of familiarity and novelty can be achieved.
(1) Large snuggle cave
(2) Foraging mat made with Timothy hay
(3) Wooden tunnel
(4) Two water bottles to offer choice of drinking options
(5) Two bowls of pellets to offer choice of eating options
(6) Hay bale for easy access to hay for chewing
(7) Secure elevated hammock
(8) Variety of chew toys designed for guinea pigs
(1) Small cozy bed
(2) Large bowl of pellets with vitamin tablets
(3) Carrot tops hanging from the top of the cage
(1) Cuddle cup under hanging hammock
Homemade toys made from shipping paper
(1) Giant hoop to run through when ‘zoomies’ strike
(2) Paper ‘clothes line’ across the enclosure
(3) ‘Party popper’ of rolled paper with foraging mix of hay, freeze-dried strawberries, banana and hibiscus flowers
Finally, short periods of safe and well-supervised time outside of the cage can be an excellent form of enrichment. Make sure to keep your piggies on easy-to-clean surfaces (in case of any bathroom breaks) in areas that are free of dangerous materials to chew, get tangled in, stuck in, or hidden inside. It’s always nice to provide something familiar – like a shelter from their enclosure – so they have a home base to retreat to if they like. Make sure other family members know the guinea pigs are out, and that other pets are supervised or excluded from the area.
These are just a few ways to vary the enrichment offerings even in a modest enclosure space. Imagine what else you can offer your guinea pigs, using the enrichment category chart as brainstorming inspiration!