Are your guinea pigs bored?
If they’re spending 24/7 in their cage, with outings only for lap time, they’re guaranteed to be bored. And likely a little pudgy. And maybe a little less interactive with you than you'd like.
Many new owners don’t know that guinea pigs benefit greatly from out-of-cage playtime, preferably on a daily basis. Playtime gives you a chance to interact with your pigs, setting up interesting playscapes for them to explore, hand feeding them healthy treats, and even just sitting by the play area and talking with them. A good play area provides ample room for a good run, games of “chase” and “hide and seek,” and general rummaging about for treats and such. It also gives them a much-needed change of scenery from their cage, which contributes to good psychological health.
Guinea pigs need to get out for at least two hours a day, every day. Guinea pig playtime is good for the humans as well; even if you’re not playing with your pigs the whole time, it's very relaxing to curl up with a good book or a good movie nearby while your guinea pigs entertain themselves.
Play time starts with an enclosed play area — a space that gives guinea pigs plenty of room to run and romp without risk of finding, biting, or getting tangled up in electrical wires and without risk of getting stuck under or behind furniture and appliances. This means that the play area must be fully enclosed.
The play area, at minimum, should be the same size as the cage but preferably 1.5 to 2 times larger than the cage (or even larger, if you have the space). You want the fence to be high enough to prevent pigs from getting loose, but not so high that it looks like you’re trying to contain a Rottweiler puppy.
You can create the perimeter of the play area using either the small pet fences sold at pet stores (you may need to buy 2 or 3 to create a large enough play area) or using Neat Cubes (available at places like Target). The Neat Cubes let you build a play area that’s long and rectangular, L-shaped, U-shaped, or a just a really large square. Just fasten the cube squares together (with the round connectors) as you would for storage cubes or for C&C cages.
If you have baby guinea pigs, Neat Cubes, similar storage solutions, and many pet fence products are not suitable for them until they are several months old! The open spaces in these products are large enough that a baby guinea pig could get through and escape, or could get partway through before getting stuck — and getting hurt. For the few months that they're that little, use storage cube solutions with mesh panels. Later, when the babies are older and bigger, you can replace the mesh grids with the wire grids and move the mesh grids off to another purpose.
The Play Area Floor
Start by purchasing an inexpensive piece of vinyl flooring remnant (from Home Depot and other stores) and cut it to the desired size for your play area, with a couple of inches to spare all the way around. This creates a solid surface for your pigs to play on, and protects your carpets and bare floors from the moisture that would otherwise soak through the towels and potentially stain your floors.
On top of the flooring remnant, place old bath towels, lightweight cotton or fleece blankets, or yardage of fleece or terry cloth from the fabric store. These materials are washable, soft, warm, and give your guinea pigs' feet needed traction while they play. Wash these materials at least once a week in warm or hot water and fragrance-free detergent.
Tomorrow, we'll talk about toys...