By Sharon Vanderlip, DVM
Myth 1: Guinea Pigs Don’t Need A Large Enclosure
This myth may have arisen because guinea pigs are not extremely energetic or lively, except during brief periods of play. Although there are recommended cage size guidelines, whenever possible, a larger cage is best for guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs need larger cages than most rodents because guinea pigs are larger and rounder than most rodent pets. Also, spacious accommodations are required because guinea pigs do not tolerate overcrowding. They become stressed and overheated if they do not have enough space or are overcrowded. Guinea pigs also need space in their cage for enough hideaways for them to feel safe and secure.
Myth 2: Guinea Pigs Aren’t Herd Animals And Happily Live Alone
Guinea pigs are very much herd animals. Although today’s domestic guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, is no longer found in the wild, before domestication guinea pigs lived together naturally in large communities.
Guinea pigs love to cuddle together and enjoy each others’ company. Tactile stimulation is very important to guinea pigs’ well-being, and they actively seek close contact with one another by resting their chin or forepaws and chest on each other and huddling together parallel. In fact, guinea pigs do best when they are not housed alone.
When a guinea pig loses a cagemate, it grieves and can become so lonely that it might stop eating and die. If it is not possible to keep two or more guinea pigs together, then the owner must give the single guinea pig lots of love and attention so that it will not become lonely or bored.
Myth 3: Guinea Pigs Don’t Need Enrichment
Guinea pigs need enrichment in the form of hideaways, fun places to explore, shelters, tubes, safe chew sticks, fresh grass hay to chew and the company of other guinea pigs. A guinea pig is awake 20 hours throughout a day. That is a very long time to be sitting in a cage, day after day, all alone with nothing to do.
Lack of enrichment is cruel for an animal. Boredom leads to various behavior problems, such as repetitive behaviors, circling, hair pulling (“barbering”) and hair chewing, which in turn lead to health problems, such as skin infections and gastrointestinal obstruction from hairballs.
You must offer new and interesting items inside the guinea pig’s cage on a regular basis to keep the cage environment interesting.