Exercise is important for every animal to thrive. Guinea pigs need to be able to walk, run, and explore. They also require mental enrichment in order to thrive!
The best way to exercise your guinea pigs is to give them a large cage–the bigger the better! Guinea pigs are also more active when they have other guinea pigs, so get your piggy a companion if you haven’t already. Floor time is also a great way to provide exploration and enrichment.
In this article, we’ll talk about fourteen ways you can exercise your guinea pigs as well as what to avoid.
1. Expand Their Cage
The bare minimum cage size for two guinea pigs is 7.5 square feet, while the recommended minimum according to the Humane Society is 10.5 square feet.
However, many piggy guardians agree that even this recommended cage size is too small for an active pair. Males, especially, thrive when given more space.
If you can, expanding your guinea pig’s cage will give them more room to run around, popcorn, and have fun!
This is especially important if your cage doesn’t meet the minimum requirements. Many people make the mistake of thinking it’s okay so long as they provide floor time and other exercise–but it isn’t.
Guinea pigs don’t sleep through the night either, so putting them away in a small cage at “bedtime” also doesn’t work. Small cages are only appropriate for very short-term use, such as bringing your piggy to the vet, or in medical cases where you need to restrict movement to allow them to heal from an injury.
2. Don’t Crowd the Cage!
Who doesn’t get excited when they see a new tunnel, toy, or hide for their piggies? I know I do!
As much as we love spoiling them, putting everything in the cage at once can overcrowd it and leave very little floor space. This can make it so that piggies with big enough cages still have no space to run and play.
Instead, try swapping out items. This not only frees up space in the cage, but also keeps things interesting and enriching for your piggies.
3. Keep the Middle of the Cage Clear
On a similar note, try to arrange the cage so that there aren’t any roadblocks in the center. A tunnel or double-sided hide is fine, but even these can clutter up the cage when used in excess.
By keeping most of your guinea pigs’ hides, toys, and other items around the perimeter of the cage, you free up the middle for them to race around in.
4. Give Them Floor Time
Floor time is when you set up a safe, guinea-pig proof space for your piggies to come out of the cage and explore. This could be a cheap playpen, or you could block off forbidden areas of a room like underneath chairs and near electrical wires and let them free-roam.
Remember to bring out their hay so that they have access, as they need to be able to access it 24/7. Even an hour of floor time is too long for your piggy to be away from their hay.
A change in environment is fun and enriching for many piggies. It can bring them out of their shell and encourage them to explore.
However, keep in mind that some guinea pigs dislike floor time. If they stay in their hide the whole time, you might decide that floor time just isn’t for them–and that’s okay!
5. Safe Outdoor Time
In my opinion, safe outdoor time for guinea pigs can be a challenge. This is because they must be monitored at all times, safe from predators, and safe from illness and parasites. Many people skip critical steps, which can lead to disaster!
Here’s what to consider when it comes to outdoor time:
- An enclosure they cannot escape from, so that they don’t run away.
- A secure top cover to protect from birds of prey and other predators.
- Constant supervision–even turning your back for a couple of minutes can end in disaster for your piggies!
- Shade, so that your guinea pigs aren’t sitting in direct sunlight with no escape from the heat.
- Clean grass without chemicals or predator urine (this includes dog pee!).
- Parasite prevention medication to prevent your piggies from catching mites and other parasites outdoors.
Please remember that this advice applies to temporary, supervised outdoor time only. Guinea pigs who live outdoors need much more secure structures!
6. Add a Loft to Their Cage
Lofts don’t count toward the square footage of your cage, since guinea pigs need a large, flat space to run around in. However, a loft can add some more space for your piggies to explore and exercise in.
If your cage meets the minimum and you’d like to give your guinea pigs more space, but don’t have the room, lofts are a great option.
Make sure the loft is secure so that it won’t collapse on your guinea pigs, and that the ramp isn’t too steep. Guinea pigs aren’t really meant to climb, and steep ramps can damage their backs over time.
7. Set Up a Maze
This one is more for fun and enrichment than it is for everyday use. Setting up a maze for your guinea pigs with food to guide them through is a great way to bond with them, learn about their personalities and intelligence, and provide them with a bit of exercise.
Start with easy mazes as your guinea pigs learn the concept, and build up from there if you’d like!
Remember that having your guinea pigs work for some pea flakes is fine, but never make them work for their hay as they need constant and abundant hay access.
You’ll also want to limit maze time so that they aren’t away from their hay for too long!
8. Scatter Feed Your Piggies
Scatter feeding is easy! All you have to do is sprinkle your guinea pigs’ pellets, veggies, forage, or other treats around the cage instead of feeding them in a bowl or pile.
This encourages them to look for their food and is very enriching. It also forces them to move around and get some exercise!
Of course, keep their hay in an easy-to-find place. Hay is one thing that’s best served in large piles!
9. Use Puzzle Toys
There are a variety of puzzle toys on the market, typically marketed toward dogs and cats–though there are a few for small pets as well.
I recommend choosing the easiest puzzles, especially in the beginning. This includes the ones with simple sliders covering the food and balls that dispense treats or pellets when they roll.
It’s unlikely your guinea pigs will learn anything more complicated than these!
As we discussed above, make sure not to use these toys for essentials like hay and veggies. They’re best used for pellets or treats.
10. Provide a Variety of Toys
Another way to stimulate your guinea pigs is to make your own toys out of household items. Fill empty toilet paper rolls with hay, cut doors into cardboard boxes and use them as hides, or put treats in an empty paper towel roll for your guinea pigs to get out.
You can also buy toys for your piggies–just make sure they’re safe, as not everything marketed toward them is.
Switch out the toys during cage cleans and add new ones to the rotation to keep things fun and interesting. Homemade toys are the best way to do this because they’re cheap and easy to make!
11. Change the Cage Layout
I touched on this above–but changing the layout of your piggies’ cage encourages exploration and provides exercise and enrichment.
Hides and toys, especially, can be easily placed in different locations. Just make sure your piggy is having fun with the change instead of being spooked by it!
Some prefer their routine or to keep their favorite hide in their favorite spot. It’s also a good idea to keep the cage layout the same if you have a blind piggy, as they’ll rely on their memory to get around.
12. Make Sure They Have a Friend
The best enrichment for a guinea pig is another piggy. If your guinea pig is living solo, please adopt a friend for them!
Guinea pigs are social animals. They feel more secure when they have a buddy, and are likely to spend more time exploring and exercising. Piggies are also happier with a partner (or herd!) and more likely to get zoomies and popcorns!
As humans, we cannot replace a piggy friend no matter how hard we try. We have to leave for work or school, run errands, and socialize with other humans. We also can’t communicate or understand our guinea pigs the same way as others of their species can.
Some people believe side-by-side living is okay, but this isn’t something I believe in personally unless many attempts at bonding with a variety of other piggies have failed. This is exceptionally rare!
That said, even having a friend through bars is better than nothing–no guinea pig should ever be the only one in their household.
13. Teach Them Tricks
Teaching your guinea pig tricks encourages them to move around, provides mental enrichment, and is a great way to bond with them!
Some simple tricks are coming when called, standing up on their hind legs, and spinning in a circle.
14. Feed Them a Balanced Diet
Guinea pigs should have constant access to clean, fresh hay. They also need a cup of veggies a day and ⅛ cups of pellets.
The right diet keeps your piggies at a healthy weight, which allows them to move freely and without difficulty.
Make sure their vegetables are varied and appropriate. Feed mostly dark, leafy greens, and only feed sugary or high-calcium foods in moderation.
A high-quality pellet fed in the right amount is the key to maintaining good weights for your guinea pigs. Too many pellets is usually the reason for overweight piggies!
That said, don’t worry about your piggies’ weights so long as they’re eating right. They can be chunky! It’s not only natural for them to look like little potatoes, but encouraged for them to have a bit of extra weight in case they get sick. Guinea pigs’ health can go downhill quickly, and their weight typically descends with it.
Putting your guinea pig on a diet can be counteractive unless you’ve truly been feeding them too much. Remember that they have fast metabolisms and need to be eating constantly!
Things to Avoid
There are some products on the market that you should avoid at all costs for your guinea pigs, even if at first they seem like good ideas. There are also some types of exercise that aren’t good for piggies.
- Exercise balls: These don’t provide enough ventilation for guinea pigs to breathe properly, especially if they’re peed in. They’re also very disorienting and can cause spinal problems. Exercise balls aren’t recommended for any animal, even hamsters, contrary to popular belief!
- Wheels: While the right size wheel is great for a hamster, they aren’t appropriate for guinea pigs as they can cause spinal injuries.
- Harnesses: Unfortunately, there are tiny harnesses marketed toward guinea pigs. These aren’t safe because if you or the guinea pig pulls, the harness can injure their spine. Instead, see the section above about safe outdoor time.
- Steep ramps: While second stories are fine, guinea pigs aren’t climbers in general. Their spines weren’t made to be walking up steep ramps, and over time this kind of activity can damage their backs.
- Stairs: Going up and down stairs is good exercise for people, but not so much for piggies. It’s not a natural movement, and they can also easily fall down and injure themselves. Even a short fall can hurt a guinea pig badly because they’re so small.
- Unnatural movements: Anything that makes a guinea pig move in a way they don’t naturally is probably a bad idea. Stick to simple, natural exercise like giving them ample space to run.
Frequently Asked Questions
Guinea pigs should not run on wheels. They need a flat, open space to walk or run around in for exercise. The rounded edges of a wheel can damage a guinea pig’s spine.
No! Exercise balls can hurt guinea pigs in several ways. They don’t provide enough ventilation, your guinea pig cannot easily control their movement inside of them, and they can cause spinal injuries.
This varies depending on your set-up and your piggies’ personalities. If your piggies love floor time and you have a safe set-up that includes a hay pile, they can stay out as long as you or they like.
If your guinea pigs are nervous during floor time, it might be best to limit it to a short time until they get used to it, or even stop altogether.
Like floor time, lap time is loved by some piggies and disliked by others. If your piggy likes lap time, holding them daily is a great way to bond. If they don’t, it’s best to respect their space!