Guinea pigs, as with most animals, need exercise to stay fit and healthy. Having a big area to explore and bullet around in also keeps our furry friends stimulated and entertained, which is equally as important. Opening up your home to your guinea pigs seems an ideal way to cover both.
But how easy is it to make your house safe for the wanderings of small animals on a free-range or semi free-range basis, and what are the benefits of doing so?
Giving your guinea pigs access to a big and varied environment improves their world in an incredible way. Even a large cage or hutch is quite a restrictive space, which is why daily floor time or sessions in an exercise pen are so important. Free roaming brings the obvious increases in opportunities for mental and physical stimulation for them, but let’s not forget there’s plenty in it for us too!
Popcorning and strutting piggers
Seeing them strut around the house as bold as brass, popcorning across the rug and playing piggy trains around the sofas is delightful! They usually become more active, their confidence increases and they seek interaction in a much more liberated way than simply squeaking at you from a cage.
Having guinea pigs follow you round the house pied piper style isn’t unusual, and just you try making a meal without the odd piggy popping in to the kitchen to see if he can help dispose of any unwanted veggies! The extra freedom does of course give them additional powers of manipulation which they will inevitably abuse.
It’s hard to turn down a line of pigs who all come over to where you’re sitting and stand on their back legs begging for food with desperate, hungry faces. Not to mention those who figure out where the veggies come from, and pace the floor by the fridge, chuntering impatiently until some romaine falls down. But seeing your pet active and having fun is what it’s all about – the happier you can make them, the more pleasure they bring you.
So now to the practical aspects of free-ranging. Firstly, anywhere animals like cats and dogs have access to is ruled out. Same rule applies where small children may be wandering about, or where there are children of an age that still need supervision to ensure they handle animals safely and gently.
All could create situations where the pigs could be unintentionally stressed out, injured or killed. In all these circumstances, a secure pen is better for exercise.
Next, the issue of ‘pig proofing’. Basically anywhere they could crawl in to and get trapped, or where you don’t want them to go must be securely blocked off. Think about your houseplants. Many are poisonous to small animals so these should not only be out of reach, but away from where they could drop leaves on to areas the pigs have access to. Here is a list of some poisonous plants http://www.cavies.com/poisplnt.htm.
You must be careful about leaving large windows and doors open as cats and wild animals could climb in and injure or kill your pet. And then there’s the chewing problem. Every wire they could chew must be placed safely out of reach.
I’ve never had a problem with them chewing furniture but that’s also something worth considering if you have furniture you think of as anything other than a place to park your behind. Incidentally, people who have bar chewing pigs often think free-ranging would be unsuitable or dangerous for them. But many actually find that the destructive chewing behaviour stops once the pig has more space and stimulation. He will still nibble at things as they all do, but now has better things to do than constantly twang on the bars!
As a matter of habit, don’t put anything valuable or important on the floor in reach of their teeth – they have a particular liking for papers and books.
Once you have the basic set up secured, keeping it up and watching where you put your feet quickly becomes second nature.
Those who haven’t already tried free-ranging will probably be thinking about toileting matters about now – won’t they just wee everywhere? The good news is that many guinea pigs can be litter trained whether they return to the open cage, or use a litter tray in the room. Most pigs can be encouraged to at least wee in certain areas, while dropping the odd rebellious bean, which is enough for a lot of people. And many can go the whole way. It’s a gentle process and simply involves providing a litter tray (I first used shredded newspaper in a filing tray) or an easy return to the cage for them.
With the litter tray method, just pop some soiled bedding from their cage in it and place it in a corner of the room. This may be enough but if they go elsewhere, just clean up what they do straight away, and place it in the litter tray until they catch on. If they select another regular place to go, simply move the litter tray there. You may find that placing the pig in the litter tray (or back in the cage if you are not using one) from time to time will encourage them to go there too.
There are some pigs who don’t catch on, or just can’t be bothered, and in this case an exercise pen where you can protect the floor is a much better idea as you really don’t want urine soaking in to your floorboards. Something waterproof like a shower curtain, covered with a towel is a good choice.
So give it a go! If it doesn’t work out for you and your pets, then concentrate on having as big a cage for them as you can manage, and giving them as much exercise and stimulation as possible – see www.cavycages.com for how to make a splendidly sized cage or pen your pig will love for very little money!
About the Author
Article written by piggie fanatic Treen of the wonderful www.treenspigs.com website. Check out piccies of piggers as you’ve never seen them before, enter fun competitions and watch Treen’s animated piggies among lots of other brilliant stuff!!
It really is an excellent site for lovers of all small furries, not just piggy lovers…if you are ever having a bad day, log on to www.treenspigs.com and you’ll soon be laughing!