Guinea pigs are active, alert creatures who love to be stimulated and entertained. Their main sources of stimulation should be companionship from other guinea pigs, and plenty of human attention, but it's also a good idea to provide them with a selection of guinea pig toys.
There are many different toys for sale, and you can even make your own with a bit of ingenuity and some household materials. However, not all toys are suitable for your cavies, and some can even cause serious permanent damage. This guide discussed various toys and whether or not they are safe to give to your pets.
Exercise Balls and Wheels
Both of these are very popular toys, and are designed to allow your cavies to run around in a controlled environment. They are similar to the types of toys often given to hamsters, mice, and gerbils. However, a guinea pig's anatomy is very different from these animals'. In particular, their backs are not designed to bend backwards, and doing so can cause severe pain or even permanent injury.
Exercise balls and running wheels are unsuitable for guinea pigs, and may can serious and permanent spinal damage.
Because of this, you should never buy your pet an exercise wheel or ball. Unfortunately many pet stores still sell and recommend them, but thankfully many are now learning about these dangers, and removing them from their shelves.
Play and Toy Balls
These toy balls are designed to be pushed and knocked around by your guinea pig, and they are perfectly safe. The best ones are those made from natural materials such as wood, wicker, and grass. As well as pushing them around, you will also find that your cavies chew and bite them to help keep their teeth short. This is an essential part of their dental hygiene, and so should be encouraged.
Natural-material play balls provide exercise and stimulation, and help to keep your guinea pigs' teeth healthy.
Tunnels and Tubes
These are among the best guinea pig toys, and should be considered an essential item in all cages or hutches. Your pets will love running through, around, and over them, and you will have almost as much fun watching them do it. They also serve an important second purpose - guinea pigs need a few confined places where they can sleep, hide, or get away from their cagemates, and a selection of tubes and tunnels gives them the perfect place to do this.
Tunnels give your guinea pigs somewhere to hide as well as being lots of fun for them to run around and through. Image by Adrian Scottow.
Chews and Nibblers
Cavies' teeth never stop growing, so they need a way to keep them short enough to eat comfortably. Nibblers and chew toys are designed to serve this purpose. They are normally made from hard, abbrasive, natural materials such as wood. This makes them quite tough, so that they will withstand plenty of chewing before your pets finally manage to destroy them!
Wooden chew toys provide a hard, abrasive surface for your guinea pigs to wear their teeth down.
Chew toys aren't essential, but it is important that you give your pets something to chew on, or their teeth can get dangerously long. If you don't give your cavies a nibbler, they will often improvise and use anything they can get their teeth around, including their cage bars, house, or their food bowl.
Ramps and Stairs
If your keep your pets in a multi-level cage, they'll need some way of getting between the floors. Wire ladders are a bad idea because they can be painful for your guinea pigs' feet, and can even lead to broken bones if your cavies get their feet trapped. On top of this, they are far too steep, and you'll find that your guinea pigs refuse to use them anyway.
If your pets have a multi-level cage, give them a ramp to move between floors. Be sure to get a ramp with a solid surface, to prevent injury.
Solid ramps and stairs are a much better option. Ramps are generally considered preferably if space allows, but in confined spaces a set of stairs can be more practical. Whichever you choose, make sure they have solid surfaces with no gaps, and are covered in some sort of soft, grippy material such as rubber; this will help your cavies get up and down them easily.
Although they aren't strictly toys, your pets will still have great fun running up and down them, and chasing each other around their cage, so they can certainly provide some entertainment.
Homemade Guinea Pig Toys
Although the items available in pet stores tend to be quite cheap, you can make your own cheap or free guinea pig toys at home using some common household items and a bit of imagination. Cardboard boxes and tubes, tennis balls, empty cotton reels, towels and blankets, and sections of plumping pipe all make fantastic toys for your guinea pigs, and most people have at least some of these items lying around their home ready to be thrown away.
With a bit of imagination you can find free toys all around your home. Image by kendra k.
If you make your own toys, be sure to remove any sharp or small items such as staples before giving them to your cavies, as these could potentially be very dangerous. You should also be aware that they won't last as long as toys that you buy in a pet store, as they tend to be more easily damaged by water and chewing. However, they won't cost you anything, and you'll often have a steady supply of replacement items in your household waste anyway.
How Many Toys and Where to Put Them
A common mistake is to buy dozens of guinea pig toys and cram your pets' cage full of them. However, it is important to remember that a guinea pig's favourite form of stimulation and exercise is to run around its cage doing full speed laps. If you put too many toys and other items in the cage, your pets won't be able to do this, and their health and wellbeing will suffer as a result.
Instead, choose a small selection of toys for your cavies' cage (perhaps one to three). You can give them more when you get them out to use their run or playpen, but again remember that they still need plenty of room to sprint around. If you have a wide range of toys, give your pets a different selection each time you clean their cage out. This will stop them getting bored of having the same toys every time, and will still give them plenty of exercise space.
Cleaning and Replacement
It is important to clean your guinea pigs' toys regularly, to prevent the build-up of germs. Plastic toys can be washed in soapy water, or even put in a dishwasher. Wooden toys shouldn't be immersed in water, as this can cause them to rot, but they can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.
After a while, your pets' toys will get quite chewed and dirty. Once they get to this stage, they are more likely to harbour germs, and they are also less effective for keeping your cavies' teeth short, so they should be thrown away and replaced with new ones.
Although guinea pig toys aren't a replacement for giving your pets lots of love and attention, they do help to keep them entertained during times when you can't be there to play with them. Combined with the fact that they can help to kep your guinea pigs' teeth short and healthy, a small selection of toys should be considered essential in every guinea pig cage.