Do Guinea Pigs Need a Wheel in Their Cage and Will They Even Use It?

Do Guinea Pigs Need A Wheel In Their Cage_

Guinea pigs are special pets, for sure. This is because they are considered rodents, even if they aren’t exactly. This is the reason people think guinea pigs and rodents (like hamsters for example) have the same needs. There is a lot of discussion about should guinea pigs have the wheel in their cage or not and that is exactly what are we going to talk about in this article.

Let’s get straight to the point, do guinea pigs need a wheel in their cage? No, guinea pigs don’t need a wheel in their cage because a wheel can damage their back. Guinea pigs have different anatomy compared to hamsters and that is why a wheel can be deadly to them. More than that, even if you buy them a wheel, guinea pigs will not use it.

We always need to keep an eye on everything that our pets use. Especially if we are talking about guinea pigs: they are really sensitive to anything.

Even if there are many similarities between their needs (guinea pigs and other rodents), they are certainly not the same. Even if something is labeled to be for guinea pigs (or any pet, especially a sensitive one), it is always better for you to do research beforehand. This can save you a lot of money, and it can certainly prevent you from doing some basic mistakes. 

Now we are going to go more in-depth about why a wheel and even exercise balls are just a terrible choice of a toy for a guinea pig. Let’s start!


Why Can a Wheel Put Guinea Pig’s Life in Danger?

Do Guinea Pigs Need a Wheel

When you think about hamsters, probably the first thing that comes to your mind is an image of a hamster in a wheel. Yes, it’s an appropriate toy for those little breeds of rodents such as hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils and others.

It is very beneficial to keep them in good shape and also to have some fun. However, this should never be the image you see when you think about guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs have different anatomy from the other little rodents and running in a wheel can cause terrible injury to their backs. 

These spinal injuries always happen when you put your guinea pig in a wheel.

Why?

Hamsters’ backs are arched when they run on a wheel. Guinea pigs are not designed to have an arched back as hamsters do. They haven’t developed this special characteristic, and if they are forced to bend their backs, injuries will occur.  

To make you understand this fact a little better, we need to talk more about hamsters. A good rule of thumb is that the diameter of the wheel should be at least twice the length of your stretched out hamster. If the wheel is smaller, the hamster’s back will be too arched, and it will cause back pain.  

This is also why guinea pigs don’t need wheels. They can’t arch their backs as much as a hamster does, so the diameter of the wheel would have to be much longer than twice your guinea pig’s length to be comfortable for your guinea pig to run on a wheel.


On the other hand, it would need to have solid flooring, because guinea pigs’ legs are too sensitive to run on the mesh flooring seen in a lot of metal wheels. There are no such big wheels specially designed for guinea pigs anywhere, so this is the problem. If you want to build this kind of wheel, feel free to do it. It is just not convenient for you.

Guinea pigs do not feel the same need to run as hamsters. Hamsters can get depressed if they are not running and they feel the urge to run most of the time. 

Even if you buy your little friend an exercise wheel, it will probably be just to make the cage look nicer. Guinea pigs won’t even use it. They might stare at it occasionally and sometimes use it as a butt-scratching device. 

With this in mind, here are some ideas to help you make your little guinea pig happy


Ways to Keep Your Guinea Pig Entertained and in a Good Shape Without Harming Him

The most important and obvious thing to do is to buy the largest cage you can find and afford. It is known that guinea pigs need a lot of floor space to be active. A big cage will make all the difference and, this way, you won’t be stressed whether you need to get it a wheel or not. 

Guinea pigs have different preferences from other pets. They love burrowing, nibbling and sometimes tossing things.

Guinea pigs don’t like running and climbing.

This is why it is actually easier to entertain a guinea pig without spending too much time of your time. It is especially useful to know these alternatives for the times when you are busy, and you don’t have time and energy to cuddle with your guinea pig.

We have discovered a lot of ways guinea pigs can have a good time, and we will share with you as much as we can! 


Carefully Pick a Toy for Guinea Pigs

 Toy for Guinea Pigs

You also need to keep in mind that guinea pigs are like babies. They will lick or even chew what you give them. The point is that the toy you give them will certainly go into their mouths. So be careful when you choose a toy for them.

Never give them something made out of metals or something with sharp edges. Also, think about toxic glue and dyes. To cut it short, just buy or give them things that are approved for children.

Just as important as a big cage is the fact that you need to play with them. Spend some lap time with your little friend. This will make it happier annd in no time you will feel a connection between the two of you. Also, if you don’t just cuddle with him and you actually play with him, that will help even more by keeping him active and full of life. 


Guinea Pigs Love Cardboard Boxes

Guinea Pigs Love Cardboard Boxes

Another excellent and money-saving alternative is cardboard boxes. Guinea pigs are prey animals, they are used to, and they enjoy playing hide and seek, especially if they are not really in danger.

They love to run in and out of the boxes. You can give your friends some of your old cereal boxes or any kind of cardboard box you don’t need anymore.

It’s a very cheap idea to entertain your pet, and it will work surprisingly well. When the boxes get dirty or wet, you can easily replace them with new ones.  

Following the same idea, they can also play with clothes and blankets. You can hang some pieces of clothing or fleece in their cage to let them play. They will hide between the clothes so if you have old clothes you’re not using anymore, think about your little friend before you throw them away.


  Related: Top 10 Best Guinea Pig Hideouts (Tubes/Tunnels and Caves)


Sock or a Paper Bag

Another alternative that you can use for guinea pigs to play with is kind of foolish, but it is a lot of fun for them, and also for you to watch. You can take a sock or a brown paper bag and fill it up with hay. 

They will love to take the hay out and eat it. It might seem pointless to you, but I assure you they will love you more for this toy! 


Any Type of Ball

Guinea pigs like any Type of Ball

Even if it’s not safe for them to run in an exercise ball or wheel, you can always give them a ball (a tennis ball or a ping-pong ball are appropriate for them). They will enjoy pushing it around, and it is a very safe way of letting them play on their own or you can play with them as well. 

Recently, in the last few years or so, bird or cat toys have been given to guinea pigs, especially the bells that can be hung in their cage. You can leave your guinea pig without supervision if the bell is too big to fit into his mouth. Otherwise, remove the bell when you are not around; it’s much safer that way. 

Another thing you can do is let them play with plastic spoons. However, it’s better to give them the plastic spoons when you are playing with him.


Change Their Toys Often

There are a lot of boring things for humans that guinea pigs love. However, they get bored very quickly, and this is why to need to change their toys as soon as possible.

This will help your guinea pig to exercise often and will help you to keep your little friend entertained and excited. 


Summary

Guinea pigs don’t like cage wheels. They will not even use them because they can cause the little guinea pigs back injuries.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can keep your friend in good shape physically while keeping him healthy and happy.

There is a probably an infinite number of things you can do to get your guinea pig out of a bad mood.

So, don’t be scared, there is always something else you can do! 


Related: What Guinea Pigs Like to Do?


List of Sources

Sullivan, J., Swofford, L.D., Are Guinea Pigs Rodents? The Importance of Adequate Models in Molecular Phylogenetics, Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 1997.

Cooper, G., Schiller, L.A., Anatomy of the Guinea Pig, Harvard University Press, 1975.

Novak, C. M. , Burghardt, P. R., Levine, J. A., The use of a running wheel to measure activity in rodents: Relationship to energy balance, general activity, and reward , Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 2011.

Basso, J. C., Morrell, J. I., Using wheel availability to shape running behavior of the rat towards improved behavioral and neurobiological outcomes, Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 2017.

Donnelly, T. M., Rodent Husbandry and Care, Purdue University, 2007.

Donnelly, T. M., Overview of Rodents, The Kenneth S. Warren Institute.

White, W. J., Balk, M. W., Lang, C. M., Use of cage space by guineapigs, 1989.

Clarissa Moolbrock

Clarissa Moolbrock is one of the founders and editor at Guinea Pig Tube. She is also an author of "Complete Guinea Pig Care Guide: The Essential, Practical Guide To All Aspects of Caring for Your Guinea Pigs" (available on Amazon). Being a veterinary technician helping animals and sharing her experience and knowledge with other guinea pig owners is her passion. Her life goal is to popularise guinea pigs as pets and that is why she has started Guinea Pig Tube website.