30 January 2024
Guinea Pigs in Schools: Environment & Enrichment
Check out this blog by Chloe Thomas RVN as she discusses the importance of the five freedoms and keeping guinea pigs in the classroom.
Animals in school have been proven to have many positive impacts on children, such as teaching responsibility, emotional development and building self esteem. However these benefits might overshadow the time and care that animals need to live a happy and healthy life. So it’s important that teachers understand the 5 welfare needs of animals before a school decides to get a pet. As of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it’s a legal obligation to ensure their needs are met by any staff members who are responsible for the animal on the school premises.
The 5 welfare needs of animals are:
All 5 welfare needs interlink. If one of their needs isn’t met, this will most likely have an impact on at least one, if not more of their other needs.
This part of the toolkit will be focusing on the Guinea Pigs environment and the enrichment provided within it.
Small furies are often kept in too small of an enclosure which can affect both their health and behaviour. Guinea pigs need a hutch at least 1.5m x 1m with a 2m x 1m run attached. Their hutch should be weatherproof and raised off the ground, to protect them from the elements. The hutch should be lined with wood shavings/sawdust (dust free). Bedding should be clean and dry hay/straw/shredded paper.
They should have constant access to their exercise area. This should ideally be a grassy area which may need to be moved around regularly to make sure there is fresh grass and it doesn’t get boggy.
In the wild, Guinea pigs are a prey animal. This means that they like to hide so will need things to hide in to feel comfortable, like boxes, tunnels and pots.
The hutch will also need cleaning regularly.
- Remove wet/dirty lining/bedding
- Remove and replace uneaten food and water
- Clean more thoroughly
- Empty hutch completely (move guinea pigs somewhere safe)
- Scrub thoroughly with pet safe cleaner
- Only let piggies back in when completely dry
- Clean toys/shelters
Guinea Pigs are vey intelligent and inquisitive animals. Just like us, they can get bored. They need toys which should be rotated regularly.
Guinea pigs also love to chew, and this also benefits their health as chewing grinds their constantly growing teeth down. So they need to be provided with things they can chew on such as toilet rolls, cardboard and chew toys which are usually made of wood.
Rather than putting all of their food in one place (like a bowl) spread it around the enclosure to mimic foraging. This will keep them entertained and their brain engaged for much longer.
Guinea pigs could be a great asset to your classroom, but it shouldn’t be downplayed how much time and effort they need to be properly taken care of. So remember this before welcoming them into your classroom.