Three ways to prevent destructive gnawing

30 May

Like all other rodents, guinea pigs’ incisors grow continuously. Consequently, cavies must gnaw regularly to keep their teeth from becoming overgrown. This is where a common inter-species misunderstanding frequently develops: the cavy might think it’s practicing good oral hygiene, but to its humans it’s just being annoying, making a racket and destroying property.

You can’t stop your guinea pig from chewing. It would not be healthy behavior for any cavy. However, with a few tricks you can encourage your guinea pig to gnaw on more acceptable surfaces than the plastic side of its cage.

Chew Toys

Offering alternative, more appealing objects to chew is your first line of defense against destructive gnawing. For most cavies, this is all you’ll need to do.

The secret to making this trick successful is finding chew toys that will attract your pet. All cavies are individuals with their own idea of what makes an exceptionally interesting chew toy, but most cavies prefer to chew a block of cubed hay. You can usually find multiple varieties of these cubes at pet stores or at your local livestock feed store — they’re pretty common. Pet stores also carry commercial chew toys, some of which are made from dried fruits and seeds, and bound together with honey or molasses. These can be effective. Other toys include blocks of wood for your cavy to chew. Or, you can collect sticks on your own, from you backyard, when you prune your trees. Guinea pigs enjoy stripping the bark from natural twigs. If available, fruit wood is always popular.

A quick word of warning: if you’re not careful in your selection, you could accidentally end up with a toy that could harm your pet. If you buy from a store, avoid dyes and excessive sugar, as these could make your cavy sick. If you collect your own sticks, be sure the wood has not been sprayed, and pluck of any small twigs that stick out and might poke your cavy’s eye. Eye injuries are relatively common among guinea pigs.

Cage Color and Design

If your cavy has ready access to toys and treats for chewing, but gnawing continues to be a problem, the cage itself might present an issue.

If you choose a cage that includes small, pointed tabs of plastic your cavy can readily access, these edges will be chewed. You’re probably better off removing these bits entirely, if the chewing bothers you, because it is likely the chewing will continue regardless of your disapproval. The color of your cage can also encourage chewing — if a surface looks edible, your cavy will likely samlple it. Green and blue may not be the best colors for your cavy’s pen. Green looks a lot like the grass, hay and veggies that typically comprise a cavy’s diet. And because guinea pigs cannot see the color yellow, blue and green look similar to your pet.

Those who keep male and female guinea pigs will find that the location of the cage is equally important. Lonely males will chew at the sides of their cage if housed next door to females.

Bitter Apple

If your cavy continues to gnaw despite the availability of appropriate options and proper cage design, Bitter Apple and other, similar products may be your best shot at solving the problem.

Bitter Apple is a foul-tasting, but otherwise safe, chemical that can be sprayed on a chewable surface to make it less desirable to you cavy. It’s available at most pet stores, and usually kept near the hamster products. Note, however, that this is not a fail-proof solution. If you fail to cavy-proof your pen, or to provide appropriate surfaces for chewing, the application of Bitter Apple will only cause your cavy to relocate its habit.

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2 Responses to “Three ways to prevent destructive gnawing”

  1. Val May 30, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    The seed/honey/fruit treats can be very high calorie and high sugar, be careful with these (my opinion is they are messy and exprnsive, and tend to be best loved by the cavies who…er…least needed those extra calories).

    Free feeding timothy hay actually can curb a LOT of chewing issue, and putting the hay in something like a wire manger or ball or rolling hay hopper or even a toilet paper roll can help with enrichment.

    Be very, very, very careful offering just any old twigs to your pets. Many fruit woods and willow are generally safe, but others can be very toxic. I worked on a horse ranch for a time, and we had a lot of black walnut on the property that we had to be diligent about keeping fenced off from bored and young horses. Research what is safe, but best to err on the side of caution. Favorite toys for our set are willow balls, and the sisal balls with a jingle bell in them, along with toilet paper tubes.

    They also make chewable wood and willow “houses,” or else a clean cardboard box can work well as well.

    To any who ever have the unfortunate circumstance if having a “barbering” piggy, you have my sympathies. I had a long-haired little monstr whose favorite chew toy was his brother. They always looked like mental institution escapees for randomly chewed fur.

  2. EmaPen June 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    You make some good points, Val. I never recommend feeding anything haphazardly; however, I write from my own experience, and we have used fruit tree trimmings to great success (our guineas love the bark!). We have also used treat logs from time to time, but sparingly. When we have had issues with obesity in our cavies in the past, it was directly correlated to using an alpha-based feed. We switched over to timothy pellets and haven’t had a problem since.

    But the hay cubes are by far the best solution for habitat chewing that I have come across. It doesn’t help much with barbering, but that’s an entirely different issue.

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