Popcorn And Wheek: British Guinea Pigs Are Doing Well
Some 400,000 guinea pigs live in the United Kingdom. In this study, the authors set out to learn more about their welfare and identify which factors play the greatest role in ensuring they lead a good life. An online questionnaire surveyed 4,590 U.K. guinea pig guardians, who collectively care for over 14,000 guinea pigs. Their results highlight the importance of companionship, sufficient space, and a healthy diet for good welfare.
The study takes an outcomes-focused approach to animal welfare, asking guardians to report on behaviors that reflect a guinea pig’s quality of life. Indicators of good welfare include the delightfully named “popcorning,” where a guinea pig jumps around excitedly like a kernel popping; and “wheeking,” a squeak of enthusiasm. Poor welfare is associated with behaviors like chewing on cage bars and chattering their teeth.
Over half of guardians reported that their guinea pigs popcorn, wheek, and stand on their hind legs every day, while over 70% lie stretched out every day. In contrast, negative behaviors were observed less frequently: around 10% of guinea pigs chew the bars of their enclosures every day, and just under 30% chatter their teeth every day. However, almost 9% of guardians never saw their guinea pig popcorn.
In addition to behavior, the study asked about health issues. Almost 60% of respondents stated that their guinea pig had never suffered from the health problems listed, although less than 13% of respondents visited the vet for the recommended six-monthly check-up.
Questions about factors such as diet, enclosure, health, and social interactions allowed the study authors to explore how these relate to welfare. The survey found that almost 80% of guinea pigs in the U.K. live with at least one other guinea pig, and that 80% of guinea pigs live in enclosures larger than the British Cavy Council’s recommendations. 95% of survey respondents also provided an exercise area (e.g. a run) for their guinea pigs.
Several lifestyle factors were linked to guinea pig welfare, both positively and negatively. For example, larger enclosures were associated with a greater frequency of positive behaviors, and guinea pigs who were fed green vegetables experienced fewer health issues. On the negative side, living with a rabbit is stressful for guinea pigs: this is reflected in a lower frequency of positive behaviors. Fortunately, housing rabbits and guinea pigs together seems relatively uncommon – less than 2% of guinea pigs in the survey lived with a rabbit.
There’s room for improvement, but overall this study paints an encouraging picture of the welfare of guinea pigs living in the U.K., with the authors noting that many are well cared for. We’ve still a long way to go in the fight for better animal protection – for guinea pigs as for all nonhuman animals – but this study nonetheless offers a sliver of sunshine. And for any animal advocate who needs an extra boost right now, a video of baby guinea pigs popcorning (including slow-motion footage!) is just a Google away.