Friday, August 29, 2014

How to Clean Guinea Pig Fleece

Using fleece in your guinea pig's cage seems dead simple: Buy a few yards of thick fleece, put it in the piggie's cage, and every two days or so, shake/clean it out. Around the third or fourth day, you wash it, and in goes a second piece of fleece. In theory, it seems simple, but actually, it varies among guinea pig owners. Some like it to look super meticulously clean, while others don't mind if the pig gets messy a bit. There is a great overview of the stuff on the forum, called The Fleece Project: The Study.  It covers purchasing, preparing and using fleece. 

The Fleece Project recommends a Vacuum-Shake-Brush-Beat routine. I prefer a Brush-Shake-Baby Wipe-Air Dry-Shake routine for cleaning fleece. You probably have (or will have) your own favored routine. As I pull the fleece out of the cage, I sweep much of the debris into the cage with the hand held sweeping brush. All of this brushing  often crushes some of the hay, so I find running the dust buster over it briefly can pull off the crumbs and any of the loosened hair. Then I shake the remaining, stubborn bits outside followed by the baby wipe where there's urine. Then I drape it over a patio chair and let it air-dry for a bit, which removes any other hairs or hay bits and makes it less wet. 

If the weather is good, I do all of this outdoors, because the hair and hay bits will just blow away. Plus, I don’t have to sweep up the floor when I’m done. Less dust in the house, too. It takes some time and effort, but the results are impressive. You can see the difference with Willow’s fleece.

I have found that thin fleece is better to wick away the urine, and is easier to clean during this process. Polar fleece is downright impossible, but it does absorb well. The reason I use thinner fleece because I only have one pig, but if your guinea pigs are masters at using the bathroom all over the place, or you have a tricky cage base(if it's the kind that absorbs the urine easily) add towels underneath and a puppy pad or two. 
It takes some time and effort, but the results are impressive. You can see the difference with Willow’s fleece.  The prep-work also makes the washing machine (and my mom) a whole lot happier. It doesn’t need to be wiped down after a load of piggy fleece. As an added bonus, if I dry the fleece in the dryer, the lint trap doesn’t look like half a guinea pig was shaved into it. :)


Even if you use the tecniques described above, your pig's fleece still needs to be washed twice or even three times a week. Pretty much everyone agrees that vinegar is great for removing urine and odor from fleece. Beyond that, laundering techniques can vary as much as the prep-work. 

If you pour in about 1/2 to 1 cup of vinegar, a scoop of OxiClean and maybe a drop of detergent with a large load of pig fleece, it gets rid of odors and icky urine stains. Some washers have an extra rinse options, so if yours does, use that and run with warm/cold water (instead of hot). Fleece doesn’t hold onto the water, so you can just leave it out to dry.

That’s my basic cleaning routine. Nothing complicated. I sweep daily with a sweeping brush or the lightly with the rubber mitt. I do the Brush-Shake-Baby Wipe-Air Dry-Shake thing every few days. Fleece that is dry, clean and doesn’t smell may go back in the cage; stuff that needs washing goes in the hamper. I run a load whenever the hamper is full or when I’m on my last set of clean fleece for the cage.  Your mileage will vary, based on number of pigs, their habits, humidity, cage setup (including what you use under the fleece) and your personal sense of what’s clean or not.

Cleaning Fleece 

Images courtesy of Sally 
Willow's fleece: before and after

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hedgie Body Language

You will be able to tell how your pet hedgehog is feeling from its body language and the sounds it makes. Here are some of its typical responses and what they signify.

Rolling up

Rolling  into a ball is a defence mechanism and it means it is frightened or doesn’t like what’s going on around it. Reasons for this could be sharp noises, the smell of a predator or when a person it doesn’t know tries to handle it. Hedgehogs also sleep rolled up in a ball but not as tightly as when it is in its defensive posture.

Raising its forehead spines

Hedgehogs will raise the spines on their foreheads to protect its eyes whenever it is feeling wary or distrustful.  It will often raise its spines when you are caressing its back and your hand strays to close to its head. When young hedgehogs play together they always keep their forehead spines raised.

Flat spines

Once your pet hedgehog gets to know  and trust you, it will keep its spines flat while you are caressing it. It might take a while longer for it to stop raising its forehead spines.

The flehmen response

When a hedgehog smells something interesting or dangerous it will hold its snout high with its mouth slightly open and its top lip curled back. This behaviour is known as the flehmen response and is also seen in cats and dogs.


You will sometimes see your hedgehog foaming at the mouth and if you don’t know what’s happening it can be quite disconcerting at first.  This behavior typically occurs when it smells something new in its cage or its surroundings.  It will sometimes lick or chew the scented object and salivate profusely producing foam. It will then spread the foam over the spines of its back and neck and the hair along its flanks. Nobody is really quite sure why it does this and theories range from it being a way adding a form of toxin to its spines to deter predators, a kind of perfume to attract a mate or a defensive strategy to make the hedgehog blend in with its surroundings.


The most noticeable and frequent sound your hedgehog will make is the huffing and snuffling noise you will hear as it searches for food or moves things around in its cage.  It will also hiss and make a jumping motion if it disturbed or annoyed. You’ll hear soft grunts or sniffs of contentment as it goes about the important business of feeding. If you hear loud screaming or squeals it means your hedgehog is in severe pain or danger. If you have more than one hedgehog in a cage it may mean they are fighting and they should be separated immediately. Baby hedgehogs make a chirping sound that later turns into a cry which can become loud and piercing if they find themselves separated from their mother.  A happy hedgehog will make soft snuffling noises as they crawl all over you but will hiss and huff if they are startled by something while being handled. Hedgehogs will often snore while sleeping and make other noises that may indicate they are dreaming.

Observing your hedgehog

Apart from the typical responses and behavior mentioned above, you’ll also find that your hedgehog will develop its own individual characteristics and quirks. One author reports that one of his hedgehogs learned to stand on its back legs and lean its fore paws against his leg when it wanted attention. If you observe your pet you’ll soon learn about how it is trying to communicate with you and further increase your enjoyment of owning your spiky little friend.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ramps in Piggie Cages

Ramps, Stairs, and Ladders

If your pets' cage is split over several levels, they will need some way of getting up and down between them. Ramps are the best thing for the job, although there are alternatives if you don't have much space. You can also use guinea pig ramps to allow your cavies to get in and out of their cage, and to add interest to a run or playpen.


Guinea pigs are most comfortable walking on solid, flat surfaces, so a ramp is the best thing to use if you need to give your animals something to walk up and down. Try to keep the angle as shallow as possible by getting a ramp of a good length - if it is too short and too steep, your pets will have difficulty getting up and down it, and may avoid using it completely.

A cage ramp
Provide ramps for your pets to move between different cage levels. This one doubles back on itself to save space.

Many pet stores sell ramps which are made from solid wood. These are ok, but can be a little uncomfortable on your guinea pigs' feet, and you might also find that they can't get enough grip to walk up it properly. You can fix both of these problems by covering the ramp with a soft, grippy material such as carpet, towelling, or rubber.

If your guinea pigs' cage doesn't have much room for a ramp, you can buy or make one which doubles back on itself. This gives the benefits of a shallow angle without taking up lots of space. These are particularly common in hutches which have a built-in guinea pig run underneath.

When buying or making a guinea pig ramp, make sure it has plenty of width. This will make your cavies feel safer and more confident when using it.


If your pets have a steep angle to climb, or if you are very pushed for space, you can use stairs rather than a ramp. Guinea pigs are actually quite comfortable using them, and can get up some surprisingly large heights - they can even be taught to climb the stairs in your home! When buying them, make sure that each step is large enough for them to sit comfortably before tackling the next one.

Wooden stairs
Stairs are a good alternative if you haven't got space for a ramp.


Guinea pigs have very delicate, sensitive feet which makes it painful for them to walk on wire mesh ladders, so they should be avoided. They also tend to be far too steep for your cavies to climb, so you will find they won't use them anyway.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Litter-training Piggies - Is it possible?

When new pet owners bring their furry little bundles of joy home, it doesn’t take them long to realize how much poop piggies can produce. This often leaves them asking the question: Can I litter train my guinea pigs? The answer quite simply is yes, but only to a certain extent.

If you want your pigs to only use their litter box and never have accidents when they are out of their cage, then perhaps you are setting your standards too high. Be realistic. If your guinea pig manages to use it’s litter box even just 50% of the time, it will still help keep the cage tidy and reduce your work for cage clean outs.

We’ve all seen the small corner litter trays available at pet supply stores for various sized rodents, and dream that perhaps our piggies, too, could learn to be more ‘accurate’ with where they go. Well, the next time you’re shopping, I suggest you pick one up to try it with your piggies, or try constructing your own.

Both female and male guinea pigs can be territorial and like to scent mark around the cage. Often guinea pigs will choose corners in their cage to go to the bathroom in, constantly returning to the same corner. When you have seen that your guinea pig has chosen a corner, place the litter box in the spot. Put your normal bedding in the litter box before trying any new types of litter.

Steps for Success

  • Allow your guinea pigs to scope out their perfect toilet corner, before placing a litter tray in the cage
  • Put the litter tray in the corner that the guinea pigs seem to pee/poop in the most
  • Fill the litter box with a familiar smelling and looking litter to the one the guinea pigs are currently on
  • Wait to ensure that the guinea pigs are content using the same corner before changing the litter
  • Change the litter box every three days as needed, and wash it every other week. This ensures that the guinea pigs’ scent is still strong on it, so they will more willingly go back to use the litter box and ‘re-scent’ it.

If all succeeds, your piggie should still be happy to go in his/her chosen corner; but now you can more easily clean it by simply emptying and refilling the litter box. Some guinea pig owners have tried putting food dishes in their litter trays so that as they eat, they will also pee/poop in the same location. This is a conflicting method as many animals avoid urinating and defecating near their food source. As your guinea pig becomes more comfortable with using the litter tray, try using your preferred litter such as Carefresh or Yesterday’s News.

Despite guinea pigs sometimes not seeming to be the brightest, like when they popcorn, they are surprisingly smart and clean animals. So give your guinea pig the chance to try the litter box, and maybe they’ll be happier to use it than you think!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Homemade Rat Toys

Rats are intelligent and playful and need a variety of toys to keep them amused and active. With a little creativity, you can provide inexpensive and entertaining homemade toys in addition to a variety of store-bought toys.

Safety First 
The most important thing when choosing any pet toy is that it is safe. Anything you give your rat must be non toxic, and you should also watch bits that might be swallowed and cause a blockage of the digestive tract. This includes threads off of fabric items and ropes. Also, loose threads might become wrapped around toes or pose a strangulation risk (fleece is a good choice as it avoids the loose thread problem).

Cardboard boxes and rolls from paper towels, toilet paper, and other rolls make good toys. Boxes are great for hiding in, though they will often be shredded fairly quickly (but that is fun too).

Another great idea is to take a variety of boxes and other items to create a rat playhouse for enjoyment outside of the cage during playtime. You can tape together a bunch of boxes and create a network of rooms connected by doors, ramps, bridges and ladders. See an example at The Dapper Rat.

Some concerns have been raised about potential toxicity of the ink and glues used in cardboard and paper towel roll cores. Little data is available on the safety of these; I think these items are safe in moderation, but efforts should be made to use plain cardboard or paper whenever possible.

Most rats love shredding paper. Small plain brown paper lunch bags are great for playing in as well as shredding. Crumpled up paper makes a fun, if temporary, ball. Your rats will likely love digging, diving, and hiding in a plastic bin or box filled with crumpled or shredded paper. Paper towels and tissues are also great for shredding, and your rats can make a nice bed out of these too.

Also, try wrapping or folding a piece of paper in layers around a favorite treat; shredding and unwrapping the treat will keep your rat busy for a while.

Wood is good for chewing (and rats need to chew on to keep their teeth in good condition). Make sure wood is untreated, not painted, and non-toxic. Branches from apple or willow trees are good as well (make sure no pesticides have been used).

Digging Box
Hard-shelled nuts provide good chewing opportunities as well as a tasty treat inside (use sparingly as many nuts are high in fats).

Most rats love a digging box. Take a small cat litter pan or other shallow plastic box and fill it halfway with plain sterilized potting soil (not treated with any chemicals or fertilizer, and with no additives like vermiculite). Plant some birdseed or wheat grass and water it for a while to let the seeds sprout and grow for a bit, then let your rats go crazy in the box. To minimize the mess, don't water the box for a day or two before offering it to your rats, and place it a bathtub or spread a tablecloth or newspapers around the box to contain the mess. Your rats will love to dig in the soil and snack on the sprouts or unsprouted seeds.

Tubes and Tunnels 
PVC pipe is pretty indestructible, and comes in a variety of sizes and configurations at your local hardware store. You can get a simple straight piece or use a variety of connectors to create a network of tubes. Choose a size you are sure your rats will be able to fit through without getting stuck.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can also make great collapsible tubes out of fleece or other sturdy fabrics. You can even sew a ring cut from a plastic bottle or wide cardboard tube into the ends to help hold it open. Sleeves cut off old sweatshirts are also handy tubes/sleep sacks.

Other Containers For Hiding and Climbing 
Clean jars and clay plant pots placed on their sides make neat hiding spots for rats. Mini stacking bins (like those meant for office or workshop supplies) make great hiding spots too. Washed coconut shells are also good for hiding, climbing and chewing.

Rats are very agile and like to climb on ropes. You can make little rope ladders and bridges for in the cage. Cotton rope comes in some nice thick widths and is usually available at hardware or horse supply stores. Just make sure the configuration of ropes doesn't post a strangulation risk and that your rats are not unraveling the threads.

If you are really creative, you can get supplies (such as vegetable tanned leather or other bird toy parts) and make your own elaborate toys.

More Great Ideas: see The Dapper Rat for more interesting and fun ideas to keep your rats busy.