ANIMAL welfare charity the RSPCA is highlighting the plight of neglected guinea pigs after more than 170 calls were made to its cruelty line last year in the South West.

In Dorset alone, the 24-hours service received nearly 20 calls regarding concerns for the welfare of guinea pigs.

Nationally, the charity received 1,337 calls about the small pets.

The figures have been revealed following Guinea Pig Appreciation Day earlier this week.

Dr Jane Tyson, the RSPCA’s rabbit and rodent expert, said: “Our cruelty line receives a lot of calls from members of the public who are concerned for the welfare of guinea pigs, perhaps because they are not getting the care they need from their owners or maybe they have been found abandoned which we see all too often.

“They are one of the UK’s most misunderstood pets and this is largely because they are seen as an ‘easy first pet’ for children.

“Guinea pigs can make fantastic pets, but like all animals they have very complex needs and should never be the sole responsibility of a child.

“Sadly, one of the issues we see is that some guinea pigs are still kept in small cages with little chance for exercise or human contact, and possibly, more importantly, no contact with other guinea pigs.”

Dr Tyson said guinea pigs were “sociable, active animals” who need to live with at least one other “friendly” guinea pig and benefit from enrichment.

“It’s important to give them a large space where they can play and explore together. It can also be very fun to come up with unique ways to help your guinea pigs stay entertained.

“As well as being great for their wellbeing, playing with your pet piggy can also strengthen the bond between you and your pets.”

To celebrate Guinea Pig Appreciation Day, the RSPCA has given its top tips on playing with your piggies:

  • Provide tunnels for your guinea pigs to run through - they will also make their own if you give them lots of hay
  • Scatter your piggies’ food so they can spend time searching and sniffing it out
  • Turn cardboard boxes into hidey-holes for them to explore
  • Scrunch up pieces of paper and hide food inside the parcel for them to unwrap
  • Allow them plenty of space to ‘popcorn’ - this is when they jump off the group and turn in mid-air when they are excited
  • Make sure you have more than one guinea pig as socialising is a great form of enrichment
  • Why not think about clicker training your guinea pigs? Done correctly this can enhance the bond with your pets.