How to Teach a Guinea Pig to Use a Treat Ball

Peach loves her cute carrot treat ball!

Treat balls are commonly used for dogs and other animals. However, they also provide a great source of enrichment and exercise for guinea pigs!

A treat ball is a small hollow ball with an opening to fill up with treats. Your guinea pig can then roll the ball around with their nose to make the treats fall out.

Treat balls are fantastic boredom busters and are great for encouraging your guinea pig to move around and keep excess weight off.

Treat balls for dogs and cats can be found at most pet stores, but guinea pig treat balls are a little less common.

However, you can find them pretty easily online at places like Amazon.

What Treats Should You Use in a Treat Ball?

Treat balls work best with small treats that are relatively dry and not sticky or wet. The treats should be much smaller than the opening on the treat ball so the pieces fall out easily when the guinea pig rolls it around. They should also be fairly dry so the inside of the treat ball doesn’t get messy and sticky. Fruit and juicy vegetables are best avoided so the treat ball stays clean and dry.

Your guinea pig’s regular pellet food is a great option if your guinea pig loves their pellets.

For piggies that eat too fast or are a little chunky, swapping their regular bowl for a treat ball can encourage them to slow down their eating and walk around their enclosure more.

Small pieces of carrot work well in treat balls for guinea pigs.

This also replicates their natural foraging behaviors and turns their mealtime into a fun mental game.

For guinea pigs that are a little pickier (or just learning) carrots diced up into small pieces provide a little more motivation and higher value for the treat ball.

This is what I typically start with for piggies that are new to using a treat ball.

How to Introduce a Treat Ball to Your Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs may not understand how to use a treat ball right from the start. However, you can set them up for success with some simple training steps!

TJ smells the treats inside!

To begin, fill the treat ball mostly full with small pieces of high-value treats (I start with bits of carrot diced up very small.) Treats fall out more easily when the ball is full, which provides a high rate of reinforcement for learning early on.

Next, start with the opening on the treat ball as large as it goes. Place the treat ball down with the opening facing the floor.

Scatter several tiny treats right beside the treat ball and point them out to your guinea pig. Place some of the treats very close to the ball so they have to nudge the ball a little to get the treats. Use your finger or lure them with a piece of food over to the treats near the ball.

Keep putting more small treats close to the treat ball until they are nudging the ball more frequently in search of the treats. Eventually, they should nudge the ball hard enough to roll it over, resulting in several treats falling out of the treat ball.

Let them eat the treats and then repeat the process, placing the treat ball with the opening facing the floor. You want to make it very easy for them to get the treats out at first, so they understand that nudging the treat ball produces lots of yummy food!

When you notice them nudging the ball more consistently, stop scattering the treats beside the ball and see if they’ll nudge the ball without extra prompting. Keep placing the ball with the opening facing down to set them up for success. You can also encourage them by pointing to the ball and tipping it a little with your finger.

Once your guinea pig is nudging the ball pretty frequently to get the treats, you can start teaching them to gradually push the ball further.

You can do this by placing the ball with the opening a quarter of a turn away from the floor, so they have to nudge it harder or multiple times to result in the treats falling out. After several repetitions, gradually turn the ball until the opening starts facing up rather than on the floor.

If your guinea pig struggles or begins to lose interest, go back a step and make it easier again. You always want to set them up for success. Also, be sure to keep sessions short and take the treat ball away before they lose interest so the value of the ball stays high.

When your guinea pig understands the concept of the treat ball and is rolling it consistently and looking for the treats, you can begin to up the challenge. You can do this by putting fewer treats in the ball, making the opening on the treat ball smaller (but double-check that the treats can still fit through!), or using the treat ball for lower-value food like pellets.

In Closing

Treat balls are a fantastic enrichment toy for guinea pigs that stimulates both their brain and body. They encourage natural foraging behaviors and provide exercise to keep your guinea pig at a healthy weight.

Most guinea pigs love treat balls, but it can take some time for them to learn how to use it at first. However, by following the steps outlined above, your guinea pig will be rolling their new treat ball around in no time.