More than 170 calls regarding guinea pigs were received in the south west last year by an animal welfare hotline.

The RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty line took at total of 171 calls from people raising concern for the welfare of guinea pigs in the south west, while the national figure stands at 1,337 calls.

In Dorset alone, 19 calls were made to the RSPCA's hotline.

Devon had the highest number of calls, with 57, followed by Somerset with 30. Gloucestershire and Cornwall were tied on 22, while Wiltshire had 14 and Bristol had seven.

Dr Jane Tyson, 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.

"Guinea pigs are sociable, active animals. They need to live with at least one other friendly guinea pig and benefit from enrichment so 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 and expend some energy. As well as being great for their wellbeing, playing with your pet piggy can also strengthen the bond between you and your pets."

As part of Guinea Pig Appreciation Day, which took place on Tuesday, July 16, The RSPCA shared some tips on how to play with guinea pigs.

These included making tunnels for the guinea pigs, scattering food around, making sushi for them and clicker training.

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