How to give your guinea pigs a great place to live

A very important part of keeping your guinea pigs healthy and happy is making sure they have a suitable place to live that really feels like home. That means understanding exactly what guinea pigs need to feel safe and happy. Your guinea pigs need as much space as possible so that they can relax and be able to roam, explore and forage, just like they would in the wild. Your guinea pigs’ housing should be permanently attached to a larger space within which they can exercise freely at any point in the day or night. This can be a safe guinea pig-proofed room indoors or a large run outdoors. In  this section we'll cover:

Housing essentials ● Safe bedding ● Exercise spaces ● Home comforts ● 
● An enriching environment ● Cleaning your guinea pigs' housing ●

    Setting up your guinea pigs' housing with essentials

    Wherever your guinea pigs live – indoors, outdoors, or a combination of the two – in terms of their living space, the RSPCA advises that your piggies need:
    A secure space that's large enough for them to exercise and high enough to stand up fully on their back legs.
    A large exercise area and secure shelter where they can rest, feel safe and protected from predators and extremes of weather and temperature.
    If you're keeping your guinea pigs outside, their hutch should be sheltered from direct sun and wind. In temperatures below 15°C, you should move them indoors. They'll also need sufficient bedding throughout the whole enclosure to keep them warm.
    If you’re keeping your guinea pigs indoors, they’ll need accommodation that's well-ventilated and away from direct heat sources (such as radiators or sunny windows) and draughts. Room temperatures of 15-20°C are ideal. Some areas of centrally heated houses may get too hot, so be careful where you put their housing.
    Keeping rabbits outside

    Do your guinea pigs have enough space?

    Your guinea pigs’ main housing should be draught-free, predator proof and as big as possible – an absolute minimum of 1.5 x 1m (length x width) as a minimum for a compatible pair or a trio. These dimensions include both a shelter and living area.

    Woodgreen advises that the groups of four or more guinea pigs need a larger indoor set up or a converted shed or Wendy House. If a ramp connects the hutch to a run, check it is wide enough and not too steep or your piggies may be too scared to use it. Provide separate toilet and sleeping areas, with plenty of guinea pig bedding hay and paper-based, non-expanding litter.

    Safe and cosy bedding

    The wrong bedding for your piggies can have a negative effect on their health. Wood shavings, sawdust and straw can often contain mites and cause fungal and mange conditions and should be avoided.

    Instead, line your guinea pigs’ enclosure with a thick layer of newspaper and completely cover it with a paper-based, non-expanding litter and good layer of fresh, sweet-smelling meadow hay

    TOP TIP! Always provide the right bedding. Avoid using wood shavings or sawdust as these not only absorb the natural oils that guinea pigs have which they need to keep their coats and skin in good condition, they also create dust, which causes respiratory problems. Don't use fluffy/teddy bear stuffing type bedding because it can get wrapped around limbs causing injuries. Also avoid using straw as it is too coarse and could injure their delicate eyes.

    Keeping rabbits outside

    How to provide an enriching environment

    Providing your guinea pigs with an environment that keeps them active and mentally stimulated will help them stay healthy and happy. Woodgreen has these great ideas to add extra interest to your guinea pigs’ home:

    Hay kebabs and forage trees. Simply take two cardboard toilet rolls and stuff one end with their favourite hay, add some fresh or dried forage into the centre and enclose with more hay. Take a willow stick and pass through the middle of the rolls. Place several of these into an empty cardboard box to make a forage tree.
    Forage bags. Half fill a paper bag with hay or dried grass, mix in some fresh or dried forage and give the whole bag to your piggies. Make sure you cut the handles off before placing in for them to rustle around in.
    Stick bundles. Take 10 – 12 willow or apple sticks and tie tightly around the middle with sisal twine. Hang them from the sides of the run for your piggies to reach up and enjoy.
    Plant pots. Mix some hay and fresh or dried forage into a plant pot and turn it upside down. Watch as your guinea pigs have fun trying to get to the treats.
    Herb planters. Grow herbs such as mint or lemon balm in a plant pot and attach an upturned hanging basket over the top. Your piggies will nibble the herbs while they are growing but not destroy the plant’s roots.
    Mock hedges. These are garden hanging baskets or magazine racks completely stuffed with hay to avoid legs getting trapped. You can hang them up in the run to encourage your guinea pigs to reach up and browse.
    Gnawing twigs. Guinea pigs need to be able to gnaw on items to keep their teeth in good shape. Often, piggies do not enjoy wooden chew toys as the tasty bark has been removed. Try offering apple tree or willow twigs as they love to chew all the bark off, plus it’s great for their digestive system.
    Enrichment is about creating choices for animals, by providing species-appropriate challenges and social opportunities, so they feel more in control of their environment. An enriched environment should promote a range of normal behaviours that animals find rewarding as well as allowing animals to positively respond to potential stressors. For example, opportunities to hide from visitors or bossy, more dominant roommates.

    Did you know?

    Guinea pigs have an odd number of toes – with four on their front feet, but only three on their back ones. While this may be good for tunnelling and burrowing, it means they are not very agile and, with their short little legs, are very poor climbers who will only manage to scale low-pitched ramps. They are, however, very inquisitive, so make sure there are no hazards within their environment that will cause curious cavies to injure themselves.

    The importance of keeping your guinea pigs’ home spick and span

    As with all small pets, it’s up to us humans to ensure their accommodation is clean, dry and hygienic. Your guinea pigs entire housing will need regular cleaning with guinea-pig safe cleaning supplies, which are readily available online or at most pet shops.

    TOP TIP! Guinea pigs have very sensitive skin and are susceptible to a number of skin complaints. Keeping your piggies’ accommodation dry is essential. Damp and dirty bedding creates the ideal environment for bacteria, fungi and other harmful things to thrive in.

    Keeping rabbits outside

    DAILY Do a quick spot check every day. Throw out any damp and soiled newspaper, bedding hay, paper litter and replace with new. Remember to keep back a little of the old hay so that the place still smells like home to your pets. Throw away any uneaten food and refill food containers. Fresh water should be supplied morning and evening. If your pets’ water bottle is turning green with algae, then scrub it clean and disinfect it with hot water and vinegar. If you can’t remove the algae, throw the bottle away and buy a new one.

    WEEKLY A more thorough clean should be completed each week, which involves removing and replacing all bedding.

    MONTHLY Every month you should give your guinea pigs housing a ‘deep clean’ where you take everything out and scrub the housing with a pet-safe cleaner, before putting in fresh bedding and hay. Make sure housing is completely dry before returning your pets.

    Blue Cross has this advice for how to give your guinea pigs’ accommodation a deep clean:

    Remove your guinea pigs from their living area and place them in their exercise run or a pet carrier with some of their bedding.

    Grab the underlying newspaper – on the base of their home – and roll it up with the hay in it.

    • Once this is done, use a dustpan and brush and completely sweep the remaining bits out – sweeping all corners, the sides and the door.
    • Using a pet-safe disinfectant, spray everywhere in their home, including the bars, and wipe down.
    • Leave to dry.

    You're now ready to set it back up.

    Start by lining the bottom of their housing with newspaper.

    • Add lots of hay on top – you can mix your hay so that your guinea pig has lots of different hay types to nibble on and smell.
    • Pop in different types of enrichment such as houses and tunnels.

    Top Tip

    Groom your pets’ coats regularly to keep them in good condition. Longhaired breeds will need grooming daily. Regular grooming will also help you look for any lumps, bumps or bites that suggest your pets are being bothered by parasites so you can deal with it promptly.
    Keeping rabbits outside

    Guinea pig home comforts

    To ensure your guinea pigs are happy, safe, comfortable and have plenty to do, you’ll also need:

    • A gnaw-proof ceramic bowl, so your guinea pigs don’t scare themselves by accidentally knocking it over!
    • A water bottle with a solid sipper tube, attached to their accommodation.
    • Lots of tasty hay – this will allow for natural tunnelling behaviour, as well as making sure they’re getting enough fibre in their diet.
    • Guinea pig nuggets – the carefully balanced vitamins and minerals they contain support healthy eyes, skin and coat and promote a healthy digestion. Avoid ‘muesli’-style foods as these have been shown to cause digestive problems and dental disease. As well as placing some in their bowl, scatter some of their daily portion around their accommodation so they can enjoy some natural foraging behaviour.
    • Guinea pig next boxes – choose wood rather than plastic, which can overheat in hot weather. Make sure you have one for each guinea pig plus a couple of spares so that everyone has plenty of choice.
    • Cosy guinea pig bedding – a good choice is soft, paper bedding for guinea pigs combined with some sweet-smelling, dust-extracted meadow hay for the ultimate in cleanliness and comfort, to help your guinea pigs enjoy the cosiest naptimes.
    • Guinea pig safe cleaning products, available from most pet shops.
    • Plenty of enrichment items – such as cardboard and willow tunnels, treat balls, hidey huts, hay and twig mobiles, willow balls, seagrass mats, loofah rolls and hay bars.

    If you already have a guinea pig hutch, consider adding a Runaround connection kit. Guinea pigs love being able to hide and peep out of the tunnels and connections and more space means they can have a really good long run in one stretch, while always staying safe.

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