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
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.