The best environment for your guinea pigs is one that enables them to feel safe and secure – and lets them exhibit all their natural guinea pig behaviours
For us humans, we like our home to be clean, comfortable and well furnished, with cosy places to hang out, a choice of things to entertain us, and somewhere snug and warm to sleep – and it’s just the same for our guinea pigs who deserve the perfect guinea pig house!
Although crepuscular creatures, who are most active during dusk and dawn, guinea pigs are awake for up to 20 hours of the day. This means their environment needs to enable them to have constant access to food, water, companion guinea pigs, safe hiding places, a guinea pig run, and plenty of things to do to keep them occupied.
Our beloved pet piggies are wild at heart
In the wild, a typical guinea pig habitat contains an area of dense, high vegetation for cover, which they tunnel through and hide in, and a more open foraging area. A colony’s territory can cover 1,500 square metres. And, while they don’t burrow, they often use burrows created by other animals.
Being a small animal, with lots of natural predators, guinea pigs are constantly at risk of being a hot lunch, which is why they avoid open areas without shelter. Unsurprisingly, it’s in their nature to be constantly on the alert, which is why they appreciate having lots of hiding places to dart into if they feel frightened by something.
Providing the right environment for your guinea pigs will enable them to feel safe and encourage them to do all the things that come naturally to guinea pigs.
What’s the best type of guinea pig house?
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.
Traditional small hutches do not provide the space guinea pigs need to behave normally. Instead, a hutch should just be viewed as your guinea pigs’ ‘bedroom’ and be permanently attached to a much larger guinea pig run where 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.
Your guinea pigs’ main housing should be draught-free, predator proof and as big as possible – an absolute minimum of 1.5m x 1m with an additional 2m x 1m run.
If you already have a guinea pig hutch, consider addingaRunaround connection kit. Guinea pigs love being able to hide and peep out of the tunnels and more space means they can have a really good long run in one stretch, while always staying safe.
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. (It’s usually best to bring them inside during the colder months of the year).
- 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 17-20°C are ideal. Some areas of centrally heated houses may get too hot, so be careful where you put their housing.
Wood Green advises that 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.
What’s the best type of guinea pig 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 manage conditions and should be avoided.
What’s more, wood shavings or sawdust not only absorb the natural oils that guinea pigs have which they need to keep their coats and skin in good condition, but they also create dust, which causes respiratory problems.
When it comes to creating a cosy guinea pig bed, never use fluffy/teddy bear stuffing type bedding either because it can get wrapped around limbs causing injuries. Also, avoid using straw as it is too coarse and could injure their delicate eyes.
Instead, line your guinea pigs’ enclosure with a thick layer of newspaper and completely cover it with a paper-based, non-expanding litter and a good layer of fresh, sweet-smelling meadow hay. This will provide the ultimate in cleanliness and comfort, to help your guinea pigs enjoy the cosiest naptimes.
Guinea pigs scent mark their stuff by rubbing their chin or cheeks across things, which helps keep their home smelling familiar and reassuring. This is why it’s important to make sure that you transfer some of the old bedding back into their accommodation when cleaning. They also drag their bottoms across the ground to leave scent secretions as messages, which are only understood by other guinea pigs.
Should guinea pigs be kept indoors or outdoors?
Guinea pigs can be housed indoors or outdoors. The important thing is that they have suitable accommodation, companionship, enrichment opportunities that enable them to exhibit natural behaviours, as well as the right nutrition.
While these small pets have traditionally been kept outdoors, today there are many people who prefer to care for their guinea pigs indoors, where they can keep a close eye on their health and wellbeing and spend more of the day interacting with them.
Keeping your guinea pigs indoors means your piggies are likely to become more confident around you and enjoy being hand fed. You’re also more likely to spot health concerns, and these may even be reduced as they will be in a dry, warm environment with a reduced risk of fungal and respiratory issue. They’ll also be safe from wild predators and bad weather.
During the warmer months of the year, your guinea pigs can be happily housed outdoors in a large, good quality hutch that’s draught-free and predator proof. In addition to spacious, indoor accommodation, they’ll relish spending time in a secure, outdoor run with plenty of hiding places, where they can graze on fresh grass, just as they would in the wild.
Guinea pigs are highly sensitive to temperature changes. Temperatures above 26°C can cause heatstroke and below 15°C can cause them to become chilled. If housed outdoors, they need to be protected from both heatwaves and extreme cold. If housed indoors, they should be situated away from direct heat sources – such as radiators and sunny windows – and draughts. Room temperatures of 17-20°C are ideal.
How do I create an enriching environment for my guinea pigs?
Guinea pigs like to keep busy and need things to do. If they get bored, their health and wellbeing will suffer. Keep them occupied by hiding some of their favourite food for them to discover on one of their explorations. Scatter a few nuggets around to encourage natural foraging behaviour, or mix a few in with a handful of yummy meadow hay and stuff inside a cardboard toilet roll.
Providing your guinea pigs with an environment that keeps them active and mentally stimulated will help them stay healthy and happy. Wood Green 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.