This is part 2 of a multi-part series. (For part 1, click here.)
A guinea pig will spend the majority of its time in a habitat, and it is very important to provide all the necessary components to ensure safety and fun. Cages are normally located indoors, and a well-maintained and designed habitat can ensure your pet stays happy and healthy. There are many reasons why outdoor habitats are not recommended, most notably because of health and safety concerns.
Guinea Pig Habitat Requirements
Size does matter. Happy, healthy and perky guinea pigs enjoy lots of space. Pet store cages, aquariums or plastic enclosures can be small and cramped with little room to play. Cubes and Coroplast cages (C&C) are built using grids. The grids allow sight, smell and ventilation for your pet and allow for easy expansion when adding more companions. Place the habitat in an area of your home that stays within 60 to no more than 85 degrees Fahrenheit, is free from extreme cold or heat changes, and is not in direct sunlight.
C&C housing is the most recommended method for housing guinea pigs, with a minimum size of 7.5 square feet or more for one to two animals. As additional animals are added, more space will be needed. Add three square feet for each guinea pig added when exceeding two in the same cage. Cavy Cages recommends avoiding grids with inner spaces greater than 1.5 inches as they may result in injury.
You may be thinking, why so big? As mentioned in part 1 of our series, covering basic care, guinea pigs are grazing creatures that are active day and night. While you may allow your pets to play outside their cage when you are awake, they also need space to play when you are sleeping or not around. Being cramped in a small area and forced to use that area for eating, sleeping, playing and emitting waste doesn’t sound very pleasant. Go for the minimum size or bigger, and your pet will appreciate the space. If you have the available space, you can also create a guinea pig oasis!
Never use cedar shavings or bedding material for guinea pigs. The aromatic oils found in these products can cause respiratory problems that may become severe. Common bedding materials include aspen, kiln-dried pine and wood pellets, and some use fleece for sleeping areas. Carefresh and Fresh News (affiliate link) are commercially available recycled paper beddings that are common. You can attempt to use a litter box just for waste, but guinea pigs have a habit of going wherever and whenever they need.
Hay is essential as a dietary need, and some people also use it for bedding. Guinea Lynx recommends mixing it with another type of bedding since hay alone is not absorbent. It can also be placed in a raised wire rack to avoid soiling and still remain available to the guinea pigs.
Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
Guinea pigs must have a hiding area. Whether they burrow in bedding, run through tubes or other interior structures in their cage, they need to be able to hide when scared. This is essential to their feelings of safety and security, and probably originates from their South American ancestors.
Thousands of years ago guinea pigs roamed the wild in areas of tall grass to hide from predators. While you don’t need to create a field, there are many items you can use to provide cover. Some of these you may already have in your home, and others can be found in pet stores and online stores. Some items can be cleaned as needed while others, such as cardboard rolls, need to be discarded when soiled.
- Toilet tissue rolls (cut lengthwise for safety)
- Plastic tunnels or tubing wide enough for easy navigation and turning around
- Miniature houses or similar structures like igloo-shaped covers
- Small step stools with open areas underneath
All hiding areas should allow enough space for your guinea pig to enter, exit and rotate its body safely and easily. If you have more than one guinea pig in the same cage, offer additional hiding places to ensure each animal has a spot to run to if needed.
Regardless of your cage or habitat design, ensure your pet has access to food, water and a hiding place at all times. Obstructions or limited access to these items could distress your guinea pig and possibly cause other issues.
Outdoor habitat regulations are set by the USDA and clearly state:
Sect. 3.27 (b): “Guinea pigs shall not be housed in outdoor facilities unless such facilities are located in an appropriate climate and prior approval for such outdoor housing is obtained from the Deputy Administrator.”
Any guinea pig housed outdoors must be in a climate-controlled habitat, or the habitat may be in violation of the law. Temperatures for guinea pigs range from 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit; be careful not to reach or exceed the latter. Temperatures at or above 85 will place your pet at risk for heat stroke — even in a shaded area — and can result in death.
Guinea pigs living outside may not be as friendly and easy to handle as others that are kept indoors and interact with people frequently. An outdoor living area also makes it difficult to recognize signs of illness. Additionally, wild animals might find a way into the housing and cause injury or death. For these reasons, outdoor habitats are rare.
Please continue on to part 3 of my series on guinea pig care, where I discuss behavior and companionship.
Photos: Sparkly Kate (top), Aaron_M/Flickr