The best temperature for a guinea pig is between 18°C and 23°C, so how do you keep your cavy warm when the mercury plummets? Our UK winter has been icy with freezing temperatures and unexpected snow, so it is little wonder we have received loads of emails from cavy parents asking how best to keep their furry friends warm.
In this article, we are looking at the best ways to make sure guinea pigs stay warm during the winter months whether it lives in a hutch outside or in your house.
9 Ways To Keep Your Guinea Pig Warm Outside
Guinea pigs need loads of space to forage and play, which is why we think it is a good idea for them to live outside. But during our winter months, they must be kept as warm as possible.
1. Have two or more guinea pigs
As you probably know by now, guinea pigs are incredibly social animals and need the company of other cavies to thrive and be happy. But having more than one guinea pig serves another purpose too. By cuddling up together, they can use their body heat to warm each other up.
2. Get an insulated hutch
One of the best things you can do for your guinea pigs is to invest in a good quality insulated hutch. Look for one that is built to withstand the UK’s wet conditions, and that is predator-proof. It is also worth considering a hutch hugger to keep out the wind and rain.
Want to find out more about setting up a hutch for your guinea pig? Take a look here.
3. Lift the hutch off the ground
Always keep the hutch raised off the ground. Even if it is lifted just a couple of inches from the floor, it will stop damp rising through the wood and allow air to flow. Not only is this warmer and healthier for your piggies, but it also prevents the structure from rotting.
4. Make sure the hutch is dry
To keep the chill out of the hutch, the inside must stay dry. Use newspaper to line the bottom of the cage and good quality absorbent hay or wood shavings. Change soiled bedding regularly, especially in areas your guinea pigs ‘go’ and around water bowls or bottles.
5. Change bedding in the winter
One of the best ways to stop your guinea pigs feeling the cold in winter is to change their bedding from hay or shavings to snuggly fleece. This eco-friendly material is easy on the pocket, can be used again and again, and it’s gentle on your piggies’ sensitive feet. Remember to still add a few layers of hay, as cavies love to burrow.
Keen to use fleece as a bedding option? Have a look at this article.
6. Place heating pads in the hutch
An excellent life hack when it comes to keeping your outdoor guinea pigs safe from the cold is a self-heating pad. These nifty little blankets use your pet’s body heat to warm it up, which means you don’t have to worry about plug points or heating up the pads in a microwave throughout the night. There’s no chance of your guinea pig burning itself either.
7. Make sure your guinea pigs have enough food and water
In winter, a guinea pig burns calories to stay warm. Ensure your cavies have enough food throughout their hutch and remember to include fresh veggies at least once a day.
Don’t forget to check the water bowls or drinking bottles in case they have frozen overnight. To prevent this from happening, we suggest getting a snug cover for water bottles. Not only does it stop water from freezing when it is cold, but it keeps water cool throughout summer too.
8. Provide your guinea pigs with space to run
Come sun, wind, rain or snow, guinea pigs need exercise. Without it, they are prone to health issues, include obesity and heart problems. Choose a hutch with a run, or if space is a problem, you could opt for one that folds away. Guinea pigs need to exercise even in cold weather. You will either need to bring them in or have a well-insulated run outside where they can exercise for a few hours daily.
9. Move the hutch
If it gets bitterly cold, you should consider moving the hutch into a shed or unused garage. Of course, if the hutch is too big, or you have limited space, then you might want to consider a temporary house or stackable hutch that is easy to pick up and carry. If you go this route, we suggest using it as overnight accommodation only.
6 Ways To Keep Guinea Pigs Warm Indoors
Even if your guinea pig lives indoors with you, you must keep it snug during the chilly winter months. Here are 6 ways you can do this.
1. Think about where you place your guinea pig’s cage
Carefully think about where you put your guinea pig’s cage. Don’t place it near windows and doors that are regularly opened and shut, and keep it away from drafts. Fluctuating temperatures can make your piggy sick, and even the slightest chill can cause pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening illness.
2. Add extra heating
You can keep your cavies comfortable with additional heating, even indoors. Depending on where the cage is, you can buy a self-heating pad or if you prefer, use an electrical heater. Don’t place electrical appliances too close in case your guinea pig burns itself, and make sure any wires are out of chewing reach.
3. Insulate the cage with layers
A simple and effective way to stop your guinea pig getting cold is to insulate the enclosure with layers of shredded paper, hay and blankets. Adding a thick layer of absorbent bedding doesn’t only keep your pet cosy and warm, it also gives them plenty of space to burrow.
4. Create snuggles areas inside the cage
By placing snuggle areas inside the cage, your guinea pigs can cosy up and together. Nesting boxes, pigloos and beehive-shaped beds are great options for both indoor and outdoor guinea pigs. Fill them up with hay, fleece or old towels for extra comfort.
5. Ensure your guinea pigs have plenty of food and water
As already mentioned, guinea pigs burn calories to stay warm during the colder months. Ensure you are feeding your piggies a healthy balanced diet that includes pellets, hay, vegetables and fruit. Also, remember to include a vitamin C supplement if necessary.
Even though it’s unlikely you cavy’s drinking bottle will freeze over indoors, it is still worth keeping an eye on it. And don’t make the mistake of giving it warm water. It might not like the taste and as a result, end up dehydrated.
6. Set up an exercise area
A folding run is a great way to ensure your guinea pigs get the exercise they need. However, if it is too cold to venture outside, you can set up an indoor exercise area. Boredom busters your cavy will love include chube toys, tunnels, hide and play tubes, and chew toys.
Frequently Asked Questions About Keeping Guinea Pigs Warm in Winter
Although they are considered pretty hardy little critters, guinea pigs are sensitive to extreme temperatures. As much as you need to keep them cool during the hot summer months, you also need to make sure they are warm when the mercury plummets.
Here are our most frequently asked questions about how to keep a guinea pig warm when it’s cold outside.
What is the ideal temperature for a guinea pig?
The ideal temperature for a guinea pig is between 18°C and 23°C. Anything over 26°C can cause them to dehydrate and get heatstroke, while anything under 15°C is too cold. They should also be sheltered from rain and wind as well as direct sunlight.
How do I know if my guinea pig is cold?
It isn’t always to tell if your guinea pig is cold. However, the general rule of thumb is if it’s too cold for you, it’s definitely too cold for your cavy. Common signs to look out for include:
- Cold ears – If your cavy’s ears feel cold, it’s a good sign that they are too. While this isn’t an exact science, if you spend a lot of time with your piggies and know what their ears feel like when they are at the ideal temperature, you can use this method to check if it is feeling the chill.
- Shivering – Guinea pigs shiver when they are cold. In the same way a human’s muscles contract to generate body heat so too does a guinea pig’s.
- Curled up – You know how you curl up in a ball under your blankets when you’re cold? Well, guinea pigs do the exact same thing. If you see you cavy curled or huddled up and burrowing into its bedding, that’s a good indication that it’s cold.
Do guinea pigs get hypothermia?
Guinea pigs can get hypothermia when temperatures drop below 10°C. But if they are wet or there is damp in their hutch, they could start to experience hypothermic symptoms at a higher temperature.
How do I know if my guinea pig has hypothermia?
Signs that your piggy has hypothermia include:
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Their hair might stand on end
What should I do if my guinea pig has hypothermia?
If you suspect your guinea pig has hypothermia, you must get it out of the cold immediately. We suggest placing it on dry bedding and covering it with a fleece blanket for insulation. A self-heating pad works well in this situation, as a microwaveable heat pad could warm your pet up too quickly.
Can my guinea pig die if it gets too cold?
Unfortunately yes. Some animals hibernate during the winter months, and others have adapted to surviving the elements in various ways. For guinea pigs, however, neither of these hold true. This is because they originated in South America and have no idea how to look after themselves when it’s cold. If left to fend for themselves in the cold, guinea pigs will literally freeze to death.
Does hay keep guinea pigs warm?
Hay is one of the most affordable and effective ways of keeping a guinea pig warm. Not only can it be served up as a delicious snack, but it also absorbs moisture and retains heat. When the cold weather hits, double up on the hay layers in your cavy’s hutch.
Which works better as insulation? Hay or straw?
This is a great question, mainly because straw is commonly used as insulation for other animals. However, the problem is that it is too hard for cavies and can cause severe injuries to their feet and even poke an eye out. This is why we recommend good quality hay that can be used as bedding, insulation and a snack.
How else can I keep my guinea pig warm?
One of the most effective ways to keep a guinea pig is warm is to have more than one. Cavies are social animals and companionship. Not only will hutch mates keep each other company, but they will also snuggle up on cold winter nights.
Remember if you are feeling the chill, chances are high that your guinea pigs are too. As a responsible cavy parent, you need to take the necessary precautions to keep your precious pocket pets safe throughout the winter, whether they live inside or outdoors in a hutch.
How do you keep your guinea pigs warm? Perhaps you have a photo of you and your cavy cuddling up together on a chilly winter night that you would like to share with us!