Although guinea pigs originate from South America, they have adapted to living in colder countries, like the UK. But even with evolution on their side, there is a lot more to keeping guinea pigs healthy, happy, and safe if they live outdoors, whether during the chilly winter months or our warmer summers.
In this article, we answer all your questions about keeping your guinea pigs outdoors, including if it is OK for them to stay outside, what temperatures are ideal for these cute little critters and how to keep them warm in winter. And with summer just around the corner, we also tell you how to look after your pets when the temperatures soar.
Everything You Need to Know About Keeping Your Guinea Pig Outdoors
Is It OK To Keep Guinea Pigs Outside?
It isn’t only OK for guinea pigs to live outside; it is actually recommended that they do. Being curious and highly energetic little animals, they need space, companionship and plenty of stimulation. In fact, without these things, guinea pigs can get bored, depressed and even experience health problems.
However, having said this, the enclosure must be set up so that your guinea pigs have separate areas where they can exercise, eat, socialise, and sleep. They also need their own space in the hutch where they can get away from it all.
And then there is the weather. You need to ensure your piggies are warm in winter, cool in summer and dry during the rainy seasons.
What Do You Need To Set Up An Outdoor Area For Your Guinea Pigs?
If you plan on becoming a guinea pig pawrent or are moving yours from an indoor cage to outside, you will need to prepare beforehand.
First and foremost, you will need a good-sized hutch. We always say the bigger, the better when it comes to guinea pigs. It needs to be made from good quality wood, be weatherproof and raised off the ground.
Looking for a hutch for your piggies? Take a look here…
You will also need a run where your cavies can play, forage and get the exercise they need. Hutch-run combos are available, but you can also buy freestanding runs that fit onto the hutch. If space is limited, you can choose a folding run.
Need a run? Check these out…
Other hutch essentials you will need include:
- Hay, shredded paper or fleece for bedding.
- A water dispenser
- Food bowls
- Tunnels, shelters, and hideouts
This article is great if you want more information and advice on setting up a hutch for your guinea pigs.
What Temperatures Can Guinea Pigs Tolerate?
Living in a northern climate like ours, where the winters can get icy and the summers really hot, it is essential to know what temperatures your guinea pigs can tolerate. Year-round, the best temperatures for cavies is between 18 and 23°C, which means you will have to make the necessary adjustments to their hutch, depending on the season.
How Can I Keep My Guinea Pigs Cool In Summer?
Summers have gotten progressively warmer, and this year will be no different. In fact, as it stands, 2021 is set to be the hottest ever. While this might be great for us sun-worshipping Brits, it is not such great news for guinea pigs.
You see, cavies don’t sweat, which makes them extremely sensitive to heat. As responsible guinea pig owners, it is up to us to keep them and their hutch as cool as possible.
So how exactly can you do this? Carry on reading to find out how.
Make sure the hutch is in a shady spot
Direct sunlight is never a good thing for guinea pigs, so remember to always position their cage in a shady spot in your garden. If this isn’t possible, place it in an area where you can set up a garden umbrella.
Another option is to have plenty of hideaways and tunnels in the hutch, where your piggies can go when they need to cool down. We also suggest getting a shade cover for their run.
Don’t set up the hutch in an outbuilding
Outbuildings, like sheds and garages, don’t have a lot of ventilation, and as a result, can get hot very quickly. You could, of course, turn your shed or garage into a dedicated guinea pig house and make a few alterations. This includes increasing the airflow and providing access to a large exercise area.
Always make sure your guinea pigs have water
Dehydration in guinea pigs can lead to organ failure and even death. Your piggies must have access to fresh drinking water all day, every day. We recommend getting a water bottle dispenser with a metal spout as well as a snug bottle cover to keep the water cool.
Give your long-haired guinea pigs a trim
Depending on the breed of your guinea pig, you might need to trim its hair during the warmer months. Not only will this help keep them cool, but it will also keep them clean and free of life-threatening conditions, such as flystrike.
Cool your guinea pig down with an ice pod
Help your guinea pigs chill out with an ice pod. Simply cool it down in the freezer, and pop it in your guinea pigs’ hutch in a shady spot. All your piggies need to do is cuddle up next to the pod and cool down. You could also use an ice pack or fill a plastic bottle with water and freeze. Wrap it up in a towel or some fleece and place it in the hutch.
Bring your guinea pig indoors
When all else fails, it is best to bring your guinea pigs inside. Indoor stackable hutches are the perfect solution for setting up a temporary shelter out of the sun.
How Should I Keep My Guinea Pigs Warm In Winter?
When it comes to the weather in the UK, your piggies need to be kept warm during the icy winter months, as well as the wet and chilly spells throughout the year. And if you live in a coastal town, there is also the wind to think about.
In this section, we tell you how to keep your guinea pigs warm when it gets cold.
Invest in a good-quality hutch
Your guinea pigs’ first line of defence against the cold weather is a good quality hutch that is raised off the ground. This will stop water and cold seeping up into the enclosure. Also, check that it is predator-proof, especially if you are in an area where there are foxes and badgers.
Insulate the sleeping areas with hay
Not only do guinea pigs love to eat hay, but they also love burrowing into it when they need to keep warm. Make sure there is plenty of hay in the sleep areas of the hutch. If need be, place a waterproof shelter or cat carrier in the cage and fill it with hay. This will give your piggies a cosy place to cuddle up and keep warm against the winter chill.
Check the location of the hutch
Always make sure you have set the cage up in an area that is sheltered from rain and wind. Been exposed to cold winds and icy rain leaves guinea pigs susceptible to all sorts of life-threatening respiratory issues, such as pneumonia. Underneath a patio, in a shed or garage is a good option, or you can get a hutch cover. This will protect your piggies when the weather turns nasty.
Never keep a guinea pig on its own
Guinea pigs are social animals and should be kept in a group of two or more. Not only is this good for their mental health and well-being, but they also snuggle up and keep each other warm when it is cold.
Keep an eye on your guinea pigs’ food and water
Unlike many animals, guinea pigs don’t hibernate during the winter months, which means you need to make sure they have plenty of food. You should also regularly check their water bottles to make sure the water hasn’t frozen. Bottle covers work a treat, but it is vital that you also keep an eye on the metal spout.
Get a self-heating blanket
A great lifehack and absolute lifesaver for guinea pigs (and other small pets) during winter is a self-heating blanket. They are 100% safe and unlike hot water bottles and microwaveable heat packs that cool down after a while, these warm up using your pet’s body heat.
Keep your guinea pigs’ cage dry
The slightest chill can make your guinea pigs seriously ill, which is why it is crucial to keep their hutch as dry as possible. Make sure soiled and wet hay is cleaned up straight away. This will keep your cavies dry and stop slugs and other creepy crawlies from moving in.
What Other Risks Do I Need To Be Aware Of?
Although the weather in the UK poses a threat to guinea pigs living outdoors, there are other risks you also need to be aware of.
Foxes pose a real danger to guinea pigs, as do other predators. To make sure your cavies are safe, come rain or shine, check that their hutch and run are predator-proof. If your piggies have taken to chewing their enclosure, do regular checks (and repairs) to stop them from getting out and predators in need of a meal getting in.
Guinea pigs can be exposed to chemical sprays, which can prove fatal. And even if you aren’t using any in your garden, a neighbour or nearby farm may very well be. These chemicals can be carried by the wind and can seriously affect your piggies’ health.
Yup, some plants and flowers growing in and around your garden are toxic to guinea pigs, including marigolds, geraniums, catnip and snapdragons. It is essential when setting up your pets’ hutch and run to recognise which plants are poisonous and keep your piggies as far away from them as possible.
Although all guinea pigs are prone to various illnesses, those that live outdoors can be more susceptible. Flystrike and bumblefoot are two potentially life-threatening conditions that affect guinea pigs living in damp and dirty conditions. Always keep your piggies and their hutch clean and dry to prevent them from getting seriously ill.
Find out more about flystrike here…
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to keeping your guinea pig outside. Weather, illness and other factors all play a role, but with some careful planning and commitment on your part, your cavies can enjoy a long and healthy life enjoying the great outdoors.
Where do you house your guinea pigs? If they are outside, what measures have you taken to ensure their safety? We would love to hear from you, especially if you have some tips or advice you would like to share on setting up an outdoor cage.
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