It is important to provide these sociable and complex little animals with an environment that is interesting, varied, and safe.
Although they are small, guinea pigs require plenty of space to exercise, the more the better. Provide an enclosure as large as possible; the minimum dimensions for the enclosure of a pair of guinea pigs are 2500 cm2 of useable floor space for guinea pigs over 450 g with an additional 900 cm2 for each additional guinea pig weighing over 700 g. Enclosures should be at least 25 to 30 cm high. So as an example, an enclosure for a pair of guinea pigs could be 2m x 0.5m x 25cm high to provide the minimum space required but ideally their enclosure should be larger than this. All outdoor enclosures should be completely enclosed (eye have a roof or wire so they are fully covered) and strong enough to keep the guinea pigs safe from other animals, particularly predators such as dogs, cats, and foxes.
Make sure that the materials used to construct your guinea pigs’ enclosure are durable, non-toxic to guinea pigs, and easily cleaned. The design of your enclosure should also allow for easy cleaning. The enclosure should have a solid floor (wire floors cause discomfort and damage to guinea pigs’ feet) and should be placed in an area that is quiet and peaceful and also free from drafts, chills, extreme heat, and sudden temperature changes.
Guinea pigs can be prone to getting painful and serious foot conditions if kept on wire or hard flooring so it is important to provide them with soft floor covering and bedding. Enclosures should be lined with newspaper and then at least 5cm of soft, nontoxic, nonabrasive, inedible, dust-free and absorbent bedding to provide cushioning and prevent foot problems. Suitable options for bedding include soft grass hay, fleece fabric, and shredded paper. Sawdust or wood shavings can cause respiratory issues and should be avoided. Straw should also be avoided as it does not absorb urine well and the hard stalks can cause injuries.
It is important to regularly change bedding and floor material and clean out the enclosures to avoid ammonia build-up from urine and also to help minimise the attraction of flies to the area. The bedding should be cleaned and changed as required (this is typically once a day). The enclosure should be thoroughly washed and disinfected once a week. You should have a secondary enclosure or a travel container that your guinea pigs can stay in while you do this, or you can put them in a safe and escape proof room in your house. Make sure that after disinfection the cage is rinsed well and completely dried out before you add fresh bedding again and return your guinea pigs to their home. Rinse feeders and waterers every day, and thoroughly clean these once a week.
Guinea pigs can be susceptible to fly strike (which can be fatal), so it is also important to fly-proof their enclosure using fly-screen wire or mosquito netting in areas where flies are a problem.
Guinea pigs are also very susceptible to heat stress, and this can be fatal. Therefore, always ensure that they are kept in an area that is well-ventilated, provides adequate shade, and does not become hot. Animals in enclosures, hutches, and cages can die from overheating easily. The ideal ambient temperature for guinea pigs is between 16 to 24°C with a relative humidity of between 40 and 70%; outside of those temperatures/humidity you will need to take steps to safeguard the health and welfare of your guinea pigs. Steps must be taken to prevent heat stress, if predicted temperatures exceed 260C . If the day is particularly hot then ideally guinea pigs should be kept in an air-conditioned environment. Guinea pigs can also suffer if it is cold, wet, and windy and are prone to respiratory problems which can be serious. Please ensure that your guinea pigs’ enclosure has areas that are draft free, dry and warm, and if it is particularly cold or stormy, it is best to move them inside if they are normally outdoors.
Guinea pigs are prey animals and so they need places to hide where they will feel safe, especially when they are stressed, afraid, unwell, or want some time away from other guinea pigs or people. You will need to provide open space interspersed with enough shelters and hiding places so that every guinea pig in the enclosure has the option for their own separate hiding area, and also a main shelter/hiding place that is big enough for all of your guinea pigs to comfortably rest together inside. You can use hiding places such as cardboard boxes, custom made igloos, wooden boxes, fabric guinea pig beds, tunnels made from PVC piping or, if possible, you can even plant long grasses such as timothy grass for your guinea pigs to make their own tunnels through.