Guinea pigs can be kept indoors, outdoors, or both.
Companion guinea pigs are often kept in indoor hutches and enclosures, although some are housed in either temporary or permanent outdoor enclosures. Outdoor enclosures offer a wider range of stimulation, but this comes with greater threats – you must take care to protect them from temperature extremes, attacks by predators, or stress caused by loud noises and unexpected movement.
When you are planning an enclosure for your guinea pigs, you must think about the following:
- They will do better in rectangular, rather than square, enclosures.
- Guinea pigs must be provided with an enclosure that gives them adequate space to play, hide, move freely, and stretch out have a variety of places to explore and rest, as well as having enough space for environmental enrichment, food, water bedding, etc.
- For companion guinea pigs, it is suggested that a pair of guinea pigs should have an enclosure of at least 2m x 0.5m (10,000cm2) but the larger the space, the better) to allow them to express normal behaviours as described above.
- An enclosure for guinea pigs must be at least 30cm in height.
- Because they are not inclined to climb or jump, most can be kept in open-top cages provided the sides are at least 30cm high. Roofing may be required if there is a risk of predation by dogs, cats, or birds of prey.
- Wire flooring should be avoided as the feet of smaller animals often fall through the mesh, lacerating or fracturing their limbs. Wire also predisposes guinea pigs to pododermatitis (a crippling and painful foot infection). Solid floors covered with dust-free bedding such as paper, paper kitty litter, artificial turf, or other material of plant origin (e.g., hay) are preferred. Washable fabric mats are also suitable. Wood shavings should be avoided, as they can adhere to the guinea pig’s backside, causing irritation or obstructions.
- Having a compact body, guinea pigs do not cope well with heat, and they are susceptible to heat stress. Low temperatures are more comfortable for guinea pigs than high temperatures, especially if the humidity is high. Guinea pigs are comfortable only in the narrow temperature range from 18°C to 23°C. They also prefer a low relative humidity (below 50%).
- As a ‘prey’ species, they can be easily stressed by dogs, cats (and children), making it important to physically protect them from predators (real or imagined). You should provide hiding places in the form of boxes, PVC pipes, or igloos (if inside).
Rabbits should not be housed with guinea pigs. Although some people do this, rabbits exhibit different social behaviours to guinea pigs, have the potential to injure them and can harbour diseases to which guinea pigs are susceptible. As such, rabbits are not suitable companions for guinea pigs.
Enclosures should be cleaned at least two to three times weekly as these animals produce a significant volume of waste. The bedding should be changed completely at least once weekly to control urine odours and prevent respiratory and skin disorders. Guinea pigs (also called cavies) are very sensitive to the ammonia in urine.
Cages, water bottles, and feed dishes should be disinfected with guinea pig safe disinfectant, hot water (60°–80°C), or a combination of both.
The confines of most enclosures do not allow enough space for a guinea pig’s exercise requirement. All animals benefit from activity and love to move and explore; a ‘play yard’ a safe, secure exercise area for guinea pigs. Ideally, you should allow them access to direct sunlight 3-4 times weekly, but always with the provision of adequate shelter, so that the guinea pig can hide if overheating or stressed.
Putting it together
All guinea pig enclosures should have these characteristics:
- They consist of a shelter and an attached run. The shelter is usually fully enclosed – top and bottom, and on all sides. It offers the guinea pig somewhere to hide when scared or stressed, or just to sleep. The run should offer a large area for exercise, contain some enrichment activities, and have an open floor.
- They are often mobile, allowing the guinea pigs to graze on fresh grass each day.
- They don’t have to be high (guinea pigs don’t jump or climb) but dogs, cats, and birds should be prevented from entering it or sitting on the top.
- They should be weatherproof, offering protection against the sun, rain, and cold winds.
Kaiser S, Krüger C, Sachser N (2010) The guinea pig. In: Hubrecht R, Kirkwood J (eds) The UFAW Handbook on The Care and Management of Laboratory and other research animals, 8th ed. The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, pp 380–398
RSPCA UK (2023) Making the right home for your guinea pigs. Accessed 4 Aug 2023
RSPCA UK (2015) How to take care of your Guinea pigs. In: Handbook of rodent and rabbit medicine. Accessed 9 May 2018
Research Animals Department RSPCA UK (2011) Guinea pigs: Good practice for housing and care. Accessed 4 Aug 2023
RSPCA UK (2023) Guinea pigs. Accessed 28 Jun 2023
RSPCA UK Guinea pig behaviour. Accessed 18 May 2023