All guinea pigs should live in a suitable environment. A guinea pig’s home affects how the guinea pig feels, thinks and behaves. Providing your guinea pigs with shelter and a comfortable resting area is one way you can make sure that your guinea pig stays healthy and happy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Environment. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your guinea pigs have the right environment, shelter, bedding, etc. they need for positive welfare.
For the sake of your guinea pigs’ health and happiness, it’s important to provide them an enclosure that is as large as possible.
A larger enclosure provides space for your guinea pigs to exercise, as well as giving them plenty of space to run and play with their toys.
The more space you can provide, the happier and healthier your guinea pigs will be.
More and more guinea pigs are being kept as house companions. Having your guinea pigs in the house makes it easier to interact with them and it can encourage them to more sociable. This also makes it easier for you to keep an eye on them for any changes in their health or behaviour. It also gives you peace of mind that your guinea pigs are safe from predators at night or when you are out.
House guinea pigs are fun to watch and play with. The more confident they get, the more you will see them exploring, jumping up onto your lap, lying stretched out on the floor sleeping or grooming each other.
Buy or build the biggest indoor enclosure for your guinea pigs your family can afford.
The enclosure should be smooth bottomed, as wire cages can easily damage your guinea pig’s feet.
Place the indoor cage in a bright draft-free room, out of direct sunlight and close to where your family spends most of their time.
Provide space in the enclosure for play, feeding, exercise and sleeping. Guinea pigs love a small covered house or box inside the cage to sleep in and retreat to if scared.
Consider litter-training your guinea pigs by giving each of them a small litter tray with hay or natural cat litter inside the cage. Move the trays to the locations your guinea pigs use to toilet and they will soon accept this new toilet.
If there are no other animals in the house or if the enclosure is located on a table above the reach of other pets, you could go for an open-topped design. Open-topped enclosures allow for much more interaction without awkward cage doors and wire bars getting in the way.
If your family has other animals such as a cat or dog, an enclosed cage is necessary. Even if your cage is securely closed, other animals should always be supervised closely when they are around your guinea pigs’ enclosure. Time outside the cage is great, but you must supervise your guinea pig at all times when loose in the house. Guinea pigs love to chew so you must ensure your guinea pig is not able to access electrical cords or pot plants in your house.
Giving your guinea pigs time outdoors to exercise can be an exciting and fun experience for them. However, they must be in a secure, contained area. This is to protect them from any predators on the ground as well as those in the sky – your guinea pigs should be supervised at all times. If the exercise pen is located on a grass lawn, the grass must be untreated and clean and any plants nearby must be safe for guinea pigs to eat.
An outside guinea pig home must be strong, draught-proof, damp-proof, escape-proof and predator-proof. It must contain shady areas and be well ventilated (allow a free flow of air). The materials it is made from must be chew resistant and they must be non-toxic to guinea pigs.
Outdoor cages come in many sizes and designs. Make sure yours is strong and weather proof. Locks on doors and lids are priceless in preventing unwanted cats and dogs getting inside the cage. The roof should be sloping so rain will drain off. The enclosure should be smooth bottomed, as wire cages can easily damage your guinea pig’s feet.
Please watch out for uneven lawns- guinea pigs are experts at getting out of their cage to go exploring round the garden. They can be hurt by other animals when outside their cage.
Some hutches are on legs off the ground - these are great as they are dry and away from the damp in winter and you don’t have to bend down to clean the cage. Watch that your guinea pig friends don’t fall out though when you open the door!
Ask an adult to help you search online or post an advert online on in your local newspaper for a hutch and state the measurements you are after. You could also contact your veterinarian, local SPCA or guinea pig rescue who may be able to give you some good contacts. They might even give you design tips that you could then take to a carpenter!
If your guinea pigs are to live outside, their housing should be in a shaded area out of direct sunlight. Their home needs to shelter and protect them from extremes of weather (wind, rain, hail, snow and sun) and temperature (hot and cold).
You must make sure that whatever type of enclosure you have is predator proof as dogs, cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels and birds of prey (hawks, harriers, falcons and owls) can all kill guinea pigs.
There are a variety of options for guinea pig bedding, both disposable and reusable. The most important features of either is that it should always be clean, dry and warm. Some examples are good quality hay, straw or shredded paper on top of a layer of newspaper and changed daily.
Fleece bedding is another option. Some people like to use fleece bedding instead of disposable options. Guinea pigs love this type of bedding as it provides a comfortable environment, stays cool in warm weather, and is cozy in the winter months. To set up fleece bedding, get two layers of bath towels or mattress pads (nearly any absorbent material that is 100% cotton). Place these inside a pre-made fleece slipcase (like a pillow case) cut to fit the bottom of your guinea pig enclosure.
Fleece bedding must be spot cleaned daily with a broom and dustpan or handheld vacuum to remove poo, stray hay, and scattered bedding. All bedding must be fully washed with fragrance free detergent in a washing machine and dried in a dryer or on the washing line at least once a week.
It is really important to establish a gentle, positive relationship with your guinea pigs. This is rewarding for you both, but also makes health checks and grooming much less stressful for them.
Handling your guinea pigs gently every day from an early age and being relaxed and calm around them can help them learn to feel safe and enjoy your company.
Young guinea pigs are likely to be nervous when you first take them home so you shouldn’t handle them initially. During the first few days simply talk quietly to your guinea pigs. Encourage them to approach you by offering healthy treats. You can then start to gently stroke them and when they become more comfortable and confident with this, you can gradually get them used to being picked up.
Using both hands, place one hand under your guinea pig’s chest so their front legs are either side of your fingers and use your other hand to support their back and rear. Once picked up, you should hold them close into your body and support them from underneath.
Once they get to know you they’ll enjoy spending time with you, but remember - not all guinea pigs like being picked up and held. If your guinea pigs are frightened or are not relaxed and happy, interactions are better and safer at ground level.
If your family are going away, try to find someone to care for and meet all your guinea pigs’ welfare needs within their familiar home.
If boarding your guinea pigs, try to ease the move by keeping paired/grouped guinea pigs together and leave them with familiar-smelling items such as their toys and some used bedding.
When your family transports your guinea pigs, make sure they are comfortable and safe at all times.
Putting familiar smelling items in the carrier and the new environment can help make your guinea pigs feel a bit more at ease.
Guinea pigs that live together, and are friends, should be transported together to give reassurance and ensure the same scents are transferred to all guinea pigs. This also helps to avoid the potential problems associated with reintroducing guinea pigs after a period apart.