Can guinea pigs be kept outside? A look at the benefits and risks of keeping cavies outdoors in a hutch or guinea pig enclosure, plus some of the things to consider before making the transition.
We are really interested in building an outdoor enclosure for our guinea pigs. They have a good size cage indoors, but I love the outdoor guinea pig exhibits that some zoos and rescues have setup.
Here are some examples of guinea pig outdoor exhibits:
The Nashville Zoo has a guinea pig exhibit that you can see featured below. As you may be able to see, they do have an indoor area for the guinea pigs and lots of shade.
This is a backyard setup that I found where the owner setup a large enclosure (nice and tall for humans too) where the guinea pigs even have a small pond.
I’m going to add some more videos of outdoor enclosures at the bottom of this post.
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Here are some of the benefits to an outdoor guinea pig enclosure:
- More space.
- Natural habitat.
- Area for the guinea pigs to exercise and get better mental stimulation
- Access to fresh air and sunshine.
- Access to safe plants like dandelions and grass.
- Larger areas prevent a quick build up of waste.
- Grass can soak up urine (but consider that they still need a lot of area to roam to keep the ground from getting saturated)
- Leaky water bottles still need to be refilled, but at least they aren’t flooding your indoor cage.
- Cuts down on the mess inside the house (hay seems to find its way everywhere).
- The guinea pig bedding and hay can be stored in an outdoor shed (in properly sealed containers). You could even buy their hay by the bale if you store it properly.
- If you’re outdoors a lot, you’ll see your guinea pigs more.
The last point is particularly important for us. We are outside a lot. I do a lot of farm chores and our enclosure is built nearby the other animals on our mini farm. This means I have more frequent interaction with the guinea pigs. It’s easier for me to clean and provide feed/water.
If you’re inside all of the time, this may not be a good option for you. You need to be going outside regularly to make sure the guinea pigs have food, water and a safe space. You need to make sure their water doesn’t freeze.
Eglu makes an outdoor guinea pig cage that looks easy to clean, has an option to add wheels and handles, and could be moved indoors and out. My main concern is the wire for the run, but that wouldn’t probably be a problem on thick grass. Indoors, I think you could cut some chloroplast and make cage liners for the run portion to protect their feet.
Know how to sew or want to learn? Pick up my book, Sewing for Guinea Pigs: 13 Sewing Projects for Your Cavy. It’s available on Amazon.
But there are a lot of considerations when deciding to do this. You need to do it right. Please consult with your veterinarian before attempting an enclosure like this. There are a number of risks that come with an outdoor enclosure.
These risks and other considerations are what I want to discuss before I show you what we built.
Risks of an Outdoor Enclosure
Guinea pigs don’t do well in extreme heat and they don’t do well in the cold either. You need to make sure you can build accommodations into your enclosure that account for the weather in your area, or plan to take them inside during weather extremes.
Some areas will never be appropriate for them to live outdoors full time. We are in Maryland so for a good part of the year, it’s fairly tolerable outside. We kept our cage for extreme weather and we will keep a close eye on the guinea pigs to make sure that the weather isn’t having a detrimental effect on their health.
I wanted to make sure there was lots of natural soil and caves for them so that they would have cooler and warmer areas for them to escape to.
Needs: Shady areas, sunny areas, wind breaks, and good ventilation.
We are adding an indoor area that will be stuffed with hay and lined with fleece bedding. There is an electrical outlet inside the coop that would allow us to provide addition heat if needed, but we prefer not to use it due to fire risks.
This is a good resource on the temperatures safe for guinea pigs if they live outside. The low mentioned, 15 Celsius, is equivalent to 59 Fahrenheit. The high mentioned, 26 Celsius, is equivalent to 78.8 Fahrenheit. You MUST build your enclosure and an indoor area to account for the very narrow temperature variation that they can tolerate.
Guinea pigs make the perfect snack for hawks, fox, raccoons and other prey animals. Make sure the area is completely covered, under and over with quality wire. Chicken wire is not strong enough to keep out predators- it’s meant to keep chickens in.
The area needs to be wide enough that a predator can’t fit claws or paws through the wire to pull the guinea pig closer to them. This means they have width to run away from the sides and places to hide inside the run. I planned to build this like we built our predator proof duck/chicken run.
Wire goes under. Wire goes over. Wire on all sides.
How Many Guinea Pigs Will It House?
The indoor area needs to be the right size for the number of guinea pigs that you plan to keep. These are some good guidelines for size, but I try to keep a minimum of 11 sq ft of space for my two guinea pigs.
Males and females WILL mate and make lots of little babies so ensure that you know the genders of your guinea pigs and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
If you plan pregnancies, make sure you plan your enclosure size around this.
AGAIN… you can’t count the outdoor space as part of your square footage. You need to be able to fit all of the guinea pigs safely in the indoor area if there are poor weather conditions or issues with predators.
Wire Cage Bottoms and Bumblefoot
Wire cage bottoms can give guinea pigs bumble foot so you don’t want their paws touching wire. We still needed the wire to protect against predators, however, so the wire gets buried under grass and soil. It’s a bit of extra work, but worth it.
Pressure Treated Wood
You can’t give the guinea pigs access to pressure treated wood because if they chew it (they will), they will get sick and/or die. It has a lot of chemicals in it that make it resistant to the elements.
One solution to this problem is to make sure the wire is on the inside and any pressure treated wood isn’t accessible. Ideally you wouldn’t use pressure treated wood at all, but we were burying the wood in the ground so the wire would be covered. The wood will rot if it’s not pressure treated.
Don’t forget that guinea pigs chew. Any structure needs to be inspected regularly, particularly if it’s made from wood.
Soil Based Illnesses
Keep in mind that, like putting rabbits on pasture rather than raising them in a cage, you increase your guinea pigs’ chances of catching soil based illnesses (such as Coccidiosis) when putting them on the ground.
This is a risk. To me this means weighing the benefits of giving them more space and freedom with the risk of illness.
This is a list of rabbit illnesses that I think may be possible for guinea pigs to catch as well.
If you treat your lawn, I don’t recommend building an outdoor enclosure. Roundup and many other types of treatments for the lawn (weed and feed, bug sprays etc) could cause health issues in your guinea pigs.
Grass clippings aren’t safe for guinea pigs to eat so make sure they don’t have access to them.
Not all plants are safe for guinea pigs to eat so you’ll want to make sure to identify safe plants to keep in the area and plants to remove.
Ease of Cleaning the Enclosure
Regardless of if you keep your guinea pigs indoors or out, you will still need to clean their enclosure. Leaving their poop inside the enclosure increases their chances of getting sick, plus it’s gross.
Naturally, if you have a larger area, you may need to clean less because the poop doesn’t build up as quickly. We will continue to use a litter box in part of the cage as our guinea pigs are pretty good about pooping in theirs.
One of the major things you’ll want to consider is how easy the area will be to clean. I think a shop vac would be a good option for picking up poop in the area, assuming your guinea pigs have solid pellet poop.
For the indoor area, we will continue to use fleece reusable guinea pig cage liners. The litter box will be lined with guinea pig safe paper shavings.
Feeding & Water
You will want to ensure that they have access to feed and water at all times, regardless of the weather. This means making sure that those things are located in places they’ll be able to access in all weather conditions. You also want to make sure their food stays dry.
Bedding for the Enclosure
When we started considering this, the bedding was a major consideration. For the outdoor areas, a safe herb planted on the ground or grass was the only good option.
Traditional bedding like fleece cage liners or shavings would immediately get soaked, sitting on the ground if it rained or there was dew overnight.
I considered using wood chips like I plan to use long term for the goat house and chicken coop, but my concern was that some of the wood in the wood chips might not be safe for the guinea pigs. If they chewed on wood from the wrong type of tree, it could be an issue.
Now if I had a wood chipper, I would probably turn all of the pruning from our fruit trees into chips to use for the bottom of the cage. Some fruit tree woods are safe for guinea pigs and they love to chew on them.
Here’s one list that I found of safe woods for guinea pigs to chew.
Transitioning the Guinea Pigs
Like most animals, you want to slowly transition the guinea pigs to a new food source. The guinea pigs will still get their normal diet, of course, but they’ll also have access to a lot of grass and other greens. This could cause health problems if the transition was abrupt.
The transition should occur slowly by starting with an hour of outdoor time a day for a few days, then a couple, then three, etc.
Videos of Others’ Outdoor Guinea Pig Enclosures
Final Thoughts on Having Guinea Pigs Outside
Remember that this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. You could easily build an enclosure for day time or warm weather use. Many people allow their guinea pigs outdoor time for a couple of hours each day.
We will probably end up keeping them indoors in the colder months of the winter.
Each cavy owner really needs to weigh the costs vs. risks of having their beloved pets outdoors.
Wet grass isn’t ideal for the guinea pigs to eat so it would probably be safest to keep a door between the enclosure and the lawn area so they can’t access the grass after it rains.
We’ll be working on our guinea pig enclosure and posting about it when we’re finished. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you won’t miss it!
What do you think? Do you let your guinea pigs go outdoors?
Here’s some other posts I’ve done about guinea pigs that you might enjoy!
- How to Sew Guinea Pig Cage Liners
- How to Make a Guinea Pig Hay Bag
- How to Care for Your Guinea Pigs
- Easy Guinea Pig Litter Box
- Sewing for your Guinea Pig
- Midwest Guinea Pig Cage Base
- Customized Guinea Pig Igloo
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