Did you know that guinea pigs enjoy temperatures similar to humans. In the wild they live outside all the time but they are native to South America, a much drier and warmer climate than the UK.
So, can guinea pigs live outside in the UK?
One of the more common questions people ask is "Can my guinea pigs live outside through the winter?" Winters in the UK can be quite cold, wet and windy at times. In contrast, our summers can become very hot.
If you can keep them safe and warm or cool enough in the right environment guinea pigs can live outside.
However, in extreme temperatures, it is often preferable and safer to house them in your home in a suitable cage.
Please read on to find out how to keep your guinea pigs safe outdoors in the different seasons.
- What is a Guinea Pig's temperature tolerance?
- How to keep Guinea Pigs warm in winter
- How to keep Guinea Pigs cool in summer
- What is the best housing for outdoor guinea pigs?
- Where is the best place to position a hutch outdoors?
- How to protect the wood of the hutch
- How to protect the hutch from predators (foxes,rats etc)
- Advice if you are building your own hutch
What Is a Guinea Pig's Temperature Tolerance?
It is important to know a guinea pig's temperature tolerance when deciding whether to keep your guinea pig outside or indoors. This way you can make an informed decision on what you feel would be most beneficial for them.
The best room temperature for guinea pigs to live in safely is between 17-20°C (source: RSPCA).
Bearing mind that UK winters are much colder, you will need to ensure their outdoor housing is insulated and protected enough to prevent them becoming ill.
If the temperature goes below 15°C they can catch a chill and if they become too wet and cold they can get pneumonia.
Our summers can also pose a threat as the temperature often goes above 20°C and if it exceeds 26°C your guinea pig can be in danger of suffering from heatstroke.
How to Keep Guinea Pigs Warm in Winter
Once autumn starts and the colder weather begins, you need to think about how to keep your guinea pigs warm over the coming months.
Even before winter has started it can sometimes be extremely cold and wet, especially if you live in the North of England or Scotland. Coastal areas can also be very windy at times.
So, how can you keep your guinea pigs warm in winter when they live outside?
Sometimes it it simply too cold for them and you will have to bring them indoors. Wind and rain are also not good for them so they need to be protected from these extreme weather conditions.
If you are keeping your guinea pigs outside, this is how you should prepare your hutch or housing for the winter:
A lot more bedding should be provided in the winter months to ensure they are warm enough. Guinea pigs can never have too much hay so give them plenty. A pigloo stuffed with hay will give them a warmer enclosed space to sleep and will keep out the draughts.
You should remove wet bedding frequently (at least daily) as part of your regular cleaning schedule. Also remember that lying on hay that is damp will feel much colder and is a bigger risk to them.
Felt roofing will protect the hutch from damp, wet weather. The hutch should have 2-3 layers of felt roofing and the roof (which should slope so that it is high at the front and low at the back) should overhang on all sides. Make sure you buy a good quality hutch that has this protection.
Keep Rain & Wind Out with a Hutch Cover
These protective rain covers (also known as hutch huggers) are great for protecting your pets from the wet weather but can lead to condensation inside the hutch and damp bedding. This can cause your guinea pigs to catch a chill.
To avoid condensation, ensure there is still plenty of airflow into the hutch whilst making sure the rain can’t penetrate.
Put a Carpet or Blanket Over the Hutch Front
It is a good idea in very cold weather to hang a piece of carpet or thick blanket over the front of the hutch which will provide some warmth and protection. But do bear in mind they still need ventilation.
Never Have Just One Guinea Pig
You should never have just one solitary guinea pig. The main reason for this is that they need a companion so they don’t become lonely, however, for a guinea pig who lives outside this is even more important. A pair will have the benefit of snuggling down together and will help keep each other warm. Find out more about why guinea pigs shouldn't live alone...
Place the Hutch in a Shed for the Winter
Putting the hutch into a suitably sized shed for the winter (the shed should have window giving plenty natural light) would give your guinea pigs the best protection if they are staying outdoors.
It will protect them from wind and rain but you will still need to make sure they are warm enough. Remember that there should be some ventilation so the air can circulate, whilst at the same time having enough warmth.
A garage that has natural daylight and is not used for a car, motorbike or any other motor vehicle would also work well. Bear in mind that car fumes are toxic and can kill guinea pigs.
You could even move the hutch into a conservatory for the winter. However, this would not be a good place when the weather begins to warm up when they will need to be moved back outside or to another part of the house where it is cooler.
Use a Heatpad
There are heatpads you can buy which are great for putting in their sleeping area in cold weather. These will help keep your guinea pigs at a comfortable and safe temperature.
Check Their Water Bottles Don’t Freeze
In extremely cold weather, it is possible that water in their bottles may freeze.
You could try wrapping a bit of fleece or towel around the bottle as this will keep it from becoming too cold. However this won’t protect the mouthpiece which is more exposed and if the water freezes in there they won’t be able to get to the rest of it.
If you have a way of securing the water bottle inside the hutch rather than on the outside, it may help keep it a little warmer.
It is important to check and replace the water on a regular basis to make sure they can hydrate themselves when necessary.
How to Keep Guinea Pigs Cool in Summer
Although we are not used to excessively hot summers in the UK, recent months suggest that this is changing and we do get some very hot days even in late spring.
Guinea pigs suffer badly if they get too hot (they don’t sweat like we do to cool down) so it is important to keep their hutch as cool as possible during the warmer months.
Position the Hutch in the Shade
The hutch should never be positioned in direct sunlight. Find out the most shaded spot in your garden and providing it is safe, position it there.
If your garden is very exposed to the sun, a garden parasol might be the best option. When we used to house our guinea pigs outdoors we had the garden table positioned near the hutch with the parasol up and it did a great job of protecting the hutch from direct sunlight.
Provide Plenty of Water Regularly
Guinea pigs will become more thirsty during the summer so make sure their water bottle is kept topped up and don’t forget to change the water daily. They tend not to like warm water so make sure it’s kept in the shade and changed more often when it’s hotter outdoors. Find out more about water for guinea pigs here...
Cool Down with Ice Packs
Buy some ice packs or fill an old plastic bottle (not glass) with water and freeze. Wrap it in a piece of fleece and put in the hutch so your guinea pigs can snuggle up against them to keep cool.
Trim Long-Haired Guinea Pigs to Keep them Cooler
Longer haired guinea pigs will really feel the heat so give their fur a trim. This will have the added benefit of helping them keep clean therefore reducing the risk of flystrike in the heat.
Don’t Put the Hutch in a Garage or Unsuitable Shed
It is not a good idea to house your guinea pigs in a shed or garage during the summer. They absorb heat, often don’t have much ventilation and can become extremely hot indeed. We have a wooden summerhouse (much like a shed really) and it is impossible even for us humans to use on the hottest days for this reason.
However, a stone built outhouse would probably be a lot cooler. You must judge for yourself and see what it’s like around the middle of the day or early afternoon on the hottest days
However, a shed that you have turned into a guinea pig house with constant access to an secured outdoor space, with good ventilation and where they can escape the heat if necessary to a cooler spot is fine.
Beware of Flystrike
Flystrike is a potentially fatal condition that is more prevalent during the hot summer months. As there are usually more flies outside than in, your outdoor guinea pigs may be more at risk from this awful condition.
Flystrike is when flies lay eggs on your guinea pig after which the resulting maggots (these can hatch within hours) will begin to eat away at your pet's flesh. Find out more about flystrike, how to avoid it and what to do if you are concerned your guinea pig might have it.
Bring Your Guinea Pigs Indoors
Sometimes it is just safer to have your guinea pigs indoors when it is very hot. The inside of your home will generally be a lot cooler than the outdoors when we have extremely hot weather. If you need an indoor cage, check out our recommendations on which are the best to buy here...
What is the Best Outdoor Housing for a Guinea Pig?
Wooden hutches or a converted shed with constant safe access to a run area are the only type of housing you should use if you plan on having your cavies outdoors.
Metal cages are not safe for outdoors unless you put it in a secure shed or outbuilding.
What is the Best Place to put an Outdoor Hutch
The location of your outdoor hutch is important to protect them from predators and all types of weather.
- The hutch should be off the ground (two-tier hutches usually come on short legs) to prevent the wood rotting. A single tier hutch should have longer legs so it is not at ground level. You could also put it on a sturdy table but you must make sure it is safe and is not insecure if it gets windy. Having a hutch that is not at a predator's eye level will make them feel safer. It is also easier to clean out!
- Place the hutch against a wall or sturdy fence. If you can secure it to the wall or fence this is even better.
- Position the housing out of direct sunlight, shaded from the wind and away from any damp areas in your garden.
- A hutch that is relatively easy to move is a good idea as it will allow you to change its position depending on weather conditions and will also allow you to move the hutch into a shed or conservatory during the cold months or in bad weather and into a more shady area when the weather is especially sunny and hot.
- Guinea pigs must not be placed in an area where they may be exposed to chemical pest control sprays that are either used in your garden or in a neighbour’s garden or field where there may be crop spraying. These chemicals can prove fatal. Don’t forget that the wind can carry these chemicals so if you live in a rural location where crop spraying takes place, you would be safer to keep your guinea pigs indoors.
- NEVER put the hutch in a greenhouse. As mentioned earlier, a shed is not adviseable in the summer due to the way it heats up on hotter days.
How to Protect the Wood of an Outdoor Hutch
Your hutch must be treated with a pet-friendly preservative which protects the wood from the weather as well as giving protection from the ammonia that is in their urine and droppings. If you're building your own hutch, do check that the preservative is safe for use with guinea pigs.
Some hutches have already been treated with a preservative but it something that is required on a yearly basis to ensure the hutch is kept in good condition.
The Cuprinol Garden Shades Preservative comes in a range of lovely colours and states that it is water-based and harmless to plants and pets.
How to Make the Hutch Safe from Predators
Foxes, rats and other wild animals can and will attack and kill guinea pigs if they can get to them.
Fox Proof Your Hutch
It is important to make your hutch as fox proof as you can. Foxes are cunning, clever animals and can manipulate bolts on hutch doors if they are not very strong. Additional bolts (eg padlocks) are a good idea for added security if you have these visitors to your garden.
Wooden hutches that have a run on the lower level usually have a sliding door that fits over the top of the ramp to prevent your guinea pig accessing the lower area. This should be closed off at night so your pet isn’t at risk from being attacked by predators such as foxes, rats or even dogs. Take a look at the recommended hutch and run combo here
A guinea pig must never be left in a run or have access to a run overnight as it is not safe enough for them.
How to Make Sure Rats Don’t Attack
Check your hutch regularly for any attempted attacks by predators. Rats could gnaw through the wood including the back of the hutch and you may not even realise that this is happening until it is too late. This is why it is important to buy a good solid hutch that has thick wood panels.
Advice if you are Building Your Own Hutch
If you are constructing a hutch yourself, you must NOT use thin wood for the sides and back, even if the hutch is to be kept in a shed, as rats may gnaw through thin wood.
Tongue and groove on the back and sides of a hutch will give strength. Exterior grade plywood is a good option (particularly for the flooring) but ensure that it is thick enough for stability and security.
Not all woods are safe for guinea pigs. MDF is not safe because of the glues that are used in it’s manufacture. Resin producing woods such as cedar are dangerous because of the aromatic oils (known as phenols) which emit from these types of wood can damage the respiratory tracts of your pet. In general, softwoods have more resin than hardwoods. It is best to stick to a hardwood if you are making a diy hutch.
Should I House My Guinea Pigs Outdoors?
Keeping guinea pigs outside in the correct safe and secure environment that provides enrichment for them gives them the opportunity to experience something closer to their natural habitat than being kept indoors.
However, keeping them indoors has many advantages too. If you can't provide the conditions they need to be outside or if you would prefer to have them in your home, read our page which is full of advice and tips on what you need to consider when housing guinea pigs in your home...