Our advice is always to house your guinea pigs indoors if you can. It is much safer.
However, many people do have their cavies outdoors all year round and given the right conditions, housing and also taking into account how extreme the weather is at the time, this may be ok. Please read all the information below to ensure your outdoor guinea pigs are safe.
What to Consider When Buying a Wooden Hutch
Wooden hutches are the only type of housing you should use if you plan on having your cavies outdoors.
If you don't take the correct precautions for guinea pigs that are kept outside, they may become ill. There are two main things to take into consideration when buying a hutch:
- It must be large enough for them to exercise
- It must be strong and safe from predators and weather
Making Sure Your Hutch is Large Enough
The RSPCA recommends a minimum size of 120cm long x 60cm wide x 45cm high (4ft x 2ft x 1.5ft).
You will see many hutches that are for sale for guinea pigs which don't meet these requirements but that doesn't mean they are ok. Guinea pigs love to run around and play. If they can't do this they will become sad and distressed.
Protecting Your Guinea Pigs from the Weather
Guinea pigs need more warmth than rabbits and are actually quite similar to humans in that they like a similar temperature and humidity to us. They originate from South America which has a dry, warm climate.
It is important to remember that extremes of weather are dangerous to guinea pigs. Cold, draughty cages in the winter months or hot cages in the summer months could kill your pets.
Cold, Wet Weather
A common question many owners ask is "Can my guinea pig live outside in the winter?". The answer to this is that it really depends on how extreme the weather is.
Ideally, your guinea pigs are better to be indoors during the very cold, wet months, particularly when it is frosty. However, if you are keeping them outside all year round you need to take precautions to ensure they are protected.
- An outdoor hutch needs to be weatherproof because guinea pigs can catch pneumonia if they become wet or cold.
- It 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. The felt roofing will protect the hutch from damp, wet weather.
- Plastic hutch covers or hutch huggers are great for protecting them from the rain but can lead to condensation inside the housing and damp bedding which may cause your guinea pigs to catch chills. To avoid this, ensure that there is still plenty of airflow into the hutch.
- 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 that they still need ventilation.
- More bedding should be provided in the winter months to ensure they are warm enough. Hidey holes with plenty of hay will help them stay warm. Check out the bedding options that are available here.
- Although we always advise keeping guinea pigs in pairs, this is something that is even more important when they are outside as they will be able to snuggle up together and keep each other warm.
Despite the above, we do recommend that your guinea pigs and kept inside in a suitably large cage during the very cold weather. They will be a lot safer and more comfortable.
Hot, Sunny Weather
It isn't just the winter months that are a danger to outdoor guinea pigs. Hot summer weather poses different risks.
If your guinea pigs become too hot they can get heat stroke (they don’t perspire like we do) so take a look below at how to position the hutch to keep them safe.
Positioning of the Outdoor Hutch
The location of your outdoor hutch is important to protect them from predators and all types of weather.
- It should be at least 76cm off the ground (either on strong, sturdy legs or on a very stable table). This will prevent it rotting, makes them feel safer (from predators or cats and dogs) and is also much easier for you when you are cleaning it out.
- The hutch should be placed against a wall or sturdy fence. If you can secure it to the wall or fence this is even better.
- It should always be positioned out of direct sunlight, shaded from the wind and it should not be in a damp part of your garden. A hutch that can be easily moved 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.
- If the hutch is kept in a shed, you must ensure this doesn’t become too hot in summer. The shed should have windows/doors that can be left open to keep them cool and the hutch should be secure during those times so the cavies are safe.
- NEVER put the hutch in a greenhouse.
Protecting the Wood
The 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.
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, although it may be worth contacting the company direct to confirm it is safe for guinea pigs.
Making the Hutch Safe and Secure
Some wooden hutches have solid wood panels that fit over the cage to protect from bad weather or for added security when you are away for a few hours. Do make sure that there are holes in the wood so your little pets have plenty of airflow.
Protection from Predators
Foxes and rats and other wild animals can and will attack and kill guinea pigs if they can get to them.
The hutch doors should have strong bolts. Some predators may be able to cleverly undo bolts that slide easily. If the hutch you have purchased doesn’t have very strong locks then you should change them or include additional security such as extra bolts that can’t easily be opened or a padlock.
Check regularly for any possible 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.
Building Your Own Guinea Pig 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.
Ensure that you use a wood that is safe for your guinea pig. MDF is not safe because of the glues that are used in it’s manufacture.
There is a lot to consider when housing a guinea pig outdoors to ensure they are safe, healthy, happy and secure. If you can't provide these conditions for them, it is not worth taking a risk. Look at housing them indoors.