10 top tips for creating a great house for your guinea pigs

Owning guinea pigs can be really fun and rewarding, but it must not be underestimated how much time and care they need to stay happy and healthy. Traditionally guinea pigs have been thought of as children’s pets but while it’s lovely for children to enjoy the company of guinea pigs, the responsibility for any animal’s wellbeing lies with adults.

They say ‘Home Sweet Home’ but in the world of guinea pigs, it’s Home Squeak Home!  Our guinea pigs’ housing is very important for their overall welfare. Guinea pigs have five welfare needs. These are the five things that need to be looked after to help our rabbits stay happy and healthy. These needs are:

  1. Diet
  2. Health
  3. Behaviour
  4. Companionship
  5. Environment

TIP ONE: Piggies need space! A hutch is not enough.

Although they’re only small, guinea pigs need space to exhibit their natural behaviours. Their housing should be as big as possible but an absolute minimum of 1.5m x 1m (length x width) as a minimum for a compatible pair or a trio. These dimensions include both a shelter and living area.

Are hutches good for guinea pigs?

In short, on its own no, a hutch is not enough for guinea pigs. While they can be a suitable sleeping area, your guinea pigs should have constant access to an exercise area. Housing should be draught-free, weather and predator proof, which not all hutches are.

Can I adapt a guinea pig hutch?

Yes! You don’t need to throw your guinea pig hutch away. Instead you can use items like tunnels and doorways, to connect your current rabbit hutch to their run. Companies like Runaround offer some great connection options. Remember, your guinea pigs should have constant access to their exercise area (that means day and night!) to give them room to roam when they like.

TIP TWO: Guinea pigs need room to roam, and constant access to their exercise area

Guinea pigs are active animals so need lots of space to run, popcorn, and explore. As well as making sure their housing is big enough, it’s important that they have constant access to an exercise area. Guinea pig runs are an easy way to make sure your piggies have enough space.

TIP THREE: Location, location, location – you can house your guinea pigs indoors or outside

Guinea pigs can be housed indoors or outdoors – whichever fits best with your space and lifestyle. The main thing to remember is that while they’re different environments, the all-important space rule remains the same an absolute minimum of 6ft x 4ft. We need to make sure we make room so they can exhibit their natural behaviours like foraging.

Whichever environment you choose, there are a few extra things to bear in mind. For outdoor guinea pigs, making sure their homes are secure from predators like foxes is important. Whereas from indoor guinea pigs, you’ll need to tidy away any household hazards like wires or hazardous house plants. 

Important – Do not keep guinea pigs or any other animals in a garage used to keep vehicles as the fumes can kill them.

TIP FOUR: Guinea pigs need at least one friend!

As well as needing a great home, our guinea pigs need a friend or small group of piggies to share it with. Guinea pigs love to live in single sex pairs or groups. Plus, they they’ll love being around you! Due to their highly social nature, guinea pigs can only be truly happy as one of a pair or as part of a small group of the same sex – litter mates make the best companions. If you’re planning to keep a male and female together, it’s recommended that the male is neutered to avoid the unwanted patter of tiny guinea pig feet.

Can rabbits and guinea pigs live together?

Despite the popular myths, guinea pigs don’t get on with rabbits.  Not only will rabbits bully guinea pigs, they have very different needs including food, housing requirements and different behaviours. They just can’t understand each other and don’t make a good pair. Plus, rabbits also carry something called Bordetella Bronchiseptica, a bacteria that can make guinea pigs very ill.

TIP FIVE: Groom long haired guinea pigs

While long-haired guinea pigs require a daily brush to keep their coats tangle and matt-free, shorthaired varieties only need a weekly onceover as part of their regular grooming routine. You can use this as an opportunity to check their health:

  • All guinea pigs need their eyes, ears and noses checked regularly to make sure there isn’t any unusual discharge. Watch out for any scratching or rubbing of ears or head shaking, as this could mean ear mites.
  • Guinea pigs’ teeth grow very quickly and should be checked every week to ensure they are not overgrown, broken or loose.
  • Feet should be checked for signs of sores or red patches and nails need to be carefully clipped regularly or they will start to curl. If you notice anything unusual during grooming, always speak to your vet.

TIP SIX: Be in the know about secure guinea pig housing

Whether they live inside or outside, it’s vital to keep your guinea pigs safe. For outdoor guinea pigs, not only do you need to stop your piggies getting out of their housing, you also need to stop predators from getting in. 

Chicken wire is not suitable for guinea pig housing as it is too thin, and predators can often chew their way through. A 16g or 12g wire with 25mm holes will keep out predators such as rats and foxes. If you are concerned about smaller predators such as stoats and weasels, consider 13mm instead. All wires should be fixed to the inside of their run, rather than the outside. Secure their housing further using bolts that you can padlock for extra security. 

For indoor guinea pigs, as well as needing secure housing, the potential dangers lie in what’s around them. We would recommend keeping all house plants way out of reach of your guinea pigs, or even in a different room.

If your indoor guinea pigs are free roaming, cover up any wires – we all know how they love to nibble! And consider what they can reach. If you don’t want your skirting boards or furniture legs chewed, consider getting some protective covers to keep them safe from guinea pigs’ teeth.  

TIP SEVEN: Guinea pigs love to hide

Guinea pigs love to hide and they feel safe when they have plenty of hiding spots because they’re a prey species. When they feel nervous or threatened, they’ll want somewhere to go to escape. It’s perfectly normal behaviour, and something us owners should help them do! Give your guinea pigs lots of different places to hide themselves away in their housing. Each hiding place should have two entries/exits. This is so your guinea pigs don’t feel trapped.

Plastic igloos or tunnels make for great hiding places to help them feel safe and secure. For extra cosiness add a fleece bed for them to snuggle in!

TIP EIGHT: Guinea pigs need vitamin C

Just like humans, guinea pigs are not able to make or store Vitamin C. Feeding good quality, grass-based guinea pig nuggets, which are high in fibre and Vitamin C and rich in nutrients, is the best way to ensure they’re getting everything they need, along with a small handful of leafy greens, such as dandelion, spinach, kale and broccoli.

Good quality, dust-extracted feeding hay should make up 85-90% of guinea pigs’ diet. Avoid ‘muesli’-style food as these are likely to encourage selective feeding. It goes without saying that guinea pigs need constant access to fresh clean water.

Guinea pig hay feeders

Hay feeders, or hay racks, are an easy way to store feeding hay for your guinea pigs. You can get freestanding hay feeders, or ones that hook onto the walls of your guinea pigs’ enclosure.

TIP NINE: Enrich your guinea pigs’ environment

As well as the need to live in a suitable environment, one of our guinea pigs’ other five welfare needs is behaviour. Putting additions in your guinea pigs’ enclosure will provide enrichment so they can exhibit their natural behaviour.

Guinea pig safe toys

Keep your guinea pigs entertained for hours by providing them with a safe collection of their favourite toys. There’s lots of toys for guinea pigs available online and in pet shops – it’s all about finding what your piggies prefer. Some commonly loved toys include:

  • Willow balls
  • Tunnels
  • Puzzle feeders
  • Baskets
  • DIY toys. Stuff an empty cardboard toilet roll with hay and add some tasty forage – endless fun!
  • Feeding hay hiding places

What are guinea pig puzzle feeders?

Things like willow balls and snuffle mats all make our guinea pigs’ minds work, which is great for their enrichment and exercise. Try popping some of their daily portion of nuggets into a puzzle ball, or hiding them with some tasty forage in a snuffle mat. It will get their minds working and make feeding time fun.

TIP TEN: Clean your guinea pigs’ housing regularly

You will need to do a quick clean of your guinea pigs’ enclosure every day. Do a daily spot check, looking for, and removing any soiled bedding or hay. Remove any uneaten food too. This is a good opportunity to change water bowls and bottles, and refill their feeding hay.

Every so often, about every week, it’s a good idea to do a more thorough clean of your guinea pigs’ housing:

  • Set aside a small portion of clean bedding material and hay (you’ll need that later)
  • Remove the rest of their bedding and hay
  • Give their housing (that’s their guinea pig hutch and run, shed, or indoor area) a thorough sweep to remove any droppings or uneaten food
  • Replace with all new bedding and hay, then pop the small amount of old (but clean) bedding and hay back in too. The familiar smell will help your rabbits to quickly settle back into their clean home!

About once a month, your guinea pigs’ housing will need a deep clean. Similar to your thorough clean, replace all their bedding and hay, giving it a good sweep for uneaten food or droppings. But this time, give it a scrub with some pet safe disinfectant – you can find this at most pet shops or online.