Adapting your guinea pigs' housing to the changing seasons

You’ve got the perfect guinea pig housing set up, but what do you do when the temperature drops? And what do you do when your guinea pigs need to keep cool in the summer? 

Guinea pigs are vulnerable to all extremes of weather and very cold or very hot temperatures are dangerous for them. During the warmer months of the year, your guineas will be happy housed outdoors in a large, good quality hutch with attached run. In winter, it may be best to move them indoors. In this section, we’ll cover:
Winter-proofing outdoor housing ● Tips for moving guinea pigs indoors ● Adapting to the heat of summer

    Did you know?

    The RSPCA says that, unlike other social animals, guinea pigs tend not to engage in rough and tumble play but instead their play is based around movement. Guinea pigs will leap, run and chase each other and you may also spot them suddenly jumping in the air, with all four feet off the ground, often turning 90° in mid-air. This is ‘pop-corning’ and will be seen when your piggies are excited.

    Winter-proofing your guinea pigs’ outdoor housing

    If you can, create a quiet, cosy space for your guinea pigs in a porch or utility room. If you’re not able to move your guinea pigs indoors, setting them up inside a converted Wendy House, shed or well-ventilated outbuilding with natural daylight is the best option. If that’s not possible, place their outdoor accommodation in a sheltered area, away from wind and driving rain. Also carry out checks on their housing to ensure that it’s winter-proof.
    Check the roofing felt to make sure it’s completely watertight and that all the walls are in good condition, with no water staining that might suggest that rain is seeping in from under the roof. Make sure the hutch is always raised from ground level, on bricks or a frame, to allow air to circulate and prevent damp entering from below.
    Extra insulation will be required in the form of some kind of hutch cover. You can buy these from pet retailers or make your own using tarpaulin or old carpets covered in a weatherproof outer layer. Your guinea pigs will still need fresh air, so you need to create a cover that provides protection from cold and wind but provides good ventilation.
    Insulate the inside of their housing with thick newspaper, changed daily, and lots and lots of hay. Microwaveable pet-safe heat pads can provide extra warmth. Guinea pigs will also need a chance to exercise in their run – but don’t let them get wet and cold – or in an indoor area.

    Pile extra hay in sleeping areas (such as carboard boxes with entrance holes cut out) for your piggies to snuggle up in and change bedding materials regularly to keep things fresh and dry. Consider adding dedicated hay areas which can be insulated and adapted in winter weathers. You could even provide them with a Pigloo each. These are made from a durable cotton outer, a layer of wadding and a hardwearing fleece inner and are a great place for your piggies to snuggle and snooze.

    Keeping things dry is essential a damp environment in freezing weather will seriously affect your pets’ health. Wet bedding will freeze on cold nights, which could lead to your pets becoming ill. Clean the toilet area daily and their whole home regularly, at least once a week. Always replace a small amount of used, un-soiled bedding to maintain familiar scents and reduce stress.
    A little more food may be required in the winter to help your guinea pigs maintain their body temperature and condition, so allow for this when serving up their daily nuggets. As fresh grass is less readily available, your piggies will require plenty of good quality feeding hay to munch on. Never feed greens or vegetables that are frosty or frozen.
    Check water bottles several times a day to make sure the contents is not too cold or has frozen. Also check the metal spout hasn’t iced up. Wrapping water bottles in bubble wrap or an old sock can help. Access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times is essential or your pets could be coming seriously ill.
    Keeping rabbits outside

    Are sheds good homes for guinea pigs?

    Wooden Wendy Houses or garden sheds make an ideal home for your guinea pigs, especially if you have a group. Sheds can easily be converted with mesh doors and a step over barrier to stop them escaping. A shed offers more floor space for your guinea pigs and will enable you to socialise with your piggies throughout the year, whatever the weather.

    Keeping rabbits outside

    Top Tip!

    Guinea pigs still need regular exercise during the winter. If there’s never ending wind and rain, allocate a room indoors (not too warm) where they can have some playtime every day. Your guinea pigs will enjoy foraging for treats in piles of hay and tunnels and boxes to hide in. 

    Feeding only the best quality food will go a long way to helping your guinea pigs stay in the best of health throughout the changing seasons. Plenty of high-quality feeding hay, grass-based nuggets containing vitamin C and fresh greens will help your guinea pigs maintain healthy skin, coat, eyes, teeth and digestion.

    Adapting your guinea pigs to the heat of summer

    As well as protecting your guinea pigs from the worst of the winter weather, they also need extra care when it’s very hot. Small pets such as guinea pigs don’t sweat and can’t pant, and so find life quite difficult when temperatures are soaring.

    Where is the sun?

    For outdoor guinea pigs, look at where the sun’s rays are positioned throughout the day and reposition outdoor accommodation, so your pets are sheltered from direct sunlight. A blanket placed on top of one end of your pets’ run will provide a shady, cool place.

    Where are the windows?

    With indoor guinea pigs, move them well away from windows and draw the curtains. Using an electric fan in the room where indoor pets live can help keep the air circulating – make sure the fan is not near enough for any wires to be reachable and never direct it straight at your guinea pigs’ cage.

    Fresh clean water

    Fresh water should be supplied morning and evening. If your guinea pigs’ water bottle is turning green with algae, then scrub it clean and disinfect it with hot water and white vinegar before rinsing it thoroughly. If you can’t remove the algae, then throw the bottle away and buy a new one.

    Guinea pig hygiene

    With indoor guinea pigs, move them well away from windows and draw the curtains. Using an electric fan in the room where indoor pets live can help keep the air circulating – make sure the fan is not near enough for any wires to be reachable and never direct it straight at your guinea pigs’ cage.

    Try a flannel

    For hot guinea pigs, try gently stroking their fur with a cool, damp flannel. As the water evaporates, it will provide a cooling effect.

    Cooling products

    Invest in some specially designed small pet or guinea pig cooling products. There’s an innovative product called Ice Pod that’s suitable for guinea pigs. Simply pop the Ice Pod into your freezer, then, once it’s nice and cold, place it in your guinea pigs’ accommodation for them to lie on or near to.

    Create shady areas

    Try draping well-rung out cold wet towels over hutches to cool them down. Avoid plastic guinea-pig igloos as these can become very hot in the summer and replace them with an alternative hidey-hole such as a cardboard box with an entrance and ventilation holes cut into it. 

    Guinea pig hygiene

    With indoor guinea pigs, move them well away from windows and draw the curtains. Using an electric fan in the room where indoor pets live can help keep the air circulating – make sure the fan is not near enough for any wires to be reachable and never direct it straight at your guinea pigs’ cage.

    Grooming is key

    Brush long-haired guinea pigs daily as matted fur traps heat. Medium- haired breeds will need brushing a few times a week to remove the dead hairs. Short-haired breeds will just need a weekly going over. If it looks like a prolonged heatwave has set in, some pets may benefit from a summer trim.

    A healthy weight

    Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is a great way to help them during hot weather – being heavier than they should makes it harder for them to stay cool.

    TIP! Always be quiet and gentle around guinea pigs. When approaching them, crouch down and talk softly and let your pets come to you. Offer your hand to sniff then gently place your hand across their shoulder, with the thumb tucked between the front legs on one side. You should then be able to slowly lift your guineas and support their weight by putting your other hand under the bottom. Hold your pets on your lap or, if you’re standing, close to your chest.

    Other environment tips

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    Adapting guinea pigs’ housing in changing seasons

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    A guide to guinea pig housing

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