There is much more to house guinea pigs outside than just buying a hutch and keeping them in. Guinea pigs who are accustomed to living indoors have a hard time surviving out. It is vital to give guinea pigs a slow transition to keep them away from shock. But what are the fundamentals to keep in mind while moving indoor guinea pigs outside?
Getting an enclosure that can protect your guinea pigs from bad weather and predators is crucial. Move your guinea pigs during spring as changes in temperature can be dangerous. Letting your guinea pig explore outside enclosure for a few days before moving them permanently will make the transition smooth.
This guide will explain to you the possible risks of keeping guinea pigs outside, and it will tell you how to move your indoor guinea pigs outside.
We will talk about how guinea pigs can survive outside the whole year and how to help guinea pigs live in extreme temperature fluctuations. So, let’s get right into it.
Should guinea pigs be kept inside or outside?
Pet guinea pigs that we get from a breeder today are the ancestors of wild guinea pigs who were also known as the capybara.
They make large underground tunnels to protect themselves from animals and bad weather, whereas domesticated guinea pigs don’t have an option to do so. However, they do have other methods to survive outside.
The fur of guinea pigs is thick which helps them in providing warmth in cold temperatures.
Capybara has excellent senses of hearing and smell. They can feel the presence of their predator from far away and easily hide from them by running to a safe place.
Unluckily, pet guinea pigs are restricted at living in a small area, where they can not hide from danger. Guinea pigs can be kept outdoors, but only if all the safety measures are in place.
The most secure place to house your guinea pigs is inside the house. They will be protected from weather fluctuations as well as predators when they are in.
However, if you don’t have a choice, you might need to arrange something for your guinea pig’s outside. But this should be your last resort.
Threats of keeping guinea pigs outside
Staying outdoors is normal for wild guinea pigs, but for pet guinea pigs staying outside raises risks. And these risks are:
- Predators: Badgers, foxes, snakes, cats, and other animals look for easy targets like guinea pigs. Some animals can even break through their cage if the cage is not sturdy enough.
- Loud sounds: Guinea pigs get shocked when they hear something which is not expected. Firecrackers. Thunderstorms, loud horns, these all are high pitch sounds, which raises the chances of heart attacks.
- Insects: If the cage of your guinea pig is not well maintained or your guinea pig is suffering from wet bottom then the risk of flystrike is very high. Mosquitos and flies are dangerous because diseases like myxomatosis can be spread. Maggots(flies larvae) can even feed on your guinea pig’s flesh and eat them alive.
- Bad weather: Scorching summer heat can be dangerous for guinea pigs, as it raises the risk of heat stroke. And cold temperatures of winters can be a reason for hypothermia in guinea pigs. Frequent changes in temperature can be very deadly.
- Lonely and depressed: When guinea pigs live inside, they have you with whom they spend time, but keeping them outside alone can make them bored, lonely, or even depressed.
- Toxic: When guinea pigs live outside, they get a chance to eat plants like lilies, crowfoots, or hedera, which can be toxic for them.
Luckily, guinea pigs can be kept outdoors by taking some safety measures to prevent them from these dangers.
Can I move my indoor guinea pigs outside?
Keeping your guinea pigs indoors is the safest place to house them. But if this is something impossible for you, then you can keep your guinea pigs outside by providing them with a proper living space and appropriate care.
When guinea pigs live outside, then it is impossible to prevent all the risks we discussed earlier. But with proper care, we can minimize most of them. For example, loud noises of cars, sound crackers, etc. cannot be prevented.
However, with proper planning and some safety measures, we can help in decreasing these risks. Like, constructing a cage that is weatherproof and secured, keeping your guinea pigs away from toxic plants can keep them safe.
Whereas providing a dedicated part of your time to them, or getting a partner for your guinea pigs can help prevent loneliness and stress.
The change can be difficult for guinea pigs who are accustomed to live indoors. A sudden disturbance in the environment of guinea pigs can be dangerous. One of the most common problems is stress and anxiety.
If you have to move them outdoors, you need to do it slowly so that it doesn’t cause excessive stress in your guinea pigs. We will discuss more on moving your guinea pigs outside in 5 easy steps below.
How to move indoor guinea pigs outside?
Your guinea pigs will require a secure cage if they are about to move outdoors, as it is the one thing that will act as a safeguard to dangers.
The three most important features of a good cage for guinea pigs is that it must be a sturdy built, must provide a safe space for exercise, and no predators must reach through it.
Once this cage is prepared, you can start the transition of moving them outside. However, you will have to wait for the right weather and slowly familiarise your guinea pigs outdoors.
Note these five steps to gain success in moving your guinea pigs outside with the least stress.
Building a safe outdoor enclosure
Your guinea pigs will need a sizeable solid cage where they can exercise if they are about to live outside, but an indoor cage is not sufficient to protect guinea pigs from other risks.
Usually, cages sold in pet shops with an exercise space are not appropriate, like they are too small with no solid material so a predator can break in a matter of seconds.
So, it is best suggested to make cages on your own with durable material. A safe enclosure consist:
- One section which is fully covered with wood, which can help your guinea pigs to hide and safeguard from bad weather as well as predators.
- Durable wire mesh or similar material so that your guinea pigs can see out of their cage and it helps with ventilation as well.
- A solid lock for the cage, but it should not be of wood because predators can break it easily.
- A sloping roof to get rid of the rainwater.
- Legs that can help pick up the cage from the surface which provides extra protection from the weather as well as predators.
- A sufficient area for exercising which is mostly going to be a run.
You will also need containers for water and food. Also, put lots of hay to eat and burrow.
The length and width of the cage should at least be 6ft*2ft. Additionally, the space for exercise or the run should be 8ft*4ft*2ft with the roof on top and solid surface at the base.
Guinea pigs require regular exercise. If you can’t provide a run, you need to make sure you take them out of the cage daily for a few hours to play and exercise.
The cage must be placed in a location where they can get some shade in the summer. Direct sunlight can raise the temperature quickly, which can be dangerous for our guinea pigs.
And if you stay in an area where mosquitos are a major problem then make sure to cover the cage and exercise pen with mosquito nets. Mosquitoes spread diseases like myxomatosis, which is very dangerous.
Protection from predators
If you have made a cage and an exercise space appropriately, it should also be secured from predators’ reach. Even watching a predator can also be very risky.
Guinea pigs get tense when they even look at their predators. It can also lead to heart attacks. That is the cause, why the cage must be predator resistant, and also take safety measures as much as possible.
- Lights and sprinklers which trace the movements: Cats, dogs, and foxes will get scared of this.
- Long fences with flat panels: These are not easy to climb. However, foxes can mount on these, but dogs can not.
- Fix a wire netting: So that foxes do not get an opportunity of digging holes and reaching to your guinea pigs.
- Bright items: Attach some shiny things like CDs or reflective tapes. That will scare birds like hawks.
- Cat-proof objects: you can use citrus peels and ultrasonic sound machines, but loud sounds may also be stressful for guinea pigs.
It is not possible that no predators can come in search of their prey, but that does not mean you can not stop them.
You can use tarpaulin at night to cover their cage. Most wild animals are more active during the night so covering the cage will reduce the visibility of predators for your guinea pigs. So, if they can’t see them, they should be okay.
Choose the right time to move them
Once your yard is prepared with all the setup to keep predators away and you have built the enclosure, you are ready to move them. But timing is the key here.
If the season at this stage is spring, go ahead and let your guinea pigs see their new place outside. But if it is the time of winters, then wait for spring to come. The cause behind it is behind the fur coat of your guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs shed their fur two times a year, one time in spring and the other in fall. Guinea pigs who live in open wild environments get a thick coat of fur for winters. However, the thickness of the fur will depend upon the weather they were kept in.
So, if you move them out in the winter, their fur coat might not be prepared for that weather.
You need to wait and transition them in spring so that their bodies can adjust and develop a thicker fur for those harsh cold season.
And if you try to move them in summer, the unbearable heat will become risky for them.
So it is better to wait for spring where the temperature gets moderate, not so cold and not too hot. This will provide them with appropriate weather and living environment to adjust.
Let your guinea pig be outside for short periods
The winter fur of your guinea pigs will be shedding in between February and March. And they will get new fur in the middle of spring, which means they will be ready to move outside.
You can let your guinea pigs meet their place outside once the weather gets warm. Keep doing this steadily to prevent your guinea pigs from shocks and depression. Continuing this procedure in short periods for two weeks is better.
In the first week, leave your guinea pigs in their exercise space daily for two hours. One hour in the morning and one in the evening, as guinea pigs get energetic in both of these durations, so it is the correct time for them to know about their cage.
At the beginning of it, be there with your guinea pigs when they are outside because they are not known to this region and may find it uneasy and stressful. When you are there with your guinea pigs, they will feel much more secure.
Provide all necessary things that your guinea pigs require when they are outside, like food, water, treats, and toys. It will ensure they have a pleasant experience in the space outside.
When the second week arrives, increase the time they are spending outside. Increase an additional hour of staying outdoors till they start spending 8-9 hours outside. But do not keep your guinea pigs out at night at this step.
Move your guinea pigs outside permanently
Now when these two weeks of changing procedure gets over, your guinea pigs will be well prepared to stay outside, because now it is in their habit to spend hours outside, they will not hesitate to move out.
The second step in this transition is to keep them outdoors at night. If they have lots of hay, bedding, and water in their cage, they will remain calm. And since it is the time of spring, the weather outside will be pleasant enough.
Keep checking your guinea pigs before you go to sleep, and in the early mornings. They should appear happy and active to see you.
Provide plenty of water to your guinea pigs and feed them their salads and pellets in their cage or the exercise area.
Do not stop spending time with your guinea pigs if they move outside. As they are social animals, they do not like being left alone. Interacting with guinea pigs is very important.
Get a new partner if you cannot be with your guinea pig for at least two hours. A bonded pair of guinea pigs will provide them with enough social interaction. Bonding guinea pigs may consume time, but when it gets done right, they become partners for their whole life.
Can guinea pigs live outside all year round?
If your guinea pigs have been transitioned slowly to live outside, they can stay there for the whole year.
However, intense temperatures are still very harmful to guinea pigs. So, just be more cautious in the extreme months of summers and winters.
You might need to bring them in for a month or two if the weather in your region gets an extreme temperature fluctuation.
How to keep guinea pigs warm outside
Guinea pigs can live in cold temperatures. But if you stay in an area where winters are unusual, then you need to keep your guinea pigs somewhere warm because they may get to suffer from hypothermia.
- Fill lots of hay in the enclosure of your guinea pigs, so they can sit and cover themselves entirely and get warmth inside.
- Use lining material like soft, warm fabric to line the cage from it, or use blankets.
- Be sure that you have not kept the cage at the place where snow and rain can quickly enter inside. Take use of tarpaulin cover to protect the enclosure from rain and uneasy winds.
- Insert a snuggle safe heating pad inside the cage.
- If your guinea pigs live in simple roofed structures typically made of wood and metal, you can use an electric heater of low-wattage, but make sure your guinea pigs do not start chewing cables.
- Never place a heater or lamp inside the cage, as it will make the cage too hot, which can cause your guinea pigs to overheat.
- If your guinea pigs are temperature sensitive, then consult a professional vet.
Take your guinea pigs inside before it gets too cold out there. Hypothermia can be deadly for your guinea pigs, especially if their enclosure outside is not well prepared for harsh winter months.
Also read: How to keep guinea pigs warm in winter
How to keep guinea pigs cool outside
Guinea pigs are prone to heatstroke. Hyperthermia is more common in guinea pigs living outside than any other disease. You can minimize the risk by following some simple steps. These include:
- Try to keep the cage and the exercise space together under a shaded place.
- Keep a large tile of clay or marble in a shaded area so that your guinea pigs rest down there.
- Fix some frozen water bottles around their cage.
- Keep lots of vegetables and water by adding some ice in to cool the water in the cage.
- If your house has a regulated environment then consider bringing them in during those months of the heatwave.
During summer months you need to check your guinea pigs more frequently. If they show any signs of overheat, like shortness of breath, panting, drooling, etc then take them to a vet immediately.
Learn more: How to keep guinea pigs cool in summer
Tips for keeping guinea pigs outside
To safely house your guinea pigs outdoors, just make sure you place them in the shady part of your lawn so that they do not suffer from overheating.
Providing them plenty of water is essential. And do not place their cage near the garage because there the toxic air from your vehicles can cause harm to them.
In winters, try not to keep them outside because of the cold weather, but if you are attempting to do so, line blankets around their cage or use heat pads to provide warmth.
Also, once your guinea pigs have moved outside, then keep that place permanent for them. Because changing the location of their enclosure on a regular basis can be stressful for your guinea pigs.
Sources: American Journal of Physiology, The Physiological Society, Sciencedirect, Journal of general physiology.