Housing: Do's & Don'ts
A proper habitat is key for a happy, well-nurtured guinea pig. We have compiled a "Do's & Don'ts of Piggy Housing" list. As with any other product you would give your guinea, please do your research and keep in mind many products at big-box stores are either outright dangerous, contain unsafe ingredients, or are based on outdated information. Guinea care today is nothing like it was when we first saw these critters in the classroom or at a friend's house -- and these advancements translate to happier, healthier, wheeking pigs!
CHOOSE THE PROPER ENVIRONMENT. Even a clean, proper guinea pig habitat can't fully protect against a poor overall environment. In other words, the piggy real estate is all about location, location, location. Place the cage in a well-ventilated environment, but not in the way of any drafts or directly in the flow of a fan. Guinea pigs have delicate respiratory systems, and drafts can be harmful. High-traffic areas such as the family room are often the best place because pigs need daily social interaction with their humans. A child's bedroom is potentially a poor setting if the child is still young and might interact unsafely (even innocently -- trying to pick up a guinea pig can be difficult) or simply not interact enough. This is a case-by-case scenario; I personally am friends with a family who have two pigs in a fantastic habitat kept in the preteen-age daughter's room, and it's the perfect setting for this particular cavy-savvy family.
PROVIDE A ROOMY CAGE OR HABITAT. "Small animal" does not translate to "small cage." Many people without guinea pigs are surprised to see just how big proper cavy-savvy cages must be for such little furballs! Cramped cages not only limit exercise but might provoke tension in otherwise friendly, bonded piggies. "Popcorning," or jumps and squeaks, signals a happy pig; give them plenty of room to explore and popcorn! If you do have a smaller cage, compensate by cleaning it more often and giving your pigs plenty of floor time.
This cage is much too small -- if the hidey takes up this much space, you need a larger cage.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE ESSENTIALS. A drip water bottle, pellet bowl, and "hidey" are three key components. Check out our page on diet (https://the-cavy-closet.myshopify.com/pages/guinea-pig-diet) for information on pellets and overall nutrition! Drip water bottles combat contamination (especially dust from pellets and hay); changing them daily with fresh, cool water and topping them off during the day in periods of hot weather provides sufficient hydration for your guinea. We stock drip water bottles right here at The Cavy Closet! Pellets should be kept in a small ceramic bowl and refilled/spot-cleaned often. Finally, a hidey (or pigallo, igloo house, or cozy) can provide a quiet shelter for your cavy to enjoy.
A WORD ON HAY: Some people choose to contain their pigs' hay in a rack clipped onto the cage or in a shallow pan, as opposed to right on the floor. A well-maintained cage can have hay directly on the floor without being in a rack or tray, and it is totally safe (this is my preferred method). Both other options are great choices -- as long as the equipment itself is safe. Spherical hay balls are an emphatic no. A few pigs have trapped their heads inside the sphere searching for the perfect piece of hay; luckily, this piggy was unscathed, but it's best to avoid the spheres altogether.
Before and after: this sweet cavy was trapped and their owner successfully removed the ball-cage with wire cutters; she now advises anyone not to purchase this product.
MAKE SURE THE FLOOR OF THE HABITAT IS SAFE. Never choose wire-bottomed cages, as these can seriously damage the bottom of your guineas' paws. Smooth-bottomed cage floors made out of a non-porous material are the best foundation -- such as plastic or metal. Provide absorbent bedding: CareFresh (paper bedding), kiln-dried pine or aspen shavings (never cedar), or fleece are three top choices for guinea pig owners. Paper or shaving bedding is generally used in combination with a newspaper lining. Fleece blankets are also becoming a popular choice for many owners (including myself). I buy the thin fleece blankets for children; others buy fleece by the yard at crafting stores, and we have a great fleece liner in our store if you'd like to test-drive this method! I am a fleece advocate because there is no waste (I shake out blankets in the garbage and wash in the machine), it's absorbent, soft on their paws, and provides burrowing material (Oregon can get chilly!). Again, the key is maintenance: whatever method you choose, be sure to spot-clean and regularly change bedding.
PICK SIDING WHICH PROVIDES AIRFLOW. Wire grid siding is really the only option. Never house your pigs in aquariums, even with the lid off -- it's simply not enough fresh airflow and can trigger overheating.
CLEAN THE CAGE ITSELF IN ADDITION TO BEDDING CHANGES. This is where the plastic or metal cage floor is necessary: you will need to deep clean the cage in addition to changing bedding. The deep clean does not need to happen with every bedding change, however. At least once a week, pour a combination of warm water and vinegar onto the cage floor to dissolve urine deposits; let the solution sit for a few minutes then scrub any spots left over and rinse completely with warm water; let dry totally before replacing bedding. Ceramic food dishes and plastic hideys should also be cleaned periodically (hot water is usually sufficient). A clean pig is a happy pig!
D O N ' T :
GIVE YOUR GUINEA ANY UNSAFE PRODUCTS. Cedar shavings, spherical hay cages, toys with choking hazards, or unhealthy treats.
LEAVE GUINEA PIGS ALONE WITH OTHER PETS. All dogs and cats can and will act unpredictably; they are predator against a prey animal. Even if it's the cuddliest dog and it has never hurt a fly, it's much better to be safe than sorry. Never allow your other animals to interact with your cavies if you do not have direct eyes on the situation.
This was photographed just after the owner walked away for a couple minutes -- the pair may get along well and without incident, but this photo highlights a potential risk to think about.
HOUSE YOUR GUINEA PIG OUTSIDE. Ever, ever -- just say no. Guinea pigs do not react well to temperature regulations, and, once again -- predator animals are a threat. Pigs can play outside on safe, clean grassy lawns, but should not live outside.
Outdoor dangers: predators and inclement weather (the hutch, on the right, was blown over by strong winds).
EXAMPLES OF GREAT HABITATS:
(We will have a best cavy habitat contest soon. )