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October 21, 2009

Guinea Pig Housing

The Humane Society of the United States

guinea pig being held


Most cages marketed for guinea pigs are way too small. Learn how to provide your pig with appropriate room to roam.

Why size matters

Guinea pigs are one of the largest rodents kept as pets and yet their typical cage is only marginally roomier than housing for much smaller relatives like hamsters and gerbils.

While small animal cages often utilize vertical space to increase living area and encourage climbing, digging and burrowing, guinea pigs rely on floor space. Ramps and platforms at low heights provide variety, but guinea pigs need room to exercise, even with daily playtime outside of the cage.

For many years, the industry standard has been approximately 2 square feet per guinea pig, but this provides barely enough room for a nest, bathroom area, and food and water. GuineaPigCages.com, a well-respected online resource for guinea pig owners, refers to this cage size as "a glorified litter box."

The website, created by Cavy Spirit Rescue, offers the following guidelines for the ratio of guinea pigs to their cage size:

One guinea pig:  7.5 square feet cage (minimum), but more is better; generally 30" x 36" is a good size.
Two guinea pigs:  7.5 square feet (minimum), but 10.5 square feet is preferred; generally 30" x 50" is a good size.
Three guinea pigs: 10.5 square feet (minimum), but 13 square feet is preferred; generally 30" x 62" is a good size.
Four guinea pigs: 13 square feet (minimum), but more is better; generally 30" x 76" is a good size.

Benefits to your guinea pig

Roomier cages offer many advantages that will be enjoyed by both you and your pig:

  • Larger cages are one of the most basic types of enrichment you can provide. Guinea pigs can live 5-7 years and can become bored and depressed without adequate stimulation. Imagine spending your whole life in a walk-in closet. Even with occasional breaks, life would be pretty dreary.
  • Adequate room to exercise means that your guinea pigs are less likely to develop medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, bumblefoot, and anal impaction.
  • With a roomier enclosure, guinea pigs can exercise on their schedule, not yours. Guinea pigs tend to be most active in the morning and evening when it may not be convenient to take them out for playtime.
  • Larger digs increase the likelihood of peaceful co-existence among multiple guinea pigs (and since guinea pigs are social animals, they do best when housed together).
  • Larger cages are actually easier to clean because they prevent the build-up of waste and allow guinea pigs to separate their bathroom area from other activities.
  • With the opportunity to express a wider range of natural behaviors, your guinea pigs will be happier and it will be easier to get to know their personalities.

Bed time

Though widely sold as appropriate bedding for small animals, cedar and pine shavings are NOT recommended due to chemicals which they both contain. Instead, buy bedding made from paper.  Provide enough bedding so that it is between 2-3 inches deep, so that absorption is maximized.

Location is key

Once you've selected the right housing for your guinea pigs, you’ll need to determine where in your home they will live. Here are some factors to consider:

Temperature: The ideal temperature range for guinea pigs is approximately 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Guinea pig housing should be located away from strong heat sources such as direct sun, wood stoves, fireplaces and heating vents. Guinea pigs cannot sweat when they become too warm and are particularly susceptible to heat stroke.

Don't put your guinea pig’s cage in an unheated room, breezeway, garage or other chilly location. Place the cages in a draft-free area (e.g. away from doors and windows and on an elevated surface). 

Guinea pigs don’t do well under humid conditions. Dampness promotes the growth of mold in their hay and bedding and can make guinea pigs more prone to sickness.

Activity level: Guinea pigs enjoy being near family activity and benefit from more attention when they’re easy to see and hear. A family room or living room works well, but make sure your pigs have a place to retreat if they need some quiet time.

Noise: Guinea pigs have very sensitive hearing and their cages should not be placed next to stereos, televisions or other loud noises.

Other considerations

For sanitary reasons, don't keep your guinea pig's cage in your kitchen or other area where food is prepared.

Make sure your guinea pig's cage is safe from other pets who may see him as prey.

If you have young children, put the cage in an area where you can control access and supervise child-guinea pig interactions.

Reasons to avoid the great outdoors

An outdoor hutch was once considered acceptable housing for guinea pigs. But keeping a pet outside robs them of regular interaction with the family. Out of sight, out of mind. But we've come a long way from this thinking, in part because the disadvantages for guinea pigs are so clear.

  • Outdoor guinea pigs suffer extremes of weather and temperature
  • Outdoor guinea pigs are at risk from predators such as hawks and foxes
  • Hutches, which are usually made of wood, can be more difficult to clean and disinfect
  • A guinea pig's health often deteriorates quickly once she becomes sick, and illnesses may go undetected without regular handling.
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