Cages and all facilities used to secure guinea pigs must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury and attack by predators.
Guinea pigs may be housed or kept in intensive conditions provided the following conditions are met:
- A minimum floor space of 1m2 should be provided per animal
- The diet composition and quantities of feed must be recorded
- A private nesting and hiding area must be provided
- A high level of hygiene and cleanliness must be kept at all times
- Environmental enrichment must be provided to enable natural behaviours
- Faeces and urine accumulations must be removed at least twice a week
- Normal diurnal pattern of lighting must be provided with periods of dark
- Opportunities for appropriate exercise must be provided
- Air must be of acceptable quality with respect to dust, chemicals and smells
- All guinea pigs must be observed standing and moving during daily inspections.
Whether keeping guinea pigs intensively or in an outdoor system, the housing area must be treated with extreme care and cleanliness. Guinea pigs will become agitated if their cages are unclean or they are moved frequently.
Guinea pigs kept indoors should be housed in a well-lit and ventilated area, away from draughts, fumes and noise, and at a temperature between 16 and 20°C. Ensure that there is a private, dark area in the enclosure where guinea pigs can retreat and hide away. They should not be placed in the following positions:
- Near windows, especially during winter or midsummer
- In direct sunlight
- In draughts from ventilators, windows or doors
- In fumes of any kind, over or near heaters
- Where access is difficult.
Guinea pigs may be housed indoors or outdoors, in less intensive conditions and with access to fresh grazing. An example of an outdoor hutch system is the amended ‘Morant’ system, which provides a mix of grazing area and a solid floor. A variety of cages are available in plastic, metal slat or wire. Guinea pigs that are not raised in wire cages may experience broken limbs if they are transferred to wire-based cages. Wide, wire mesh floors are only suitable for outdoor runs. If wire cages are used, it is important to provide a section of solid flooring. Open cages should have sides that are at least 38 cm high. They are only suitable for keeping guinea pigs indoors.
Adult animals should have approximately 1 m2 floor space per animal. Clear plastic sided cages are excellent for observation by students. However, to ensure privacy for guinea pigs it is important to also provide some shelter, as they will become stressed if they cannot hide away.
It is important to provide guinea pigs with an environment that allows them to express their natural behaviours.
Movement and Exercise
No special facilities are required as they are relatively inactive animals except when suddenly disturbed. To avoid stampedes and circling, place obstacles inside the cage. If stampeding does occur, it indicates poor husbandry techniques. Although guinea pigs are a fairly inactive species, it is always preferred to provide animals with plenty of room. Access to a grazing area will be particularly beneficial to the guinea pigs’ health.
Bedding should be of softwood shavings, coarse sawdust or shredded paper with hay (or straw without grass seeds) being added for nesting. Sufficient bedding should be provided to enable the animal to burrow and tunnel. New litters should not be disturbed for at least one week. Provide nesting material inside the nesting box for animals to hide and nest in.
Cages and feed containers must be sanitized at least once a week. All containers should be cleaned by washing with a detergent and hot water or mild disinfectant solution and followed by a thorough rinse. Guinea pig cages require frequent cleaning in order to avoid ammonia build up. To remove urine scale, a weakly acidic solution may be needed. Guinea pigs will become distressed if they are kept in an unclean environment.
Fencing and Security
Fencing and security is a very important aspect of keeping guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are extremely vulnerable animals and need to be protected at all times from dogs, cats, foxes, large birds, goannas, snakes and other predators. When keeping guinea pigs in small cages outside, ensure that predators cannot break into the cage or move the guinea pig cage indoors each afternoon.
Mesh should be strong and well-maintained. It should also be noted that a predator attempting to break into the cage would cause stress to the guinea pigs. Security should be such that predators will not be able to get anywhere near the cage. If guinea pigs are kept in a large enclosure, care should be taken to prevent predators from digging under or jumping over fences. It should also be noted that large birds like eagles and hawks are able to swoop and attack guinea pigs if sufficient shelter is not supplied. Shelter can be provided by small bushes, trees, shrubs, long grass, rocks and purpose built nest boxes.
Pen rotation and movement
Guinea pigs are very efficient grazing animals. They can strip an area of grass very quickly. For this reason, it is very important when using portable pens on grassy areas to move the pens regularly. This prevents the grass from being completely eaten away and reduces build up of faeces, reducing the risk of worms.