The sun is out, the birds are chirping : sounds like the perfect time to head outside! If your guinea pigs are kept indoors, you may want to provide them with some outdoor time for a few minutes or even hours. To make this experience enjoyable and safe for everyone, we have compiled this ultimate guide to taking your piggies outside.
Why should I take my guinea pigs outside?
Just like us, guinea pigs and rabbits enjoy a pleasant day outside. It provides them with plenty of valuable benefits:
- Outdoor time will help keep your guinea pigs active and healthy,
- A great boredom buster and mood booster: their senses of smell, touch and hearing are greatly stimulated by this new environment,
- Free food for your guinea pigs to forage and graze on. Just ensure the plants are guinea pig safe - see this article on safe foraging for guinea pigs and rabbits.
- Guinea pigs love the warmth of the sun - but do make sure you provide shelters and shaded areas.
When should I take my guinea pigs outside?
An appropriate time to bring your guinea pigs outdoors is when the weather is warm and calm. Never take your guinea pigs outdoors in poor weather conditions such as rain, snow, strong wind or in extreme temperatures. Wait for the temperature to be around or above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13°C).
Guinea pigs are crepuscular meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, so bring them outside at the highest point of their activity. In summer, this is also the most ideal time for bringing your guinea pigs outdoors as it is generally neither too hot, nor too cold. In spring, the best time is between 2-4pm when the temperature is warm enough.
A word of caution about temperature:
Did you know that guinea pigs don’t have any sweat glands? Temperature control is key to keeping your guinea pigs safe and healthy! Unlike humans, guinea pigs are not able to sweat to keep themselves cool in hotter temperatures. This means that even the slightest rise in temp can have negative effects on your piggies.
Temperatures above approximately 78°F (26°C) can lead to heat stroke, so make sure you closely monitor this. The opposite effects can occur when temperatures reach below 50°F (10°C) for your guinea pigs. This could lead to hypothermia, so make sure you plan ahead to anticipate your guinea pigs’ needs.
To help regulate your guinea pig’s temperature, ensure that they have access to fresh water and plenty of shade on hotter days.
How long should I keep my guinea pigs outside?
Guinea pigs are recommended to have at least 1 hour outside of their cage, every day. However, if your guinea pig has never been outside, start with small amounts of time and increase gradually. It can be quite tiring to them at first.
Ensure that you bring your guinea pigs indoors if the weather suddenly changes, or if your guinea pigs appear tired, afraid or uncomfortable.
Where should you keep your piggies outside?
It is really important to consider the area where you will place your guinea pigs.
1. Select an area that has a flat surface to avoid a gap in your enclosure.
2. Choose a patch of grass that is untreated to avoid pesticides and chemicals, as well as free from dog or fox poop and pee.
3. Choose a patch of grass that has not been mown, since mowing creates a blend of all sorts of plants, some potentially toxic. Eating grass cuttings can also lead up to a build-up of gastric gases which can be harmful to your piggies.
4. Set your guinea pig enclosure close to the house, so that you can quickly reach out to them if needed.
5. Place the enclosure half in a sunny area and half in shade, for better temperature regulation.
Your outdoor guinea pig enclosure: what to consider and what you need
You will need an enclosure to keep your guinea pigs from running out, or other animals running in. This can be in the form of a run or playpen for guinea pigs. Ensure that your playpen or run’s meshing has narrow gaps, such as Kavee’s baby-bar C&C grids.
C&C cages make great options for outdoor runs. They are flexible and can be folded away when you don't need them. They also come with doors and lids if you need some. Although they are not originally designed to stay all-year long outdoors, most people find that C&C grids barely rust and can withhold weather conditions really well, making them a great option for a guinea pig outdoor run that can stay in the garden an entire season or even more.
Consider the guinea pig enclosure size: Remember that two guinea pigs require at least 8 sq feet of floor space. Try to incorporate as much space as possible for your guinea pigs to roam around as it’s a great time for them to stretch their legs outside of their cage.
Consider opting for a lid for your guinea pig enclosure: Adding a lid to your run or playpen is a great way to help protect your guinea pigs from potential predators. It can also be a great way to offer your guinea pigs some shade if you lay a blanket on top too. A lid is essential if you are not able to supervise your guinea pigs at all time. Even a cat could harm them, in a matter of minutes.
Adding accessories to your playpen: water bottles, hay, hide-out, tunnels, etc.. are all necessary to meet your guinea pigs' needs.
Safety first : read this part carefully
Before you let your guinea pigs roam around in their outdoor enclosure, there are still a few steps you need to take to keep your guinea pigs safe.
Supervising your guinea pigs & using a lid
For the safety of your pets, it is strongly advise to keep an eye on your guinea pigs at all time. If you are not able to do so, a lid is absolutely required. Again, a prey bird, a fox or a cat could harm them, in a matter of minutes. By keeping a close eye on your small pets, you can prevent predators from getting close. As a rule of thumb, never leave your house/the area when your guinea pigs are outdoors, so that you can quickly react in case of unexpected events.
Shadow and Water for temperature regulation
As described above, temperature regulation is crucial to your guinea pigs. Always provide plenty of shade and water. If the temperature is too hot, keep your guinea pigs sheltered inside in a cool area of your house.
Signs of heat exhausting in guinea pigs are the following: collapse, slow respiration, and possibly slobbering. If your guinea pigs seems affected, wrap him/her up in a towel soaked in cold water and wait until he/she can stand to provide small amounts of water. Please also refer to a vet immediately.
Some people worry about parasites from outdoors. Know that mites can also find their way to your piggies through hay so even an 'indoor' guinea pig can catch them. Worms are very rare in guinea pigs.
If you have old or long-hair piggies, to avoid fly strike you will need to check (and if needed clean) their bottoms regularly.
Generally speaking, you should not be too worried about parasites. We find that the benefits of taking guinea pig outdoors largely outweighs this risk.
Safe Plants, herbicides and pesticides
Some plants are poisonous to guinea pigs. Older guinea pigs tend to know what is good for them versus what is not, but young guinea pigs are curious minds and guinea pig poisoning can happen. It is best to ensure that your guinea pigs only have access to plants they can safely eat. Evergreens and plants grown from bulbs tend to be inedible : ivy, daisies, buttercups, and tulips are not safe for example. Check this ultimate guide to foraging for guinea pigs and rabbits to know more.
Signs of plant poisoning include muscle spasms, tremor, and an inability to hold its head up. If you notice such signs, please refer to a vet immediately.
Additionally, ensure that the playpen or run is placed in an area that has not been treated by herbicides or pesticides, as this can also be fatal to guinea pigs. Signs of chemical poisoning include breathing difficulties, collapse, mouth or nose mucus. If you notice such signs, please refer to a vet immediately.
The truth about grass cutting
Choose a patch of grass that has not been mown, since mowing creates a blend of all sorts of plants, some potentially toxic. Eating grass cuttings can also lead up to a build-up of gastric gases which can be harmful to your piggies.
Electrical wires or other hazards
Guinea pigs are quite curious creatures so they may try to nibble on cords if nearby. It’s also best to consider any overhanging branches or items that could potentially fall on top of the enclosure!
After reading this, you must be itching to get your guinea pigs outside to enjoy the sun. Remember that time outside offer many benefits to your guinea pigs, so take the dive!