Monday, 14 November 2016

Guinea Pig Cages - what are the options?

Before you go and get your Guinea Pigs

Yes, "Guinea Pigs" plural, because piggies like to be in pairs or groups.

Indoor or outdoor cages?

The first consideration is probably will your guinea pigs live indoors full-time like mine, or will they be outdoors, only moving indoors in winter if it's particularly cold.

Indoor cage options - outdoor cage indoors:

You could use a standard outdoor hutch, that's fine, and is in fact what we have, though ours have been heavily modified. They started life as two Bunny Business Double Hutches intended for rabbits or guinea pigs, but we wanted to offer our piggies more space to run around (N.B. these hutches ARE NOT big enough for a rabbit)

MrPB has split the bottom floor into two levels with a ramp, and the upper floor has a ramp up to a mezzanine level, which we call the hay loft.  
The small access door on the upper floor has had the top wooden tongue and groove removed and replaced with perspex
The T&G on the lower small door has been swapped with mesh from the side wall.
Guinea pig cage options outdoor hutches

Reviews on this hutch vary wildly (as is often the case). When we chose it we knew we wanted to drastically change it, so build quality and layout were not an issue. We also knew the hutches would only be used indoors, so weather resistance didn't matter either. So long as the piggies could safely get from one level to the next and still have plenty of room for food, water, hay, to stretch up, run round, and to "flomp out" us we call it (if you have piggies you'll know exactly what I mean!), they were the key factors.

Indoor cage options - store-bought indoor cages:

I am not a fan of these wire and plastic cages for guinea pigs. In fairness to Pets at Home (whose website I picked at random) they do state that these cages are not suitable as full-time
accommodation, but I know some owners do use them for that. Some sizes are okay, but some are horrifically small!

A much better option is:

Indoor cage options - C&C/DIY cages:

C&C cages are de rigueur when it comes to indoor guinea pig accommodation. 14" square panels of wire mesh (choose the 9x9 squares per panel option, as piggies can get stuck in the gaps of 8x8 and less). There are endless videos on Youtube extolling the virtues of them over store-bought cages and hutches.

One of the biggest benefits is that the grids are secured in place by corner connectors, that means that the size and shape can be adjusted, increased or decreased at the drop of a hat. It's not quite that simple though, you do need to make a cleanable base, usually from Coroplast corrogated sheet; that and the size of the individual grid panels will dictate the eventual cage size.

Some people go on from using pure C&C cages, to a DIY hybrid based on the principles of the C&C system. Below are links to some of my favourite guinea pig Youtubers. You'll see very quickly that some of them have progressed up to 'pig rooms'...not just a room the cage/s are kept in, but a room where most of the floor space has been turned into a cage, with the C&C forming a fence to prevent the piggies getting out of the room on their own.
If you're a fan of decorating and themes, then this system is also for you, fleece cage liners, toys, hideys etc are the favourite way of adding character and enrichment to your piggies environment.

For amazing ideas do check out:

The only real disadvantage I can see to this system is that this system is usually open topped (though you can make second tiers or roof sections), so other pets (cats or dogs) could get in on their own, but then Erin from Pets Palace TV has her cat and dog wandering round with her piggies, so it does depend on the individual but is certainly something to be aware of.

Outdoor cages and hutches

Make sure the hutch can be located out of the wind, rain or blazing sunshine, extremes of weather and temperature can cause all sorts of health issues. You can buy special hutch covers now, but please be careful to provide really good ventilation, as humid enclosed hutches can cause nasty respiratory problems. Outdoor hutches are normally made of wood with roofing felt on the top, make sure they are sturdy, the doors close and lock securely, and that the wire mesh is a close grid of galvanised weld mesh, fixed in place all the way round. Some styles of hutch come with legs, but if not, find or build a frame for the hutch to stand on.

You have a lot more predators to think about when your piggies live outdoors, cats and dogs yes, but also foxes, rats, stoats, badgers, owls and other birds of prey. When they are hungry, or have babies to care for they will be bold, and once they know you have small furry creatures in your garden they will return again and again trying to get at them. Always use crank-neck barrel sliding bolts (see picture) to secure the doors. Even if your hutch came fitted with something else, swap them over straight away.

If you have bought a two-tier hutch that is a run on the bottom meant to stand on grass, make sure your guinea pigs are secured inside the top tier every night, better still put the whole hutch on hard-standing overnight. This might seem like a faff, but a determined fox or badger will dig relentlessly under the run until it finds a way in.

A more recently introduced type of outdoor hutch is made of plastic, manufactured by the UK based company Eglu Ltd. 
I worry about this hutch/run combination on so many levels; lack of ventilation, heat, cold, space, predators, but must make it clear that I have no personal experience of it. 

The Eglu Go is the most expensive option per square inch, so as with any type of hutch always do your research thoroughly before investing.

Size IS important

The RSPCA states that the minimum cage size for two guinea pigs should be 120cm x 60cm x 45cm
Whilst siblings or bonded piggies will live happily together, just like humans, sometimes they need to be on their own for a few minutes, so the more space you can offer, the more cosy places, the more hay piles/racks available, the happier your piggies will be.

Our modified cages each offer 3 times the RSPCA's minimum floor space requirement, with plenty of space for our piggies to stretch up on the top level, and lots of ramps keep them active, multiple eating and drinking areas etc.

On top of this I also have a collapsible indoor run for floor time and when I'm cleaning out one of the hutches, and two larger outdoor runs with mesh tops so the piggies can safely play of the grass when it's warm and dry. 

I do not put my piggies on wet/damp grass as they can easily get respiratory problems, so I would never use a run/hutch combination myself. I am also wary of the steep ramps in some indoor and outdoor tiered cages. Our ramps are long and shallow, but others I have seen are almost 45 degrees! Our ramps have walls around them to prevent a guinea pig accidentally falling down the access hole, and they have carpet on them to allow the piggies to go up or down securely.

When you are choosing your set up, don't assume that the manufacturer or marketing company has considered safety, size and suitability. Don't assume that the photo of the pet sitting next to the cage on the advert or packaging is to scale either, they were probably photographed separately. Do your own research, read books, magazines, watch YouTube videos and learn from others mistakes. In this day and age there is no excuse for having poor knowledge and providing a dangerous, undersized home for your guinea pigs.

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